Thursday, 12 October 2017

Whatever…it's rosé

“Do you fancy some rosé with that fish?”

“Ooh! Yes! Where did you buy that from?”

“Ah… I didn’t. Someone must have brought it.”

“One of our visitors, you mean?”

“I assume so. There are a few odd bottles in the cellar…


"… which people have brought round, and I have just stuck down there. And there just happens to be this rosé.”

“Is it any good?”

“How do I know? I didn’t buy it! I mean, it’s not Domaine Templier or anything, that’s for sure. It’s…Whatever…it’s rosé.”

“You could look it up, couldn’t you?”

“I could, yes, but really, what’s the point? I mean, that fish is nearly cooked. And I don’t have another bottle of rosé. How was I to know there was a sunny weekend coming?”

“Well, I got the fish…”

“Yes, but you got that today, from the posh fishmongers, and if I’d suggested today that we got a bottle of rosé, you’d have given me that look.”

“What look?”

“The one which says ‘All you ever think about is wine, can’t you be excited about the fish?’”

“I thought the whole idea of you having a wine cellar was that you had different wines to suit different meals and so on?”

“To an extent, yes. But that extent sort of stops before rosé.”


“Because people don’t really keep rosé.”

“How long have you kept this one, then?”

“I don’t know. That’s not the point. The point is that if I’d bought it while we were out today, it would have been part of a plan, whereas I have come upstairs with this bottle of rosé, and it’s an unexpected treat. Ta da!

“And it is going to be a treat, is it?”

I don’t know! Look, it’s rosé. And this is probably the last time this year we’re going to drink any, and it’s really not worth keeping until next year. So I’m going to open it anyway. Oh.”

“What’s that face for?”

“It’s got a plastic cork. That’s not good.”

“Worse than a screwcap?”

“Probably. It means it’s got ideas above its station. Like a cartridge pen; it’s neither a proper traditional fountain pen, nor an efficient modern Biro. Whatever…it’s rosé”

“Nice colour…”

“That doesn’t mean anything, really. They’re making them paler and paler nowadays. Having said that, you know you’re in trouble when it’s the colour of bubblegum.”

“And what’s it like, then?”

“Could be colder. Rosé could always be colder. Oh. Oh… Still… it’s rosé.”

“Is it really horrible, then?”

“You try it.”

“It’s pretty horrible”

“Yes. Whatever… it’s rosé.”


Thursday, 5 October 2017

China: Harder Than It Looks

So back we come after a month in China and we are shattered, dirty and overwhelmed by massive colds. We have infected an entire 777 on the return flight from Beijing to London and can now barely talk. All we want to do is die in the quiet of our own home. And it is only at this point that I yearn for my bottle of Three Gorges Wine Company 52% liquor, reasoning that not even the Three Gorges liquor can be worse than the way I currently feel and maybe a shot would actually help. Then I remember that I left it in a fridge somewhere in China and anyway, it's truly undrinkable, dead or alive.

I acquired this awful liquid, this Three Gorges baijiu (I think it's known as) at a place called Yichang on the Yangzi River. I paid too much for it (£1.60 for 125 ml); but then again, Three Gorges Wine Company liquor is so bad that a little goes a really long way. I only bought it in the first place because I'd seen other people (blokes, invariably) tucking into variations of the stuff in eateries and restaurants and reasoned That must be just the thing, taken in small quantities, to round off a hard day's sightseeing.

Could not have been more wrong, of course. I don't think I've ever drunk anything so alarming, not even when I was a teenager experimenting with bucket homebrew and amateur wine and White Shield. The one and only time I consumed Three Gorges Wine Company 52% liquor (Lake North Famous Brand Goods it also said in English in small print as a come-on) I was almost blinded. It started off nice and cold from the fridge before exploding into a horrible stale grappa kind of nose after which all I remember is choking helplessly while tears coursed down my cheeks. I was on fire and I was crying and having convulsions. It was authentically frightening. What was in the bottle? Various ingredients had been suggested to me by people along the way, including wheat, rye, rice, grapes, sorghum and barley, but the colourless, slightly viscous end product wasn't really intelligible on account of the coughing and blinding; and even when I wasn't blind I couldn't read the Chinese writing on the label to get a better idea.

Was it just a terrifying one-off? Hard to say. Higher-end variants are heavily advertised on roadside billboards as well as sold in relatively smart liquor shops, so there's nothing unfamiliar about the basic concept. In fact I watched a bunch of local lads in the great city of Tianjin start off their evening meal with a large bottle of baijiu split four ways, followed by three bottles apiece of dependably excellent Tsingtao beer - and still manage to cope with chopsticks and a cauldron of boiling hot bouillon. So, no, my Three Gorges wasn't entirely freakish. Baijiu is apparently the most widely-drunk hard liquor in the world and I just picked a terrible example.

Would I have been better off with one of the local regular wines? A Cabernet Sauvignon from the Great Wall winemakers? A camel-themed rosé whose label I could not construe, but which the translation app on my phone rendered as Drunk Piece? A Chilean red called Legend of Chilephant with an elephant on the label? Yes, of course: they wouldn't have made me cry. On the other hand, I did drink some Changyu sparkling white which looked like wine but tasted just like the Sprite in a neighbouring glass, so maybe it's not as simple as that.

Either way, the experience was pretty emblematic. I mean, China is an astonishing, hugely impressive work in progress, crammed with energies and achievements and modernities barely forty years after the end of the Cultural Revolution; but it's also relentless, fairly bonkers, extremely hard to decode, hugely unrelaxing for the Western tourist. A modest bottle of bathtub hooch turns out to be not a way of unwinding, but an incredibly challenging thing, a threat, an affront to the sensibilities which this traveller did not even begin to anticipate. That and stewed chicken feet for breakfast: we still have so much to learn.


Thursday, 28 September 2017

Take it away…

Let’s just start with this name, shall we? The Takeout. In this country, our food is takeaway. We do not take out meals, except from a fridge. We take away food – we take out rubbish.

So right from the outset, I am prejudiced against a wine which is based on a marketing premise – let’s flog a wine to people ordering food from restaurants to eat at home – and then gets it so simply, linguistically, wrong.

And then they do it again! “Made to take away” it says on the label – well, it’s not, is it? Call me a pedant (and please, while you’re at it, undo that bottom waistcoat button), but if anything, it’s made not to, but for take away, surely? Unless you’re going to nick it from the supermarket.

Actually if, as it suggests elsewhere, you “Enjoy fine dining from the comfort of your couch”, then the wine is emphatically staying in. It’s another matter entirely whether the dining that comes on the back of a moped can conceivably be described as “fine”.

“There’s nothing like a night in,” it says, a reminder which makes me immediately want to go out. Personally I hate ordering a takeaway. I can’t stand the nervous waiting. How long will they be? Have they lost the order? Is that them? Shall I warm the plates up yet? Is that them? I’ll go and have a look through the window. Perhaps they can’t find the house? Is that them? IT’S THEM!

But takeaways are clearly popular. And the most popular in this country are Chinese and Indian. Possibly because both of them are really difficult, and time-consuming, and “pinch of a herb or spice you haven’t got” demanding, to cook upon a whim. Who’s going to order something any fule can cook? Who’s going to stand in the Dragon’s Den and propose a fish finger delivery service?

Unfortunately, in a hitch somehow unforeseen by The Takeout’s marketing department, neither Chinese nor Indian cuisine really pair with Sangiovese, immediately losing them 59% of the UK takeaway market.

The label – indeed, the front label – tells us the dishes with which it does pair. But it regains little ground, since they include fettucine alfredo, a dish patently unsuited to delivery, as its simple ingredients of pasta, melted butter and melted cheese would coagulate on the back of a moped into a sort of yellowish breeze block.  

However, at least we are told the wine does pair well with pizza, our nation’s third favourite takeaway, and a dish with which you can’t really go wrong. Unless someone wants pineapple on it.

And the Takeout has a screwcap, thoughtful when you’re panicking about your delivery getting cold. But beneath it is a pugilistic wine with an acidic edge, lacking not only body or depth, but also the liveliness which Sangiovese can display. Hardly a suitable partner for that “fine dining” they mentioned.

There are so many flaws in this whole concept. In one scenario, you are buying this wine to keep until you have a takeaway delivered at some point in the future, on the evidently false assumption that it will go with whatever you order.

Or, you are actually picking up your takeaway, so you pop into the supermarket to get a bottle of wine to go with it – and bereft of any idea what to get, you buy this because it says it will go with a “takeout”. Although it probably won’t go with yours.

There are many questions around takeaways – such as why does our Indian restaurant always put a little plastic bag of salad in with the dishes they deliver? (You never get salad in the restaurant…)

But there is only one question around The Takeout. Why?