Categories
Film and TV This Week I'm Drinking

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.

Categories
Wine articles

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. 

Categories
This Week I'm Drinking

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.

 

 

Categories
This Week I'm Drinking Wine articles

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