Thursday 28 June 2018


So there we are on the boat, in the blazing sunshine, and my resolve to drink only boat-related beverages goes overboard when I discover that some previous boat guests have left a small stash of wines - undrunk by them, nor by my wife who doesn't drink wine anyway - in a locker under one of the seats in the saloon. Feigning indifference while in reality trembling with curiosity, I dig the things out from among a mass of time-expired UHT milk cartons and emergency water containers and find:

A bottle of Morgon
A bottle of white Côtes de Gascogne which is a complete novelty to me, I mean I suppose I must have drunk a Côtes de Gascogne at least once in my life, but when?
A white Burgundy from Tesco

My wife claims in passing that someone also left a Crozes-Hermitage knocking around but then revises this theory, deciding that perhaps this person brought the bottle with him and then drank the contents himself. Certainly, there's no sign of it - but still, I have three bottles of drink which in value alone clearly beats the horrible Porcupine Ridge Syrah I've brought down with me (because after all you never know when you might need some undrinkable red), plus a hideous Waitrose own label cheap Australian red which promises all manner of easy drinking now and deep existential regret the day after. My course is clear.

Results? The Morgon is pretty nice, but I'm not sure au fond how much I like Morgon, or indeed any kind of Beaujolais. Still. The Côtes de Gascogne, on the other hand, is delicious, really eye-wideningly so. I can't remember now who made it or what went into it, other than that I didn't recognise a single grape listed on the back, but it was delicious then and delicious in hindsight. I mean, delicious. Tesco Burgundy? Yeah, it was fine, too. But not delicious like the Côtes de Gascogne was delicious.

At the end of all this, I feel pretty lucky to have found a microcellar of neglected wines, rolling around in the bottom of an elderly sailboat, and knocked it off before it got any more corrupted; and we're sitting on a mooring just outside Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight feeling borderline smug (see pic of outrageous sunset) instead of merely exhausted and terrified, when it becomes apparent that what we think of as the Good Life is too small even to be lived, on account of the superyacht Amaryllis, which we suddenly discern at anchor, not far away.

Amaryllis is more than seven times the length of our boat and six stories high. Apparently it cost around £100 million to build, is the thick end of £700,000 a week to charter, takes fourteen passengers and nineteen crew, has a floodlit swimming pool, a gym and a steamroom and boasts 4,000 horsepower of engine to get it around. The interior is Art Nouveau-themed. There are leopardskin bedspreads in the staterooms. We cannot imagine what it is doing outside Yarmouth, which is delightful but not bigtime. Is it the Isle of Wight Festival, celebrating its Fiftieth Anniversary just a couple of miles away and boasting Liam Gallagher and Depeche Mode as top acts? Is Liam using it as a floating hotel, a rock star ultraglamping? Doesn't seem to be much action on board, so perhaps not, maybe just the crew.

But: what are they stashing away on Amaryllis to drink? Five'll get you ten that whoever is or isn't on board, they'll be demanding those Methuselahs of easy-drinking rosé that don't taste of anything, but which dull the pain of life on a huge faux Nouveau boat. Litres and litres of bland pink - whereas I, on the other hand, have had a brief and deeply satisfying excursion into French goodness for way less than £700,000 a week, merely by parasitising someone else's generosity. Does this tell us anything about the operation of the moral universe? I suspect it does; but I also suspect I don't come out of it terribly well.


Thursday 21 June 2018

But I would drink 500 mls

Now here’s a good idea, I thought to myself. (Obviously, because how else can one think?) A 500ml bottle of wine, two-thirds of a full-size bottle. It was being promoted by Mud House Sauvignon Blanc, at the London Wine Fair, and I thought, how considerate, how laudable, how sensible. At a stroke, they are giving me a simple way of reducing my evening’s consumption by a third. Perfect.

As the producers have said: “Alcohol consumption is going down with drinkers wanting to maintain control over their alcohol intake. These occasions often happen midweek when busy and stressed consumers are looking to unwind.” Busy, stressed, that’s me alright. I too want to unwind like a clockwork toy; and yes, often midweek, which is hardly surprising given that midweek constitutes 5/7ths of the week.

And I certainly do like to maintain control over my alcohol intake. This generally means positioning the bottle on my side of the table, within easy reach. Which ensures that no-one else can interfere with behaviour I can only (but precisely) describe as self-serving.

This new format will also save me from pumping out unfinished 750ml bottles like a demented cyclist – and then finding when I return to them that someone (no names, no pack drill) has either knocked the seal, or taken some wine without pumping it out again. (I return to the bottle, and my heart sinks, as the seal fails to emit its breathy little kiss of welcome.)

The explanatory tag above was on the bottles I saw at the London Wine Fair. “2 large glasses”, its first icon explains. I would excise the word “large”, to describe a 250ml glass of wine, and use a term such as “proper”. We are not in the world of restaurants, where as little as 125ml of wine constitutes a “glass”, as opposed to a more accurate definition such as a “taste”. No, we are at home, where generosity is unbounded.

And where a half bottle seems so miserly in the evening. At lunchtime, a half bottle is ideal; indeed a pichet is often adequate. With an afternoon of work ahead, a pichet or a half bottle oils the engine without, as it were, flooding the carburettor. Long-term readers may remember that I once bought a pichet, but soon realised that what works at a restaurant lunch does not necessarily work for supper at home.

For we are clearly talking here about an evening meal. “Dinner tonight”, the tag’s second icon proclaims. Indeed, the producers advise the trade that “Ideally the wine should be positioned outside the wine aisle, by the ready meals, to target the meal for tonight mission.”

The what, now? “The meal for tonight mission” sounds like a place which provides supper for the needy.

Ah no, mission is a verb, not a noun. And of course, buying a meal for tonight does mirror a combat mission. Getting successfully in and out of the zone (car park), achieving a targeted objective (meal for tonight) and incurring minimal collateral damage (to one’s wallet and schedule).

So part of the idea seems to be that “busy and stressed” punters will grab a 500ml bottle along with the other elements of their evening meal. Prices are just £5 to £5.50. Let us banish any thoughts that in the ready meal aisle, because there are no other bottles around for comparison, they might be so “busy and stressed” that they grab at it thinking they are actually picking up a reasonably-priced full-size bottle…

But then the third icon stopped me. “Sharing”, it said. I read the tag more closely. “Perfect for those occasions when you want to share just two large glasses of wine and no more.” Share. So if I understand it correctly, the suggestion is that this 500ml bottle will serve two of you?

Oh dear, no. I’m sorry, but, no. Perhaps this suggestion is aimed at people who don’t actually like wine?

I’m with Winston Churchill here. Winston considered the imperial pint of champagne,​ which is roughly 500ml but sounds a lot more impressive, to be the 'ideal size' for an individual at home. He famously said: “Clemmie [his wife] thinks that a full bottle is too much for me. But I know that half a bottle is insufficient to tease my brains. An imperial pint is an ideal size for a man like me.”

And, indeed, me.


Thursday 14 June 2018


So I'm brooding on beers and spirits (so many beers, a wall of the damn things in the supermarket, like the reredos of a mediaeval church) when PK demands to know what I think of these people - whose business it is, apparently, to supply really rich boatowners, or at least people on superyachts, with wine. Why me? I say. Because you go sailing, he says. But the boat I sail in, I say, is fairly small and lumpy and mostly sails around the South Coast, not the South of France or the Caribbean and I don't even like sailing that much. I'll send you the link, he says.

Well he sends me the link and for a long time I avoid opening it but at last boredom and the faintest atom of curiosity overcome me so I go and have a poke around and I have to admit that there is a horrible fascination in discovering that very very rich people live lives so far removed from mine that we might as well belong to two different species. Also that, according to a piece about Onshore Cellars in Decanter, what these monstrous superrich humans like to drink a lot of on the Côte d'Azur are Dom Perignon Rosé and Cristal plus plenty of Petrus, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and a load of costly rosés delivered in bottles as big as fighter jet drop tanks, such as I saw a couple of weeks back at the London Wine Fair. One person in eight on this planet doesn't have enough to eat, but one person in approximately four million can expect something described as a 'Seven-star service' in which the most tiresomely whimsical appetites are routinely pandered to by a team of frenzied perfectionists. There you go.

But the horrible fascination only lasts five minutes because after that, reason returns and reminds me that

a) Superyachts aren't boats in the first place. I've never been on a really big superyacht but I have been on a couple of vast Sunseekers at boat shows and even though they're only half the size of the monster boats, it is clear that in the broadest sense these structures aren't boats, they're floating boutique hotels whose scenery occasionally changes around them; rather than things which pitch roll and yaw horribly even at anchor, and

b) The more northerly your latitude, the less appealing wine becomes, anyway. Yes, in the Med or the Caribbean, you might well feel like a cool glass of pink champagne at any time of the day or night, but in the English Channel and northwards, it's just not going to happen. Spirits are what we crave, whisky, gin, brandy, calvados. I wish I found rum, given its Naval associations and its sovereign powers as a cure-all and mood-settler - especially for those of us reduced to terror and misery by the open sea - something other than revolting, but the others do just fine. And beer, of course. Wine + sailing results in a category error which no amount of finessing can correct.

On the other hand -

Beerwatch: five days ago, in keeping with the new ethos, I had a bottle of Tiger beer for supper, and it was delicious. This Singaporean beverage, now apparently yet another part of the Heineken empire, comes in at 4.8%, with a pleasing deep amber appearance and just the right suggestion of airport toilets in the nose. Served good and cold, this went down perfectly with some trout and the following morning I felt fresh as a daisy, not something you can always depend on with trout. A couple of days after that, I had an Adnams bitter, not quite as emollient as the Tiger but perfectly good in its way. The night before last, I had a Welsh beer (yes) called Double Dragon, in a pub, in Wales, and it was rather terrifically firm and fruity and had just a hint of putrefaction, so what with one thing and another, I had a pint and a half of the stuff and felt strangely confirmed in my choice. In other words, wine? On boats? Not when I've got this Wonderland at my feet!


Thursday 7 June 2018

Wine recommendations

Have we got wine recommendations for you? Well, actually, no, we haven’t – but everybody else certainly has. Each in their own inimitable style, wine writers, critics, merchants and retailers are out there offering their wine recommendations. And surely, if someone in such a prominent position recommends something…

There may be some of you who have not encountered the wines of Belfalas, not so much an obscure corner of the globe as a little-explored inside pocket. I was lucky enough to visit the vineyards of Belfalas, on a trip generously organised by Belfalas Wines. Belfalas produces a sauvignon blanc called Xtapjle, which has all the traits of the sauvignon blanc you know, love and could more easily buy, but with the added piquancy of scarcity and an unpronounceable name. The local appelations are hard to understand, but I can recommend what the locals call their Best, which is better than their Good. What’s surprising is that it’s crisp, grassy, with a hint of stone fruit, just like other sauvignon blancs, and yet has a price that’s also similar to other sauvignon blancs. All this, from a very long way away. Available only from Belfalas Wines.

Here’s a real bargain, with no complications! Buy Dildi’s Stonking Red between midnight February 29th and 30th, and you get 25% off six bottles or more. And delivery is free (on twelve bottles or more, mainland only, nominated delivery day extra, use the code Pennsylvania6-5000). Just sign up for our monthly Dipso club; providing you remember to cancel it every four weeks, we won’t send you a case of wine every month similar to the one you’ve only just managed to finish. Don’t forget to use the code O0o_∆Ÿ.0.  New customers only, excluding your spouse under her maiden name. This offer is available online only; Alta Vista carries the terms and conditions. The wine? We told you – it’s Stonking!

When it comes to claret, you get what you pay for, and this is what you get. Chateau Trèscher is the kind of old-school Bordeaux I love, and over ten years give or take it will come to maturity with, as Jay McInerney said to me (more than once), all the aromas of the tack room and the library. There’s no question that you’re getting a taste of a gentleman’s lifestyle; I found suggestions myself of cigar boxes, grouse moor heather, spent shotgun cartridges and fox brush. It’s been released at £732, a mere fiscal bagatelle. Just make sure you live for another ten years, which will also give you time to save up for the VAT, duty, storage and delivery. 

The natural wine movement continues apace, and Josh Beardie’s Wiyana is where it’s at. A fan of low intervention, Josh Beardie is only 5ft 4. His vineyard is, of course, organic; no artificial products are allowed on the soil, so the pickers are not permitted to wear trainers. A horse is used to catch a cow which catches a dog who catches a cat which catches a bird who catches a spider which wriggles and wiggles and tickles inside the vineyard, but catches the flies. Wiyana (from the Hittite for ‘wine’) is fermented in goatskin, and matured in buried amphorae. The wine itself has an astonishing natural authenticity, and offers a resonance of authentic pre-scientific winemaking for which it’s worth being prepared.

The Bonvin family is part of a great winemaking heritage. When Chateau Lafite was sold to the Rothschilds in 1868, Louis Bonvin’s grandmother’s aunt’s stepdaughter was married to the cousin whose sister sold her share. You can imagine how that family connection has influenced his extraordinary wine.
    The vineyard itself is right next door to that of a celebrated wine (which we’re not allowed to name!), but it faces discreetly in the opposite direction; water from the Gironde River irrigates both their soils, and the same rain often falls upon them. Yet inexplicably, we can sell this wine for much less than its celebrated neighbour! The bottles themselves are almost identical, apart from the labels. But don't just take our word for it; one leading Bordeaux critic (who we're not allowed to name!) has used the same term to describe both wines – "red".