It’s Wednesday, around 12.37pm. And I’m having a ‘mare’…
‘But how did you get to this point?’ I hear you gasp. Thanks for asking. I should probably start over…
It’s 28th December 2016 and I’m back in Evian, France, with the sense of having returned to the scene of a crime. A crime against gin! And as the waters of ‘Lac Leman’ lap at the shore, I’m feeling like a pair fluorescent pink spandex on a dark and dreary evening; reflective.
You see, in the Summer of 2016 I wrote a blog that focussed on the distinct lack of premium brand gins available in Evian and, seemingly, France as a whole. And after many years of searching, only to be left with the solitary options of either a ‘blue’ or ‘green’ bottle (you know who you are…) I felt my opinion to be very much like a horse in its paddock; on stable ground.
Fast forward 6 months, and I’m back at my parents Evian based Bed & Breakfast to see in the festive season. Turkey has been devoured, crackers have been pulled (gin crackers, courtesy of ‘Master of Malt’ no less!) and presents have been exchanged. Having gotten over the annual heartache of once again not finding a ‘Stretch Armstrong’ or ‘Mr. Frosty’ under the tree, and reassuring myself that those novelty ‘Mr. Men’ socks must have been meant for someone else (don’t worry Santa. We all make mistakes) I was ready to move on.
In preparation for the impending new year we found ourselves sat in the plush surroundings of ‘Restaurant Raphael Vionnet’, a Michelin Star restaurant in Thonon Les Bains (I can’t recommend this place highly enough and the lunch option is fantastic value for money). As I sat taking in the scenery, desperately hoping that no one is able to see the ‘Mr. Men’ print on my newly acquired socks, I spot the waiter approaching.
‘An aperitif sir?’…
Here we go. I brace myself, knowing full well where this is going. I’ll ask. He’ll apologise. I’ll reassure him. And then I’ll order something macho like an ‘Aperol Spritz’ or a ‘Kir Royal’.
‘Do you have gin?’ I hesitantly respond.
‘Bien Sur monsieur! We have Gin Mare. Would you like a Gin & Tonic?’.
Ah. ‘Yes please’.
Like I say, it’s now about 12.37pm. And I’m having a ‘mare’. A ‘Gin Mare’ and tonic that is. And reflecting on whether I spoke too soon.
So what is Gin Mare (or literally translated, ‘Sea Gin’) all about? Hailing from a small Spanish fishing village, Vilanova i la Geltru on the Costa Dourada, Gin Mare is created with an almost religious attention to care & detail to ensure it maintains its Mediterranean points of difference. Fitting perhaps, given that the distillation process takes place in a former chapel! Previously a retreat for monks and a destination for fishermen to pray before setting sail, this breathtaking chapel now houses a still where the alter once stood, creating a ‘holy water’ of a much different variety…
The brainchild of the Giro brothers, themselves fourth generation distillers with family links to the GinMG brand, and in association with ‘Global Premium Brands’, Gin Mare’s ‘raison d’être’ was to represent a genuine taste of the Mediterranean. A feat in which they have most certainly excelled!
At first glance, the botanical list may not stand out as being all that different; coriander, cardamom, citrus fruits (including mandarin) and juniper berries that are hand picked from the families estate. However, it’s the inclusion of other more unusual components that really kick this gin in to another gear – rosemary, thyme, basil and…wait for it. Olives!
Famous in the Catalonian region, the locally sourced Arbequina olives are usually reserved for creating one of the most expensive olive oils going. But in this case they are also an essential ingredient that helps make Gin Mare unique and something really quite special.
And the more relaxed Mediterranean values and way of life carries all the way through the brand. Indeed, ‘Mare’ translates as ‘the sea’ conjuring images of calming oceans washing over sun kissed Spanish beaches. The bottle itself is smooth, elegant and, dare I say it…very ‘pretty’. The botanical list is emblazoned on the glass in native Spanish, against a backdrop of floral designs, reminiscent of the herbal stars of the show that dwell within. It also carries a thought provoking message, taken directly from one of the chapel-come-distilleries stained glass windows that, when translated from Latin, states that ‘the world is called heaven, earth and sea’. Very deep, I thought.
And so now on to the best bit – how does it drink?!
On the nose, there’s a more savoury scent to this gin, with the herbal qualities of the botanicals very evident; think coriander and light hints of basil.
And the herbal nature of the gin is something that carries on in to the taste. There is a definite presence of juniper, but the blend of herbs from the ‘med’ brings with it a complex and aromatic freshness. The presence of olives doesn’t dominate proceedings, but the subtle flavour plays a perfect supporting act that gives the gin a delicate and velvet smooth finish, making it extremely drinkable!
As if to further question whether my judgement of the French appreciation of gin was a tad hasty, reactionary and made without substance – much like many of the words spoken by Jeremy Clarkson – the gin was also served perfectly. Not only was it presented in a branded Gin Mare glass, but it was garnished to accentuate all of the key flavours of the gin. The rosemary sprig, which I watched being plucked directly from the kitchen garden (ok Raphael, nice touch…), complemented the herbal base that I referred to earlier, with pepper incorporated to bring some spice to proceedings. The inclusion of both orange & lemon then helped to pull forward the sweeter elements of the Seville and Valencia oranges and lemons, helping to transcend the gin from a savoury offering to a more citrusy affair. I’m not usually a fan of ‘lobbing’ the entire fruit bowl at a Gin & Tonic – it’s often a case of style over substance. But not here. In this case, I couldn’t pick out a single fault. It was perfect.
And as Raphael sent out his picture perfect food (ah yes, I’d almost forgotten all about the food by this point) I was left to ponder whether I’d been wrong all along?
After an internal debate, my summary is this. Is it easy to find a good selection of gin in France? No. it isn’t. Does good gin exist in France? Yes. It does. I may have had to go Michelin Star!…but it does.
I don’t know whether it was the stunning view of the lake from the restaurant window, or the suggestion of the Mediterranean from my glass, but just like that, a sense of satisfaction washed over me. I’d finally found gin in the land of water – and my word. What a stunner.
And with that I ordered another one. You know…just in case it’s a while before I strike gin again in France.