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Film and TV This Week I'm Drinking

This week I’m drinking. . . . sweet vermouth on the rocks with a twist

Cocktails are a lot of work, aren’t they? They require precision, in fact making a cocktail is much more like baking than say making a stew. If you don’t get the proportions right, it’ll taste all wrong. If you’re doing this at home, it’s fine for the first one or two and then I just can’t be bothered faffing around with a jigger, a pair of scales and teaspoon. I’d much rather pay someone else to make them so I can spend more time unsettling my friends with outlandish conspiracy theories.

Which is why I love vermouth, a mixture of herbs, spices, wine and brandy, it’s basically a ready mixed cocktail. Vermouth is going through a bit of a moment at the moment with new producers cropping up all over the place. There’s even two brothers making an vermouth in a garage in Forest Hill. Perfect for Londoners trying to cut down on their booze miles. This week I’m going a bit more further afield with the delicious Paso-Vermu from Spain. It’s made by an English couple in Somontano who also produce some very well-regarded wine and being sold by Tanner’s at a very reasonable £15.95.  It’s much gentler and more wine-like, you can really taste the wine base, than say Martini Rosso with just a touch of bitterness at the end. It was rather overpowered by the Campari and gin in a negroni but made an excellent Gin and It (equal parts gin and ITalian vermouth with ice and orange.) The best way to drink it, however, is like Andie MacDowell in Groundhog Day, “on the rocks with a twist” and don’t care for a moment what the grumpy Bill Murrays of the world might think of it.

 

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Spirits This Week I'm Drinking

This week I’m drinking. . . . whisky & soda

It’s been a while since I did one of these and probably will be  a while before I do another one because I have been hard at work on a book which is due to come out in October this year (!) I’ll tell you more about it soon but it’s going to be a coffee table book about drinking and entertaining at home.

To fortify myself I’ve been drinking highballs. Well I’m not sure mine are quite highballs.  I was introduced to the joy of the highball by a semi-Japanese friend last month. Before then I’ve always tended to drink whisky neat or very lightly watered but the Japanese drink it heavily diluted with lots of ice to make a drink that’s as refreshing as a gin and tonic. In fact more refreshing because it’s much less sweet.

A proper high ball should be served in a tall glass with lots of ice and soda water. Mine are I suppose closer to an old whisky and soda like my nanny (my grandmother, not a lady in a starched outfit who was paid to look after me) used to drink. Mine are about 1 part whisky to 4 parts sparkling water with 3 or 4 standard size ice cubes.

But which whisky? I tend to use whatever comes to hand. There’s my heretical house blend which is tasting particularly fine at the moment thanks to an influx of Xmas whisky samples. Also the smoky Compass Box No Name whisky worked a treat as did Four Roses Small Batch bourbon. Whichever whisky goes in, a dash off orange bitters and a piece of orange or satsuma peel lifts the whole drink and gives it a liquid marmalade type quality.

You can drink them very weak indeed and they still taste marvelous. When I grow old and deaf, I’m going to be like nanny and answer every question after 12 noon with the word ‘whisky.’

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This Week I'm Drinking Wine articles

This week I’m drinking. . . . . port

Me last Christmas: I can’t understand why I’ve put on so much weight. We didn’t do that much feasting.

My wife: yes but after every meal you had cheese and port

My problem with port is that I find it a bit too delicious. If there’s a bottle open in the house then I’ll want a glass every evening and when you’re having a glass of port you’ve got to have some cheese. And then it all starts to add up. So I’m taking  a port break until Christmas proper kicks in when I’m going to go a bit mad.

But before I take my port holiday, I have to tell you about a special offer at Tesco. They are selling Taylor’s 10 Year Old Tawny for only £16 until 11th December. It normally sells for at least £20. This is one of my absolute favourite fortified wines. I love the combination of bright strawberry fruit and then layers of walnut and tobacco. It’s one to give to people who think they don’t like port because it’s much lighter than vintage or vintage style ports – though still 20% so don’t knock it back like claret like I did one year.

I did a talk recently with Slightly Foxed magazine with some Taylor’s tawny for the audience to try and everybody loved it. In fact it completely upstaged me as everyone just wanted to talk about how good the port was.

Perhaps that could be the advertising line for the Port Marketing Board – the trouble is it tastes too good – and then adverts could show the havoc caused by the irresistible port. I don’t think it’s been done before.

Port Foxed

Photo of me sitting on a throne whilst high on tawny port.

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Spirits This Week I'm Drinking

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

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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.

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This Week I'm Drinking Wine articles

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 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.

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

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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