Thursday, 17 December 2015

Raise a glass to 2015

As PK would say, It is time to reflect upon this last year, during which the Royal Mail again failed to deliver the letter notifying him of his appearance in the forthcoming New Year’s Honours List. Or, as CJ would say, So.

This time last year our book had just come out. Having appeared at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, and the Chiswick Book Festival, we were delighted to be listed among the Drinks Books of the Year in both The Independent and the London Evening Standard – and even more delighted to receive the John Avery award at the André Simon Food & Drink Book Awards.

We were also shortlisted for the Born Digital Wine Awards, and the IWSC Blogger of the Year – and we finished the year being ushered into the company of the wine Establishment, and appearing in Decanter magazine.

From which pinnacle we bid farewell to 2015.  We now owe it to ourselves to drink as much as possible over the festive season, rendering us incapable of producing the blog until the New Year. And while we’re tidying up in the aftermath, we’re going to refurbish the Sediment site.

Thank you for reading, and we’ll see you in 2016.


Thursday, 10 December 2015

Christmas Grog: Some Survivors

So it's all well and good for PK to spend his days inwardly debating the pros and cons of which shape of decanter would best suit the fine Bordeaux he's going to serve up at his charming, thoughtful, adults-only Christmas Dinner, peopled by wine conoisseurs, former members of the Diplomatic Corps, academics, senior police officers, Anglican clergymen, newspaper proprietors, Members of the Privy Council, international financiers, UN dignitaries and all the other inhabitants of the fiction factory inside his head, but the rest of us have to live in that land of broken dreams and dishonoured promises known as the real world.

Which for me means spending nearly all of Christmas on the M4 motorway, dragging the family from my Ma's house (junction 15) to my Pa-in-Law's house (at the absolute fag-end of the M4, where it gives up entirely and becomes the A477) in a welter of recriminations and mislaid Christmas gifts. Given that my Ma has no properly functioning oven and some highly contingent hotplates, the main job will be to get some kind of edible turkey on the table before the Queen starts her speech. Which means, I guess, cooking the thing back here in London and rushing it on Christmas morning smoking and steaming like a newly-crashed meteor down to Gloucestershire, while at the same time conjuring some sprouts from nowhere and possibly microwaving the pudding, if the microwave still works. Equally, we may just have to cook the whole meal on my Ma's toaster.

In this context, wine is so far from the centre of my thoughts that it might as well not exist. Some things are known: my Ma likes white wine, Blossom Hill for preference, but her new regime of pills might not allow her to drink anything stronger than cocoa; the wife likes an vanishingly narrow range of sparkling whites, probably a Cremant de Limoux if we have any choice, but that's it; the boys drink anything, as do I, so we can make the most of the stuff still lying around from last Christmas, plus any petrol-station reds picked up beforehand; my Pa-in-Law (when we get down to his place on Boxing Day) is wedded to all wines which are Primitivo-based and have a massively high alcohol content; while his partner is a brand-label white enthusiast, whatever the meal, lamb, wild boar, buffalo, it's all good. She, fortunately, is a handy cook and has a modern kitchen too, so the food is no longer a worry once we have butched it out as far as the Welsh wasteland that is our ultima thule. All I then have to do is smuggle something red at 13% or less into the house and keep it by my side throughout The Alamo (BBC2) and Stars In Their Eyes Celebrity Special (ITV1), so that by December 28th, I might be able to look forward to the rest of my life again.

Have we ever managed a PK fantasy-style grownups' Christmas? I don't think so, not even in that protean decade between the end of studenthood and the time when I started a family of my own. My Ma has always been a resentful and haphazard cook (bless her), blaming her ineptitude on having grown up in a household with servants, while my Pa didn't know one end of a wine bottle from the other and didn't terribly care either. If we got through Christmas Day without searing indigestion or a crippling headache, it was a result. Later on, when it came to hosting Christmas ourselves, us, the younger generation, it was just one smouldering crisis after another followed by a huge amount of washing-up. As a consequence, when Nigella Lawson talks about there being so much food to celebrate at Christmas, it makes me want to cack.

What then must we do? Treat the drink as an analgesic, principally, but with seasonal overtones. The Russians, I feel, would understand, both the nature of the suffering and its remedy: the situation we find ourselves in is absurd and inescapable; we must therefore be courageously nihilistic in our response. The snows lie deep around Yasnaya Polyana, but deeper yet in the car park of the Leigh Delamere motorway services.


Thursday, 3 December 2015

Why pairing's a prickly subject

I do get a bit fed up with all this food and wine pairing business, suggesting dishes I could never cook, or which were last served in Downton Abbey. And it reaches a frenzy around this time of year. What goes with turkey? What goes with turkey and  cranberry sauce? And stuffing? And parmesan sprouts? And penury?

What of the comment by one wine writer this Christmas, that Kanonkop Kadette 2013 “likes to be drunk with spice-rubbed lamb.” Oh does it, indeed? Heaven forbid I might serve it with something else, and upset the wine

In the States, they have now run out of sensible foodstuffs for their legions of wine writers to write pairing articles about. As a consequence,  they have reached the absurd level of proposing wines to pair with sweets. It beggars belief that anyone old enough to drink wine would be childish enough to go around “trick or treating” for “Halloween candy”, but there we are. Out of interest, they suggest a Twix is best suited to either a bold red, or a dessert wine, which sounds like really covering your options. And next time you want to open a fine bottle of claret, you might like to know that they suggest pairing cabernet sauvignon with M&Ms.

But all of these start from the premise that the important thing is to match wine to food. Surely there are other issues which are just important in matching wine to a particular gathering?

Take, for example, the décor. Surely a wine has to pair with the table on which it will sit? Think, for example, of a dinner table like my father-in-law’s, with its mahogany polished like a mirror, and candlelight flickering in the crystal glasses. To stand in those silver bottle coasters, a wine needs drypoint images on the label, and serif typefaces. Heaven forfend a screwcap. And as for one of those colourful modern labels? Well, why not just have done with it, forgo the silver cellars, and put the Saxa salt drum on the table?

Although of course, there may be circumstances in which a dose of such loud garishness may be just the thing to pair with your evening. Perhaps you have a bunch of students coming round? Or Timmy Mallett

Yes, do consider the personality of the guests. There may be some people who are immensely entertained by “humorous” wine labels, and whose merry laughter compensates for the taste of shoddy wine. However, such people are not in my own social circle, and the sound I imagine hearing is of choking rather than chuckling. Such wines do not match with my guests, or indeed me, and I must stress that, however well it might go with the food, I would not be remotely amused by anyone bringing to my house a bottle of Old Git.

Consider also the nationality of one’s companions. Mrs K and I recently went to an excellent dinner party with a French host. It seemed to me that it would be vulgar to take a French wine. Shouldn’t you suggest that someone knows more about their own, indigenous product than you possibly can? As, in fact, it turned out.

Of course, no matter how well it paired with the food, the height of rudeness would presumably have been to take a French host a New World wine. Our own French host served his own French wine, and tactfully explained that, sadly, he was given a headache by any wines from places which began and ended with the letter A – Australia, Argentina, America…

But if you are matching wines to events, there are some occasions when a New World wine is absolutely correct. For instance, it is surely not done to pair Old World wines with a barbeque. The Old World is still thrilling to its invention of the indoor oven. Outdoor cooking events pair well with wines from the New World, where such occasions are enjoyed, as presumably they are still short of indoor cooking facilities.

Perhaps we have put the cart before the horse on this one. If we are serious about good wines for special occasions, then surely the wine is more important than the course it accompanies? Let’s face it, it may well cost more. So why don’t we choose our wine first, to match all the characteristics of the occasion, and then choose a food which shows it off at its best?

And no, I don’t need a wine pairing for cheval.


Don't miss our feature in the new issue of Decanter magazine (January 2016): The Perils of a Wine-lover's Christmas