Thursday 20 December 2012

Wine to go – Cavatina Goblet Shiraz

I suppose all of us must sometimes feel, despite our desire for a glass of wine, that it’s just too much hard work to open a bottle, and pour its contents into a glass. Oh, the effort. Or perhaps all of one's wineglasses are dirty? Or broken? Or you’ve forgotten which way round a corkscrew turns? That must be when we reach with a sigh of relief for a serving of wine conveniently prepackaged in a sealed plastic goblet.

This concept once appeared on Dragon’s Den, a TV programme in which, for the uninitiated, business concepts are “pitched” to a panel of potential investors. The entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne said at the time: "This doesn't work as a selling item. People do not want to buy wine in plastic glasses like that. For that reason, I'm out."

But of course, he has been proved wrong. I could have told him that, depressingly, there are people out there who will buy wine in anything, from cardboard boxes to metal cans, from absurdly shaped and coloured bottles and faux carafes to CJ’s jerrycanA plastic goblet seems positively civilised by comparison.

And despite the Dragons’ misgivings, this concept seems to be proving extremely successful with, the manufacturer’s website says, “picnickers, concertgoers and commuters.” I will take their word for the latter, as I haven’t myself seen anyone drinking wine on the 237 bus.

But it would seem to me, despite my opening remarks, that the market for sealed plastic goblets of wine is surely an outdoor one. Which was why I was surprised to see it on the supermarket shelves this week. Because here in London, it’s December, and it’s been bitterly cold – icicles hang by the wall, and Dick the shepherd blows his nail. (Heaven knows what Nail the shepherd blows.)

Yet Lord Sainsbury, in his infinite winter wisdom, piles these goblets high and sells ‘em, if not cheap, then at £2.49 apiece. And upon his informative little shelf-talker, he recommends that they are “Perfect with grilled steak or tomato-based pasta dishes”. 

Now, those are not really outdoor dishes, are they, whether in chilly December or not. So they are clearly suggesting that one enjoys this product indoors at the moment, with one’s warming winter meals. So be it.

I can tell you from the outset, though, that having a plastic glass, with a label on its side, at your table for Sunday lunch, makes you feel a total prannock. (One of the offspring raises the glass, quizzically; Mrs K offers those emollient words,“It’s for the blog,” and they both sit back to watch with barely disguised amusement.)

Obviously you could try and emulate in your home the outdoor situations for which the goblet was presumably devised. You could perhaps picnic in the dining room, by sitting on the floor in an uncomfortable position, pairing your plastic glass with plastic cutlery, and forgetting several vital components of the meal.

You could emulate train commuters, by lurching about in your seat, overcrowding your dining area with newspapers, and having your companion push past you mid-meal to visit the lavatory. 

Or you could resist going to the toilet at all, and turn on somebody else’s choice of music at inappropriate volume, while, every so often, your companion jumps on your foot. That’s the outdoor concert. Or is it the commuting…?

Anyway, the goblet initially is a little challenging. Opening it is rather like opening a pot of yoghurt, or a plastic flagon of milk. Like the milk, the problem comes with removing the very last bit of the foil lid, which jerks free and invariably causes the contents to slop out. Like the yogurt, one wonders whether it is socially acceptable to lick the lid.

I would like to describe the wine’s bouquet, but I can’t, because the glass is almost full, and so it is impossible to get your nose inside the glass without getting wine in your nostrils. Loath to share the fate of the Duke of Clarence, we shall have to forgo notes on the bouquet.

And the goblet is also somewhat uncomfortable in the mouth. In order for the lid to adhere, the rim of the goblet is flat, not rounded – again, like a yoghurt pot – which means that it catches on your upper lip as you drink. It is akin to drinking from a plastic flowerpot.

But astonishingly, the wine itself is actually drinkable. It’s a pretty bog-standard Shiraz – a bit light in weight, but with distinctive fruit and spice, and no evil catch in the throat. The plastic seems to have had no more discernible impact on the flavour than on beer in a plastic glass, or water from a plastic bottle. Frankly, I’ve drunk worse. And as the price of £2.49 a goblet actually works out at £9.99 a bottle, it ought to be drinkable.

There’s something to be said when the means of delivery is less palatable than the wine itself. Yes, I could have poured the wine into a proper glass. Equally, if there was any merit in serving wine at home in flat-rimmed plastic receptacles, I could have poured decent wine into a yogurt pot.

What to do now with my plastic goblet? It says on their website that the goblet is “in fact near unbreakable” which, as another offspring is fond of saying, sounds like a wager to me.

But on the base it says that you can “reuse” it. Their website seems devoid of suggestions, so if anyone has any ideas for reusing a plastic flat-rimmed goblet, I would be interested to hear them. In the meantime, enjoy your Christmas, although it may only involve this product if you are pursuing your festivities outdoors. 

Or on a train.


Wednesday 12 December 2012

Hungarian Red Disappearance

Another day, another spasm of nostalgia.

'Whatever happened,' I say to my wife, 'to Hungarian red wine? We used to drink a ton of it.'
'It was horrible, wasn't it?' she says, baring her teeth at her new smartphone.
'It was, quite. But not quite horrible enough.'
'How do I delete an app?'

My phone is so dumb that I don't have apps as such. On the other hand, I do have a working phone. I take the opportunity to drive home my advantage.

'It was really, really cheap. And quite drinkable, in 1990.'
'Why don't you help me for once?'
'Bull's Blood? Whatever happened to Bull's Blood? We used to drink a ton of it.'
'Now look what you made me do. I've got rid of the browser, and the browser is the one thing I wanted.'
'So you couldn't look something up for me on your smartphone?'
'The browser's gone!'
'About Hungarian wines.'

Normally she would hurl her phone at me with a cry, only the thing is so new that I know she won't. Thwarted, she has to growl instead, unable to decide whether to growl at me or the smartphone. Two easy goals in the space of five minutes, I tell myself. I saunter off to my old desktop computer, feeling that the day is not going too badly.

But the problem remains. I want some old-school Hungarian red, but where is it? The big three supermarkets - Tesco, Sainsbury and Asda - only seem to do whites. Bafflingly, an online supermarket wine aggregator lists a Hungarian Cabernet Sauvignon from Asda, followed by Not Available and No Price, so I guess that line may have bitten the dust. Asda themselves list a Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon, but, like the other two supermarkets, they only seem to sell Hungarian whites.

Waitrose sell a white, too, and I know this because I actually wrote about it two years ago: Eva's Vineyard Chenin Blanc. Back then I called it 'A wholly transparent straw-coloured wine beverage whose colour did not change as a result of being exposed to the air' which induced 'a pleasing floral throb in my temples'. Clearly I was on top of my game, in those days. More surprisingly, the celebrated Fiona Beckett has also written it up, noting that it'd be 'Good for a bank holiday barbecue to which you've impulsively invited the entire neighbourhood.'

Even more surprisingly, and in the same piece, she draws our attention to Eva's Vineyard's own Merlot, which is listed by Supermarket Wine at the shatteringly sensible price of 3.99. Even more surprisingly than that, the page on which the Merlot sits is graced by a single outsider's comment, inserted by PK, in which he quotes the transparent straw-coloured crap review I had written nine months earlier about the Chenin Blanc. I am now consulting myself at several removes about a wine I think I might, in this world, want to buy on a web page which refers to a different wine altogether. This opens up such a dizzying avenue of perspectives that I have to go and lie down.

It is also the case that I am no nearer a cheap Hungarian red, because although Supermarket Wine puts it up there, Waitrose's own website doesn't, and it's certainly the case that only white is on sale at the branch down the road.

What else? Well, I can order something red online from the Hungarian WineHouse, but their cheapest is 10.80 a bottle, about three times the price I was hoping to get away with. Or I could get some actual Bull's Blood from DrinkSupermarket, at a much more bearable 5.69, but now I'm starting to ask myself, how badly do I want this stuff? At best it's a whim, at worst a folly, and the thought of making up a case and waiting three days for it to arrive makes me lose whatever enthusiasm I once had. I mean, a cheap Hungarian red is an impulse nostalgia buy or nothing at all. I can't even remember what it was about those reds that now seems so irresistible. Apart from their simplicity, incredible cheapness, robustness. Did they have a particular dusty, granular quality that, back in the Nineties, came over as sophisticated?

I return to the kitchen, where my wife has got her smartphone working again.

'It was in the rubbish bin,' she announces, smugly. 'So I just pulled it out of the rubbish bin and put it back on the start page. What did you want to look up?'
'Nothing,' I say. 'Nothing at all.'


Thursday 6 December 2012

Wining and Dining – The Sediment Guide to Wine and the Dinner-Party

Get it here! Wining and Dining - The Sediment Guide to Wine and the Dinner-Party– is an e-book short. Eight inimitable brand new and exclusive Sediment essays, on the subject of wine and the dinner-party, for less than the cost of a glass of wine. One of The Guardian's best drink books of 2013, and available from Amazon now in the UKand US
The dinner party is a social minefield. Some might say that the food, the placement, the guests and the conversation are all key elements in a dinner party’s success. But in typical Sediment fashion, we largely ignore such things.

We focus instead on the wine. For, as CJ rightly says, “the wine must be there and it mustn't be so foul that it makes your armpits prickle.” Wine can make or break your evening. And hence, we are proud to offer our own idiosyncratic advice on wine and the dinner-party.

The selection and service of dinner-party wines are clearly significant things, now that dinner-parties themselves have become something of a competitive sport. So these, and other, perhaps less obvious aspects of the evening’s wine, have been considered, by two gentlemen who have drunk rather more of it than their wives think they ought.

Of course, we have each taken our own particular approach to the event itself. For PK, “the dinner party is a combination of fashion show, restaurant, and debating chamber, held within the pages of an interior design magazine.” To which CJ retorts that “The main fashion statement at the last dinner party I went to was that the men had bothered to wear socks.”

The positions we each maintain on dinner-party wine may be anticipated by our regular readers, of which we are told there are some. One of us is hugely concerned about the wine and what it says about you. “Yes, it’s unfair that people may judge you by the wine you serve. But it is a declaration, to any guest who can read a label, of your worldliness, knowledge, style and generosity.  Guests may judge you by equally unfair characteristics like your accent; but the wine you serve and the way in which you serve it is more easily altered than a tendency to rhyme ‘like’ with ‘oik’.”

Our other author insists simply that “dinner without wine is a trial, an indefensibly spartan and protracted event. The wine must be there, and in quantity, to make a dinner worth attending, or giving, or ruining, or turning up late for, or hosting. …Here in the sticks, we don't select wine, we just go out and buy it. And we don't serve it, but we do plonk it on the table and hope it will pass muster.”

After such preliminaries, we consider other crucial ingredients of the evening itself, like cooking with wine – “or, rather, drinking wine while cooking, such that the first adds excitement to the experience of the second, without screwing it up completely.” 

There is the thorny issue of taking or receiving wine as a gift, “probably a habit left over from student days, when PBAB was in the corner of most social invitations, and the type of B you’d B was largely irrelevant.”

We do, of course, consider the choice of wines themselves and how to serve them – in essays addressing wines before, during and after the main meal. Knowing that our readers do not anticipate extensive tasting notes, we provide our usual idiosyncratic blend of general advice and suggestions, and try wherever possible to temper any ignorance with wit.

And finally, we consider the end of the evening, always remembering that “the best dinner parties are the ones you have no recollection of leaving”. 

You need to read this e-book, before the Christmas invitations start flying, and you feel compelled either to invite people round for dinner, or to accept an invitation to dine out. 

You can buy Wining and Dining for yourself or, of course, you can give it as a gift; unlike many other potential presents for a wine enthusiast, it will not break in transit. (In the UK, you can send your recipient an Amazon gift certificate for £1.99, and embed the link in the message field.) Unlike certain wines, it suggests only positive things about your taste.

You need to buy it for those friends who hosted that appalling dinner. And you need to buy it for yourself, so that you’re never described as those friends who hosted that appalling dinner.

Our Sediment guide is like the wine itself: “It will not necessarily induce merriness, boisterousness, wittiness or open-heartedness, but it will take away some of the pain, especially at your own dinner party, where your cooking will taste like the contents of a birdbath, and the merriest noise will be the sound of someone's car alarm going off.” 

Wining and Dining - The Sediment Guide to Wine and the Dinner-Party
Available from Amazon now in the UKand US

Surely the most enjoyable thing on the wine market for just £1.99.