Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Mezcal

Where tequila suffers a self-imposed image problem of salt, lemon, and a necked shot, mezcal has the worm. The practice of adding a dead animal or insect to a bottled alcoholic liquid exists in many cultures, serving to prove that the liquid is pure - if the worm is decomposing in the bottle, then the drink has been watered down. However, in mezcal the worm (actually an insect larva that eats on the agave plant) is solely a marketing gimmick invented for tourists in the 1950s. 

Rather than the debauched, supposedly hallucinogenic appeal of mezcal, it is in fact one of the great spirits, as long as you buy at the top end - there's perhaps no spirit which increases so much in quality with price. On a warm Friday evening in Seattle, a few of us, led by mezcal enthusiast @drinkaddition, tested five different mezcals side by side; we were expecting quality, but were blown away by the diversity and depth of flavours.

how is it different from tequila?

Tequila must come from around the towns of Tequila and Guadalajara and be made from the blue agave. Mezcal can come from a wider range of places in Mexico (though usually Oaxaca) and be made from the maguey plant, a form of agave and of which there are many varieties. At the cheaper end of the spectrum, this means a much lower level of quality control; for more expensive mezcal, it allows a greater expression of flavours from the plant, the production, and the region. Mezcal undergoes roughly the same production process as tequila, but the plant is roasted in underground ovens, which imparts serious smoky, earthy aromas.

the line up

tasting

Mezcal Vago Espadín ($46)

Made solely from the espadín agave, the most commonly used of the maguey agave. In this case, the plant was sourced from lower altitude, resulting in more sugar and alcohol (52.1%). Despite that high alcohol, this is a very balanced spirit, the alcohol delivering a spicy warmth rather than a harsh heat. As the first mezcal we tasted, it seemed extremely earthy and smoky - almost as much so as a Scotch - though when we came back to it having tasted the others those flavours had calmed down. Beyond those earthy aromas were some saltiness, with a peppery finish, with citrus aromas giving it freshness. A remarkably complex, engaging, and refreshing drink given the high alcohol.

Mezcal Vago Espadin

 

Pierde Almas Espadín ($69)

Again from the espadín agave and again high alcohol (51%), though again remarkably well integrated. This was a little overpowered by the previous spirit, being quite delicate; even so, I felt it lacking in power. Floral (jasmine) and peachy, with a spicy finish kicking out of the delicacy. A subtle example of mezcal, showing how two spirits from the same source can be quite different.

Pierde Almas Espadin

 

Del Maguey Santo Domingo Albarradas ($70)

The Del Maguey "brand" showcases small, artisanal producers from Mexican villages and has rightly gained an international reputation, due to the variety, individuality, and quality of the spirits. Once more from the espadín agave but with a slightly lower alcohol (48%), and with much saltier flavours - brine and salty melon. Smoky too, with a spicy finish on the tongue. Layered and serious.

Pierde Almas Dobodaán ($81)

The first three spirits demonstrated how the same source (the espadín agave) can produce three quite different drinks, though with clear similarities. The fourth showed how a slightly different source (the dobodaán agave) can take the drink in a completely different direction. The dobodaán is a wild agave, grown at low, jungle-like altitudes and tropical aromas were evident: pineapple, coconut, Malibu, and juicy watermelon; a fiery (50.2%) drink, yet oily, soapy, and greasy, with salty spices.

Del Maguey Tobala ($120)

A different agave which grows wild only at high altitude; there are just 600 bottles of this spirit bottled each year. A quite astonishing drink, with strong, immediate aromas of caramel, toffee, treacle, and vanilla on the nose; likewise, rich and creamy on the palate developing into a cinnamon nuttiness, finished off with a long, long smoky, spicy finish. Taken on its own, this is a complex, unforgettable drink, but to think that these involved aromas come from one source - a variety of the agave - without any oak ageing or other interference to produce such a distinct, individual drink is extraordinary.

Five mezcals, from three agave varieties and three producers: this is a diverse, sometimes extraordinary drink. Del Maguey proved why they have the leading international reputation but the whole tasting emphasised that good mezcal is well worth seeking out. It's expensive, but for a good reason.

And if you are wise enough to follow our lead and have your own Mezcal tasting, here's a spotify playlist to provide a soundtrack.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Washington State

On a very wet afternoon, I visited three wineries in Woodinville, an area north-west of Seattle where some of Washington state's major producers are based. As the cold, wet weather in mid-July suggested, this is not vine-growing country; instead, producers buy grapes from Eastern Washington and make the wine closer to the crowds of drinkers of Seattle.

where?

The contrast between Seattle and Eastern Washington could not be greater. Seattle is a green, hilly city surrounded by mountains and water, with active volcanoes just 90 miles away. Average rainfall is 45-50 inches a year, meaning that serious viticulture is all but impossible. East of Seattle are the Cascade mountains, a bleak, rocky range which break up the rain from the Pacific and create a very different environment beyond the mountains. Eastern Washington is arid, hot, and almost desert like, with rainfall as little as 4-8 inches a year. This is difficult, poor farming territory, and home to just about every wine grape imaginable.

Washington's wine industry has expanded hugely over the last twenty years; from 12 wineries in 1980 to 60 ten years later to over 700 today. It's now the second largest wine-producing state in the US, although California produces over 90% of the country's wine. There are eleven and arguably too many, AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) for such a young wine region: the entire wine area is Colombia Valley AVA, within which the most important AVAs are Yakima Valley and Walla Walla Valley.

grapes

Washington produces wine from a huge variety of grapes, which is both to its advantage and disadvantage. Unlike Oregon and its Pinot Noir, Washington lacks a signature grape which consumers can identify the state with; at the same time, this allows winemakers a freer range of possibilities.
During the 1990s, Washington was most strongly associated with Merlot. In June 1991, the Washington Wine Commission met to discuss how best to promote the state's growing wine industry. They briefly discussed Cabernet Sauvignon before realising the futility of competing with Napa Valley, settling on Merlot, a grape little planted and largely unknown in the States at that time. Coincidentally, in November 1991 60 Minutes broadcast a documentary, "The French Paradox," which claimed that drinking red wine had health benefits. This led to the fashion for Merlot, which Washington was well positioned to take advantage of.
Despite its notorious fall from grace, Merlot is still the third most sold varietal wine in the US and Washington would arguably do well to reclaim its status as the best state by far for the grape, whether on its own or in a blend, giving the state a stronger identity than it currently has. Washington Merlot at its best has ripe, rich red and black fruits, with a high acidity, and a coffee toastiness from the use of new oak.
The other black grapes that thrive in Washington are Cabernet Sauvignon and, increasingly, Syrah; there is great potential for Sangiovese and Tempranillo, though the American market remains addicted to French varieties. The most planted grape in the state, perhaps surprisingly for such a warm climate, is Riesling: astonishingly, Chateau Ste. Michelle is the largest producer of Riesling in the world (and that doesn't include the other brands it owns). Washington Riesling is made in a whole variety of styles of sweetness, but is recognisable for its stone and tropical fruits. Chardonnays are beginning to become less oaky and more balanced, while Washington's best whites are perhaps from less fashionable Sauvignon Blanc-Sémillon blends.
Tempranillo in véraison

wineries

Betz Family Winery

Bob Betz worked for Chateau Ste. Michelle from 1974, until establishing his own winery in the late 1990s. In the meantime, he became one of the most important exponents of Washington wine, both in promoting the wine outside the state and in defining the most suitable areas for planting. He's now the only Master of Wine in the US actually making wine. At 5,000 cases a year, production is small and focused on high-end Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
My visit focused on two vintages from two single-vineyard Syrahs, La Serenne from Boushey vineyard in Yakima and La Côte Rousse from Ciel du Cheval in Red Mountain. La Serenne 2010 was subtle and elegant, with juicy blackberries, light pepper, and a slightly dusty finish: just beginning to open up now, but with lots of ageing potential still. The 2012, which will be released in September, was too young but still indicative of the warmer vintage - earthier, thornier, with darker fruits. La Côte Rousse is a richer, warmer wine, from a hotter, sandier vineyard (though just 20 miles away). The 2010 was far more pungent than La Serenne, its smokiness almost peaty, with tobacco leaves, ripe blackcurrants, and sweet spices. Again, the 2012 is a little too young, but showing an additional, engaging floral character.

Delille Cellars

Just a four minute drive away are Delille Cellars, established in 1992. Many of their grapes are sourced from Red Mountain AVA, particularly from Ciel du Cheval and Grand Ciel vineyards, the latter established by the winery in 2001. Highlights included the Ciel du Cheval 2013 Roussanne, a complex yet immediate and refreshing wine - nutty and yeasty, with stone and tropical fruits. This is part of the "Doyenne" series, focusing on Rhône style wines, but it's Bordeaux blends the winery specialises in. The D2, named for the road which goes through the Médoc in Bordeaux, is their best-selling wine and is a good example of a Merlot-based wine from Washington, with black fruits, cedar, and a nice spicy finish. The flagship wine is the Cabernet Sauvignon dominated Harrison Hill from Snipes Mountain AVA. Complex, maturing flavours of tar and leather, smoke, black tea, and figs, as well as cassis and brambles, though with a subdued finish. A very good wine, but at a hefty $85. My favourite wine, though, was a white, the Chaleur Estate 2013 - a blend of 65% Sauvignon Blanc and 35% Sémillon. Cellared in the last three White House administrations, this is a complex wine that shows all the best of Bordeaux blends - oaky and creamy, smoky and toasty, with lemon, spices, and brioche, and a barnyard feel.

Brian Carter Cellars

Unfortunately, I missed the opportunity to meet winemaker Brian Carter, described to me as "the librarian of Washington wine," and didn't get the full story to his winemaking philosophy. All of his wines are blends, often quite unusual, taking advantage of the number of varieties grown in Washington, as well as growers' and winemakers' increased understanding of how to get the best out of the different varieties.
I did get to taste six of his wines. Oriana is a unique blend of Viognier (53%), Roussanne (32%), and Riesling (15%), which was aromatic, nutty, with a spicy finish. Together with the peach and nectarine aromas, this was a wine expressing, yet integrating, all three of the varieties. Tuttorosso 2009 is a super Tuscan blend, which seems to be how Sangiovese is most used in Washington. I was looking forward to this, but found it a little simple with smoky red cherries and light spices. The most interesting was the Corrida, a blend, which I can only assume is unique, of Tempranillo (62%), Graciano (12%), Merlot (11%), Cabernet Sauvignon (9%), and Garnacha (6%). Evocative of grilled sausages, with a peppery finish and dry tannins, this is a wine definitely doing its own thing, and no Rioja clone.
These are just three of Washington's 700+ wineries, but which give a good indication of the range and style of the state's wines. I hope to be back before long to taste more, but for now I'm off to California to explore the Golden State.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Franciacorta

Established in the early 1960s, Franciacorta is the premium area in Italy for sparkling wine; deliberately modelled on the wines of Champagne, the wines are made in a similar fashion, from the same grapes, and sold at similarly high prices. The challenge for Franciacorta is both to take advantage of, and rise above, the popularity of cheap, friendly Prosecco and convince consumers that it is worth buying instead of, or as well as, Champagne.

I attended a tasting a couple of weeks ago, led by Peter McCombie MW, who argued valiantly in favour of the quality of Franciacorta, while recognising the difficulty of persuading customers to pay the prices the wines demand. The eight wines we tasted demonstrated the consistently high standard of Franciacorta wines, but I am still not sure that the area can compete with Champagne in terms of quality at such prices - a problem English sparkling wine also faces.

where is it?

Franciacorta is in the north of Italy, in the middle of the Italian lakes. The nearest lake is Iseo, which has a cooling influence. The area also has the Alps to the north and other surrounding hills to provide protection from the warm air blowing from the south. Franciacorta, an undulating valley, was formed by glaciers, and as a result the region has glacial moraine soil, an important factor on the styles of wine produced. The more superficial soils produce floral wines, while the deeper soils on the slopes provide dried fruits and vegetal, nutty, complex aromas.

what is it?

Franciacorta is a small, tight-knit community all dedicated to producing high-quality wines. The wines of Franciacorta are always sparkling, made from Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, and, less commonly, Pinot Bianco. (There is a separate DOC for still wines, Corta Francia, using the same grapes.) The method used is the same as Champagne - a first fermentation to produce a still wine, followed by a second fermentation in the bottle which generates yeasty, bready aromas as well as the bubbles. Ageing requirements vary, but are generally stricter and higher than any sparkling wine appellation other than Champagne. A major difference between Franciacorta and Champagne is that the wines don't have Champagne's searingly high acidity, making the wines softer and more approachable.


wines

Montenisa Dosaggio Zero NV

"Dosaggio Zero" means that the wine has received no dosage - the traditional top-up of sugar and wine at the last phase of a sparkling wine's life, which gives the wine some sweetness. A wine without the dosage is bone dry, which I think takes away the point of the best sparkling wine; it's a very fashionable style at the moment, however, reflecting the historically increasing dryness of Champagne. In partnership with the super-Tuscan producers Antinori, this wine is 100% Chardonnay, with thirty months ageing on its lees. There are subtle, biscuity notes of autolysis (the yeasty aromas that come from the second fermentation in the bottle), with apples and lemons. The wine is dry, fresh, with an acidity less sharp than a Champagne equivalent, and a gripping cinnamon finish.

Contadi Castaldi Dosaggio Zero 2009

A different exampe of the non dosage style from the first wine: vintage, with some malolactic fermentation, longer on its lees (36-40 months), and 50% Chardonnay and Pinot Nero. From a hot vintage, these variants produce a much toastier wine, richer and more powerful, with inviting autoylsis aromas and buttery flavours from the MLF.

Ronco Calino Brut NV

Part of the fun of tasting sparkling wine is guessing which grapes are in the mix. Quite a few of the guests at the tasting were convinced Pinot Bianco was in the blend, because it's a grape that provides fuller flavours than Chardonnay - but also because Pinot Bianco is allowed in Franciacorta, unlike Champagne. Not a single one of the wines we tasted had any Pinot Bianco, and the stone and tropical fruits (peach, banana, pineapple) and vanilla came from the warmer climate and use of barriques in fermentation, rather than Pinot Bianco - this wine is 80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Nero.

La Montina Brut 2007

A very unusual wine - more like a still white wine that had some bubbles than a sparkling wine. Fermented in oak, with 38 months on its lees, there were vanilla and spices from the oak, with a long, spicy finish, and funky nose. A very good wine, but not what people are looking for from bubbles.

Villa Crespia - Muratori Satèn

Satèn could well be the style of wine that gets people hooked on Franciacorta. 100% Chardonnay and slightly less sparkling, it's a delicate, inviting style of wine and the best examples of Franciacorta I'd previously tasted have been Satèn - the word means satin, which is a good description of the style. This wine was a bit disappointing, however, perhaps trying too hard to be a little different. There is spontaneous, partially completed malolactic fermentation; the use of selected yeasts for, apparently, both first and second fermentations; and some oak. The result is a wine that's very biscuity and buttery with citrus fruits, but finishes short after that.

Villa Franciacorta Satèn 2009

This was the first wine of the tasting that made me sit up and take note. The winemaking is "natural" - that is, with as little interference from the winemaker as possible. An elegant, delicate wine, with balanced bready, yeasty, doughy aromas, with a fresh, apple finish. This is what I want from a 100% Chardonnay sparkling wine: restrained, fine, yet long and complex.

Il Mosnel Rosé 2008

Sparkling rosé is, at its best, some of the greatest wine to be had, and this is a fine example. Rosé in Franciacorta is made differently from Champagne: there is a brief maceration on the skins to give the wine its colour, whereas in Champagne the colour comes from added red wine. This wine has a pale salmon, Provençal colour, with a combination of finesse and complexity: toast, savoury, cranberry, dry, refeshing, with a high yet not dominant acidity. I felt this was the best example of what Franciacorta, with its lower, softer acidity, has to offer.

Berlucchi Guido Rosé NV

The tasting ended where Franciacorta started. One of the three big producers, Berlucchi was the first to produce and market sparkling wine. This wine is 70% Pinot Nero - called "rosé of one night," to describe the length of skin contact - with 15g/L of residual sugar. It's a rich, fruity, slightly sweet wine that's very satisfying and would be great with spicy food, but one I would find difficult to have more than one glass of.

Franciacorta is a region to follow: of the eight wines we tasted, two were excellent and the other six were all of a high standard. I still think the region has a lot to learn, but that's not surprising given it's so young. What's important to remember is that the area has more in common with Champagne than fellow Italian sparkling wine regions Asti and Prosecco. This makes it a difficult area to market, but it's one well worth experimenting with if you like sparkling wine.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

World Cup of Wine Final

The World Cup was contested by two heavyweights, both in terms of football and wine. Argentina contested the first World Cup Final in 1930 and have won the competition twice, while Germany were appearing in their eighth final. It seemed only right, then, that two high-quality wines were pitted against one another.

Germany v Argentina


Germany has been making wine since vines were introduced by the Romans in the third century and the arrival of Christianity saw the craft of winemaking continued by Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries. Modern viticulture began in the eighteenth century, after a century of war had ravaged the landscape and the economy. It was during this century that Riesling became the dominant grape on the steep slopes of the rivers Rhine and Mosel, and many of the villages we still associate with Riesling gained their reputation from that time.

The great German Rieslings are identified by their sweetness, a feature which originates from the late picking of rotting grapes in cool October. It was in the eighteenth century that the current classifications of Auslese and Spätlese were introduced; improved selection of healthy and rotten grapes led to the further classifications of Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese in the nineteenth century, followed by the Eiswein category for grapes picked when frozen.

German wine labels, using terms developed centuries ago, are incredibly confusing. In general, if you see these terms, then they will have the following characteristics.

Trocken a dry wine; grapes picked as normal during harvest
Kabinett dry to medium sweet; light in style, with the sweeter wines having very low alcohol (8%). The term comes from the traditional use of the English word "cabinet" for quality wines.
Spätlese dry to medium sweet; the grapes are picked at the end of the harvest when they are beginning to rot, increasing the level of residual sugar. A dry Spätlese can be particularly rich in style.
Auslese dry to medium sweet; the grapes are selected for their amount of rot. More likely to have some sweetness, but a dry Auslese will have high alcohol.
Beerenauslese sweet; overripe grapes are individually picked to create a rich, golden wine
Trockenbeerenauslese lusciously sweet; the grapes picked are shrivelled by noble rot, producing a golden-orange wine. The painstaking selection of the grapes, as well as the quality of the wines, means that these are some of the most expensive wines in the world.
Eiswein lusciously sweet; the grapes are picked in the middle of the night when the grapes are frozen and the temperature must be below -8°C.


In contrast, the development of modern German football is relatively recent. Its amateur system was only disbanded in the 1960s, giving way to the current, professional Bundesliga. The unexpected 1954 World Cup victory, only the country's second appearance at the tournament, was the moment when West Germany felt able to move on from the Second World War and see itself as a nation again. Since then, the national team has become one of the dominant forces of international football, winning the World Cup again in 1974 and 90 and reaching the final in 1966, 82, 86, and 2002.

the German commentator was famously quite excited by the 1954 winning goal

Clemens Busch Rothenpfad 2011 (c. £50)

the steep slopes of Pündericher Marienburg

The Mosel, a river that winds from Koblenz in western Germany into Luxembourg and France, is one of the most difficult areas in the world to grow vines. It's a cool climate, the vineyards are on steeply sloped terraces rising from the river, the grapes have to be picked by hand, and the soil is rocky - all this means, however, that the vines have to work hard to flower and the harder a vine works the greater the wine.

Clemens Busch is a small producer, holding just 13ha, who makes working the land on the Mosel even harder by only farming biodynamically (for instance, he climbs the slopes throughout the growing season to spray herbal tea on the vines). Most of his land is in the Pündericher Marienburg vineyard, which he divides into five different patches to mark the different soils which will influence the finished wines in individual ways.

Rothenpfad, meaning "red path," is one of those patches, just over a hectare in size. It had fallen into neglect, but Busch replanted it as well as maintaining seventy-year-old vines still living. The soils are red slate, which gives the wine delicate spicy flavours. The wine is a beautiful, expressive Riesling, but because it comes from a small patch of land on which the vines have had to work very hard, it's a difficult, particular wine. I imagine it may take a few years for this wine to express fully its dry, mineral, spice aromas and lose some of its intense concentration, but it will be well worth the wait.

Argentina: Argentinian wine has been shaped by colonialism and immigration: vines planted by Jesuit missionaries in the 1500s and modernised techniques introduced by Italian immigrants in the nineteenth century. The Jesuits established vineyards at the foothills of the Andes, where the Argentinian wine industry is still centred. The Andes are key for two reasons: water flows down from the snow-capped mountains to irrigate the vineyards and altitude allows a much longer ripening season which the area's heat would otherwise prevent.  

Despite this long history, it's only the last twenty years which have seen the production of quality wine; up until that point, wine was made in large quantities for local consumption. The radical shift in focus by confident, ambitious producers has seen Argentina become the seventh-largest exporter of wine in the world, bolstered mainly by Malbec. There is still a lot for the wine industry to discover about itself, however, such as expanding production to the cooler south to enable a greater variety of wine the country produces.

In contrast, Argentinian football has had a rich history right from the beginning. The country played its first international fixture in 1901, competed in the first South American Championship in 1916, and reached the first World Cup Final in 1930. One of the first great international stars was the late Alfredo di Stefano, subject of a political tug-of-war between Barcelona and Real Madrid in the 1950s, which led to the clubs agreeing to play him alternate seasons (it didn't happen - Real Madrid got him the first season, he initially struggled to fit in, and Barcelona gave up their rights to his contract).

In English eyes, at least, Argentinian football has always had an edge of venom and controversy: the "animals" of 1966, the alleged match-fixing under the generals in 1978, the "hand of God" of 1986, the first player to be sent off in a World Cup Final in 1990 (and, for good measure, they had a second player dismissed too). However, their two victories, in 1978, under the floating ticker tape, and 1986, with the genius of Maradona, are two of the most memorable in World Cup history.

Zaha Malbec 2011 (c. £25)

The Malbecs coming from Argentina are becoming increasingly serious. Initially powerful, heavy, high-alcohol wines, with instant appeal for the casual drinker, the wines now have a more balanced and intelligent use of oak, made from a greater understanding of the vineyards and their different expressions. The popularity of Malbec has enabled producers to gradually up the ante: such is the grape's appeal, consumers are willing to pay a bit more for the wines than they may for others.

Malbec originates from south-west France, where it was once grown in Bordeaux (and it's beginning to be taken notice of again in areas such as Bourg), as well as Cahors, the only appellation in France dedicated to the grape. The wines of Cahors, which used to be called "the black wine" by the English, can reach levels of greatness, but they don't have the soft, attractive fruitiness of the wines of Mendoza, qualities which come from the long growing season high in the Andes. In the Andes, the temperatures are hot during the day, speeding the ripening up, but cold at night, slowing the ripening down. It's these diurnal temperature ranges that allow Malbec to ripen in a way that gives the wine soft yet substantial black fruits.

This Malbec comes from the Altamira area of Mendoza, 1,000m above sea level. That altitude stretches out that long ripening season, giving the wine floral, perfumed aromatics, with an added grainy texture from the sand and limestone soils. The characteristic flavours of damsons and mulberries give this wine a powerful structure, alongside the spicy oakiness on the finish. A big, but balanced, wine.

wine result an intense competition between two very different wines which are proud to showcase the individual characteristics of the grape and area. The Riesling wins for its complex potential for ageing and as an expression of centuries of winemaking tradition, while the Malbec is more of an exciting sign of what Argentina is capable of in the future. Germany 3-2 Argentina

actual result an involving, but not always, exciting game of football that looked like it was petering out to penalties, before Mario Götze's stunning late goal snatched victory for a German team that had been building ten years for this moment. Germany 1-0 Argentina

Friday, 11 July 2014

World Cup of Wine Semi-Final

The two semi-finals produced one of the most memorable games of all time and one of the most forgettable, which sums up the up and down nature of this World Cup. Thankfully, we're focusing on the former game, although on two spirits rather than wines.

Brazil v Germany


Brazil: the national drink of this large, diverse country is cachaça, more of which is sold in Brazil than vodka is around the world. Cachaça is (usually) a white rum; although Brazil has long been campaigning to have cachaça recognised as a distinct category (only the US has so far proven sympathetic), the only significant difference between it and rum is that it's always made from sugar cane rather than molasses. Brazil is the largest producer of sugar cane in the world, so it's natural that the crop is used for its national drink, as it is for rhum agricole in the Caribbean. The use of sugar cane gives the rum a green, vegetal character, differing it from the cleaner rums of the other Caribbean islands. Internationally, it's most famous for its use in Caipirinha, a refreshing cocktail made from cachaça, sugar, and lime, and with crushed ice.

Abelha Silver Organic (c.£25)
Although cachaça production is dominated by five firms, as ever it's worth seeking out the smaller, more individual producers. Abelha make their spirits organically, which means little or no chemical interference. This is a great example of cachaça, with a characteristically aromatic, fruity nose of underripe bananas and slightly sweet on the palate. They also make an aged cachaça, Abelha Gold, which is highly unusual.

Germany: promoting a drink on the basis that it's so bad it has to be necked to avoid experiencing the drink's flavours doesn't to me seem a good thing: tequila, one of the world's greatest spirits, suffers from this misconception and only has its own industry to blame. Likewise with Jägermeister, a complex drink that's become exculsively associated with Jägerbombs, a horrific mixture of Jägermeister and Red Bull whose sole purpose is to get the drinker as drunk as quickly as possible.

Jägermeister (c.£20)
Jägermeister means "master hunter"
Bitters, or amaro in Italy where they are especially popular, are very dry digestifs made from herbs, plants, or fruits. Jägermeister is a bitter made from 56 different herbs, including ginger, star anise, liquorice, citrus peel, and saffron. It has a long history dating back to the 1870s and, although its perception has been distorted by Jägerbombs, Jägermeister is a fine example of the style of herbal bitters found throughout central Europe. The company is still family-owned and is promoting the drink to younger consumers as served cold on ice, but really Jägermeister is a dry palate-cleanser for after a meal.

spirits result a brave performance from Jägermeister, demonstrating its class away from the stereotype, but a Caipirinha on a summer's day can't be beaten. Brazil 2-1 Germany

actual result after unconvincing victories over Chile and Colombia, Brazil were rather fortunate to find themselves in the semi-final and got found out badly against a ruthless German performance in one of the most astonishing games in footballing history. Brazil 1-7 Germany

the World Cup final is a great wine match-up - see how Argentina and Germany fare in the next blog