Thursday 27 November 2014

Wine and snoring (and other side-effects) – Ricasoli Chianti Classico Riserva 2010

It was the morning after one of our dinner parties. A convivial evening, involving a couple of bottles of the excellent Ricasoli Chianti Classico Riserva 2010, a wine of beauty (which is all ye need to know), after which I had been contentedly dead to the world. I blearily descended to a cluttered kitchen, and asked Mrs K how she had slept.

“You were snoring,” she said, bitterly. “You always snore when you’ve had too much wine.”

Well, this was the first I’d heard about this. Various negative side-effects have been levied in the past against my wine-drinking, but snoring had not been among them. Although it's fair to say that wine has taken the rap for a significant number of my failings, from the medical and social to the financial and psychological.

Belligerence, for example. Plutarch, the Graeco-Roman essayist, said that the openness encouraged by wine led to a better level of debate at the dinner table. “Wine inspirits some men, and raises a confidence and assurance in them,” he wrote, “but not such as is haughty and odious, but pleasing and agreeable.” Which seemed to me a jolly good reason for oiling dinner party conversations with plenty of wine. Then I was enlightened by my good wife that far from being pleasing and agreeable, in fact I was philosophising so aggressively that guests became frightened.

Now I have to be more contemplative over my glass, hoping to stay on the right side of that fine line between judicious thoughtfulness and that other potential side-effect of wine, a surly silence.

Is wine-drinking responsible for extravagance, as I was once accused? I think not. When it comes to wine, one buys what is needed; you wouldn’t accuse a driver of extravagance for buying petrol. 

Besides, it is hard to be extravagant in Sainsbury’s.

In fact, my wine bill is incredibly modest, and no, it is not going to lead to poverty. And if it did, well, there are some less necessary expenditures I could point to, like food, heat and lighting. I can’t say I regret my spending on wine; I have to agree with the late great Vivian Stanshall, who said that “If I had all the money I’ve spent on drink, I’d spend it on drink.”

No, any extravagance is reserved for special occasions. Like Christmas dinner, when, as I recently insisted to CJ, things have come to a pretty pass if you spend more on your turkey than on your wine.

Some supposed side-effects of wine are down to simple misinterpretation. Wine does not, for example, induce selfishness. The wine had spent most of its time the preceding night at my end of the dinner table out of social courtesy. I was assisting the designated driver not to drink, empathising with the chap on painkillers for his back, and acknowledging Mrs K’s modest consumption, by saving them all the embarrassment of declining repeated offers of wine.

And I’m quite happy myself to suffer minor, temporary physical side-effects like stained teeth. They may even pass unnoticed. Unlike an increasing number of television celebrities, I have teeth which reflect a lifetime’s eating and drinking. My teeth are a proper older Englishman’s teeth, the colour of cardboard. They have not been artificially rendered to resemble a mouthful of bathroom tiles.

But this snoring business is obviously affecting someone else. And having looked into ways in which I might deny it, I’m sorry to say that there does seem to be a genuine link between the two. Drinking wine can cause a relaxation in the muscles at the back of the throat. (Which, had I known, perhaps I could have blamed for my growling at guests…) It seems that inspiratory resistance, which causes snoring, can increase fourfold after drinking.

And the only remedy I could find online was that of abstinence. Which sounded to me like the old Tommy Cooper joke about the man who goes to his doctor, and says “My arm hurts when I do this…”, to which the doctor replies “Well, don’t do it then.”

However, Mrs K said that she halted the snoring, with a judicious kick. So I can only conclude that an irrefutable side-effect of my wine drinking must be a deep sleep. Deep enough to render one oblivious to four-fold inspiratory resistance, surely a beneficial side-effect if one sleeps alone. And deep enough to render one oblivious to a kick, if one does not.

Nightcap, anyone?


Thursday 20 November 2014

Home-made: Seyval Blanc

So I'm having a glass of wine with a pal, and it's rather a nice Seyval Blanc. It's chilled, lightly effervescent, extremely tasty and, to be perfectly frank we're eating a bit of smoked salmon at the same time, and all is good - but here's the thing: our wine is home-made and is served from an old Tesco Cava bottle which arrives stoppered with a crown cap, like a beer bottle. Have we gone mad?

No. The pal - whose wine this is, and who has made it himself, with his own hands and someone else's bottles - is actually a big deal in the wine beer and spirits industry and has a background in biochemistry. He can make beer, he can make wine, he can probably service my car. As he puts it, 'Making wine is a mug's game. It's so easy. Especially in comparison with beer, which is a complete pain'.

Naturally, one casts one's mind back to homemade brews of the past, just about all of them bleakly underwhelming - from the teenage homebrew beer I used to neck, sediment and all, just to get plotzed in a mate's front room; to my Pa-in-Law's ineffable spider wine, made with bits of tendrils, weedkiller and, key ingredient, dead insects. But one would be wrong to lump the Seyval Blanc in with this tragic historical debris.

It's made using the méthode traditionelle, which in this case means not much more than crushing and pressing the grapes (which come from an allotment in the sunny outer suburbs of London; used to be a microvineyard in Sussex, but too much travelling involved), sticking the juice in a steel bin for a week or so before decanting it into a second bin, and leaving it until some time the following year, when the new wine is siphoned off and rudely bottled and stoppered.

Of course, there's more to it than that. 'They all have some acidity correction,' he notes. 'Nothing more than precipitated chalk.' I carefully note down precipitated chalk, back in the school chemistry lab, equally adrift. 'And this one's got glycerine in it, to add to the mouthfeel. When I was making country wines, years ago - ' wines made from anything at all, parsnips, rhubarb, chicken wire ' - I used to tip in a load of glycerine I got from Boots.'

'Uh huh,' I say, as if I understand.

'And at the end, when I'm bottling the wine, I put in a bit more yeast and sugar, to create the effervescence and up the alcohol content. They're English grapes, so they never give much more than 8%. I have to add sugar early on to get it to around 10. On the other hand, the great thing about Seyval Blanc, is that it's idiot-proof. And it makes quite a nice sparkling wine.'

I find myself reflecting helplessly that if that's all there is, why don't we all do it? But I am not a trained biochemist with years of experience in the making and flogging of mass consumer beverages. All I can do is observe that his 2012 homebrew is a bit tart, with that slightly brassy sherryish introduction one rightly fears in hobbyist wine; although it mellows nicely by the finish. The 2011, on the other hand, is just delicious. Bit of moss in the nose, a hint of lychee further along, well-controlled acidity, altogether an extremely shapely drink with a finish that keeps on going. The only thing one has to remember is to decant it first, on account of the fine lees at the bottom of the bottle. Fortunately, my pal has the steadiest pouring hand I have ever seen.

'It gets better the longer you leave it. The yeast dies and releases all sorts of things that improve the flavour. Trouble is, we tend to make a start on it as soon as it's drinkable. After six months, we're saying, this is really good. But by then there are only a couple of bottles left.'

Is it too late to acquire this kind of competence? Have I wasted my life buying drink instead of confecting it myself, in the back yard? I forget to ask the unit cost per bottle, but it can't be too high, even allowing for the expenditure on a couple of stainless steel tanks and a press (which can be also used for apples, pears, some laundry). Oh, but there is a cloud in the sky: 'The biggest pain,' the pal says ruminatively, 'is getting clean bottles. We keep our old champagne bottles and scrounge the rest from friends and neighbours. But do you know, they don't all rinse them out before giving them to us?'

'Some people,' I say. 'Don't tell me we've drunk it all.'


Thursday 13 November 2014

IKEA wine – their little-known accessory

IKEA keep unusually quiet about this particular product. I found IKEA’s wine in one of its restaurant’s chiller cabinets, but it’s not listed on their Beverages page, like their lagers, or shelved in their food department. And it is not to be confused with IKEA Vinglögg, for that is not wine per se; Vinglögg is described on the label as an “aromatized wine based drink”, and so lies beyond the remit of Sediment, which is not an aromatized wine based drink blog.

No, this is a seemingly proper Cotes de Provence white wine, of undeclared vintage, called, rather oddly, Navicert  – and with the IKEA logo on the label.

It comes in, unusually, a 25cl bottle – that’s 1/3rd of a regular bottle. Trust an IKEA product to employ its own unique measurement system. In their restaurant it’s £2.80 plus VAT, which adds up to what would be a little over £10 for a full bottle. Conveniently, its components do come ready assembled. And with a combination of practicality and economy typical of IKEA, it eschews either cork or Stelvin in favour of a juice-bottle cap.

Now, I could go into the taste of it, using IKEA-related terms to describe aspects such as its construction, its legs, its playful florals and its oak finish. In fact it’s perfectly drinkable; its taste will please most people through being relatively minimal, like everything at IKEA apart from its checkout queues.

But it’s the very concept of offering wine to IKEA customers which deserves some thought.

A traditional Navicert, or ship’s cargo certificate, was meant to aid passage during hostilities, which is of obvious benefit in a trip to IKEA. And a stiff dose of something alcoholic might, like an 19th century explorer of Africa, aid one’s journey around its badly-mapped interior. 

Yes, wine might fuel even more marital rows in the furniture areas; but it could also blur one’s sight, so that one does not spot all those unnecessary but irresistibly cheap items in the strangely compelling Marketplace.

But IKEA wine would surely be of the greatest benefit to its customers if it was incorporated into the actual flatpacks. In the spirit of which, consider the following instructions for use:


Thursday 6 November 2014

Out Now! The first SEDIMENT book – Sediment: Two Gentlemen and Their Mid-Life Terroirs

SCENE: A Gentlemen's Club

CJ and PK are seated in leather armchairs. 

CJ: I say PK, what’s that in your hand?

PK: This?

CJ: No, the other one.

PK: This, my friend, is the long-awaited first book from Sediment

CJ: A Sediment book?

PK: Yes! Sediment: Two Gentlemen and Their Mid-Life Terroirs. Published by John Blake Books, available from today.

CJ: What a handsome volume – how much does it cost?

PK: £12.99 or less, from Amazon and all good booksellers. Which is less, even, than a bottle of wine.

CJ: Well…

PK: It’s rather like a wine, in fact. It contains Malbec, Cava, Bordeaux and port, some rather shoddy Côtes du Rhône, Le Piat d’Or…

CJ: You intrigue me -

PK: It’s Sediment’s most entertaining thoughts about wine drinking, wine buying and so on, in a convenient hardback form.

CJ: Revised and edited?

PK: As the lawyers insisted.

CJ: It strikes me, PK, that this would be enjoyed by anyone who reads the Sediment blog. 

PK: And it would make the perfect gift for any wine drinker who doesn't read Sediment. 

CJ: Or, indeed, any of their friends or relatives.

PK: It would.

CJ: Tell me what it is again?

PK: The perfect gift, CJ.

Porter: Excuse me gentlemen, but we’ve had reports of a fatuous conversation taking place in the Smoking Room. Are you actually members of this club?