Wine articles

Three columns of festive boozing

I’ve been away in California staying with the in-laws where I managed to not visit a single vineyard. Here are three recent columns with particular festive resonance.

Port and digestifs from Food and Wine magazine. After eating an enormous meal in Bordeaux the waitress recommended the strongest Armagnac they had. The more alcohol, the more it settles the stomach, apparently.

The Truth about Christmas wine columns. This is something a little silly I wrote for Tim Atkin’s site.

Finally something still relevant, How to Stay Sober (ish) at Christmas. I am pleased to say that I succeeded on Christmas Day but failed on Boxing Day due to a surfeit of port and negronis. It originally appeared in the Oldie and then on Jancis Robinson’s site.

Merry Christmas!








Wine articles Wine of the week

Let’s be Franc


I was going to call this post Can I be Franc with You but I looked in the voluminous World of Booze archive and discovered that I’d already written an article called that. There are only so many puns in the wine world. It’s a good article too, fun, informative and accessible.

Oh before I start on some wine recommendations, something really tickled me today. I wrote a booze book round-up for the Guardian and this was one of the comments:

“I need some advice. I recently took a boat trip to Helsinki. Just after the boat departed the duty free opened. Evereyone stocked up with clothes and mostly alcohol and chocolate. However, I wanted something of a finer class. I came acroos a bottle of liquor (can´t remember its name) which was in a elequent cantor and had Louise XIVth enbscribed on it, so its about 4 hundred years old (he ruled in France from 1643 to 1715) . I also had its authenticity confirmed by the ship steward who removed it from the glass cabinet so I could see and feel the cantor. Priced at 25% discount it cost about 2500 euros. I gave it a miss but am thinking of going back to buy it on my next cruise. Being an ignoramus on this kind of this, is one supposed to drink it or keep it as a trophy prize in the wine cabinet at home ?”

Made me laugh especially when I read it in in an E. L. Wisty voice.

Anyway, back to the wine. A very nice PR lady representing Pays d’Oc IGP sent me some wines from the South of France and the two that stood out were a couple of Cabernet Francs. I was accused on twitter recently of being addicted to PR. The problem is that they know my weak spots wine, and flattery. All any PR person has to do is send me some good wine and tell me that I’m clever and I’ll pretty much do anything. But it has to be good wine.

Like these two. Both made from Cabernet Franc which one usually finds in Bordeaux or the Loire. It’s normally light and sometimes herbaceous which I actually quite like. In the heat of the south it’s rather different.

Domaine de Brau Pure Cabernet Franc 2013 (around at £10)

I’ve had this wine before and always liked it. It’s the house wine at the Wheatsheaf in Northleach where I like to go for romantically boozy breaks with my wife. This vintage has bright red fruit, some nice refreshing acidity and then a leathery quality that teeters on being a bit funky but then doesn’t quite deliver the whole funk and nothing but the funk. It’s delicious and interesting but not so interesting that people aren’t going to like it.

Domaine Gayda Figure Libre Cabernet Franc 2013 (around £17)

Pretty much everything I’ve had from this domaine in the Languedoc is delicious. Their Cabernet Franc has a distinctively southern flavour. It’s earthy, dark, almost salty with black olives and dark cherries. Intensely savoury, I’d love to keep a bottle for a few years to see how it developed. Instead my wife and I finished the bottle in no time. She had two glasses which is a lot for her being very small and Californian.





Was the Habsburg Empire history’s most confusing?

There’s an old joke about Lebanese politics: if you think you understand it, then it obviously hasn’t been properly explained to you. I feel that way when reading about the Austro-Hungarian Empire. My word it’s a confusing business. It was ruled by the Austrian Habsburg family but there were so many different people and rather than living in defined areas like the English in England or the French in France, they lived intermingled with each other. There were Croats, Poles, Italians, Germans, Hungarians, Serbs, Bosnians, Romanians and others all rubbing up against each other. There were Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox Christians, Jews and Muslims. Then there were people whose names mean little to modern eyes: Ruthenians, Galicians, Slavonians, who mustn’t be confused with Slovakians or indeed Slovenians. In fact the Empire is at times reminiscent of that great spoof history 1066 and All That:

‘The Scots (originally Irish, but by now Scotch) were at this time inhabiting Ireland, having driven the Irish (Picts) out of Scotland; while the Picts (originally Scots) were now Irish (living in brackets) and vice versa. It is essential to keep these distinctions clearly in mind (and verce visa).’

All those different peoples. How do you make sense of it? One way is to look at it the Empire in microcosm rather than trying to understand the whole thing. There is a town called Zadar on the Dalmatian coast in what is now Croatia. Here East meets West, Islam meets Christianity and Northern Europe meets the South. Zadar was once part of another great defunct Empire, the Ottoman, until it was ceded to Venice at the 1699 Treaty of Karlowitz. The Venetians called it Zara and its character became less Croat and more Italian. Then from 1806 until 1818 it entered the Habsburg sphere. The town would have been highly cosmopolitan with Croatian, Italian and German all being widely spoken as well as minorities of Jews, Serbs, Bosnians, Armenians etc. Simon Winder in his book Danubia, a brave attempt to explain the Habsburgs, refers to the area as ‘a sort of linguistic mudslide.’ Then after the defeat of Austria in the First World War, the Empire was dissolved and Zara became part of a united Italy. Later after Italy’s defeat in World War I it became part of Yugoslavia, and then part of an independent Croatia, and the name reverted to Zadar.

Are you still with me? Perhaps it might be more enlightening to look at a family who lived in the city. Girolamo Luxardo, originally from Genoa, arrived in Zara with his wife Maria Canevari in 1817. Here she made a liqueur out of the Maraschino cherries native to the region. They founded the firm of Luxardo to manufacture the liqueur in 1821. The family still make a Maraschino to the old recipe though the firm relocated after the Second World War to the Veneto region of Italy. Almost all the Italian residents left when it became part of Yugoslavia. The city is now almost 100% Croat. Yet the spirit of the old cosmopolitanism lives on in Luxardo Maraschino. Similar liqueurs were made by monasteries since the early middle ages, Maria Canevari’s original recipe was an Italian take on a Dalmatian speciality (the other great Dalmatian speciality being big spotty dogs). It’s now made from Italian cherries. Rather than being a flavoured liqueur, it’s actually distilled from the cherries and the pits themselves, and then diluted and sweetened. So it shares a heritage with fruit brandies such a Slivovitz, made from plums across Eastern Europe. But whilst these brandies have a somewhat fearsome reputation, Luxardo maraschino is all about sophistication.

It’s sweet and smooth but it also has an earthy, nutty taste from the cherry pits. Its richness and complexity provide an essential ingredient in many cocktails. In a recent book called the Spirits, the author Richard Godwin writes: ‘you can generally tell someone who’s serious about cocktails by whether they own a bottle of maraschino.’ Luxardo not only provides a sweet cherry taste but that nuttiness adds depth to such classics as the Brooklyn, the Tuxedo, the Martinez and the Aviator. Me, I find it delicious diluted with sparkling water and ice whilst I ponder the complexities of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Once I’ve got that sussed, then I’ll move on to the political situation in Lebanon.

This originally appeared on the Luxardo website.