Thursday, 2 April 2020

Spirituous Liquor

So as one week lethargically follows the next, I find myself thinking about spirits a lot of the time, these days, what with one thing and another, mostly as a way to lighten the present burden. Gin, whisky. Whisky, gin. And sometimes, just sometimes, my thoughts are echoed by, say, this snippet which I come across from Luis Buñuel:

After the dry martini comes one of my own modest inventions, the Buñueloni, best drunk before dinner. It’s really a takeoff of the famous Negroni, but instead of mixing Campari, gin and sweet Cinzano, I substitute Carpano for the Campari. Here again, the gin - in sufficient quantity to ensure its dominance over the other two ingredients - has excellent effects on the imagination. I’ve no idea how or why; I only know that it works.

Talk about an intelligent use of one’s drinks cabinet. And gin as the great imaginative stimulant: of course. It always comes back to gin.

Then, a few days after my encounter with Buñuel, someone emails me with, among other things, another snippet, this time from that fake F. Scott Fitzgerald letter which was circulating a while back - the one about being quarantined during the Spanish ‘Flu epidemic - especially and not least the bit which goes:

The officials have alerted us to ensure we have a month’s worth of necessities. Zelda and I have stocked up on red wine, whiskey, rum, vermouth, absinthe, white wine, sherry, gin and lord, if we need it, brandy. Please pray for us.

I mean, if I hadn’t subsequently discovered that this started life on McSweeney’s, well, I’d still be musing on the exact quantities Scott and Zelda were planning. It still seems alarmingly plausible, even now. Plausible because, not least, of the absinthe. Gin and absinthe: I must try it one day, if I can ever get any absinthe. If I can ever get out of the house.

And then what do you know but a day later, on A Drinker’s History Of London, I find another piece of pandemic-themed invention:

The ‘Quarantini’ could consist of any remaining dregs of booze you’ve got left in the house after two weeks’ isolation (e.g. a mouthful of grappa, a half-drunk bottle of Nigerian Guinness, an in-flight Beefeater miniature, an ex’s Tia Maria gift set) mixed and chilled as appropriate and gently imbibed.

To which some bright spark has added a more specific Quarantini recipe in the comments section at the bottom:

4 Parts Deaths Door Gin
1 Part Killepitsch Liquor
Several Szechuan Peppercorns

The world is turning inwards as a result of Covid 19 and what it finds in this process of involution is that its collective mind is turning to spirituous liquor, as so often in the past. To put it another way, my mind is turning to spirituous liquor and I’m not alone. Wine won’t do it any more, it’s too frivolous. Wine can’t address the needs of the current ghastly situation. At the moment my own Quarantini is whisky and soda, which I reckon has powerful antiseptic and antiviral properties, especially if drunk in a seated position. Next thing is to try it lying down, as it might be, in bed, recovering. Then maybe walking around at a distance of two metres from passers-by. Then lying down again.

I admit this particular Quarantini isn’t new, nor exactly a recipe, more a statement of fact. Then again, that Red Snapper thing from a few weeks back was scarcely more complicated and it has its own fancy name, so I’ll stick with the elemental ur-pairing for now. Unless there’s something I could add to that whisky and sparkling water mix which would elevate it to the level of something something nameable without actually ruining the taste. I mean, no bitters or vermouth or anything like that. Actually I'm thinking: Paracetamol.


Thursday, 26 March 2020

An isolated problem

Well, this is a little bit annoying.

As the more perceptive (or less understandably preoccupied) amongst you might remember, I was away for my last post. Mrs K and I were in Amsterdam, and returned just as the world slammed shut behind us. So I see little point now in writing about the travel-sized bottles of wine I took, which you can no longer get out to buy to drink with a meal you can’t assemble to take on a train which isn’t running to a country which is closed. The very words “travel-sized” now seem as nostalgic as “cigarette holder”.

Instead, I am sitting inside, and blocking out larger worries by fretting about the order in which to drink my way through my cellar.

Full marks to those merchants who are continuing home deliveries of wine. But I would be embarrassed myself, when my neighbours are getting critical deliveries of food and medicines, by the appearance of a wine merchant’s van. Who wants to advertise that they’re still downing wine, when others are surviving hand to mouth? (Although hopefully they’re not actually touching their mouth with their hand…)

Perhaps wine merchants could avoid this by rebranding their delivery vans as something more currently acceptable? Berry and Citrus Fruits Bros, perhaps. Majestically Deep Home Cleansing. Laith Fitness Weights.

Despite the protestations of Mrs K, I have but a modest cellar. I realise, in fact, that I may have been aggrandising what now seems a meagre collection of wine by even calling it a cellar. And most of that is not meant for everyday drinking. It is reserved for grand occasions, like significant birthdays, which I now realise only happen every, oh, sixty, seventy years. For visits from members of the Privy Council, which for some reason never actually seem to occur. And are clearly even less likely than never to occur in the coming weeks.

One problem, however, is the lack of a timescale. How long does my cellar have to last? On the one hand, perhaps I should be rationing my consumption in order to stretch it out. But on the other, if this really is the end of days, then you can stuff your recommended daily units.

There’s one argument which says that if this could be my last ever spell of drinking – which, let’s face it, is more likely than it was last month – I should start on the good stuff, to make sure I drink it before I go. Never has the saying “Life’s too short to drink bad wine” seemed more potentially appropriate.

But would I enjoy it, imagining that each bottle could be my last? And what will it accompany? I was always a bit dismissive about “pairing” wines with my customary fish fingers, sausages et al, but at least I had fish fingers and sausages. Oh, to have the issue again of considering what to drink with baked beans!

And if I drink the good stuff, what would I then have to look forward to? Imagine coming out the other side of all this, with only a few bottles of grot? There must come a day when all of this clears – “unlock-down” perhaps they will call it – and what if I had nothing then with which to celebrate?

Worse, I may develop a habit of regularly drinking old clarets, top-notch Riojas and reasonable if not quite Super Tuscans. My finances could never sustain that full time. I could face a situation in which, after “the tide turns” (© Boris Johnson), I have existed on very basic food and very good wine, a pairing which it might be difficult to reverse.

But I am already beginning to run low on the supermarket stuff. And embarrassing as the arrival of a wine merchant’s van might be, worse still, surely, to emerge from a beleagured supermarket, passing a patient, socially distanced queue, pushing a trolley laden with budget booze.

So I have already drunk a suspect Italian red that someone must have left here as a gift. I am finding surprisingly appealing the sight of the acidic sauvignon blanc I had left in the fridge for cooking.

“And worse I may be yet: the worst is not/So long as we can say 'This is the worst.’”


Thursday, 19 March 2020

The Fifteenth Day Of The Plague

So in the light of the current crisis, I've drawn up a ten-point plan to help me and the wife get through it while we're stuck at home:

1) Make sure we have enough whisky. At present we have nearly two litres of industrial supermarket whisky, one unopened bottle of single malt and a single malt about two-thirds down. This lot should last at least a week, although anxiety may force us to drink it quicker than usual.

2) Don't read La Peste in translation or the original.

3) Also two bottles of gin plus a supply of tonic, sufficient for a week if I don't get out of hand.

4) Several loaves of bread in the freezer, plus unidentified pots of brown stuff which may or may not be stew. In the long days ahead we can eat our way through the latter and guess what it is we're eating. Actually, one is marked as a vegetarian sweet potato ensemble which will be the last to go, I'm guessing.

5) Wine is more problematic. I seem to be unable to drink red these days. Not sure why. But along with four now-awkward reds I've got five rosés, two bottles of champagne and a spare bottle of olive oil. The red thing is a bit of a mystery. I've only got to go near a red of any sort and I get a pounding headache. Age-related? Nature's way of telling me I've already reached a lifetime's consumption of the stuff and must now turn to other beverages? I'll be sad to see it go, but only slightly.

6) Oh, and a can of Guinness in the fridge.

7) On no account watch or listen to Nigel Farage or Donald Trump in any medium.

8) Keep tabs on the drink supply in the supermarket. Obviously, toilet paper, paracetamol, tinned sardines, they went ages ago. Wines and spirits, on the other hand, seem to be holding up. If this state of affairs persists, what with the loo paper and the sardines, we will be malnourished and despairing when the whole thing blows over, but we will also be 93% pure alcohol - effectively, living sanitary handwipes. We might even charge people to wipe their hands on us as a precautionary measure. 

9) Remember what point number nine was meant to be.  

10) Paint the bathroom. I've been talking rashly about this for weeks. Now there's no way out, literally no way out. So I've got the paint, I've got the brush cleaner, I've got the sandpaper and the dust sheets. What I'm currently short of is willpower, but by next Monday I'll be so brassed off with wandering fretfully around the house trying to decide if I feel ill or not, I'll do anything to break the monotony. Maybe I can try drinking some of the brush cleaner, can't be worse than that Lambrusco. If I'm not already dead. Now I think about it, I could usefully also start work on a fresh ten-point plan for the next stage of the plague, whatever that looks like. I have a feeling toilet paper is going to be at centre of it. Toilet paper and whisky and everything else will be a bonus. It's like living in Lerwick. Who knew?


Thursday, 12 March 2020

Thursday, 5 March 2020

Great Wine Moments In Movie History XI: Solaris

Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris (1972) has become a one-film industry in its own right. Thousands of words have been written about it; thousands of hours spent debating its meaning and significance. It's Will Self's favourite film, but don't let that put you off. It's up there with A Bout De Souffle and Touch of Evil in cineaste culture. I saw it for the first time only the other day, so my take on it is still relatively innocent; although it's hard to shake off the feeling that Solaris is the kind of film enjoyed by people who don't really enjoy anything that much.

What's it about? In brief, this: strange goings-on (hallucinations, suicide) on board an elderly Russian space station floating above the planet Solaris require psychologist Kelvin to pay a visit and sort things out. When he gets there he finds the station tatty, mildly chaotic, the two remaining crew members (Snaut and Sartorius) in a state of deep, listless, alienation. He also discovers his wife, who actually committed suicide some years earlier. Not his actual wife, of course, but a projection of his memory of his wife, embodied by the psychically invasive planet above which the space station hovers. Hari - the wife - becomes increasingly real to Kelvin. Despite his efforts to kill her off and her own efforts to kill herself, again, she persists in hanging around to the point where the two rediscover their love for each other, or at least their love for an other which may or may not be the other. At the same time an accomodation must be reached with the sentient planet. Also, what is the meaning of space exploration? And what is the meaning of human? Is the film about the inevitability of repeating past mistakes? It's very Russian.

But here's the thing: in the course of a nearly three-hour movie, no-one on the space station eats or drinks a damn thing except at a melancholy party to celebrate Snaut's birthday. And what do they consume? Apart from the odd cigarette? Red wine. Why wine? It must mean something, because everything means something in Solaris

What is clear is that the wine accompanies an outburst by the misanthropic Sartorius, who reduces the luminously beautiful Hari to tears by reminding her that however real she may think she feels she is, she is no more than a representation of Kelvin's past and therefore has no existence. Shortly afterwards, she tries to kill herself. Again. It is one of the pivotal sequences - although every sequence might as well be a pivotal sequence, for that matter - and it has some red, not a burgundy, judging by the shape of the bottle, maybe a nice Dagestan, poured into crystal glassware. Tarkovsky was a deeply convinced Christian. A biblical, sacremental kind of wine? But Tarkovsky also disdained mere symbolism, the freighting of one thing with another's allegorical purpose. So perhaps not.

But it is red wine, after all, and nothing this colour inhabits the camera's field of view without some justification. Is it there merely to signal a lowering of inhibitions to the point where Sartorius can deliver himself of his thoughts? Man needs man, says Snaut, on his way to getting properly plastered. You're not a woman and you're not a human being, says Sartorius to Hari, a minute or so later, you're just a reproduction. A candelabrum crashes to the floor. 

Alex Garland's Ex Machina, from 2014, deals with similar ideas (handful of people in the middle of a futuristic nowhere, beautiful android girl crosses the line from machine to human) but the only booze in that movie appears to be designer vodka, in keeping with the affectless geeky modernity of the production. Or tequila. Either way, there's no visual impact if you use a clear beverage. Only red wine is emblematic of our shared humanity. Or maybe that's the point with the transparent vodka/tequila; maybe that's precisely the point in Ex Machina. And why aren't the Russians drinking vodka on the space station, it's the drink which fuelled a nation? Exactly. It has to be red wine. The characters in Solaris were dogged by disappointments, Tarkovsky later wrote, and the way out we offered them was illusory enough. I think, in the end, we all know what he means.


Thursday, 27 February 2020

A little bird told me…

Modesty would be a wonderful thing in winemakers. They would disappoint fewer people. They might even sell more wine.

I was wandering past the posh wine merchant’s, when I saw that they had a February sale on. With a Spanish dish for supper, I had reconciled myself to Rioja, as you do, when I was drawn to a Monastrell from Jumilla in their window. It was reduced from £10.95, which is 96p the wrong side of maybe, to j£7.95, A price which brought to mind those famous last words “you can’t go wrong”.

So I take home a bottle of Talento – or, as you can see on the label, Talento Talento Talento Talento…Alright! I heard you the first time! If New York, New York was so good they named it twice, what does that imply about repeating Talento nine times?

But then I am intrigued to find this on the back label: “Use what talents you possess, the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.”

Well, this is novel. Winemakers are notorious for not just blowing their own trumpet, but employing a personal brass band. Yet here is a wine seemingly suggesting that it may not be the best.

Althoiugh he is not credited, the quote is from Henry Van Dyke, a US Presbyterian minister and writer popular in the early 20th century. He penned a number of similar platitudinous quotations, such as: “There are two good rules which ought to be written on every heart - never to believe anything bad about anybody unless you positively know it to be true; never to tell even that unless you feel that it is absolutely necessary; and that God is listening. “ Which basically kills stone dead our contemporary birdsong, Twitter.

Yes, we definitely do want a range of “birds” in our wine “woods”. We just don’t need them chirping on about how proud they are of their product, about the proximity of their nest to that of a more celebrated bird, or the fact that they have themselves hatched from an egg laid by a tuneful parent – none of which are guarantees of a lovely song.

But let us not strain the analogy further. The posh wine merchant says from on high that “This is 'Bandol on a budget'”, an enticing phrase given that my Bandol stock is and will probably always be zero, and my budget little more. It’s a “vino ecologico”, which sets off a tremor of nervousness; but I am encouraged by the merchant’s idiosyncratic detection of “a whiff of Eccles cakes”, following which I trust they will baffle other international customers with references to pease pudding, custard creams and spotted dick.

Finally, they say, it “simply sings from the glass” – and we’re back in the woods with the birds.

But actually, it is distinctly tuneful. A dark, purplish colour with a heavy bouquet, leads on to an interesting combination of bright top notes over a weighty, soft base, with that cherryish thing of bitter fruit. It’s too full-on for a guzzler; it’s a very tasty wine to sip and consider. Appropriately, a beaker full of the warm South.

Which, given the way they have lowered my expectation (to say nothing of lowering the price) left me charm’d.

I actually went back and bought a case; they had more bottles in their shop than online. “Quick, said the bird, find them, find them”.


Thursday, 20 February 2020


So I'm still feeling kind of peaky to be honest. I mean, this cold. Don't ask. PK and I went to a tasting a week or so back and I couln't taste a thing, let alone enjoy it. And there was some good stuff there, too. Burgundies, or something. I went home early. And now I'm still stuck with the half-life of the damn thing, enough to make me feel as if I've been sleeping rough for the last fortnight. I wish I was making this up.

Then, yesterday, I discover: gin and tomato juice written down in a notebook, by me, as if I meant to make some use of this concept. Gin and tomato juice? Somebody told me about it, I'll swear, but who? And why? Because it's delicious? Or did I find it on the internet and it's awful? In my weakened state, I can't decide. I'm sure I wrote it down because it's a good thing rather than a bad thing. And the more I think about it, the more I feel the certainty that gin and tomato juice is exactly what I need to deal with my cold. Or perhaps the exact opposite. Increasingly these days I find myself in this position.

Quick check, though. Yes, there it is, all over the internet: a Red Snapper - gin and basically tomato juice, and people seem to like it, and then it comes to me - it was in Sip - a book very kindly given to me as Christmas present by my gin-loving pal, along with a bottle of fabulous bespoke gin. Yes, Sip, there it is, sponsored by the famous Sipsmith and offering a hundred gin cocktails with this on page 129: basically a Bloody Mary but with gin, the result being a drink in which the 'Gin's herbaceous qualities and lack of sharpness compared to vodka make this a far superior combination.' I knew there was a reason why I'd singled it out. God, yes. It's just gin, Bloody Mary mix and a bit of pepper. It's beautiful.

I rush out, or rush as fast as my distemper allows me, get some Bloody Mary mix, chuck it in a glass with some gin and an ice cube and feast on the results. It is about the best thing that's happened this month. It is the best thing, by a mile, there's no getting away from the fact. Yes, I watched Winchester '73 last week, and that was fantastic, but that aside, this Red Snapper is so delicious I'm almost hysterical with enjoyment. And tomato! Who doesn't need some tomato from time to time? And gin?

But how could it be anything else? Anything with gin is good. Why do I have to keep reminding myself of this? Every few years, it seems, I wake up noisily to the fact that gin is unbeatable stuff, a drink to make every day seem like New Year's Eve, no, New Year's Eve is usually terrible round our way, some other day redolent of great promise and delight. Gin.

And if a Red Snapper isn't enough, check this out, from elsewhere in Sip:

Lords G & T - gin, tonic and a dash of port in a highball glass, a kind of bruised pink colour, the face of an elderly cricket fan
Gin Spritz - gin, Aperol, champagne. 'This drink cries out for a sunny afternoon' the recipe says, at the very least
Vesper - gin, vodka, Lillet Blanc, Ian Fleming's favourite, I've had that somewhere and it was good
Reverse Martini - gin, four times as much vermouth, lemon peel. Julia Child, the TV chef, drank prodigious amounts of this stuff, reckoning it went better with fish than any white wine. She also claimed, apparently, that the two most important items in a kitchen were steak and gin
Gin and Dubonnet - favourite of the Queen Mother, along with a Gin and It. A simple classic

I could go on. I've got three different flavours of gin on the drinks tray, like The Three Graces, two green and one clear - the clear being the bespoke one which is so bespoke and high-tone I haven't even opened it yet, reckoning both myself and my habits as somehow beneath the gin itself. Of course, if I study Sip a bit harder and invest in some orange bitters and a bottle of triple sec, I might get myself to the point of making some even wilder drinks. I might also be shitfaced much of the time, but I'm not sure this wouldn't be an improvement. I'll ask around, once I'm over this cold.


Thursday, 13 February 2020

Real Wine Gums? You can stick 'em.

The last time I tasted wine gums, I hadn’t tasted wine. They were part of a peculiarly English route to drinking alcohol which, instead of the watered-down wine offered to French children, began here with wine gums. You chose one of the supposedly grown-up flavours, and then tottered around for a second or two pretending to be drunk. Not, as I recall, pretending to be a wine connoisseur. 

Wine gums were later followed by those hideous chocolate liqueurs at Christmas, a vile combination of cheap chocolate, with a sugar shell inside, enclosing a dribble of nasty sweet liqueur. Somehow as children we believed these noxious sweet items were somehow “drinking”. From which it was then a painful route through shandy via cream sherry to Southern Comfort (Southern Comfort!) to actual, discerning adult drinking. And it all started with wine gums.

But of course, there was famously no wine in Maynard’s wine gums. The confectionery business had been founded by Charles Riley Maynard, a strict Methodist, who was enraged when the gums were created by his son and heir, Charles Gordon Maynard. But the father was persuaded by the fact that the gums contained no actual wine; and Maynards have continued to the present day with that tradition. Or, I suppose, deception.

Yet now, from Amsterdam, comes The Real Wine Gum.  Beautifully boxed, stylishly designed, and described on their website as “edible wine”.

“The Real WINE gum isn't a candy for children,” they say, playing fast and loose with their capitalisation, 'but an "adult luxury happiness'.” Indeed; €7.50 for a cute 50g box is certainly not pocket money. And they describe it within an adult lifestyle. “Everybody recognizes that moment; when you’ve worked hard all day, and can’t wait for that first sip of wine once you get home. That moment can now already take place at work with our Real WINE Gum.” And look – it even resembles a bunch of grapes!

But let’s get one thing clear – there is no actual wine in these “Real” wine gums, either. “We created a wine gum, which actually tastes like wine, but doesn’t contain any alcohol.” So they’re playing similarly fast and loose with their use of the term “real’. And they “actually taste like wine”, eh?

Well, they have a distant, fragrant kind of flavour which, in that way of sweets, you could have told me was grapefruit, lemon or elderflower and I would have believed it. They say on their ingredients that it contains “Chardonnay wine aroma”, and it does have an appropriately faint flavour, in that way of “tasting” a scent on your palate. And there’s a lingering, vaguely medicinal aftertaste, as if you’ve sucked a throat lozenge.

“Adult luxury happiness” I’m not so sure about. I'm not even sure what it is.There’s nothing to object to about their flavour, but a €7.50 bottle of actual Chardonnay would give me a great deal more happiness per se.


The closest Maynard’s equivalent wine gum, “champagne”, is black, yielding a key advantage to the Real WINE Gum which does at least have the colour of a Chardonnay, albeit a fairly flaccid one. But that raises the whole issue of Maynard’s colours; how come both champagne and port are black? Is that why, unlike their wine counterparts, they actually taste the same? And how come “port” is black, but also orange and… green? What is this green port? Or green sherry?

And of course, the taste matches the colour, not the wine. Which also means, no doubt much to the chagrin of the French, that “claret” and “burgundy” taste exactly the same. Basically, raspberry. Ish.

Also, the embossing is rubbish; about half of each word is illegible. Perhaps, under some kind of product description edict, they are now trying to play down the wine titles, and pretend that they don’t say champagne, port, sherry, claret or burgundy? Perhaps mine have already been sucked? (Don’t…) Or perhaps this blurring is a sophisticated way of imitating the effect of alcohol, taking the wine gum’s relationship to wine into a new and surreal dimension?

Because it certainly fails to imitate the taste; the “champagne” gum has an almost nutty flavour, with an aftertaste that provides another reminiscence, that of licking postage stamps. And it also now has a spongy, bouncy texture, whereas the gums of my youth were as tough as an eraser.

But a few are embossed simply “MAYNARDS”, which removes any expectation of a wine flavour. And these taste simply of hot asphalt playgrounds, and my go, and chinese burn, and swapsies, and that big boy over there did it, and got you first, and no returns.

Which is why the designer wine gums, in trying to echo the "Real" taste, look and fragrance of wine, have surely missed the point. Wine gums are not meant to taste of wine. They taste of childhood.


Thursday, 6 February 2020



9.15: So I've spent the last week wrestling with a cold the size of the Andes, which has meant (among other things) that I've been drinking mostly tea and whisky on account of not being able to taste wine - no hardship, given the stuff I normally consume, in fact I feel slightly better overall for it, apart from the cold - and which, therefore, just about accounts for everything else. You all take care now and be sure to wrap up warm.

9.47: Oh well, yes, there is an ongoing situation looming in the wine rack, but I won't bore you with the details.

9.48: It concerns, if you must know, a bottle of Lambrusco which someone very kindly gave me for Christmas. I mentioned it. There is a problem with it, I won't go on about it, I don't want to be a drag, what with this cold and everything. Just that the PKs, PK and his glamorous missus, came over a couple of weeks back and I thought I'd get this stuff out to go with the sweets & cheeses course, it being, I thought at the time, a sweetish fizzy Lambrusco such that you could eat with sweetish things, which included persimmons as it happened, a fruit PK had never encountered before and made a huge fuss about trying for the first time. I'd even chilled the Lambrusco a bit, for laughs. Open it up, pour a couple of glasses, take a swig and it's dryish, not sweetish. I stare at the label and what do you know? Secco, right there on the label, right where I can see clearly it but have until now failed to. Have you any idea what this tastes like? I mean, it's bad enough sweetish, but dryish? It's like a boiled sweet dissolved in kerosene. It's so bad it ranks down there with the poison we concocted last year, the home-made stuff. I had to throw it away. I couldn't even use it for cooking. I don't want to think about it. I'm done, frankly.

2.33: No, that's it.


11.08: Except, as I said, there's this ongoing situation - there were two bottles of the Lambrusco to start with, now there's one. It's just sitting there. I don't know what to do with it. I hate having a bottle of wine sitting around being undrinkable. I've still got two of the home brews and I find it irksome beyond belief that they're there, waiting for me to have an idea of what to do with them, some crazed inspiration which I know will never come but the possibility of which haunts me. Maybe I should take a run at one of them now, while I've got this cold and can't taste anything? I could try that. But do I want to drink anything that badly? I'm not eighteen.

11.10: I mean, whoever heard of Lambrusco Secco?

11.16: Turns out, quite a few people. Deep, complex and savoury says one commentator; Refreshing and easy to drink says another; Great to pair with fennel-infused sausages says yet another.

11.25: Gorgeously purple crops up, too.

11. 48: Very well. As soon as this cold comes to an end, I'm going to have to man up and open the second bottle, apparently in company with some fennel-infused sausages or, failing that, some charcuterie or, failing that, some spicy Thai cuisine, which sounds dreadful however you approach it. What it adds up to, at any rate, is a precautionary side dish of something - anything - strongly-flavoured, to cope with the horrible guff coming off the Lambrusco. I can't wait.

2.07: So how come PK wasn't onto this when we tried the stuff a couple of weeks back? He's supposed to be the expert. He's always going on about Super Tuscans and for all I know a Lambrusco could be a Super Tuscan, I mean, come on, it's not a million miles away. All right, it is in principle, but you take my point.

2.10: I think the cold's come back.


9.55: It's definitely back. At least, it hasn't gone away.

9. 59: I think I'm giving up wine altogether.

10.03: Unless it's coronavirus, of course.

10.05: Lemsip. Lemsip and whisky, alternating. I could see that. I could see that for the rest of the year, to be honest. Lambrusco Secco! I just don't need the aggravation.


Thursday, 30 January 2020

A glass of wine and three straws

It’s the latest instalment of "expert" advice on “safe” wine-drinking. Professor David Nutt, a former government adviser on drugs, has declared that alcohol is so bad for us that we should only consume about 5gm a day. That is the amount contained in about 40ml, or roughly a third of a small glass, of wine. A measure so small that pubs and restaurants do not serve it.

But Professor Nutt has proposed a solution: take three drinking straws to the pub, he suggests, and share that single glass of wine with two friends.

Seriously. That’s three adults, sharing one small glass of wine. Through drinking straws. In public.

This is just the kind of ill-considered suggestion which is Sediment’s meat and drink. Well, drink. All I needed were two adults with whom to try it out. For the sake of discretion I’ll just call them ‘Alan’ and ‘Simon’.

There is something infantilising about drinking straws. They immediately bring out the child in us all, even when drinking an adult drink. Fair enough, we were trying this before a Chelsea match. But even so – out of all of the multi-coloured striped straws I had brought, everyone only wanted blue ones. Yes, that’s how childish we chaps are. I’ve been accused of being childish ever since I was a child – when, in retrospect, it was a perfectly justifiable way of behaving.  But seeing as how they were my straws, I certainly wasn’t going to have a red one.

So I had to rummage through the whole pack of striped straws to find three blue ones. And then, with visions of the set of Reservoir Dogs, I had to stamp upon the suggestion that we might use the straws to blow wine at each other. God, it’s like a nursery. As Joyce Grenfell would have said, “’Alan’… don’t do that.”

Professor Nutt does not make clear whether you are supposed to sip sequentially, or simultaneously. Well, given three wine-drinking men, by now desperate for a drink, the latter is what happens. Three men, faces inches from each other, heads bowed as if in prayer over a sacred glass. Getting some pretty strange looks from the next table.

Our initial tentative sips revealed that wine simply does not taste the same through a straw. This is presumably because you get zero bouquet, as your nose is six inches or so away from the wine. You can still swirl it around your mouth, but it just doesn’t taste as flavoursome. It becomes simply a case, as ‘Alan’ phrased it, of “putting this stuff in your mouth and swallowing it”. Which is essentially true of all wine drinking, of course; but the practice is normally endowed with a little more poetry. And pleasure.

We then realised we could not let go of our straws. All three were blue. We might mistakenly use someone else’s straw. Or… someone else might drink all the wine.

Because Professor Nutt also fails to address what ‘Simon’ describes as “competitive drinking”.  We looked into each others’ (closer than we would like) eyes. And in fear of getting less than the other two, all three men immediately Hoovered up as much of the wine as possible. In seconds, the glass was empty. It was like watching fire hoses. 

Presumably, as far as Professor Nutt is concerned, that should be it for the night. Needless to say, it was not. After a third of a glass of wine, drunk through a straw, our whistles were not even moist. We subsequently wet them thoroughly. Without using straws.

This has been only a narrow exploration of drinking wine through a straw. For instance, using a straw  supposedly avoids staining your teeth. Perhaps you should similarly remove that risk from eating, by foregoing anything that needs to be chewed.

And then there is the notion, as ‘Simon’ reminded me, that when we were young, drinking through a straw was reputed to get you drunk more quickly. Some say that’s because you drink faster, some because of the way the liquid crosses the back of your throat, some because of air in the straw. In other words, no-one really knows. But I’m sorry to tell you that, after this straw-based fiasco, I am not tempted to find out.

Instead I have to consider what to do with the remaining drinking straws. I think I will leave them, one by one, in the lavatories of grand establishments. I mean, what would you think if you went for a pee in Downing Street, or Westminster, and found a straw on the cistern? 

And what, I wonder, would a former government adviser on drugs have to say?