Lemon Icebox Pie


Nothing to do with booze but really enjoyed this thing by Misti Traya aka Skwirl Castiglione aka Mrs Henry Jeffreys. She was on the longlist for the Fortnum & Mason food & drink awards this year but they only announce the shortlist so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Originally posted on Chagrinnamon Toast:

It’s no secret some of my family can be described as country.  Some have owned trailers;  others homes in Appalachia with dirt floors.  Many own guns.  Many love 4 wheelers and most have driven at least 60 miles for the nearest good mall.  All have grown up on or near a farm.  And in case you didn’t know, yes, my mama had me when she was just 15 years old.  So while the way of life I just described wasn’t exactly mine when I was growing up in Los Angeles, I still saw and lived it at least once a year.  Generally in the summertime when the lightning bug lit fields of Iowa provided my cousins and I with a playground until well after dark.  My point is a person cannot escape her past.  No matter how hard she tries, the highfalutin schools she attends, or the manners she acquires, some things are inescapable.  Like a hankering for icebox pies.  Even…

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More madness from Penfold’s

This is a follow-up to a post from last year on the incomprehensible tasting notes produced by the marketing team at Penfold’s. I am pleased to say that they are still at it.

Here’s one for their 2012 Bin 2 Shiraz Mourvedre:

“A ‘trifled’ vinous chromatogram – jelly/ custard/ coconut!”

And then a longer one for 2011 Bin 389:

“A sensory stratification of layers of taste – separate via time-of-detection and unravelling of flavours. At first, Christmas pudding with roasted nuts, then rare lamb and olives, then sarsaparilla spice. Tannins awashed, oak absorbed, fruit awakened.”

Now I’m not going to pick apart this gibberish as I did in the last post – though the last line does sound like an attempt at a corporate Haiku – but it does seem odd that someone high up at one of the world’s most respected wine companies would sign off on this. When I read this nonsense, I want to know who is to blame.

It does sometimes feel that a mad interior designer has been let loose on this proud old company. Witness that orgy of vulgarity masquerading as an ‘icon’ wine the Ampoule - a wine encased in crystal. Yours for £100,000 and you’ll need the Penfolds team to fly in should you want it opened.

One might expect such blatant attention-seeking from a recently founded Californian ’boutique’ estate but from Penfolds? And this is what makes it so odd, they already have an internationally-celebrated wine in Grange. Putting a gaudy trinket above it only tarnishes the aura. They make really good wines. I recently tried a selection of their lesser Bins and really enjoyed them (though not everyone will as the reds are made in a super slick style.)

The clue to all this is in the pricing. Grange was £90 a bottle 12 years ago, it’s now released at around £500. I tried the recent vintage of Bin 28 Shiraz recently and it’s now well over £20 a bottle. The 08 cost £12 a bottle in 2011. Exchange rates may be partly to blame but it looks like Penfolds are now firmly targeting the luxury goods market rather than the wine lover. Now this is fine and not unusual for a global drink brand but why do they have to do it so badly?

You can pre-order my book Empire of Booze here



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Fortnum and Mason awards – now it’s really serious

I hope readers don’t mind me blowing my own trumpet a little. I’ve just been shortlisted for best drink writer at the Fortnum and Mason awards. It’s particularly gratifying when you see the other people on the shortlist, there’s Nina Caplan from the New Statesman, a writer I’ve always enjoyed, and… errr… that’s it actually. It’s a very exclusive list. I’m on for a couple of articles I wrote for the Spectator and for Spectator Life.

This is what the gossip columnist, Steerpike, at the Spectator had to say about it:

“As the two leading British political weeklies, the Spectator and the New Statesman, have for many years enjoyed a relationship of jocular antagonism. This amiable sort of rivalry can been maintained as their differences are over relatively trivial matters such as how the country should be run and the world ordered. But now they have come head to head over something deadly serious, drink. The shortlist for the  Fortnum and Mason drinks writer of the year has been announced and it’s a two way race between Nina Caplan of the Staggers and Henry Jeffreys of this parish. Expect thundering editorials, snide remarks and spiked drinks from both sides in the run-up to the announcement of the winner on the 13th May.”

You can pre-order a copy of my book Empire of Booze here



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Spectator article on wine and my father

Many men really can only communicate through sport. It provides a ritualised way to argue, to become passionate and to bond without having to talk about awkward things such as feelings. This is never truer than of father-and-son relationships. But my father and I never had this common ground. He was a brilliant sportsman as a schoolboy and as an adult a keen golfer and rugby player. I, on the other hand, combined a scrawny physique with physical cowardice and an extraordinary lack of co-ordination.

My brothers weren’t much better but at least they were interested in watching sport and would accompany him to Lord’s and Twickenham. I envied their ease around him. To give him credit, he did try to find things that we were both interested in. There was motor racing: he couldn’t stand the noise so had to buy headphones, at which point he fell asleep.

And then there was the theatre. Read on here

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Is it meant to taste like that?

‘Is it meant to taste like that?’

I was a bit drunk at a wine tasting the other day, actually I could start everything I write with those words, I spend my life a bit drunk at wine tastings. Anyway I was at a wine tasting and I tried a red from Australia that just tasted peculiar, not unpleasant, just a bit wild, not like a polished New World wine at all. This tasted like it was made by a stubborn old farmer who made wines that he liked and didn’t give a toss what anyone thought. Just the sort of thing one might find in the South of France but not in modern, thrusting, commercial Australia.

The producer is Ben Baker and his winery called Wimmera Hills. Apparently the name is a bit of a misnomer because this part of Victoria is as flat as a pancake (please write in if i’ve got this terribly wrong.) For reasons I can’t quite fathom he sent 120 bottles as samples to Fingal Rock wine merchants in South Wales. They’re not for sale but if you write to the owner Tom Innes you might be able to barter some corn or services to get hold of a few bottles. Here are the wines:

Red Cat Sparkling Shiraz 09 – it’s not often that the most conventional wine in line-up is a sparkling red. This is a lovely example of the type, mellow, just a hint of tannin, and a nice sparkle to it.

Nude Shiraz rosé 10 – now this one is pretty odd. It’s an aged rose, not only is it aged but it’s oxidised – deliberately I think. This gives it a tang on the nose of oranges and a little vinegar. Then in the mouth it’s nutty and a little tannic. The nearest comparison would be the wildly idiosyncratic roses from Lopez de Heredia in Rioja or Chateau Musar. It’s pretty bloody odd but it’s not the wackiest wine from this producer.

Dedication Shiraz 08 – now this is the one that made me say ‘is it mean to taste like that?’ It tastes like an old Maury or Banyuls from the South of France but dry. It’s nutty, a little baked with distinct porty quality. The alcohol level is getting on for port as well. I bet this would be good with some pungent hard cheese.

These wines won’t be for everyone but I’m glad there’s someone in Australia sticking two fingers up to conventional wisdom and making wines like this because that’s how he likes them.

Don’t forget to buy my book.

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The heyday of wine publishing

I have a bit of thing about old wine books. I can’t resist picking them up no matter how rubbish they might look. My latest acquisition from  Oxfam is called Supernosh by Anthony Worrall-Thompson and Malcolm Gluck. It features the authors on the front cover resplendent in brash 80s clothing (though it was published in 1993 – the 80s carried on well into the 90s in some parts of the wine trade) both looking a bit tipsy with looks on their faces as if to say: “I can’t believe we’re being paid to write this shit”. Inside there’s some spiel about how the book was cooked up by their agents over a boozy lunch. Unbelievably it’s published by the house of TS Eliot, Faber & Faber. Looking back now, the 80s and 90s were a golden age to be a wine writer. Newspapers were expanding their wine coverage, there were regular wine slots on television including lavish BBC series and wine publishing was booming. It was the age of Oz Clarke’s New Classic wines – proper well-researched wine writing, written for a mainstream audience, and the Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson seemed to have a book out every year (plus ca change one might say). Faber’s wine list headed up by Julian Jeffs had off-beat personal books such as Patrick Matthews’ the Wild Bunch and Mitchell Beazley were in their pomp. Wine writing was the new food writing.

Click here to read the rest of this article on Jamie Goode’s Wine Blog 


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The World’s Shortest Wine Book

I’ve just written an essay on the state of wine book publishing. In it I come to the game-changing (my current favourite journalist cliche) conclusion that the future of wine book lies outside mainstream publishing. One book I should have mentioned to back up my argument is The World’s Shortest Wine Book by Simon Woods. I read it before Christmas and enjoyed it immensely. It really is about the best introduction to wine available. What I liked most about it is that Woods has little time for the things that interest most wine writers: there’s nothing about organics or ‘sustainability’, his view on food and wine matching is it’s, and I quote, ‘bollocks’ and though he has nothing against ‘natural’ wine he notes that they do have a tendency to all taste the same.

I’m making him sound a bit like the Jeremy Clarkson of wine, aren’t I? Woodsy tells it like it is! He isn’t like this at all. He really has no axe to grind. One of the great joys of the book is how he gently skewers those who get sectarian about wine. His humour is very gentle and amongst the jokes are some really good tips on how to get the most out of wine. Anyone with a soft spot for Californian syrah is a man after my own heart.

You can buy a copy here. His website is well worth investigating too. He is one of the few people who can make tasting wine to camera mildly entertaining.

Oh and I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before but I have my own book in the pipeline called Empire of Booze. Please buy and buy big. You can click on the picture of Sir Kenelm Digby in the top right hand corner to find out more. 

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