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Spirits

Introducing . . . . the Martoni

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I’m not bragging so don’t put me down but I’ve just invented a game-changing new cocktail. All you mixologists out there better give up and go home. Basically it’s a martini crossed with a negroni. I call it the Martoni. Imagine you’re making a classic martini but instead of just vermouth, add a little Campari. It brings out the citrus flavours in the gin and give it a pleasing pink tinge. It’s deliciously drinkable. I’m on my second now and contemplating a third.

Here’s the recipe:

House gin –  three shots

Campari – one tablespoon

Noilly Prat ambre – one tablespoon (Quite hard to get hold of, I think this would work nicely with ordinary Noilly Prat or even Martini rosso)

Stir in a cocktail shaker with loads of ice, strain into a frozen martini glass with some orange peel.

 

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Wine articles

This sherry costs how much??!!

I’ve long felt like a prophet crying in the wilderness so it’s good sometimes to be proved right rather than just be that strange man crying on the heath. In my first post for this blog I wrote:

“People will pay hundreds of pounds for a bottle of whisky from a single barrel especially if it is has an interesting story attached so why not the same for rare sherries?”

That was back on 2010. Since then there have been some quite pricey sherries but nothing to compete with the lavishly-packaged collector bait that the whisky business regularly release. Until now that is. Barbadillo have just released a sherry that costs £8000. No there isn’t an extra zero there, eight thousand pounds. Very nice it is too. You can read the whole story here.

I like to think that the management at Barbadillo read my post six years ago and were inspired.

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Wine articles

How will Brexit affect Bordeaux

This is something I wrote for Berry Bros & Rudd:

For a certain kind of wine lover, usually British, Claret is red wine. At the moment though, the wines of Bordeaux are decidedly unfashionable. Bordeaux bashing is a popular sport amongst young wine writers, and those old enough to know better. Other regions, Burgundy, Brunello and the Barossa, have caught the roving eye of the enthusiast. We’ll be back. “Foreign” competition, difficult vintages and over-optimistic pricing are nothing new in the long history shared by Britain and Bordeaux. The philosopher Roger Scruton writes in his book, I Drink, Therefore I Am, of how, after dallying with other wines, we will always “crawl home like a Prodigal Son and beg forgiveness for our folly. Claret extends a warm and indulgent embrace, renewing the ancient bond between English thirst and Gascon refreshment…“

It is indeed an ancient bond. Bordeaux has long enjoyed a closer relationship with London and indeed Bristol, King’s Lynn and Leith, than with Paris. For a long time Bordeaux was part of England. Gascony and other French possessions were acquired for the English Crown when Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry Duke of Normandy, later Henry II of England, in 1152. The merchants of Bordeaux enjoyed special privileges under English rule. That much-maligned King, John, is actually remembered fondly by the Bordelais as he encouraged the trade by exempting nobles and burghers in Bordeaux from all taxes on their wines.

The first big test for the Special Relationship was the Hundred Years War. The Gascons naturally sided with their best customers against the power-hungry French state. But despite some famous victories – Agincourt, Poitiers, Crécy – the Allies (as I like to call them) were finally defeated in 1453 at the Battle of Castillon. Did this affect the wine trade? Well, maybe a little, but for the next 200 years the English still loyally imported Bordeaux wine in heroic quantities.

A far more serious problem came with the accession of William III in 1688. He had, with the support of Parliament, overthrown Charles’s brother James II. James fled to France and with French support plotted to regain his throne. France now became England’s great rival.  In 1693 William III put up the duty on French wine. By 1698 duty on French wine was £47 a cask when the wine itself only cost £12. Conflict between the two countries would persist sporadically until the defeat of Napoleon in 1815. It was another Hundred Years War. The harsh duty on French wine lasted until 1860. Lack of cheap Claret had previously been a temporary aberration: now it was a permanent problem.

But the ever-canny Bordelais had a plan. Rather than exporting cheap wine to be taxed heavily, they made their wine a luxury product. The new Bordeaux, pioneered by Arnaud de Pontac at Haut-Brion, was quite different to the pale old “clairet”. It would have been a dark, full-bodied, tannic wine that could stand ageing. It was the prototype of the wine we enjoy today. In 1666 Arnaud’s son opened a tavern in the City called the “Sign of The Pontac’s Head”, where he sold Haut-Brion for seven shillings a bottle, around four times the price of ordinary wine. It became the talk of the town. John Locke tried it. Pepys tried it and called it “Ho Bryan”. A game developed in London to see who could spell Haut-Brion in the most amusing way: John Hervey Earl of Bristol referred to it in 1705 as Obrian. Christie’s the auction house called it Oberon and Maurice Healy referred to it as O’Brien.
Where Pontac led, others followed, but they planted not in Graves, around the city of Bordeaux, but in the newly drained Médoc 

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Wine articles

The Armenian wine revolution

This is an extract from an article I wrote for Food & Wine magazine:

I tried a wine last month that stopped me in my tracks. It was a red aged in amphorae, traditional clay jars, from Armenia. I know what you’re thinking: a wine from a former Soviet republic made using ancient technology? It’s going to be pretty funky. Not a bit of it, however; this was a wine with absolute purity of fruit; the tannins were prominent but smooth, and the perfume was magical. The bottle, a 2014 Zorah Karasi (meaning amphora in Armenian), had more than a hint of Barolo about it, with its mixture of fragrance and power but with a heady, spicy quality that makes it unique.

The Italian comparison is apt because the man behind the wine, Zorik Gharibian, was brought up in Italy. He described himself to me as “100% Italian and 100% Armenian.” He went into the fashion business in Milan and married Yeraz Tovmasyan, a Swedish-Armenian raised in London. “Like Cabernet Sauvignon, Armenians will grow anywhere,” he said. Gharibian and Tovmasyan both loved the wines of Tuscany and dreamed of buying an estate in Chianti.

In 1998, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Gharibian visited his homeland for the first time. He remembers feeling at once like he had come home. One thing he remembers not so fondly, however, are the awful headaches he got from the rough local wine. Yet all around him, Gharibian saw evidence that Armenia was once a great winemaking nation. The monasteries were festooned with vinous decorations. Abandoned vineyards spotted the landscape. And in many domestic cellars, he saw clay amphorae, previously used for fermentation, sitting unused. Armenian wine is probably the oldest in the world. There’s evidence that grapes were fermented there more than 6,000 years ago. The wine tradition was continued in monasteries throughout the Middle Ages and, despite invasions from Russians, Persians, Arabs and Turks, right up to the 20th century.

The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 spelled disaster for Armenia. During this conflict, the Turks killed more than a million Armenians who were living within the Ottoman Empire. This was followed by the collapse of the Empire and the Turkish-Armenian war of 1920, when the new national state of Turkey annexed half of the historic homeland of the Armenians. The rest of the country fell under Soviet rule. Viticulture was subsequently collectivized, and grapes were used to make brandy (actually very good brandy, Churchill was a fan) and cheap wine for Russian consumption. Armenians scattered across the world, and those who remained deserted wine for vodka.

Despite his unpromising initial experience with the local wine, Gharibian was fascinated by Armenia’s rich history with it. He had no experience of viticulture, but in 2000 he bought some land in Vayots Dzor (meaning Valley of Woes) with a view of planting a vineyard. The region was a “very masculine country, mountainous, not rolling hills,” he said. The locals thought he was mad. Nevertheless, he sent off soil samples and climatic measurements to the University of Milan—who pronounced it excellent for vine growing.

Gharibian spoke with various oenologists, all of who advised him to plant international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and mature the wine in barriques. The Gharibians were adamant, however, that they would use local varieties. They met a kindred spirit in Tuscan oenologist Alberto Antonini, who understood immediately what they were trying to do. “I want to express the terroir,” Gharibian said. He and his wife discovered that a local grape, Areni Noir, was perfectly adapted to high altitude with hot days and cold nights. They took cuttings from a nearby abandoned monastery vineyard and planted it in their vineyard. (The region is so remote that it didn’t suffer from phylloxera, the wine-eating louse that ravaged much of the world’s vineyards in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.)

Their philosophy was one of “nothing except quality,” in Gharibian’s words. Many Armenians still have a somewhat Soviet attitude towards enterprise, so it isn’t the easiest place to do business—but the mayor of the town understood their approach. Now when the locals go to work at the vineyard they joke that they are “going to Italy.” 2010 was the first vintage. Initially the couple used stainless steel and some wood for aging, but they quickly found they got better results when the wines were fermented in concrete and then aged in amphora. The problem is that nobody has the skills to make proper Armenian amphora anymore—so Gharibian has been digging unwanted ones out of cellars. They are very fragile. While I was with him, he was sent a photo message showing that one had been broken that day at the winery.

But the wine is worth the trouble. The quality speaks for itself, and the wines are now exported to 20 countries, including America and Britain. They’re even sold in Barolo—which makes Gharibian particularly proud.

Read on

Slurp have the Zorah Karasi 2013 for £21.95.

 

 

 

 

 

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Wine articles

Booze interview: Roger Scruton

I thought I’d repost this interview from a few years back because I’ve been reading Roger Scruton’s Confessions of a Heretic published by Notting Hill Editions this month. What I love about Scruton is he makes other conservatives, your Charles Moores or your Simon Heffers, seem like dilettantes. In one particularly good essay on the decline (what else) of dance, he thinks the rot set in not with rock n’ roll or swing but with the foxtrot and the waltz. I might run something fuller on the book when I have a moment but meanwhile I hope you enjoy the interview.

Henry's World of Booze

Introducing a new occasional series – interviews with writers about their drinking habits. For my first guest I am honoured to have philosopher Roger Scruton. For many years Scruton wrote a column for the New Statesman. It was ostensibly about wine but in reality it smuggled subversive views about the family, religion and hunting into a left wing magazine. This makes him sounds like merely a mischief maker whereas his unselfconscious love of nature imbued the writing with a rare beauty. The columns are worth reading whatever your political persuasion.

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

When my mother was given a bottle of Burgundy by her step-father. She opened it, took a sip, and then put the cork back in. For several weeks it stood in the larder and from time to time…

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Wine articles

Bergerac and prejudice

There’s a lot of advice for writers out there: write what you know; write what you don’t know. My best bit of advice apart from don’t, get a job in the City or become a plumber instead, is develop your own prejudices. It’s very easy to borrow other people’s. When I became interested in wine, I would say that I didn’t like big Australian wines. I would parrot Roger Scruton’s line about Shiraz being a wine for hooligans. Another one was Bergerac. I went to stay with a friend of a friend once in the Dordgone and he wouldn’t touch the local wine. He dismissed it as rubbish. He drank good claret or Rhones. The only local wine he drank was Monbazillac. Almost without realising it, these thoughts would come into my head whenever I saw a Bergerac label. I would prejudge the wine by his opinions. In my view, Bergerac could either be divided into those that are trying to be St. Emilion, all lavish oak and big flavours, or hard and rustic.

I found a bottle of Château La Ferrière in my father’s garage last month. A 2011, he had no idea where he got it from. On googling it I notice that it was at one point stocked by Tesco’s. I couldn’t find much else about it. We were both very surprised how good it was. A little hard initially, but it opened up to reveal lots of perfume, a violet-like note than one finds in some Malbecs but also something a little earthy. It was like Cahors meets Graves. Very nice. It probably costs about £10, maybe less.

Looking back through my tasting notes in the last four years I was surprised to see that although I have tasted very few Bergeracs, the few I’ve tried, I’ve generally been positive about, even the tarty St. Emilion wannabes.

So it looks like Bergerac is off my prejudice list. I dropped by bigotry against muscular Australian reds years ago. So now I’m casting around for a new wine to dislike. What could it be? Ahhh, prosecco!