Monday, August 17, 2020

My Life In ... Wine

The fifth in an occasional series of alternative Curriculum Vitae because no-one on their death bed says "I wish I'd spent more time in the office".

When I first met Mary she had a reasonable knowledge of wine having taken the Wine and Spirit Trust's Certificate and Higher Certificate exams. I, on the other hand, knew little but did have a full 60 bottle wine rack in the cupboard under the stairs, perhaps that is what attracted her to me! After we married the wine collection expanded rapidly and our house hunting requirements thence forward included a cellar. This was our stock at home at Christmas 2006 and even more out with the wine merchants.
The following are not necessarily the finest of wines but ones that stuck in my memory as milestones on my own personal wine route. The dates are those of drinking not the vintage; all dates approx.
Sherry, "blended" (1972): The student drinking equivalent of rummaging in a skip. When I lived in Walton Street, Oxford there was an off-licence. One evening as my mates and I were wandering down the street we saw the shop had put out rubbish for the next day. Amongst that were a number of boxes that had contained loose sherry. My friend Vince picked one up and shook it. We could hear remnants of sherry that wouldn’t go through the tap sloshing about. There must have been a dozen of these containers so we grabbed them, unscrewed the taps and emptied the assorted sherries into a jug. We must have got about 2 pints of sherry, blended. It tasted fine to us, it was alcoholic and sweet and we were poor students.

Moulin a Vent (1975): The first "proper" wine whose name I remember. When I was lodging with friends in Oxford we had a bottle of Beaujolais Cru at a dinner party. It was delicious and we looked it up in their Hugh Johnson World Atlas of Wine. It was a revelation to me that you could know in such detail where a wine came from and see the small village on a map. The following year I drove down to the south of France with friends for a holiday in a gîte. We drove down through Burgundy using Hugh Johnson to plan our route instead of a normal road atlas.
Rüdesheimer Rosengarten (1979): The first wine I ever bought by the case. I had drunk it by the glass in after work sessions in the local Davy’s wine bar close to our office in Noble Street. I was so impressed I bought 12 bottles. Not the most economical way to buy wine but I knew nothing of wine merchants and wine warehouses!

Banda Azul (1980): The first wine I bought more than one case of. This was in the days of Oddbins expansion in London and they were doing this wine as their Wine of the Month: buy a case and get an extra discount.  It was such a favourite with my group of friends at the time that several of us went out and bought a case or two each. A real bargain, it was all we drank for some months thereafter.

Marque de Caceres (1981): My first experience of quality Rioja. By then I was working for Coopers & Lybrand in their management consultancy division. I went to see a production at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond and bumped into the head of the IT group. Always an uncertain etiquette situation when you bump into your boss who you don’t know particularly well in a social context. Full marks to the boss, she invited me and my girlfriend back round to her flat just around the corner for a glass of wine. And it was my first memorable experience of a seriously full-bodied red. Delicious even if I had not the faintest idea how to pronounce it.

As long as I can get the cork out!
 Around this time wine warehouses started to appear where you could taste the wines before buying. To me a novel concept. While I was in such an establishment in Merton a man came in who declined the offer of a tasting. "We're having a party. I've got the beer. The missus says we have to have some wine. I don't care what it is as long as I can get the cork out!"

Zind Humbrecht Herrenweg Turckheim (1987): My first discovery of dessert Gewurtztraminer. I don’t know how I discovered this wine but it gave me my first introduction to a seriously delicious wine. I knew about Rhone sweeties such as Muscat (de Beaume de Venise, Miravalle and Frontignan) and have majored in dessert wines ever since, especially the magnificent triple vintage of 1988/89/90.

Chateau Suduiraut (1992): My first experience of premier cru classé Sauternes. Mary and I won a week's wine course at Chateau Magnol in a competition run by Decanter. Previously only for trade Barton & Guestier we guessed that they were thinking of opening it up as a commercial holiday offering and a dozen of us were the lucky guinea pigs for a trial run. Classes in the morning, a four course lunch with wines, and afternoon excursion to a chateau then a four course meal in the evening with even more wine. One trip was to Chateau Suduiraut, a neighbour to Yquem, producing Sauternes from similar terroir for a fraction the price. We got to taste the wine in cask: nectar of the Gods!

Chateau D'Angludet (1993): The first case of wine Mary and I bought together. Discovered at the East Anglian Wine Festival. It is a Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel from Margaux and a wine we have returned to many times since.
Chateau Lynch Bages (1993, vintage 1989): Our wedding list wine. We married late and both had well established households. Combining our household presented a challenge with the wedding list as we already had pretty much two of everything. Once answer was fine wine from the year we met. Friends could buy as many or a few bottles as they liked; one extremely generous wine-loving friend bought six, we ended up with a complete case of 12. It was stashed away for at least 10 years before we cracked the first one. We still have four left after 27 years!

Chateau Yquem (1994, vintage 1988): A gift from a friend. We had our friend Bron stay with us for a few months in 1994 while he was between house moves. As a thank you present he gave me this to be saved for my 70th birthday. That's a long time to have to wait to open a present
Colavecchio Primitivo (2008): My favourite grape variety from Puglia. When we bought a home in southern Italy in 2004 we were introduced to a range of regional varietals. This rich, jammy, alcoholic wine is my favourite. This cantina sells wine from the pump, take along your own containers and stock up of some serious quaffing wine for around €1.60 per litre.

For more on my wine voyage see elsewhere on this blog: "Wine".

Who knows what delights the future will bring?

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Knepp 2020

Knepp, West Sussex, UK. Friday/Monday 26/28-June-2020

Our friends' combined wedding anniversary and birthday celebration at Knepp was saved in the nick of time by the easing of lockdown. We had a great visit last year and we booked this visit as soon as we knew about it and signed up for a couple of sarfaris. Really guided walks but we get to wander away off the paths designated for the general public.

The first walk was a dusk safari mainly looking for deer and bats (with the aid of a bat echo doppler shifter to bring their calls within human hearing range).

Bat spotting over Hammer Pond.
The next morning we did a three hour safari packed with wildlife alas no Tamworth pig sightings but we saw a load of other wildlife including a whole peloton of ponies. 

Red Admiral.
Fallow deer.
Cinnabar caterpillar.

Red deer.
After that Mary (in the pink hat) and Daphne went wild swimming in a pond next to the yoga yurt.
Then it was time for the celebration lunch. We had brought our gazebos in case of poor weather and it turned out that we really did need them. Lunch was eaten sheltering from the rain but it did not dampen our spirits.

Breakfast the next morning to celebrate another birthday.
For the whole of our visit we had a very cheeky juvenile robin who kept visiting our hut and was clearly looking for crumbs.
All in all an excellent visit. As soon as next year's timetable is released we will be booking for a early visit during peak butterfly and nightingale season.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Benson Row - 15

Penrith, Cumbria. July-2020.

The money pit for July has been very quiet. Following the exposure of the fireplace I had to redecorate the four walls: two coats of white emulsion and a top coat of White Mist. Given the (poor) quality of the walls this meant an awful lot of filling and sanding.

We have now re-hung lots of our pictures so the place is looking more homely.

We ordered a glass splash back for behind the hob which I fitted. 
We decided against an upstand all round the worktop because of the wobbliness of the walls. Instead we went for a cheap and cheerful quadrant moulding painted, mitred and glued by yours truly.

We have commissioned a replacement floor, continuing the engineered oak in the kitchen / dining room all the way though to the living room. We have also ordered a new front door that hangs the other way.

That's it. The end of the tunnel is in sight.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

My Life In ... Cats

The fourth in an occasional series of alternative Curriculum Vitae because no-one on their death bed says "I wish I'd spent more time in the office".

My life has been considerably enriched by the companionship of these furry monsters. Each one had its own unique personality, behaviours and personal foibles; I could write a whole, separate post about each and every one of them.

Max (1962-?) and Squidge (1963-?): The original family cats when I was a child and lived with my parents. Max is the black cat and was acquired prior to our move from Southbank Road to Barford Road in Kenilworth. Then Dad succumbed to my younger sister Jane's entreaties and bought her a grey kitten which she christened Squidge. This photo taken in 1969.

Cleopatra "Cleo" (1990-2007): The first cat of my own was acquired much later in life. Cleo was the offspring of a cat called Gollum who belonged to our friend Ian Jenkinson. It was a small litter and I was persuaded to adopt the all black fluff ball. 
She was a lovely cat although a little timid. She was also the longest lived of all our cats, living to 17 years.
About 8 weeks after adopting Cleo I was sent to work on a project in Bingley for a well known building society. What to do about the kitten who needed feeding three times a day. Dilemma solved by relocating myslef and the kitten up north. For years after her basket had a British Midland airline luggage label on it.

Spielberg (1991-1992): Was the offspring of a cat belonging to our friend Sue Moller. I originally thought he was going to be called Fred using Cockney rhyming logic, as in "Fred and Ginger" because he was a ginger tom. But no, Mary was joking, so for reasons to long to go into here he ended up as "Spielberg" after the director of "Paws", "Close Encounters of the Furred Kind" and "The Color Purrple". 
He was a robust cat of great character and much loved by my lodger Neil. He and Cleo got on fine.  
A picture of Spielberg caught mid-meow looking like a satanic cat.
Sadly after a couple of years he simply vanished. We never knew what became of him despite Neil putting up notices all around declaring that Spielberg liked cheese and dribbling. Mary thinks he might have been adopted by a neighbour, I am more gloomy and fear an RTA.

Cristal (1992-1994): The only cat we bought rather than adopted. She was a pedigree, silver Persian and seriously cute. 

Sadly she only lived until two and a half because of a tumour on the heart. She and Cleo were the best of friends, here observing a bird on the lawn.
Oscar (1995-2004) and Oliver (1995-2003): Adopted from the now defunct Shirren Rescue Centre in Sturminster Newton that specialised in Persians. They were the cutest of cats and super friendly. Oscar, the black and white, was the favourite of all my cats. He loved to roll over and have his tummy rubbed at which he would turn into a boneless bag of fur. Oliver was a docile tube; if you saw him in a toy shop you would declare that can't be real, no cat is that fluffy.
They, however, were really mean to Cleo and despite all the advice from the animal psychologist we ending up having to keep the two of them apart from Cleo.

Living in the country Oscar not only brought birds but baby rabbits in the spring. He would wait until you were in the shower then present you with your present, usually headless. The bathroom carpet got so blood stained it eventually became unclean-able and we had to chuck it.
The only way to stop Oliver dancing on the keyboard was to fool him with the PC bag and the sit-in-a-box instinct kicked in.
There is so much more I could write about this pair, they were lovely. Sadly they both eventually passed and Cleo outlived them both. When Cleo eventually had to be put to sleep we waited two years before visiting the Cat Protection adoption centre.

Peaches (2010-2015) and Blue (2010-2016):
We adopted two older cats as we knew we planned a retirement to Italy. They have trouble re-homing older cats, we knew we would not have them as long but could give two older cats an graceful retirement. We were told these two were brought up together but I am not convinced that they were actually siblings. They were like pastel repeats of Oscar and Oliver, the stolid ginger and the vivacious dark one.
Peaches would never meow or sit on your lap but was always nearby, usually on the back of the sofa purring away.
Blue however was much more in-your-face. Always wanted to jump on the bed at night, purr madly for ten minutes and then retreat to the foot of the bed. In the morning she would jump into the warm, post-shower bath and shout for attention.

Jungle cat:

Over the years our cats have given us so much love, enjoyment, pleasure, entertainment. I remember them all with great fondness.
Read more about the individual cats on the blog: