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


Thursday 17 October 2013

If at first you don't succeed... Coogee Bay

Why do they put the cheapest wine on the bottom shelf? There you are, crouched among the spillages, with people tripping over you, cramping your muscles and getting dizzy when you stand up. It’s as if they want you to look undignified, shuffling along on your haunches, advertising your poverty, while the wealthy buggers stand upright and gaze languidly at the upper shelves. 

But we persevere, because we are impecunious. And because Mrs K is away at an Important Event, which puts me back in the lazy land of the ready meal for one. With, therefore, no justification either culinary or marital for my opening a decent bottle; but with a yearning for a wine that’s big and comforting, like a fluffy Shiraz with a high tog rating.

And way down there, at linoleum level, I spot this £5.99 Coogee Bay Shiraz/Cabernet, with its label in reassuringly bland magnolia, like wallpaper for a made-for-rental flat. 

On closer examination, it seems the label artwork is an “aboriginal rock art scene” of the ocean swell. It’s rare to see an Australian wine promoting an Aboriginal connection. I am reminded of the Australian writer who was once accused of being persistently critical of his home country. Far from it, he said (as indeed he was, being in England at the time). 

I love the Australian people, he said. They’re smart, generous and creative. It’s just the white people I can’t stand.

However, I did a little research, which I believe is now the acceptable euphemism for Googling. And it revealed that Coogee Bay does have a genuine Aborigine connection; it takes its name from the local Aboriginal word koojah meaning ‘smelly place’. This was because of the stench of decaying seaweed on the local beach. Strangely, this aromatic aspect of their “rugged coastline” is not mentioned on the label.

It does, however, offer a pronunciation guide to the name. I’m not sure at which point, between shelf and check-out, I would need to voice the name of the wine in my basket. I am not known for wandering the aisles, muttering the names of wines. Yet.

And it’s pronounced “could-gee bay”, which is not altogether surprising. I mean, I could see the need for help, the room for confusion, if Coogee Bay was pronounced, say, “Sellotape”. 

But sadly I now realise it is probably meant for the staff on the till. So that they can ask, “Did you really mean to buy Coogee Bay?”

The wine itself is surprisingly thin for something purporting to be Shiraz/Cabernet. It’s surprisingly thin for something purporting to be 13.5% alcohol. It’s surprisingly thin for wine.

It’s also horrible. An insipid, flat kind of taste on a petroleum base, like a fruit-flavoured Vaseline. But with an aggressively acrid alcohol around the edges, a sort of chemical element which shrivels the insides of your cheeks like salt on a slug. 

Yet I kept going back, like the dog that returneth to its vomit, only to an arguably worse flavour. Part of me wondered just how bad it would get, as the hints of fruit evaporated to leave only the nasty bitterness. Until, of course, I reached a tipping point. And no, that’s not the point at which I tip it in the sink.

In the same way that the dentist’s anaesthetic numbs the pain of its own injection, so the alcohol begins to kick in and blur the unpleasantness of the taste. Inebriation will conquer disgust – it’s the same principle upon which late-night kebab vans thrive.

And I wonder if that principle lies behind much of the cheap wine inflicted upon us? That at such a price, the producers assume we are not anticipating some sensual treat, but simply to be “charioted by Bacchus”, as Keats would have it, to that point at which taste is irrelevant?

Which makes budget wine drinking into an exercise in determination. Determined not to spend more than you have to. Determined enough to suffer the indignity of squatting on a supermarket floor. Determined enough to suffer the taste until the alcohol suppresses it. Determined to drink what you've bought.

But if you want to tell people of one to determinedly avoid, remember it’s pronounced “could-gee bay”.


Thursday 10 October 2013

Fuddling: Waitrose Value Wines

So Waitrose have bitten the bullet and are heading ruthlessly downmarket in the wine section in order to stop people like me making irksome special trips out to Tesco and Aldi for our filthy grog, and what do you know but the other day they bung a great heap of their new-look ultracheap reds and whites by the main entrance, £4.99 a bottle, and in a moment of dreadful clarity I say, Yes, I shall buy one of every type and take these six bottles home and immerse myself in their cheapness and all shall be well. Better yet, there's a reduction on the half-case, which means that each bottle comes in at £4.74 - something of a steal, even by my standards. I put myself on a ration of one bottle every two days, and start off with the

Waitrose Spanish Dry, which announces itself as A carefully chosen blend of grapes as well as Light, zingy and refreshing as a dip in the sea. This goes down just fine, hints of upmarket deodorant and a flash of vanilla (in my book, anyway) plus a tasting note Is that some cellophane I'm getting? No matter, because the Spanish Dry does the job uncomplainingly, and without being any more charismatic than a free newspaper. Onwards, then to the

Chilean White, which I have slightly higher hopes for, on account of it being Chilean - in other words more flavoursome and implacable than the Spanish - and yes, Nicer I note with due economy, followed by More going on, Some acidity, Coriander? Touch of Humbrol and No nose at all, like the Sphynx. Is this good? I'm going to say yes, because at £4.74 what do I expect, Chassagne-Montrachet? Therefore we move, still brightly, on to day four, or possibly five, and I'm looking at an

Australian Smooth and Spicy Red for which I seem to have two sets of tasting notes, one lot on a torn-off scrap of paper bearing the legends Smooth as velvet and Grown in vineyards across sunny South Australia, and the other in a notebook which complains about Minute tannins, Caramel largely and That's it. I have been looking unduly forward to the red because out of Waitrose's six available wines, four are headache-making whites with only two reds, whereas my preference would be to reverse those numbers, but there it is: I must make the best of it, a red wine for tippling while your mind is on something else, like would a sandwich be good round about now?

Day six? Seven? It's time for the Italian Dry White Crisp and Floral. Whatever else this may be, it is also the fourth bottle in the series and the fatigue is starting to get to me. Four inoffensive wines in a row is like being bludgeoned with candyfloss, and I am finding it hard to concentrate. Most of my notes turn out to be reiterations of the copywriter's giggling spume on the label (Fresh, zesty and aromatic) interspersed with frankly exhausted one-liners such as Vaguely parched feeling in the roof of the mouth and Nice in a mouthwash way. I tell myself to get a grip, be grateful that none of these wines has actually been undrinkable, God knows, or just-borderline-drinkable. But there is a law of diminishing returns in operation here, a cumulative impact - or reduction of impact - which I had not taken into consideration at the start, so that by the time I reach the

Australian Dry White Fruity and Refreshing, it's as much as I can do to hold the pen long enough to remark, as saliently as I can, Bath soap, Airport Departure Lounge, before giving up and staring into space. I am so blanded out I can't be bothered to tot up the number of days I've been on this mission; worse, I can't even be bothered to open the final bottle in the series, the Spanish Red Mellow and Fruity, which just sits and gazes at me like a guest at a funeral. I was looking forward to this one, too, a) because it is a red, and, b) because I reckoned it would bring some closure, put a proper end to the dread amiabilty of all those fresh and zingy and zesty and vibrant whites which have zinged and refreshed me into an absolute stupor. But as it is, I have no idea what it tastes like - although, at a guess, Smooth, easy-going and Honestly, neither here nor there should cover most eventualities.


Thursday 3 October 2013

It needs drinking up – the dutiful answer to leftover wine

There is a phrase which has become something of a cliché here in Casa K. Whenever a no-frills, no-guests meal arises – which, whatever you imagine from my writings, is frankly most of the time – the menu will be determined by the fact that there’s some food or other which “needs eating up”.

So an opening gambit of “What shall we have for lunch?” is likely to be met with a response along the lines of, “There’s some ham needs eating up…”

Now, there are very good fiscal and social reasons for eating all the food that you buy, but I have pointed out that this is a very depressing way to approach a meal. It’s as if one is some kind of food processing system, condemned to mechanically digest whatever happens to be left. It would sound far more enticing if one were told “There’s still just enough of that lovely ham…”, as if one was enjoying the final remaining morsel of an earlier treat – rather than grimly fulfilling one’s duty because it “needs eating up”.

But it has now struck me that this idea might be advantageously transferred from food to wine consumption. 

Some people, heaven knows why, may have need for an explanation they can provide as to why they have finished the bottle they started that night – and the phrase “needs drinking up” could be of some use. Like finishing up the food, it turns consumption into a duty.

Merchants use this phrase, “needs drinking up”, of a wine which has been laid down, and is now passing its prime. It’s not going to improve, indeed may well deteriorate, and should be drunk now. Now. (This timescale is not defined – even Morrissey once asked How Soon is Now?, and never provided an answer – which lets the merchant off the hook if it turns out to be disappointing. “Ah, you didn’t drink it now, sir, did you? Right now? When I told you? You had that journey home…”)

But I have decided to apply this phrase to individual bottles. Our motto on Sediment, “I’ve bought it, so I’ll drink it”, has oft been challenge enough. But perhaps it should be, “I’ve bought it so I’ll drink it – all. Now.” Like it or not (and often, in our case, sadly not). Because it’s a duty. Because it needs drinking up.

It needs drinking up, because there’s not enough of it to be worth keeping. I mean, if there isn’t enough left in the bottle to see me through another meal, I might as well drink the rest now and start a fresh bottle tomorrow.

It needs drinking up because no-one other than me seems to use the Vac-U-Vin properly. People in my household – no names, no pack drill – just put the rubber bung back in, without pumping the air out, which is pointless. And I can tell, you see, as soon as the removal of the bung is not accompanied by that little hiss like a duchess farting. So if it’s going to spoil, because no-one else can be arsed to pump the air out, I’d better drink it all now.

It needs drinking up because it’s really good, and I want to enjoy it at its best. My sophisticated palate (hem, hem) tells me that this wine is not going to improve with aeration. It is at its best fresh from the bottle, so now it’s been opened, I‘m taking what I call the Mastermind approach – I’ve started, so I’ll finish.

Or, alternatively, it needs drinking up because it’s really bad. I need to get it out of the way so I can open something better tomorrow. There’s nothing worse than the remains of a bottle of something vile, sitting on the side like a malevolent threat. Get it down you now, I say.

It needs drinking up because it’s white, which means it will have to be kept in the fridge, and there’s so little room. Same goes for rosé. Honestly, you need the room for that jar of…what is that?

It needs drinking up because I can see that we are going away at the weekend, or going out for the next couple of nights, or won’t be eating fish again for a week, so I’d better finish it now because it really won’t keep that long.

It needs drinking up because an unfinished bottle is about as appealing as unfinished sex.

I see enormous benefit in this approach. The internet is full of complicated advice on what to do with leftover wine and unfinished bottles. With this approach, you don’t have to worry, because you won’t have any.

Instead, you can feel the warm, self-satisfied glow that can only come from a combination of taking pleasure with fulfilling a duty, as you pour the remains of 
that bottle into your glass, and say to yourself as you might to a guest, “Come on – it needs drinking up.”