Wine articles

A year in booze

frasierIt’s been a year since I started World of Booze. The inspiration came from a friend of mine who thought it funny that my main interest was shared by none of our friends. Well then, I would find some like-minded people on the internet! My hope was that this site would become a civilised symposium at which people from around the world would share stories about wine. To some extent this has proved so but most people who come to this blog do so because they are trying to find out what kind of sherry Frasier drank. My post on this very subject gets three times more traffic than the next most popular post. Those curious Frasier fans have made this site one of the most read wine blogs in the UK. For a while this perturbed me, I felt like one of those third generation immigrants trying to launch himself into society and desperate to hide that his family money came from loo paper (not that the Frasier post had made my fortune but I do get the occasional freebies and invites to wine tastings). None of my top five most read posts contain any specialist wine information. They are: 1) Frasier , 2) Farewell Oddbins?, 3) The first rule of wine club , 4) English Champagne  and 5) Real Ale Trendy Wankers

The lesson here is that the less I write about wine in detail the more people want to read. If you want high-minded wine information then you’d go to one of the many wine writers who really know what they are talking about. World of Booze is for my drunk-sodden meanderings. Now I just need to decide what to drink to celebrate my blog’s birthday. Perhaps a bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream in honour of my benefactor Dr Frasier Crane.


Hair of the Red Tongue Dog: thoughts on Guinness Foreign Extra Stout

This one is hot off the telex from our Far East correspondent, Victor Crabbe:

One of the things I appreciate about living in Singapore is living somewhere foreign enough to make Guinness Foreign Extra. When I was a younger man, walking home in the small hours along the Kingsland Road, I would pause from time to time at various off-licences and fortify myself, needlessly, for the remainder of the journey with a dark malty bottle of the stuff: the fact of its availability seemed exotic, as if a case or two had somehow been abducted from its proper location of Nigeria or Jamaica. It seemed as cheeky as the shop owners’ attitudes to the licensing laws. It never occurred to me that the UK was somewhere that could be exported to just as well as more remote places, despite evidence to the contrary to be found in every shop and newsagent nearby.

Now that I’m here, it still seems like a slightly dirty choice of drink. The smooth ice-cream character of draught Guinness is nowhere to be found, making it all the easier to discern the rusty-razor-sharp sourness that people who dislike stout are so aware of. Singapore-brewed Foreign Extra is a hard, bitter and (at 6.8% by volume) strong drink, much like the people it’s traditionally been made for. Like coffee and caviar, it’s a taste that’s hard to imagine bothering to acquire — if you melted caramel into stewed tea and stirred in a cold Horlicks, you might be close to replicating it. In contrast to gentler Belgian beers of a similar strength, where the high alcohol is a natural support for honeyed, floral, welcoming flavours, the alcohol in Foreign Extra does nothing more than lend the whole thing a medicinal je ne sais quoi.

The marketing department of the local distributors recently offered a ‘limited edition’ for sale, leaving the recipe unaltered but repackaging it in a gaudy collision of copper and gold. On the back they included a history lesson: “In 1869, the distributor of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout in Singapore, Blood Wolfe, used a wolf’s head emblem to distinguish themselves. The locals started calling it ‘Ang Ji Kao’ (Red Tongued Dog). Walking alongside you when you celebrated success and endured hardship. Guinness has been enjoyed by generations of Singaporeans. Let us raise a toast to what we have created because this one is for us.” The relevant press release goes into more detail, claiming that the Hokkein ‘ang ji gao/kao’ tag was easier for locals to pronounce than ‘Guinness’. The wolf in question is panting, in a way entirely appropriate to this climate, with a long red tongue lolling around in a way that makes the HMV puppy look terribly innocent. What struck me most was the idea that something as Oirish as Guinness, to my North Sea eyes, could be claimed as local all the way over here, somewhere distant enough that people had no experience of idiots in foam hats and shamrocks. But then of course it isn’t Irish, apart from the brand — it’s stout, a drink that’s been here long enough to be local.

Local stout, whether Baron’s, ABC, or Guinness, is, despite the marketers’ efforts, a drink for old uncles and exhausted labourers, something sold in huge bottles under fluorescent lights and drunk around plastic tables, something with enough malt and barley to compensate poor diets and sufficient alcohol to make difficult lives seem more pleasant. Expats like me (Caucasian, European) aren’t really seen drinking it, and I sometimes feel self-conscious at the Market Place or Cold Storage checkouts with a bottle nestling against the expensive muesli. Ang ji gao is not for ang mos: Singapore is too young a society for the middle classes to have started copying working-class mores, with affluence only a recent feature of life here. But I like it: I like the short list of ingredients (water, malt, barley, hops), I like the funny moreish nature of its cosy bitter taste, and most of all I like that I’m drinking it in exactly the sort of far-flung location in which I always imagined it belonged.

Editor’s note. Guinness Foreign Extra Stout can be divided into two categories: those that are brewed in Dublin for export to the former colonies and those that are brewed in the former colonies themselves. The latter category are brewed in Nigeria, Jamaica and Malaysia amongst others and vary in alcohol content. The situation is confused further as some of the foreign-brewed Extra Stouts are then imported into Great Britain and Ireland, the Nigerian is common in London, and sold alongside the Dublin-brewed stuff. There are differences in taste but I can’t remember what they are. These are strong beers we are talking about.

Wine articles Wine of the week

Wine of the Week: Percheron Old Vines Cinsault 2010

Edinburgh is often described as the Athens of the North. Something to do with philosophy, I think, rather than a love of  columns and naked athletics. Beirut is the Paris of the East but the most popular city to be compared to is Venice with Amstersdam, St Petersberg, Bruges, Manchester and, of course, Birmingham all claiming to be Venices of the North. Well pinot noir is the Venice of the wine world; it is the most popular comparison with many grapes claiming to be the pinot noir of: insert point on the compass. Candidates for this honour include Rioja’s tempranillo, if you’ve ever tried a Vina Ardanza then you will know the comparison can be justified, st laurent from Austria, grenache and even burly syrah, not so odd if you’ve ever had a mature Cote Rotie. I’m never quite sure exactly what wine writers mean when they say this but I think it refers to wines that tend towards perfume, freshness, a certain (unjammy) sweetness and a lack of tannin. Wines to fall in love with rather than admire.  I would also add that like pinot noir all these grapes lose this perfume if the alcohol levels are too high, they are over-cropped or smothered in oak.

Which brings us onto poor unloved cinsault (Benjamin Lewin MW in his Wine Myths and Reality refers to it as a no-name variety – cover your ears cinsault!). It’s best known for making rosé but was also my USP (excuse the marketing jargon) to bring Lebanon’s wines to the attention of the world. I thought it would work better in a blend but it turns out I didn’t really know what I was talking about as there are some varietals cinsaults. The Domergues of Minervois produce a noted age-worthy red Capitelle de Centeilles made solely from this ugly duckling. Whilst I was in the Languedoc not far from Minervois I came across much enthusiasm for cinsault though no one seemed ready to abandon syrah quite yet for their serious reds.

Here’s a delightfully simple version from South Africa where they have large quantities of unloved old vines hence the astonishing cheapness of this version. On the nose it smells of confected raspeberries. It’s not unpleasant but it really does smell like raspberry flavour Mr Freeze ice pops. On the palate I found it spicy, light-bodied and refreshing. Quite nice. I popped it in the fridge and came back to it the next day. The chilling really brought out the fruit and the spice as well as giving it a little structure. Did it taste like pinot noir? Not really but it did do all the things that I would want in a simple Pinot such as a Cono Sur. The more I drink this, the more I like it, my wife likes it too – it’s very quickly on its way to being a house favourite. I can’t wait to try some more serious versions of this unfairly maligned variety. Remember readers, cinsault is for red not just for rosé.

Percheron Old Vines Cinsault 2010, Western Cape, South Africa – widely available. I paid £5.99 from the Wine Society. D. Byrne & Co in Clitheroe have it for only £5.79 – there’s canny Lancastrian buying.