“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





31 August 2009


Big Ocker Reds Too Strong For You? Forgotten Your Drinking Heritage? C'mon You Bastards, Drink Like Your Kids!

Since the kiddylikker issue seems to have slipped off the village screen, again, and winter has properly arrived, your correspondent has been playing with a few ancient cocktails which make your average Red Bull and vodka look like communion wine.

Part of the interest comes from the current international obsession with bagging big alcoholic Australian reds. Putting the gastronomic quality of the wine aside, it seems that there’s suddenly developing a moral limit to the amount of alcohol which one should permit in wine.

There are, of course, many drinks which are highly popular, and which are three or four times stronger than wine, whose alcohol levels are never discussed unless they’re too low. Like whisky. And its north American cousin, whiskey. The abovementioned vodka. Gin. Rum. Get the drift? Galliano. Cointreau. Tia Maria. These have not been honestly discussed, relative to the sanctimonious piety shewn the kiddylikker debate.

It’s always amusing to find, say, the sort of wine bore who would attend more than three free wine tastings in a Saturday, tugging on about high alcohol wines being a thing of the past, then getting stuck into the Kahlua like there was no tomorrow. What’s the difference? One is made from grapes. One is a concoction of many flavourings and chemicals, and alcohol.

While this column is not about wine, experience proves that some wines of, say sixteen per cent alcohol, are in better balance than others, just like wines in any other alcohol bracket. High natural acidity, and very carefully grown fruit from happy balanced vines, will render a much more approachable drink than one produced by the artisan, the artificer, and the artful garagiste who simply copies the famous original, but gets it wrong with higher yields, lower acidity, and little more than black alcoholic syrup in the glass. Sometimes, surely, a Kahlua would be the better buy in the flavour stakes as much as the boom for your buck index. These are the wines which the world is wisely refusing, just as Britain did after the Second World War, when strong “ferruginous” Australia wines were welcome for a while, while the Poms put their condition back on after a decade of ration tickets, but then suddenly went out of fashion, while all England suddenly lurched back to the lighter, finer wines of France.

Repetition of such cycles should be expected.

I found myself interrupted by a brace of lovely lasses the other day, one of whom pointed to the drink in my hand and said “I’ll have one of those”. Suddenly, I had to admit what I was drinking. I’ve been buying long pepper – Piper longum – from the organic spice trader who does the Willunga market Saturdays and runs a stall outside The Exeter in Rundle Street on Sundays. This is more piquant than normal black peppercorns, as if it also contained a little chilli. I grind it with my mortar and pestle, small enough to put in a normal pepper grinder, then sprinkle it liberally over a glass of Bombay gin on big ice. A dribble of vintage port completes the assemblage: the racy Old Mill Estate Touriga Nacional model, or the new Kalleske Fortified Vintage Shiraz will do nicely. The result is a tincture which seems capable of both awakening and retiring the drinker, leaving him or her lost in a piquant dream that’s somewhere highly ethereal between Burgundy and Portugal, and not a bad place to be, thanks very much. If you replace the gin with a good vodka, which will provide none of the acrid juniper piquancy of say, Bombay, your cocktail is even more strangely reminiscent of the pinot the devil drinks. Kiddylikker AO, see.

My colleague on the other paper, John McGrath, should be acknowledged for the creation of one of the greatest modern cocktails, if the seventies could still be regarded as modern. There was a little cider press near Summertown called Cobbleys, which produced a sweetish cider in a champagne bottle with a Blue Moose on its label. The cider was bright blue, thanks, no doubt to a little cyanide-based colouring, probably from apricot kernels. This went swimmingly in a big balloon glass with big ice and a shot of Cointreau. The brave could attempt the same effect, without the blue, with their favourite cider today, provided, of course, you’re of the right age. It is, after all, pretty much your basic Victorian punch, when strength was required as much as masking agents to hide the flavour of the day’s rough spirits.

When last I heard of Cobbleys as a cider company, it was owned by Robert Champion de Crespigny, then MD of Normandy-Poseidon gold mining company, fourth largest in the world, and Perry Gunner, MD of Pernod-Ricard Australia. Pernod-Ricard? Now there's a mob who understands the power of strength! The apples are gone now, not to housing, as the Champion-Gunner axis no doubt dreamt, but to vines, courtesy of John Greenshields, who sold his beloved Koppamurra bush vines to Brian Croser, mate of Champion-Gunner, who promptly changed their names to Tapanappa, which is bullshit geologically, geology being BJ's current and ancient obsession. Ask Andrew Jefford.

Critically, significantly, even wisely, the recent kiddylikker debate failed to address another mighty confection which was introduced to me by the same great writer, and which, as far as I know, remains mysteriously legal. This is the Nelson’s Blood: a shot of dark rum in the bottom of a pint of stout. Punch? You bet! One of these would have Mother Theresa snotting the abbott.


Anonymous said...

Let's not forget the wonderful 'Hearts of Darkness' tried at Woodstock (Wines) 15 years ago. 2/3 dry sparkling white and 1/3 youngish vintage port - impossibly purple and so easy to drink. Forget your sparkling buggery.

Miguel Sanchez said...

Strong wine is the passion of quite a few people. Strong wine and stronger cigars are quite the rage around the world. Just have a look at the the number of people who are searching up Cigars online. The large numbers will give you an idea of the popularity of fine cigars.