Monday 23 December 2013

Season's Greetings from Sediment!

We wish all our subscribers, readers and visitors a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

May your glasses be more than half-full throughout this festive season.

We will be back in January, livers permitting.



Thursday 19 December 2013

Loire Red: With Extra Fish

So we're having dinner with some people and our host, looking abundantly pleased with himself, announces that not only has he recreated for us a meal he recently enjoyed in a restaurant in France - using salmon, admittedly, instead of proper sea bream on account of the fillets of sea bream you get over here being the size and thickness of a stamp hinge - but that to accompany it, we're all going to drink red wine. I am thrilled and slightly scared, as if potholing or strip poker have suddenly made it onto the menu. But I feign calm, while the host explains his reasoning.

'It's the perfect match,' says the host. 'It's not like a red at all.'

We're talking Loire, as it happens, and a Loire red - in this case, an apparently standalone Cabernet Franc - served with an intimation of the fridge about it, appears right in front of me like a visitor from another planet.

Well, this is one of those moments. This is on a par with serving Sauternes with foie gras (pretty much a waste of two good ingredients); or sticking a dash of red wine into a Bloody Mary (surprisingly affirmative); or drinking cider with asparagus like the late Sir Oswald Mosley (never tried it); or serving port and melon (just crappy, let's be clear); or Guinness and oysters (Guinness yes, oysters no). Even chilled red wine tout court makes me a bit edgy. I mean, it's just food and drink, it's not an assault on my belief system. But it assumes a kind of terrible unreasonable intensity, as if I might be found to be a lesser person (I'm as neurotically craven as PK, here) for not appreciating red wine with fish.

So I push in a forkful of salmon and take a sip of the Cabernet Franc. At this point the host waves his hands and says, loudly, 'The mash is infused with garlic.'

This leads the bloke opposite me - who is actually a French economist - suddenly to advance the proposition that restaurants in provincial/suburban France are now uniformly awful because the women who used to run them have all gone off for better-paid jobs in other industries. 'Without the women, they're nothing,' he seethes.
'I think you'll like the aniseed fragrances in the fennel,' the host adds, before going on to do an impersonation of Kevin Pietersen, the South African-born cricketer.
'I am working on a memoir of my parents,' the woman next to me says. 'I intend to tell the truth.'
'France has lost its way. The whole country has lost its way,' the French economist says.
'It was a wonderful restaurant,' the host shouts, 'they had sea bream, you see.'
'They were very unhappy together,' the woman next to me says.
'Geoffrey, you're shouting,' says the host's wife.

We take a run at the food.

'I think the salmon's delicious,' my wife ventures.
'And then we filled the car with Loire reds,' the host goes on.
'It's important not to disguise the truth.'
'And of course, London is now France's sixth-largest city.'
'Stop shouting, Geoffrey.'
'In Paris, you can still eat well. Toulouse, also.'
'They separated while I was still young,' the woman next to me says.

Our host knocks over the butter.

'Have I done my Kevin Pietersen?'
'He shouts like this when he's had too much wine.'
'The potato's very good.'
'It's infused with garlic.'
'Actually, we had a huge lunch before we came here. I can't eat all this.'
'My name's Kevin Pietersen.'
'I'm not trying for a publisher.'

'So look - ' the host turns unexpectedly to me - 'what did you think of that red? With the fish? It was good, wasn't it?'

I look at the bottle of Loire Red. It is empty. I have no recollection of drinking any of it. That's how unassuming it must be, I think to myself. So unassuming that you can drink it with fish and not turn a hair; probably cornflakes, too. No wonder they don't make a big deal out of Cabernet Franc.

'It was great,' I say. 'Really good with the fish.'


Thursday 12 December 2013

Ten green bottles. Or two. Maybe six. No, four. Twelve?

You read about a particular wine. You track it down to some obscure merchant on the other side of the city. You can’t order a single bottle, so you have to go to the shop. Or you find yourself on a trip to somewhere or other, and you pop into a local wine merchant, just to browse (hem, hem). 

And there it is on the shelf, the label appealing, the price enticing and the assistant flattering – “Oh yes sir, splendid choice, hard to find that one, just at its best right now…” – in that awful manner that reminds one of Uriah Heep.

So, from the green bottles on that wall, how many do you buy?

Better buy just one bottle. To begin with. To see how it tastes. If a single bottle is duff, you’re in the clear. You can pass a taste to your nearest and dearest, who will grimace; whereupon you can say “No, I thought not, won’t get any more of that,” and promptly finish the rest of the bottle. On sufferance, of course. Waste not, want not. And without the problem of a further stash in the cellar which you would have to fob off somewhere.

But what if it’s really good? In that (sadly, in my experience, unlikely) event, you’re then annoyed that you haven’t got more of it. 

So better buy two bottles. The first one to taste, by yourself, so that you know whether or not the second one is good to serve. It’s as if that second bottle gives you an excuse to drink the first alone, without sharing it – or, as it may be preferable to say, without inflicting it upon those you care about. And if it’s bad, you’ve only got another single bottle to offload by nefarious means.

But again, what if the first bottle’s good? Then you’re back in the position of having a single good bottle, which is a bit Johnny No-Mates. I can’t remember a single bottle seeing a friend and me through an evening. In fact, I can’t remember a single bottle seeing a friend and me through a lunch.

So better buy three bottles. One to taste by yourself, just to check, and then a brace to share. And if you think a bottle a head is a bit much, may I remind you of the great philosopher Emmanuel Kant, known primarily for his rather sombre Critique of Pure Reason. It was said of Kant’s dinner parties (as quoted in our Wining & Dining e-book, one of The Guardian’s best drink books of 2013) that “Before each guest was placed a pint bottle of red wine and a pint bottle of white”. Hence 75cl a head sounds purely reasonable to me.

So better buy four bottles. Because how many usually sit around your table? Four is getting somewhere serious. Four’s a party. Although… four also means you might be tempted to dip in for a bottle yourself, on a lonely evening. Because how long can you wait for a party?

There’s always something sad, as well as pleasurable, about drinking your stock; as George Saintsbury says in his Notes on a Cellar-Book, “it was rather a ‘fearful joy’ to take a bottle of it from the dwindling company”. From three or four bottles you’d notice – but not from five or six. And the recent flurry of 25% discount offers were on six bottles or more. If you’re going to buy four bottles anyway, and it means you get a 25% discount plus a bottle or two for spare, you may as well move up to the half dozen, no?

So better buy six bottles. 

More and more bottles are being sold in small cases of six. Actually, I’m surprised given decimalisation, and given the Euro, and given the French, that the chateaux didn’t leap upon any opportunity to rationalise the contents of a full case to ten bottles, citing metric calculations as some sort of justification, while of course keeping the price the same. After all, how many things do we still buy by the dozen? Apart from bakers?

But if you’re buying from merchants, the proper price (to say nothing of free delivery) requires the traditional case purchase of twelve bottles. And let’s all be honest here, the “real” price of wine is that twelve bottle price. It’s not that they offer a reduction by the case – they actually impose an increase by the single bottle. If you want to get your wine at the proper price, and if you’re going to get the car out…

Better buy twelve bottles.

Of course, a case is a lot of wine to buy in one go. (Or so Mrs K tells me.) Especially if you’re not sure how it tastes. An entire case of terrible wine is an awful thing (as CJ discovered, when he laboured to get rid of one). Who are these people who buy entire cases of completely unknown wines from mail order companies, on the advice and tasting notes of…the mail order companies? Far be it from me to say such people have more money than sense, but they clearly have more money than me.

Better buy just one bottle first. To begin with. To see how it tastes.

But haven’t we been here before…?


Thursday 5 December 2013

Make Your Own Wine: Waitrose Champteloup Chardonnay

So I acquire this bottle of ChampteloupChardonnay for £5 or £6 on special offer, and to my amazement - so much to my amazement it almost feels like chagrin - I find that it's incredibly tasty (nicely structured, a bit of richness but without losing, yes, a degree of formal elegance, this concept made tangible by virtue of the wine being presented in one of those thoughtfully slim-hipped bottles such as I used to buy Muscadet sur lie in), tasty to the extent that I go straight out and buy another bottle. This is delicious, too. And there my wine week ends, or it does until I see a news item about a guy in California who has invented a domestic-scale, automated wine maker, called a WinePod.

What does this WinePod do? Apparently you tip a quantity of grapes into the Pod, set the controls, and wait. Cunningly-crafted software tells you what's going on inside the Pod and what interventions might be needed. A couple of months later, you pour out forty-eight bottles of drinkable wine. The WinePod™ will press, monitor, ferment, age and ultimately produce a classic vintage of your design. Yes, yours, it says on the website. The device has been likened to a kitchen bread maker in its simplicity and ease of use. It even looks like a giant stainless steel wine glass, thus conflating the means and the end in a way which heroically anticipates cows shaped like milk bottles and chickens with peel-off barcoded wings. It costs (correct me if I'm wrong) something over $6000, which includes the Winecoach software but not the grapes.

I cannot decide if the WinePod™ is quite a good thing or a threat to the totality of civilisation. Because if you think about all the home-made alcoholic drinks you've consumed in the past, what sensations are evoked? Cautious gratitude? Moist-eyed nostalgia? Or dread?

We've all drunk teenagers' homebrew for its narcotic value and the interesting texture of the sludge at the bottom, but after that? A friend of ours makes, according to my wife, a pretty nice cider, but then you've got to like cider and in any normal conditions I'd rather drink my own bathwater. On the other hand, my father-in-law used to make a kind of Vinho Verde from the vines he cultivated in his greenhouse - using the tendrils, the bits of stalk and leaf, the pebble-like grapes, plus all the spiders which had settled there over the summer months. Spider wine it was sometimes known as, and it wasn't bad: tart, pétillant, but with a good colour and a positive attitude. But that was a happy accident. All other home-created drinks have been uniformly awful, and I include among these the sloe gin we cobbled together some years ago - which was just sloes, sugar and supermarket gin, I mean, how bad could it have been? Painfully bad as it happened, bad enough for me to throw down the sink with a look of bleached horror, like a walk-on in The Thing.

Which is as much as to say, what chance does a serious drinker stand with the WinePod™? I mean, the website looks great, it gives off an air of magisterial competence, and after about nine or ten pressings the Pod will have amortised its initial costs pretty well. But even allowing for all this, there is no getting away from the fact that making wine yourself is like building a kit car or taking part in amateur theatricals: you don't do it for other people to enjoy, you do it so you can enjoy the thrilling proximity between your own efforts and what those efforts would look like if they were excuted properly. It is asymptotic, because however good you get, you can never reach that final condition of sweet professional achievement which is paradoxically at the heart of every DIY adventure. Put it another way: in order to succeed, the WinePod™ must, fundamentally, fail.

Which brings me back (ha!) to my Champteloup Chardonnay, of which I could buy maybe one thousand bottles before it cost me more than a WinePod™ + shipping costs + grapes + electricity + bottles and corks. To say nothing of the heartache and the sense of futility and the blurred vision and the terrible, terrible, indigestion which would be my inevitable reward if I had one. Need I say more? That on this occasion, the easy thing - not to buy a WinePod™ - is also the correct thing? No, I don't think I do.


Thursday 28 November 2013

A forgotten wine – Muscat de Beaumes de Venise

This is about a forgotten wine. Which, in typical Sediment fashion, does not mean an unusual and rare variety which has slipped off the radar of wine connoisseurs. It’s a wine which I was taking to a dinner party – and forgot.

Mrs K and I had an invitation to a country weekend in Devon, with my very good and very longstanding friend BT. (Those really are his initials; I’m not pretending to be friends with the telephone company. However, his house does therefore boast monogrammed junction boxes.) 

Following my principle of giving dessert wines as dinner-party gifts, I was going to take an authentic Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, from Domaine des Bernardins. This is the wine which, back in the 80s, introduced my generation to the idea of dessert wines. Since then, it has been somewhat forgotten. As indeed it was last weekend.

We’re bowling down the motorway, somewhere around Bristol, when Mrs K innocently asks “Did you remember the wine?” Oh. No. It is still in my library, some 120 miles back. 

There is only one possibility. We could stop at a motorway service station, with its little mini-supermarket, and buy another bottle of wine. But the wine I could get would be as obviously desperate as garage flowers, those half-dead bouquets which announce their provenance with a faint aroma of benzene, and the unique presence of purple chrysanthemums. It would be rubbish wine, certainly not dessert wine but some basic, caustic red or acidic white at an inflated, captive audience price.

So I am plunged into one of my typical wine etiquette quandaries. Do I buy, or not buy, some service station rubbish wine? And do I explain, or not explain, the circumstances to mine host? There are four potential outcomes…

I could buy and present a bottle of rubbish wine with no explanation. To an old friend, who knows his wine, and has probably got something really nice planned to accompany dinner? The last time we came down, I brought what I think was a rather nice Tokaji Aszu, 5 puttonyos, not as unctuous as some dessert wines but with a greater breadth of honeyed flavours. He might quite reasonably be expecting something similar. Given rubbish service station wine, his face will fall like a child given socks on Christmas Day.

He is also very familiar with the coverage I have given here to rubbish supermarket wines. So even without an irritant hazard warning on the label, I can’t claim ignorance. I can imagine him thinking, this is the sort of industrial product he writes about – and he brings it to me?

Perhaps I could buy and present a bottle of rubbish wine, and explain what had happened. Fair enough, and possibly better than option one, but… what is he going to do with it? Keep it for cooking? Palm it off on offspring seeking a last-minute bottle to take to a PBAB party? Make me drink it, alone, with my dinner, as punishment? To someone who knows about wine, there is little worse than being lumbered with a bottle of rubbish which they would be loath to drink, ashamed to serve and embarrassed to give away.

So perhaps I should buy no wine, and just say nothing. We have some chocolates and Amaretti for our hostess, so we would not arrive empty-handed. Would he even notice, in all the hustle and bustle, whether we also brought any wine? Well, in similar circumstances, I’m afraid I certainly would. It’s part of that whole doorstep business, hail fellow well met, how was the journey, and here’s something to help things along. It’s like noticing whether a chap has come without his trousers.

My final option – buy no wine, and explain. “I had this really nice, carefully chosen dessert wine, which you would have liked, and we would all have enjoyed – but I’ve forgotten it. I am an idiot. It is currently standing on my library table. You may never get to drink it, because in all honesty I will probably take it to someone else’s dinner party or drink it myself at Christmas. I am a stupid, badly organised man, and although I seem to have remembered my trousers, I have probably forgotten to pack something else, which I will only remember when I come to clean my teeth. Oh…”

You may like a moment to ponder which of these options I pursued.

Well, gentle reader, I chose that final option. I bought no wine, and explained. I felt a fool for five minutes, but then I think the gaff was forgiven.  And we were plied with a succession of splendid wines, amongst which a service station offering would have looked as awkward as a paper cup in a Wedgwood store. As, indeed, would I.

And like a true friend, BT put me through no social embarrassment. Except when I asked if I could have the claret, rather than the Burgundy, to accompany my duck – and he explained that the claret was meant to go with the cheese…

But that’s another story.


Thursday 21 November 2013

Waitrose Romanian Pinot Noir

So the wife and I spent a very engaging few days in Budapest a couple of weeks ago, and while I was there I drank effectively no Hungarian wines at all, apart from a glass of watery Tourist's Red as an accompaniment to a vast and hissing plate of pork and sauerkraut (which latter made our afternoon trip to the Hungarian National Museum a heart-stopping exercise in the management of explosive gases), but instead got outside a good deal of Bitburger beer, which was delicious, but was not wine, not Bull's Blood or Tokaj or anything else. I was a fool to myself. It preyed on my mind all the way home - regret at a wine opportunity shunned, coupled with a desire to make some kind of reparation once I was back at base.

Not that I went out and got hold of any actual Hungarian wine when the chance arose. No, I bought a bottle of Romanian Pinot Noir from Waitrose, on the basis that Transylvania, now a subsection of latter-day Romania, once formed part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and was therefore close enough. Also, I have to admit, I got something of a frisson from the very idea of a Romanian wine, plus it was on offer at £5.59, and it said on the label According to legend, Dionysus the god of wine was born in what is now Romania, which sealed the deal so far as I was concerned. And no, this wan't just the usual riot of self-delusion: Romanian wines get a fair press these days, with value for money, gluggable and great potential leaping out from the internet like hired assassins, quite enough to suggest that £5.59 was about right. Yes, the Ceaușescu years will take a lot of getting over in all aspects of agriculture and commerce, but there were grounds for cautious optimism.

That said, it turned out to be the most unbelievable wine I think I have ever drunk. Worse even than my doomed no-price CDR. I can't begin to describe it: ink, plastic bags, liquorice, aspirin, brake linings, jelly cubes, halitosis and burning straw were all implicated, but even that list is just the tip of the iceberg. It was a red liquid, yes, I remember that, but so is farmers' diesel. I gave it a day to calm down, and it was still unbelievable, only now with an extra, corrupt, Vampiric, edge, plus a top note of London Underground tunnel smell. It was so unbelievable I had to go and buy a second bottle just to make sure. This second time around I was better prepared: anticipating the unbelievable, I found that actually it was no more than unspeakable, a bit like the Secret Name of Ra. But still.

Two things occur to me. First is that, in an unhappy variation on the conventional folly of drinking at home the drink which tasted so good on holiday - with all the sense of rank failure and disappointment which ensues - I have acquired a drink which I didn't drink on holiday, from a country which I didn't visit, in the hope of re-living a pleasurable experience which I have not actually had. Everything about the transaction is therefore wrong, so what did I expect?

Secondly, I have begun to suspect that I am in a covert war with Waitrose, who continue to sucker me in with their bargain basement wines because they only have to appear to cater for the truly budget shopper. They do not actually intend these wines to be in any way drinkable, instead employing them as a virile inducement not to hang around the £5 mark, but move briskly up to something more Waitrose's style, at £9+. I, of course, will not give in to this arm-twisting, but insist on my right to poison myself as and when I please. This is one battle I have no intention of losing, I say under my breath, leaning heavily against the display cabinet: the truth of the matter being that there is absolutely no prospect of my ever winning it, and that it is, to all intents and purposes, already lost.


Thursday 14 November 2013

Cork – some bits of advice

Here’s a thing. I looked at the glass of wine I had poured myself, and it had fragments of cork in it. Which made me a happy man.

Now, we are not talking chunks. We’re not talking about a crumbling old port cork disintegrating into bits the size of molars. We’re talking grains of rice. Neither planks nor motes, but somewhere between the two.

No-one’s going to die from swallowing cork. Swallowing a cork, possibly, as I imagine it could happily plug any orifice from your throat to your anus, with fatal consequences for your through traffic. But not swallowing titchy little bits of cork.

And it’s not going to spoil the wine. Look at it this way – the wine’s been in contact with that cork for years. Anything it was going to do to the wine, it would have done by now. A few minutes more is hardly going to make any difference.

There are some wine buffs who just love it when there are bits of cork in the wine, because they know some ordinary mortal at the table is going to say “Oh, is the wine corked?” Cue the wine snob smirk, and “Ah no, that’s not actually ‘corked’ as such. When you say a wine is ‘corked’, it doesn’t mean it’s got cork in it.” (Oh no, that would be far too obvious for an arcane subject like wine.) 

“When a wine is corked, it means…” and cue as lengthy an explanation of corked wine as a wine buff feels is appropriate and/or impressive enough for their audience. (Wine spoilt by the presence of the chemical TCA, usually transferred from the cork, will do for me.)

But then someone says “Oh, fair enough. So what do you wine experts call it when you have bits of cork in your wine?” And your wine buff haws and hems and says “Well, we generally refer to that as, er, having bits of cork in your wine.”

I’ve never seen an issue with cork fragments myself. If they’re small, you can ignore them; if they’re slightly bigger, you can swirl them up onto the side of the glass. And if they’re big, you can just hoick them out with your finger.

Why do people have a problem with this? Are they concerned about getting wine on their fingers? Or fingers in their wine?

If people are happy holding lamb cutlets, spare ribs and the limbs of small birds, which deposit grease all over your digits, why would they baulk at getting wine on their fingers? And if they’re happy touching their bread, why do they baulk at their fingers touching their wine?

Yet to comfort all fastidious drinkers, there was a surprisingly popular post doing the rounds a fortnight or so ago which recommended that you remove fragments of cork from your wine with a drinking straw, using it as a kind of pipette. Put the straw over the fragment, your finger over the other end of the straw (to create a vacuum) and lift. Voila.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t have straws at my dining table. I might if a small child were present, but I would rather put my finger in my wine than borrow the straw of a juice-dribbling toddler. 

If in a restaurant, I would strongly suggest not requesting the two items together as a precautionary tactic. You would certainly get a funny look in the dining rooms of St James’s asking for “A bottle of Lynch-Bages 89 and a straw, please.”

Indeed, if you’re going to introduce a special cork-fragment-removing implement to the table, why not a pair of shiny tweezers rather than a straw? Much more in keeping with the cutlery. And perhaps from that manufacturer whose name never ceases to amuse me, Tweezerman, as if there is a superhero whose threat to baddies consists of “Tell me where the money is, or I’ll tweeze you so badly…”

But…far from being a problem, I saw the fragments in my own wine as a positive thing. 

Because they reminded me that this bottle had had a cork. Not a depressingly functional screwcap. Nor that hideous kind of flesh-coloured plastic bung which tries to impersonate a cork but looks more like a medical appliance. No, the presence of cork in my wine reminded me that I had actually opened a proper bottle of Bordeaux; Chateau Fougere La Noble 2009

So of course it had a cork. What I was about to drink was not industrialised, branded and bargained, grubbed up from the bottom shelf amongst the passing footwear and trolley wheels. Those little floating bits presaged a traditional, authentic, chateau-bottled wine.

And indeed it was, a proper Classics master of a claret; a little stern and rigid at first, always reminding us of the importance of structure, but coming on with smoothness, warmth and honesty, and leaving behind a woody, smoky trail. 

So I was entitled to feel happy. Fragments of cork in your wine are not a problem. And if they announce an authentic, traditional wine experience like that, then they’re alright by me. Float, float on.


Thursday 7 November 2013

Terms of Reference - M & S Côtes du Rhône

So the International Federation of Wine Critics has just finished its deliberations over which terms are to be internationally approved when it comes to written wine appreciation, and which are on the way out: and their recommendations (in the forthcoming Oenophile Glossary) make fascinating reading for anyone interested in wine and wine writing.

This year, in an effort to drag wine criticism firmly into the twenty-first century, there's an emphasis on modern technology and the contemporary arts. Thus, we find among the new verbal inclusions, Tipping point, Bruschetta tendencies, Aspect ratio, Ringtone, Undercoat, Mosh pit and Kiera Knightley - this last to denote a wine, usually white, which looks fantastic in the bottle but turns out to be a bit on the thin side. Among the terms being phased out, or deprecated, to use the software developer's jargon, are Woody, Chewy, Jammy and, thank God, Minerality. Debate still rages over the proposed replacement of Structure by Armature: both are currently permissible, although I have my doubts that Armature will prove sufficiently of the now to gain traction. I expect it to be replaced in the near future either by Strategy or Floorplan, but we shall see.

Peach will be phased out completely by 2015, to be replaced by New car smell; while Gooseberry will make way for Romanian persimmon - a relief to all of us who have no idea what a gooseberry actually tastes like; while Raspberry, plum, blackcurrant and, indeed, all other soft fruits will be harmonised into the single term Melbury for the sake of clarity and simplicity. In a couple of nods to Hollywood, Blood pack will be used to denote any of those repulsive 15% or more Californian reds, while Russell Crowe will be used for all other heavy-hitting New World wines, including Australian Shiraz and Argentinian Malbec. Angular is both in and out, while further talks are being held on the future of Robust. At the same time, a working party is looking into Interface, Mellow, Chupa Chups, Personality and Narrative-driven, and will report early in the new year.

What else are we saying goodbye to? Well, Velvety has the executioner's axe hanging over it, as does Finesse. Assuming they're both fully decommissioned by 2016, expect to see Build quality step in, as a stimulant to what will by then be a declining Chinese market. And get used to living without that old favourite, Approachable. This will be broken up into three new categories: Nice, Businesslike and Sexy.

It's a lot to take in, but in a mood of experimentation I decided to try out some of the new vocabulary on a bottle of M & S Côtes du Rhône (£5.79), to see how it feels in practice. Nice bottle, by the way, heritage label and a cork for sheer class, enough even for PK, but after that? Not much in the way of a ringtone, some Melbury™ notes, but then a pretty short, low-tannins, narrative arc, ending in a quick mosh pit of acidity. Yes, a couple of weeks ago I was at a tasting of some 2011 Bordeaux which ran the gamut from fence paint to Aubusson tapestry (the Lynch Bages I would have taken home there and then), so the old CDR suffers in comparison when similarly stress-tested, and anyway what do I expect for just over a fiver? It's a Kiera Knightley, as it turns out, with very much a 4:3 aspect ratio, but it passes the time.

A strange feeling, doing without the soft fruits and the Approachable. And one reaches instinctively for the tannins, whether one needs to or not. But overall, I like the way things are going. It's fresh, it's distinctive, it's nicely demotic. Yes, a part of me hankers after Finesse and Blackcurrant - but then a part of me still hankers after that elegant diction my late Father used to employ when talking about wine: good old Edwardian terms such as chétif, gusto, blancmange, gutta-percha and inner sensorium. Still. We must move on and embrace the future: autres temps, autres mœurs.


Thursday 31 October 2013

Clank,'s six-bottle discount time!

What is that clanking noise? It is the sound of the indulgent wine drinker, rushing to enjoy the current supermarket discounts off six or more bottles of wine.

You know when supermarkets are running one of these sporadic offers, “25% off any six bottles”, because you will be passed in the street by someone bent almost double, arms like a baboon, clanking like Ernie the milkman. Me.

The sound of clanking has a particular resonance in the world of wine. In the days before security constraints, the clanking of bottles was the soundtrack of the airport departure lounge. People were always lugging back multiple bottles of cheap plonk they had bought on their holiday, ignoring suggestions that “it won’t travel” with a determined “Yes it bloody well will!” They would then struggle to stuff into the overhead locker a barrel bag containing half a dozen bottles of wine, all going in different directions like cats in a sack.

Nowadays, the clanking is the sound of multiple purchase, which has to be disguised when you get back from the shops. You can try the CJ tactic, of calling out as he arrives home, “I got some more olive oil…!” But it’s what we in the drinking game call a bit of a giveaway.

I presume that when it comes to these six-bottle offers the supermarkets are imagining one of two scenarios. Perhaps you will have the wine delivered – but I have written before of my problems with wine deliveries, which invariably come when I am either out or in the toilet. Or perhaps you are simply going to add half a dozen bottles of wine to your trolley of weekly shopping. This is really not advisable when my spouse is pushing said trolley. If you think there are arguments over HS2…

So I set off solo to Sainsbury’s on a quiet afternoon to benefit from their offer. Now, you can’t really stride back up the High Road with a case of six bottles under your arm. It’s that bit too heavy, and that bit too big, and a cumbersome shape to carry as well. And you look like a looter.

But if you unload it into shopping bags, it clanks and clonks as you walk home, announcing to everyone that you buy your booze several bottles at a time. 

Oh yes, we know it’s going into the cellar to drink over weeks and months ahead, but it sounds to everyone else as if you consume in such quantity that you just had to buy half a dozen bottles, there and then. If it was for a special occasion, they think, you would have made a special trip – in your car. Plus, of course, as the sound is not muffled, you have clearly bought nothing else. No, to them this is obviously just profligate personal consumption, bought impulsively by a pedestrian.

So this time, I thought I would take and employ the very clever carrier pictured above. This has little compartments to hold six bottles – separately, and silently. It’s made out of recycled bin liners or something, and is as tough as old boots. In fact, it may even be recycled old boots. But as you see, it bears the Majestic logo.

Which is doubly embarrassing. First, because I had to stand at a Sainsbury’s checkout loading up a Majestic carrier like some kind of turncoat. The looks! Coming in here when the 25% offer's on…This whole reusable bag thing is all very well, until you try loading one up in a rival shop. 

And then, I had to walk up the High Road, looking like the kind of idiot who would go shopping at a wine warehouse like Majestic without a car. It’s one thing to be overcome with self-indulgence at a supermarket, and emerge with half a dozen bottles of wine when you only went in for a loaf. We’ve all done that. Surely.

But to go to a wine warehouse, which has a minimum purchase of six bottles, without a car? What, you visited Majestic absentmindedly, and suddenly felt you’d forgotten something…spectacles?…credit card?…ah, car!!

Anyway, I finally struggled home on foot from Sainsbury’s, lugging my six bottles – silently. Since you ask, I got a lovely mature Chianti Classico Riserva – Marchese Antinori 2008; fruity,smooth and with that lovely smoky, toffee edge which only age can bring. From their Fine Wine selection, with 25% off an already reduced price. Even though it sounds like something which footballers are caught doing in hotel rooms, I believe this is called a “double dip”. As they say, job’s a good’un. 

But I had to make the call to shop as either a clanking compulsive alcoholic, or a silent forgetful idiot. I chose the latter. After all, were it true, I would of course have forgotten the whole experience.

Either way, I appear to the world as a stooped figure with elongated arms. I look as if I only made it halfway along the evolutionary scale.

Which, now I come to think of it…


Thursday 24 October 2013

Rovering to Success - Grenache Vin De Pays D'Oc

So I'm feeling a trifle jaded and liverish, taking into account all the wine boxes and easy-drinking Waitrose mouthwash I've been consuming, and what do I do but turn to that trustiest of vade mecums, Lord Baden-Powell's deeply formative Rovering to Success, for a bit of manly counsel?

For anyone who's spent the best part of his life living under a rock, and I know you're there somewhere, Baden-Powell started the Scout Movement in the early 1900s, publishing his legendary Scouting for Boys in 1908. This handy little volume is apparently the fourth best-selling book of the entire twentieth century, with some 150 million copies shifted; while the Scout Movement - well, that's into its second century, and is as blithe and character-forming as ever, and if you don't care for it, that's your business. But bear with me: the thing I'm particularly keen on is this Rovering to Success (1922) - a guide written for young men rather than mere lads, in which Lord Baden-Powell explains how to cope with the pitfalls of adult life and emerge all the stronger from one's tribulations.

As such, it is divided up into five handy sections:

I. Horses
II. Wine
III. Women
IV. Cuckoos and Humbugs
V. Irreligion

To be perfectly frank, I've only paid any attention to sections II and III, but I'm sure the others are spot-on. The section on Women contains (inter alia) much useful description of the centre of a flower's pistil, the development of a chick in embryo, the care of one's teeth, the imperishable line 'Constipation and neglect to keep the racial organ cleaned daily are apt to cause slight irritation which leads to trouble' (my italics), and a jolly handy picture (see picture) which, as the proverb has it, is worth a thousand words. But I digress.

On the all-important subject of Wine, Lord Baden-Powell is typically to the point. He hardly mentions it at all. 'I like a glass of good wine,' he tells us, 'for its flavour, its colour and refreshment.' The rest of the chapter on wine is spent telling us not to drink, especially not that dreaded Third Glass, since 'The sugars and other chemicals contained in the liquor don't in the end do you great good.' After that, it's a succession of cautionary tales involving 'The Between-Meals Glass', 'Temptation To Good Fellowship', and 'The Solitary Soaker' (he 'sinks lower into a sodden existence as a waster and outcast, till death comes and puts him out', since you ask).

After that, our Chief Scout rather lets himself go, taking it upon himself to condemn 'Smoking', 'Over-Feeding', 'Over-Sleeping' and 'Over-Strength In Language', before striking a more optimistic posture with sections on 'Self-Control', 'Truthfulness' and, somewhat unnervingly, 'Auto-Suggestion', in which he announces that 'Self-mastery has now become a scientific study.' Well, it's not for me to say whether it has or hasn't. The very idea has a ring of Continental sharp practice about it, but if B-P says that it has its uses, then I must keep my counsel.

At any rate, after a good session of Self-Mastery, Self-Control and Self-Cure, plus a hearty tramp on clear, open, downland, I now feel an entirely new man. Liverish no more. One hundred per cent improved. And to celebrate my restored condition, I have been treating myself to a very self-controlled bottle of Grenache vin de pays d'Oc, suitably light and astringent, which is now onto its third day, still with a bit left in the bottle, a testimony to my capacity to know when enough's enough. In passing, I should mention that this wine tally does not take into account the enormous quantity of generic Sauvignon Blanc I have also been drinking in the last few days, as I do not consider white wine to be a drink at all; and is therefore not applicable.

I hope this clears the matter up. I remain

Yours Ever