“If you can dodge a wrench, then you can dodge a ball”. Wiser words were never spoken, and I still see this as a life lesson to live by. What I hadn’t anticipated is that I’d spend the next 5 minutes uncontrollably belly laughing in the darkness, desperately hoping that the girl next to me hadn’t noticed that a little bit of Pepsi Max had started to come out of my nose…
It was 5th September 2004, and I was sat in the Odeon Cinema on Birmingham’s New Street on my first official date with a girl I had been seeing for a few weeks. As a fan of Leslie Nielson, Lloyd Bridges and the slapstick genre in general, I’ve always enjoyed silly humour. So it was perhaps only natural that I’d opted to take the ‘lucky young lady’ to see ‘Dodge Ball’ (starring Ben Stiller). What I couldn’t have planned for was how funny I would find it when the films hapless romantic character (yes, I’m aware of the irony. Thank you) get clocked square in the face with a wrench.
As the minutes ticked by, with me still laughing (even though the moment had long since passed), a slight sweat started to appear on my brow. The harder I tried to curb my enthusiasm, the harder it became to stop. Surely she was going to start to think I was either a simpleton or a maniac. Potentially both!
But as it turned out, either through sympathy or naive stupidity, my date took a shine to me – she even did me the favour of putting my arm around her shoulder to save us both the embarrassment of me doubtlessly attempting the old ‘yawn and stretch’ routine. A couple of hours later, having posed the question in the romantic glare of a dimly lit New Street Train station platform, and we were boyfriend and girlfriend!
A lot has changed since then. But after 18 years together, 1 Wedding, 2 flats, 2 houses and 2 children, one things remains an ever constant…I still love Ben Stiller. (If you’re reading this, please don’t divorce me).
But why all of the focus on ‘First Dates’ you may well ask? Well, I recently found out that a familiar face from our screens was taking up a new position that was very close to my heart. Fred Sirieix, of ‘First Dates’ TV fame, was taking his silver fox sex appeal, along with the silky smooth sophistication of his velvety French accent, in to the world of gin.
Say hello to the new UK Brand Ambassador for G’Vine Gin, who also happen to be responsible for the subject of this latest review; Nouaison Gin.
Specifically, this blog will focus on two of the brands expressions; their flagship Dry Gin and the Nouaison Reserve (cask aged). And much like my time on the dating scene, this gin nerd was overly excited and would likely be propping up the bar alone at the end of the night. Though I certainly wouldn’t be drowning my sorrows.
Nouaison Gin; A love letter…
It’s fair to say that Nouaison Gin, courtesy of the perhaps more recognisable French brand G’Vine, is making its mark.
Despite my previous grumblings surrounding the lack of quality and diversity available across the French gin scene, paralleled by an equally disappointing (if only perceived) lack of enthusiasm of consumers towards the category, this is a gin that comes with a reputation that is on the undeniably upward pointing line of the French Gin change curve. Case and point? Placing another feather in to the cap (beret?!) of French distilling is the fact that in 2018 Nouaison Gin received 95/100 at the Ultimate Spirits Challenge (New York) and 96/100 at the International Review of Spirits (Chicago). With such lofty accolades to their name, it’s hardly surprising then that people are now calling this ‘the best French gin’.
And what of the umbrella company name ‘Maison Villevert’? Well, they come with more than a little pedigree. Jean-Sébastien Robicquet’s, spirits creator extraordinaire, is the man behind “Cîroc vodka (ranked second premium vodka in the world), G’Vine gin (Ranked fisrt super premium gin in France) and the vermouth ‘La Quintinye Vermouth Royal’ (judged best red vermouth in the world)” to name just three examples.
And it would be fair to say that Nouaison like to go against the grain. Quite literally in fact, given that they buck the trend of using neutral grain spirit. Instead, they opt to utilise a grape base that pays homage to the history and hallmark of French winemaking;
“Inspired by the vine life cycle when the green grapes start to grow, Nouaison Gin is a smoother alternative to traditional London Dry gins”.
To this base, the team then blend 14 botanicals to deliver their distinctive taste, which includes juniper berries, cardamom, ginger, sandalwood, bergamot, plum, Java pepper and vetiver (the latter batch of ingredients being newer to my palate, even after all these years of…research).
In a further celebration of their heritage, given their proximity to Cognac, the Reserve expression is then left to mature in Cognac casks from the teams estate ‘domaine le Perat’ to elevate the character and complexity.
Nouaison Gin; Dress to impress
Situated close to Cognac, Maison Villevert’s state-of-the-art production and bottling facilities focus on a high end finish for the Nouaison package. And as with dating, first impressions count.
I would describe the look and feel of the bottle design as understated but not shy. Eloquent and sophisticated, not brash and in your face. Quietly confident, not boisterous and suffering from an inferiority complexity.
The jet black glass of the dry gin, with the shock white and gold font and trim of the label, is sparse yet alluring. It’s akin to a more stripped back version of the classic Hendricks aesthetic, its reserved imagery provoking intrigue.
Paradoxically, the golden hue emanating from the Reserve expression is simply intoxicating (and that’s before the stopper is even removed!). The minimalist design and labelling carries a look of ‘small batch whiskey’, rather than gin, which I really enjoy.
And speaking of the stopper, it is the piece de resistance. The heavy set, polished wood topped, cork houses an embossed metal disk that denotes the ‘N’ of the Nouaison name; the rose gold of the Reserve is particularly striking.
Nouaison Gin; To taste
But how would my ‘blind date’ with this new gin go? Would it be love at first sight or a case of ‘let’s just be friends’? I was donning my metaphorical red carnation and heading to the bar.
Fred was beckoning me in with some confidence boosting compliment about my eyes and manly musk – but to be honest, he had me at ‘gin’…
Nouaison Gin Classic
There is an initial sharpness to the nose, with a hit of citrus zest and herbaceous bite that feels almost classic. The warming sting of the booze is reassuringly bold, befitting of the 45% ABV. The aroma feels bright and vivid, with enough complexity to intrigue the senses, without tipping in to pretentiousness. As the spirit opens up in the glass, that grape base definitely provides an elevated sense of sweetness on the nose, with soft and fruited characteristics pulled forwards.
That aforementioned sweetness translates directly on to the palate, with white wine tannins and a drying finish providing a perfect accompaniment to the experience. The gin itself is beautifully smooth, with an oily rich mouthfeel that subsides to the warm depth of the finish – with just enough sting to let you know you’re drinking something rather grown up.
The juniper is resinous and upfront, coating the palate, which is a joy in itself. But I find there are delicate nods towards herbaceous greenery and perfumed florals that make this really interesting to drink. I pick out notes of lavender and rose petals, with a lush feel of hedgerow and leafy coriander.
On the back notes, a spiced complexity catches the back of the throat with a warming confidence that lingers long after each sip. It is very enjoyable to taste.
To serve, I started out with a classic G&T. The gin lends itself perfectly to the long cocktail, with its delicate and fresh flavours enhanced by the quinine. It’s a joy to drink and one I’ve returned to several times.
But as I’ve been assured countless times, size isn’t everything. So you can rest easy that Nouaisson sits perfectly in the shorter serve Dry Martini. If it wasn’t smooth enough already, the ice cold vermouth moves you in the velvet territory. And adding a twist of lemon amps the vibrant citrus and grape flavours up to volume 11. Exquisite.
Nouaison Gin Reserve
As Thierry Henry would say, here comes the ‘va va voom’.
On the nose, the aroma is clean and fresh, retaining the body and suggestions of sweetness from the classic. However, the key and notable difference here is the influence of the cognac cask, which brings a whole new world of complexity to the party… there is a heady mix of wood, sweet sherry and peaty whiskey that interchanges on the lead character each time I return to the glass. Subtly spiced stone fruits linger on the background of the nosing, making for a ridiculously good first impression.
To taste, and. Wow. I had to put the glass down for a moment to savour the first sip.
It is silky smooth on the mouthfeel, with absolutely no alcohol burn to speak of; like a hot knife through butter, the gin carries a gentle poise and elegance that gives a sophistication to the drinking experience.
Those spiced stones fruits (peaches and apricots) sit alongside sweeter pangs of orange. A background of herbaceousness and root spices bring the heat, whilst you’re never too far from the bright and fruited sweetness of the gins base spirit.
But the cognac ageing is what makes this gin so special.
As a non-whiskey drinker, I was pleased to find that the peaty notes are far less prominent to taste, with just enough of the smokey and woody characteristics to add depth and complexity. As we move in to the colder months of winter, the light suggestions of boozy currants and Christmas pudding spice will go down (potentially a little too) well in front of an open fire.
The question that will doubtlessly get raised with the Reserve expression is ‘how to serve’. And whilst calls for a Negroni would most definitely be warranted, a call that I heeded, I have a simpler answer; naked. (The gin, not me. That’d be weird). I simply can not stop drinking this neat over ice, with no garnish required.
The hard work has already been done for you in the distilling and aging process, so there is no need to dent that flavour profile with intruders. To do so would be almost a crime! (except for Negronis. They’re ace. Obviously).
Nouaison Gin; Would you like to see each other again?…
It’s at this closing stage of the date (or tasting as it were) that the producers of ‘First Dates’ would ask their blind date couples; ‘so, would you like to see each other again?…’.
Cue an awkward silence (as the gin couldn’t speak for itself) and I can confirm my answer is a resounding ‘yes!’.
This is a gin with enough points of difference to ensure it’s on constant rotation for sampling with house guests to provide evidence of the breadth of the gin category. And yet it also retains enough of a classic anchorage that I will definitely continue to enjoy exploring it across new serves. And as for the Reserve? I think it is one of my very favourite examples of a cask aged gin, that will be receiving a call for replenishment once it is inevitably finished.
And in perfect timing, my Wedding Anniversary is today (14/11). As Fred would say (probably), oo la la.
With huge thanks to Nouaison Gin and Maison Villevert for my complementary bottles of the Classic & Reserve gins.
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