This week I’m drinking . . . . the Christmas Negroni

P1110702

I’ve been sent these rather lovely looking bottles from Martini. They are Martini Rubino Vermouth, Ambrato Vermouth and Martini Bitters. There’s something of a vermouth revival going on at the moment with delicious new products from South Africa (Badenhorst), Australia (Regal Rogue) and England (Asterley Bros). Perhaps in response to this competition, the old guard, Martini, have raised their game with new premium releases. I’m a big fan of the standard Martini Rosso which is hard to beat in a Negroni so I was keen to see how this drinks measured up. Furthermore Martini have also launched the 1872 Bitter to compete with Campari head on. I’ve been playing around with these bottles for a few weeks now and have come to some conclusions:

  1. Both the Rubino and the Ambrato totally rock either on their own or with tonic water. The Ambrato is a bit like Noilly Brat Ambré with nutty vanilla notes. The Rubino is quite delicate with sour cherry fruit and a light bitterness, a bit like a northern Italian red wine. They also work great mixed with white wine or prosecco.
  2. The Ambrato was superb in a very dry martini adding a subtle fruity and nutty note to the drink.
  3. The Martini Bitter is less thick and bitter than Campari. It’s very orangey like a halfway point between Aperol and Campari. Just with soda, I prefer Campari but mixed with grapefruit, orange juice and soda the Martini Bitter wins.

Of course this is all pissing about to the real point which is how do they fare in a Negroni. Here the results were interesting. The Rubino worked really well in a sort of lightweight Negroni using Aperol but it was rather overpowered by the Martini Bitter.

My favourite vermouth for a Negroni is the mighty Cinzano 1757 Rosso which is powerful, complex and has something of the port about it. This gave me an idea, why not use port to boost the vermouth? So I mixed half a shot of Martini Rubino with half a shot of Bleasdale The Wise One ten year old tawny (I know it’s not strictly a port, I’ll come on to that later). The result after a bit of playing about was absolutely outstanding. The extra sweetness, richness and nuttiness of the port lifted the whole drink and seemed to accentuate the herbal quality of the vermouth:

1/2 measure of tawny port or similar

1/2 measure of Martini Rubino

1 measure of gin and a little bit extra – I used my special house gin

1 measure of Martini 1872 Bitter

1 piece of orange peel

Combine ingredients with lots of ice cubes.

Australian “port” is sweeter than proper Portuguese stuff so I added just a splash extra of gin to counteract it. I think it needs to be a tawny port because you wanted that wood-aged nuttiness on the end. In fact what this reminded me of more than anything was an aged negroni I had at Bar Termini last year.

I am going to call my new creation the Christmas Negroni and I intend to drink a lot of them over the festive season.

Advertisements
Posted in Spirits, This Week I'm Drinking | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

This week I’m drinking . . . . Viña Majestica 2010

Image result for vina majestica rioja 2010

Note uninspiring label 

I almost didn’t try this wine because the label is a bit dull, it’s part of Majestic’s Definition Range. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by the cover and all that but when there are 200 wines to try you have to make entirely arbitrary decisions. Then I noticed from the embossed bottle that it was made at the Torre de Oña estate which is owned by La Rioja Alta, one of my favourite rioja producers so I had a small glass with my lunch (I would also recommend the sausage rolls at Lord’s cricket ground where the tasting was held) and I was extremely impressed. It has the classic tobacco, ripe strawberries and melty tannins that you’d expect in a far more expensive rioja reserva but it’s only £10.99 when you buy a case. I’m going to serve it in my 19th century claret jug which holds two bottles and my guests will think I am really spoiling them.

I was at La Rioja Alta recently and though I can’t make a direct comparison, from memory this wine could compare with far more expensive offerings from this producer. I thought it better than Viña Alberdi Reserva 11 – currently £18.25 at Oddbins – and more enjoyable than the Viña Ardanza 08 – £22 at Majestic. Though the Ardanza should improve with a couple of years in the bottle, if you want a rioja for drinking now the Majestic own label one is unbeatable. So unbeatable in fact that it seems rather foolish of La Rioja Alta to release a wine of such quality for such a low price. On my tasting note on cellartracker, someone called Slimes (an assumed name, I assume) wrote:

“I thought I’d let you know that the next vintage will be made by a different producer. When I first tasted the 2009 at the winery, the staff at RA seemed to be a bit miffed that this was going for £10.99, so it’s no surprise that Majestic will have to source this from someone else over the next few years. I’m sure if you speak to your local store, they’ll happily give you a call when there’s sign of a vintage-change.”

My advice would be to hurry down to Majestic and load up on the 2010 while you still can. Then all you need is a 19th century claret jug.

P1110701

Behold! The mighty claret jug. Doesn’t it look very Tyrion Lannister?

Posted in This Week I'm Drinking, Wine articles | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

This week I’m drinking. . . . a very nice South African Chenin

In Blackheath there are two clothes shops: one caters for Richard Hammond, all expensive jeans and mid life crisis leather jackets, and the other for James May. I often wondered who is buying all the paisley, surely even millionaire former Top Gear presenters can’t buy that many shirts. . . . . and then I went to the New Wave South Africa tasting earlier this month.

Image result for james may

It took place in a warehouse/ nightclub type venue in Shoreditch, the PA was playing Led Zeppelin at deafening volume and everywhere you looked there were middle-aged men in floral shirts like the one above.

Never mind the wines where good. South Africa has long been my least favourite large wine-producing country but the new wave Rhoney blends from Swartland have a verve to them (and not a single stinky red at the whole tasting, hurrah!) that makes me want another sip and then another. They’re real drinkers wines. One producer described his Cinsault as “smashable” which seems about right to me though whether the general public is happy to spend £17 on a wine for knocking back is another matter.

As good as the reds were, and some were very good indeed, it was the whites however that stole the show: vivid appley Chenins with magical acidity and textured Cape blends of Chenin, Viognier, Grenache Blanc etc and a couple of Palominos that were like flor-free Manzanillas if you can imagine such a thing.

I noticed that The Wine Society is doing one of my favourites for only £11.95:

Tania & Vincent Careme Chenin Blanc Terre Brûlée 2015

This is made by a Loire producer so you’d expect they know their way around Chenin. It smells sweet, like cooked apples and cake, it’s very ripe but balanced by a bracing acidity – it’s a made to make your mouth water.

I left the tasting with my ears ringing and my eyes assaulted by paisley but my palate thoroughly refreshed.

Posted in Film and TV, This Week I'm Drinking | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

You can’t appreciate wine without getting (at least a little bit) drunk

If an alien came down tomorrow and read Decanter magazine, he or she (or perhaps some new completely unthought of sex from the Alpha Centauri), would never guess that the subject being written about was not only meant to be fun but was in fact an intoxicant. I’m not singling out Decanter for special criticism, almost all wine writing no matter how vivid and evocative is written from the point of view of absolute sobriety. I can think of no other activity where the literature on the subject is so far removed from most people’s everyday experiences.

We enjoy wine because it is alcoholic. None of the culture built up around wine would exist if it weren’t intoxicating. As much as we might like to think that wine tastings are in the words of Dr Frasier Crane “just about wine and clear constitutional procedures for enjoying it”, we should be honest that the reason most people attend them is at least partly to get drunk. How drunk though depends on the crowd. Before Christmas I put on what was grandly billed a “port masterclass” at a shop in Brockley. The audience consisted largely of grandparents of my daughter’s friends. Most had polished off a bottle (not of port I hasten to add) before I attempted to talk them through the ports. Needless to say there were no spittoons; teenagers on a school trip would have been an easier audience to control.

File:A Midnight Modern Conversation.jpg

Artist’s impression of last year’s Brockley wine tasting

Michael Broadbent certainly wouldn’t have approved. He wrote that “it is nothing short of ridiculous to drink one’s way through a tasting.” Of course there’s a good reason why pros don’t taste like south London winos. I don’t want the buying team at the Berry Bros half cut when assessing the new Burgundy vintage.

There is, however, a happy medium between Brockley Bacchanalia and the asceticism of the professionals. A wine tasting when done properly works like an ancient Greek symposium in that you have a formalised way of talking, in this case about wine, and you all drink at the same rate. Overt drunkenness is frowned upon but so is total sobriety.  A degree of intoxication helps British people to shake off their self-consciousness and talk freely about wine. Wine talk doesn’t seem so pretentious when you’ve had a few in like-minded company. If you taste sober you miss the true joy of wine appreciation which is the interplay between wine’s intellectual and visceral side

Recently I had been forgetting this important fact. ‘Tasting wine with you isn’t fun anymore’ my wife told me. At wine events which were meant to be social, I spent my time frantically scribbling notes, spitting, trying to get round quickly and getting impatient with lingerers. I was tasting like a pro when I should have been drinking like an amateur.

Interestingly it is only wine that has this gap between how a professional and an amateur function. You can’t properly assess a whisky without gauging how it goes down the throat (or so the experts claim) which is why whisky tasters rarely have more than ten in a flight. It’s the same with beer. I judged a beer competition recently where I tried over a hundred beers and didn’t spit once. Which is perhaps why you rarely meet a thin beer writer. Can it be a coincidence that beer and whisky are seen as fun and unpretentious whereas wine still suffers from accusations of snobbery?

You’d never guess it from attending most professional tastings but people in the wine trade can be quite fun. You can catch a glimpse of this by reading Noble Rot magazine, a small circulation publication which is something of the in house magazine for the wine trade. Alongside suitably reverent features about cult Burgundy producers are pieces written from something of an off-duty perspective ie. no spittoons! In fact the amount of feasting and drinking in its pages would probably give the British Medical Association a collective apoplexy.

But the best writing on wine has often been done by amateurs, Roger Scruton for example, because they don’t have the disconnect between wine appreciation and intoxication. It’s the same with television. The most entertaining programme made about drink in recent years was a Christmas special presented by restaurant critic Giles Coren and comedian Alexander Armstrong. There was not a spittoon in sight. It just goes to show that wine can be fun as long as you remember to swallow occasionally.

A shorter version of this appeared in the Oldie. 

Posted in Wine articles | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

This Week I’m Drinking. . . . Chalkdown Sparkling Cider

This is the cider I’ve been waiting for. I’ve been interested in cider (or cyder perhaps) since 2010 when I started reading about how high quality high strength sparkling ciders were made in the 17th century by men such as Sir Kenelm Digby and Lord Scudamore. These ciders achieved such high repute that the French ambassador pronounced one Vin de Scudamore. You can see how prestigious they were by visiting the museum of London where there’s an exquisite glass that belonged to Scudamore engraved with apples which was used specifically for cider. You wouldn’t use such a glass for farmhouse scrumpy. Indeed cyder spelt with a Y, was considered quite distinct from the sort of thing drunk by farm hands. I wrote more about this cyder heyday here.

It was a brief flowering, these noble cyders, but they have never entirely gone away. According to Pete Brown & Bill Bradshaw’s cider book, Bulmers used to make a bottle fermented cider that was marketed like champagne in the 1920s. Today you can buy quite a few bottle-fermented ciders from Burrow Hill in Somerset, Ashridge in Devon, Tom Oliver in Herefordshire, and Gospel Green in Sussex. The first three are made from cider apples so they have a bittersweet taste, some tannin and a certain funkiness. They’re West Country ciders but the Gospel Green is made from sweet apples on the South Downs, an area which is now famous for its sparkling wines. Gospel Green is made in tiny quantities – about 8,000 bottle a year – but I thought that if someone could make something as good but in supermarket size quantities they would be on to a winner.

Well it’s here.

The Chalkdown 2013 Cider is made from apples grown on the South Downs though it doesn’t say which varieties. It costs costs £10 from Waitrose (though annoyingly they seem to be out of stock on their website at the moment) or £11 direct and I can’t think of a sparkling wine I’ve had that beats it for the money. It combines the green apple deliciousness of a cider like Aspall’s with honeyed yeasty notes like you might get in an English sparkling wine. I drank the whole bottle to myself and because it’s only 8% felt fine the next day.

This is what we should be drinking instead of prosecco or cava. In fact if I was getting married again, I would serve it my wedding.

 

 

Posted in This Week I'm Drinking | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

This week I’m drinking. . . . Jeffrey’s tonic water

I was toying with calling it “This Week I’ll be Mostly Drinking”. . . but it felt a bit 90s student party to steal jokes from the Fast Show. I’ve been rather neglecting this blog for some time; I’ve now got to the stage where if I have any interesting point to make, I’d rather save it and turn it into a proper article rather than put it up here. But I get to try hundreds of interesting drinks every month and it seems a shame not to write about some of them. 

Recently I’ve been trying to lose a little weight which involves walking as much as possible, skipping breakfast and cutting out drink (except professional drinks of course which don’t count) on week days. I was down to nearly 13 stone – and was thinking of launching my own diet book – but it does seem to be creeping up again.

But drinking a bit less anyway isn’t such a bad thing, especially since I was sent some Jeffrey’s (no relation) tonic syrup. This you mix with soda to make your own tonic water, I found 1 part syrup to 6 parts water worked best. With lots of ice, a slice of lime and some angostura bitter it is delicious and much much nicer than Schweppes. It comes in four flavours, though I’ve been mostly (sorry!) just drinking the Original Recipe. This is what they say about:

“Our first recipe was based around some long time spent in the Far East, where we developed a taste for the warm spices of Malaysia.

Cassia, clove and allspice all come together in what would be a warm, enfolding, almost Christmas, experience – were it not for the fact that it is brilliant with ice and soda!”

I agree, in fact rather than think of it as a tonic, I’ve come to think of it as a sort of non-alcoholic vermouth. It makes those long boozeless nights seem a bit more bearable.

I like it so much and it’s been so useful at keeping me on my soon to be patented Jeffreys/ Jeffrey’s diet that I feel bad for pointing out the problem, the price. A bottle costs £18.  Now prepare for some primary school maths. It contains 47.5cl which diluted equals around 285cl of tonic. Fever Tree tonic water from Waitrose costs £3.99 for 8 x 15cl cans

A 15cl serving of Fever Tree therefore costs about 50p*

Whilst a 15cl serving of Jeffrey’s costs just under £1

Furthermore £18 per 47.5cl works out at about £26.5 per bottle**. Think what you could buy with that! Jeffrey’s tonic is the price of a good blended whisky despite the fact you’re not paying duty on it.

Jeffrey’s is as far as I can aware made in tiny quantities, from only the best ingredients and it is delicious but unless they can produce something at half that price then I’m going to have to go back on the sauce.

Image result for jeffey's original tonic syrup

* 18 / (285 / 15) = 0.95 Always show your working!
** (70/47.5) x 18 = 26.53 

 

 

 

Posted in This Week I'm Drinking, Wine articles | 4 Comments

Booze interview with Ian Buxton

I am delighted and honoured to have Ian Buxton as guest on my blog. His new book, Whiskies Galore: A Tour of Scotland’s Island Distilleries, comes out this month. It’s an idiosyncratic and often very funny stroll around some of Scotland’s most romantic distilleries. There’s some autobiography, some history and a whole lot of whisky but what I like the most about it is Buxton’s constant questioning of the sheer amount of bullshit that surrounds Scotch. And yet for all the iconoclasm not for a moment do you doubt Buxton’s deep love for Scotland’s greatest export.

200415_Glenfiddich_0412

When did you first realise that whisky was something special and can you remember the whisky that triggered this feeling?

Many of my fellow whisky writers appear to be able to recall this with blinding clarity as some sort of Damascene moment.  I fear I cannot offer any such startling revelation, though it was a happy day when working in the whisky industry paid the mortgage and put food on the table.

What was your first job in the whisky business?

It was in the late 1980s for Robertson & Baxter the blenders, now more or less subsumed into the Edrington Group.  They were, though I didn’t realise it at the time, whisky royalty and behaved accordingly.  I thought it all rather stuffy. As they had come to the conclusion that food was the way forward they had an ill-starred project to buy food companies and, to my chagrin, I was involved in that side of the business more than whisky. It was not a happy time, and I left after a couple of years to join Glenmorangie as their Group Marketing Director.

That offered more whisky but even less happiness.

Do you have a favourite whisky?

Would it be too optimistic to suggest it’s the one you’re about to buy me?

I am a great fan of Highland Park and older Glenfarclas.  But I have taken a great partiality recently to better American rye whiskies, such as that from Michter’s.

Do you have a least favourite whisky?

Can’t say I do.  But I completely fail to see the point of vodka.  Will that do?

Which whisky country are you most excited about?

Curiously, almost everywhere, but especially the new wave of ‘world whisky’ producers in countries such as Iceland, Finland, Taiwan, France and so on.

And which distillery?

I was an early fan of Kavalan in Taiwan and I’m delighted to see how far and how fast they have developed. Teerenpeli in Finland make whisky which surprises all who try it – and I have very high hopes for the English whisky due any day from the Cotswold Distillery.

What is it about island distilleries that make them so romantic?

I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of this in my new Whiskies Galore book.  There is an inherently romantic appeal to islands, especially the Scottish ones, that seems to draw visitors from all round the world, and the more urban and congested their home environment the more the isolation and open spaces attract them.  But it was not always thus, and in the book I recall a time, not so very long ago, when island distilleries were closed and virtually abandoned and their whisky all but unsaleable.

Does the salt air really affect the taste?

I doubt it, especially as most of the whisky made there spends most of its life far from the sea.  But, then again, Highland Park and many Islay whiskies have an undeniable, indefinable salty tang to them.

You have in the past been quite vocal in your criticisms of the conservatism of Scotch whisky, what do you think they could do to be a bit more innovative?

My consultancy services are available at very reasonable rates.

What’s the most you’ve ever spent on a bottle of whisky?

This information is classified, particularly from Mrs Buxton.  But actually, not a great deal.

What do you think of the prices of say old Macallan? $25,000 for a bottle of 50 year old.  

They are certainly beyond my pocket.  In the near future I doubt they will come down as demand evidently exceeds supply.  But I fear this is a bubble, driven by fashion and spurred on by those with a vested interest, that will eventually end in tears.  And not to pick on The Macallan particularly, but I cannot help notice the vulgarity and excess of the packaging of many so-called ‘luxury’ whiskies and wondering how much of the cost is accounted for by the hand-blown bottle; silver decoration and undeniably lovely oak boxes and so on, and how much by the whisky.  And that is before we mention the percentage margins applied all through the supply chain to the retailer’s shelves.

What’s the most memorable whisky you’ve ever had?

That’s a score draw between a very old Bowmore drawn directly from the cask in the No. 1 Vaults (a most atmospheric space) and a cask-strength Glenfarclas from 1953.  And, thinking about it, the very old expressions Glenglassaugh were quite special.

Which writers do you think write well about drink?

Those who have served a proper apprenticeship in the industry – on whisky, Charles MacLean and Dave Broom come to mind; the late Michael Jackson pioneered writing on both beer and whisky; I enjoy Alice Lascelles’ journalism and the trenchant, cutting commentary of The Whisky Sponge.  Will Lyons happily avoids the pretension that accompanies quite a lot of wine writing and Jonathan Ray’s column in The Spectator offers excellent buying pointers.

And there’s a new Henry Jeffreys fellow who can be quite droll.  I like what he’s doing these days.

Did I mention that I’ve got a new book out?

Ends (tearfully)

Thanks Ian! Buy the book here

Image result

 

Posted in Interviews, Spirits | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment