Not as dead as one might think

I keep having strange dreams about haunting, viking funerals and eerie, pagan rites. This is hardly surprising after the events of the last few days. Having delivered a rousing eulogy at the funeral of my old friend Hardy Hogg-Marchmont, I was more than a little taken aback when he showed up fit and well next day. Indeed, at the first sight of him I am embarrassed to admit that I soiled myself on the spot. I shall drop off my red corduroys at the launderette on Monday.

There was a fair bit of confusion about whose dead body we had burned the day before, and in the ensuing argument Countess Isabella whacked old Hardy so viciously in the kisser that she drew blood.

We celebrated the old cunt’s resurrection by going trout fishing, in the time honoured style, in the Great Lake at Hogg Hall.

Among several dozen other bottles of plonk, I took along a bottle of Rogalle Frères, Grande Réserve de L’Empereur Cognac Roy de France 1865, a decent champagne cognac which I picked up cheap for a mere £400 as it was bin-soiled and had a damaged label.

Sometime in the late nineteenth century some bugger had clearly popped it open and taken a swig. This was pointed out to me by a well groomed Brazilian woman at the wine auction and there was indeed a gap of at least 8 cms between the cork and the contents of the bottle.

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Hogg Hall Horror

huntOh dear, it seems that my old friend Hardy Hogg Marchmont is dead. He was thrown from his horse during the final moments of the not-entirely-legal Potter’s Crotch Hunt, and was killed instantly. I have already telephoned his delightful daughter Celestia May, and have offered to come and stay with her and her mother Countess Isabella at Hogg Hall.

On the way there I will pick up a case of Chateau Haut Brion Pessac-Lognan 1982.  This red 1982 vintage is still youthful and quite spectacular, and holds its own well against the best wines in the world. I’m sure it will cheer up poor Celestia May no end.

While writing this blog entry, I received a telegram from Ingleby-Barwick, whose cousin Portia is still in hospital awaiting an unscheduled amputation. He was going to visit Hogg Marchmont at Hogg Hall this weekend, but now informs me that he is too drunk to get out of bed.

As if all that isn’t bad enough, I have soiled myself again. Bad news always comes in threes, particularly at his time of year.

Oktoberfest in September

I am becoming increasingly excited by the prospect of sampling the world’s oldest Merlot in Venice, but I have temporarily put my arousal on hold and have decided to stop off in Munich for the first day of Oktoberfest.

For some reason I don’t fully understand, Oktoberfest begins in September – indeed it appeared to be starting at the precise moment I clambered off the train clutching my suitcase and my Dorchester hamper.  I was immediately accosted by two English gentlemen dressed in Joseph Lederhosen, and balancing half-empty litre glasses of Weizenbock on their heads. One of them asked me if I was a “shirt lifter”, and the other screamed with laughter and proffered me his bottom. No doubt it is this kind of hilarious and entertaining behaviour that attracts so many travelers to Munich for Oktoberfest.

I dropped off my luggage at Hotel Splendid Dollmann in Thierschstrasse – a dreary lodging which claimed on its web site to be perfectly located for both business and leisure. This remains to be seen.

I jumped into a cab and headed straight for the Weinzelt, which boasted “as many as 15 different wines”. Truly a selection of bewildering scale. I simply didn’t know where to begin.

I sat listening to a brass band playing a particularly jolly Volkslieder, and sampled about six wines in quick succession. It soon became clear why Oktoberfest is primarily considered to be a beer festival. Luckily I had brought along emergency supplies of my own, and I quickly broke out my Wallace & Gromit corkscrew and a bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild 2002 Pauillac 1er Cru Classé, which luckily was presented to me as a gift in Prague by my good friend Vaclav Vavrinec.

The wine was simply crammed with rich flavours and aromas – winter berries, blackcurrants and Caribbean spices, plus of course that unmistakable hint of Old Holborn rolling tobacco. Vaclav warned me that it would taste better if I laid it down until 2017, but I reasoned that I might not live that long, and that it would be better drunk at an Oktoberfest in September.

I was about to pour my fourth glass, when I was tapped on the shoulder by a large German man wearing a hat and a “Nymphenburger Sekt” T-shirt. He introduced himself as Herr Kuffler and asked if I spoke German. I told him that I did, and he launched into a noisy tirade in which he appeared to be complaining about my wine bottle. After listening to this for around six minutes, I could stand it no longer, and admitted to Herr Kuffler that I actually spoke no German at all. On receipt of this news, he seemed to become even more aggitated, and in excellent English explained that I could not sit in his Weinzelt drinking my own wine, even if it was a particularly fine Chateau Lafite Rothschild.

I offered him a glass, whereupon he called over two burly security guards who efficiently and calmly walked me out of the tent. Had the nasty little man realised that the Chateau Lafite retails for around €200 a bottle I suspect he would have joined me in a glass or two.

Becoming suddenly famished, I made a bee-line for the Sieber Wurstbraterei, who claimed to have “been there since 1876” and were offering “traditional and tasty sausages” – many of which looked as if they had been cooking for the full 133 years.  As I nibbled on a large fat Weisswurst I was once again reminded of those prostitutes hovering by the lifts at the Mövenpick, and became suddenly faint and had to sit down. An attractive German lady perched next to me and explained in broken English that the Bavarian veal sausage I was eating “should not really be eaten after noon.”  I looked at my watch. It was 4.06pm.
“Why?” I asked her.
“It is an unwritten law,” she said.

Six hours later we sat in a cosy booth at the Austernkeller Bavarian Restaurant in Stollbergstraße, eating sesame crab cakes, and foie gras with glazed apple and red-wine sauce. The woman’s name was Fabiana and she had clearly at some time during her life been a staggeringly beautiful woman. Even at the age of 52, one would have to describe her as desirable, with striking green eyes and miraculous arching eyebrows. By this time, of course, we were both very drunk, and Fabiana suggested that I abandon my room at the Splendid Dollmann and join her in her suite at the five star Mandarin Oriental.

The Mandarin turned out to be a deliciously intimate and luxurious boutique hotel. We finished the evening on the poolside roof terrace overlooking the opera house and enjoying a bottle of 1992 Fonseca Port  – a colossal vintage virtually black in colour, and exploding with dark chocolate spiciness. Its finish lasted for over a minute. Which is longer than I lasted inside Fabiana.

In search of the young blackbird

Back in blighty today and staying in the Queen of Scots Room at Hogg Hall. I am a guest of Hardy Hogg Marchmont and his delightful wife Isabella. Lord Ingleby-Barwick popped round for a liquid lunch earlier, and we opened a bottle of Beringer Bancroft Ranch Merlot 1997. It was mildly scintillating – its deep black cherry flavours and lavender aromas causing quite a stir among the assembled company.

I was, however, slightly startled when Hardy revealed the price. Apparently the old fart paid something in the region of £100 for a couple of bottles, and whereas the wine was very good, I believe it would have benefited from being aged for three or four more years in the dusty wilds of Napa Valley.

When I winced audibly at the price tag, Ingleby-Barwick asked me how much I would be prepared to pay for a bottle of fine wine – money being no object – and I was forced to display my knowledge of the world’s most ancient and expensive wines.

The late Lord Arohl Ganster of West Yorkshire apparently paid a hundred million dollars for a flask of Greek Rose, which was bottled in 325 AD and dug up in Germany some time in the eighteen sixties. He has since left the bottle to his eldest son Yert Ganster, who is, in turn, toying with the idea of selling it to the French. Good riddance to it, I say. I once saw the bottle myself during a visit to the Historisches Museum der Pfalz, in Speyer, Germany, and I’m certain that the foul odour that filled the room came from within. Or it could have been the French tourists. As for Merlot, that can be traced back to the first Century in France, and it first appeared as a varietal on its own two feet in the 18th Century – the earliest recorded mention of which was in 1784.

At this point the Countess pointed out that Merlot means “young blackbird”, a piece of information which though hopelessly irrelevant to my unraveling history, did add a touch of colourful trivia to the proceedings. As he so often does, Hardy then began to show off, pointing out rather loudly that Merlot as we know it today was first bottled in Venice in 1855, although the Venetians preferred to call it Bordò. Ingleby-Barwick’s ears pricked up at the mention of this name, and he said that he seemed to remember that his great uncle Geoffrey of Châlons owned a bottle of Bordò dated 1875.

“If that were true,” blurted Hogg Marchmont, “That would surely make it the oldest bottle of Merlot in the world!”
“How much would you pay for that Thornaby?” asked Ingleby Barwick.
“Fuck all,” I replied. “The awful stuff would be undrinkable.”

We opened the second bottle of Beringer Bancroft, and a heated discussion ensued, in which we debated the rights and wrongs of paying vast amounts of money for so-called vintage bottles of wine which probably contained little more than a foul smelling beverage of sour grapewater and corkdust.

“Is your uncle Geoffrey still alive?” I asked Ingleby-Barwick.
“I have no idea,” he replied, “I last saw him in Venice in about 1993. He probably sank into the lagoon years ago.”

“You should go and track him down for your blog,” said Hogg Marchmont.
“And why would I want to do that?” I asked.  There was a long silence, filled only by the sound of Hogg Marchmont burping and Celestia May fiddling with her bracelet.
“I will bet you one thousand pounds,” announced Ingleby-Barwick, “That you cannot track down great uncle Geoffrey of Châlons and get him to pop open that bottle of Bordò.”

I took a huge gulp of Merlot and smiled. Everyone in the room knew what I was going to say next. Celestia May sneered sulkily., “And you have to drink it!” she said. “At least a sip,” said Ingleby-Barwick.
“I accept the bet!” I said, and I drained my glass.

We concluded the evening with Smoked Haddock Pâté, Cayenne Pitta Crisps, and a triptych of Oyster Bay 2008 – not one of New Zealand’s best Chardonnays, but perfectly good enough to seal such a unique and challenging bet.

Missing the boat with Marquis de Montesquiou

You can also read this review at DooYoo.co.uk

Regular readers will know that I came to New York City primarily to attend a Whisky Tasting & Dinner Cruise, featuring over 100 Single Malt Scotch Whiskies, Bourbons & Fine Wines. The cruise was yesterday on September 10. I missed it.

I arrived at Pier 83 at what I thought was exactly half an hour before the cruise departured, only to see the boat slowly pulling away from the quayside – its decks crowded with visitors eager to sample all 100 of those single malts. To say that I was disappointed would be like saying that Jacqueline Kennedy was mildly irritated that her drive through Dallas was interrupted by an unexpected road traffic incident.

I tried calling out from the quay, but was greeted only by the sight of a man in dress uniform on the bridge waving at me and pointing at the timepiece on his wrist. It’s even possible that I got the number of the pier wrong, and that this boat was in fact going somewhere else entirely in order that its passengers might sample some other beverage or medication. I will never know.

Crestfallen, I walked slowly along 42nd Street, and decided that I would console myself by purchasing a fine single malt of my own, and drinking it somewhere very special. A quick glance at my map showed me that the nearest decent liquor store was FWS in West 58th Street, so I set off briskly on foot.

On arrival I discovered that FWS were essentially a wine merchant, not primarily in the business of supplying single malts to the New York gentry. They did, however, let me sample a splendid Armagnac – Marquis de Montesquiou – which is apparently the oldest spirit in France, and is obtained by the clever distillation of white wine, followed by slow ageing in an oak cask.

I have to say it was an Armagnac of remarkable quality and pedigree, so I pushed the boat out and used my rather overstretched credit card to buy a wooden box of three bottles of the 1971 vintage for 350 dollars.

I jumped into a Yellow cab to Morningside Park on 110th Street, and strolled past the waterfall before perching on a wall next to the imposing statue of Carl Schurz, and opening a bottle of the Marquis de Montesquiou. A young white-crested heron swooped above me as I took in the Armagnac’s distinctively perfumed aroma. The lady in the shop told me that this brandy is made from a mixture of traditional grapes from Bas-Armagnac, and also incorporates Trebbiano in its recipe. The result is a spirit of majestic balance and gravity.

I always carry a double-sized brandy glass for just such an occasion, and I poured myself what I now realise was a more than generous measure. Carl Schurz was a Union Army General in the American Civil War, and was also an accomplished singer. It wasn’t long before Carl’s statue and I were engaged in a loving embrace and were harmonising in a moving cover version of Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance” – while a group of startled Japanese tourists looked on and snapped digital photographs for their Flickr pages.

It was never my intention to open more than one bottle of the Marquis de Montesquiou, but after a hour or two I was joined by a small group of Flemish architects who were in town for a trade show. We chatted on subjects as thrilling and diverse as the Metropolitan Museum and the Ugni Blanc grape, and before long we were exchanging addresses and items of clothing and popping open the second bottle.

My memory is a little cloudy after that. I seem to remember climbing onto some sort of rockery, then bathing in the Seligman Fountain (1914) with a middle-aged lady from 123rd Street, who later invited me back to her apartment for an imprompu supper of fishcakes and rice. When I awoke this morning I discovered that I had made it back safely to the Pennsylvania Hotel, but the third bottle of Marquis de Montesquiou hadn’t. Which is a shame.

Broadcasting to the masses in Prague

Having only just recovered from my exertions in New York, I now find myself unexpectedly in the Czech Republic. An old producer pal of mine Vaclav Vavrinec (who I met through the actor Pavel Kříž) called me yesterday morning and asked if I’d like to take part in a food and wine programme on Vltava Radio in Prague. Never being one to miss an opportunity to broadcast to the masses, I quickly packed an overnight bag and jumped into a cab to London City airport, where I was obliged to pay a king’s ransom for the next KLM flight to Ruzyne International.

On arrival in Prague yesterday evening I secured a dull superior room in the executive wing of the Mövenpick Hotel, which is connected to the main hotel and restaurant by means of a cable car. God only knows why.

Dinner was awful. A small duck who had apparently been killed in a microwave, followed by something runny and brown on a large square plate. I washed it down with a bottle of  Ryzlink – a Czech Riesling from Moravia which was crisp, citrusy and distinctly underwhelming.

This morning, after a breakfast of dry bread rolls and Bucks Fizz, I went for a brisk walk along the River Vltava. This is the city of a hundred spires. I began counting them in earnest, but soon became bored and retired after just twenty three. Charles IV Bridge is at the heart of the Old Town and crosses the Vltava river. It has been the location for many a romantic film scene.

The bridge is guarded by three ornate towers, and is considered to be one of the most beautiful gothic-style buildings in the world. It would truly be a lovely place, were it not for the street traders and scruffy artists who people its span. I was twice asked if I would like to sit for a caricature, and had to be quite forceful in my refusals. If I want to be drawn with a long pointed nose and twisted neck I shall invite Gerald Scarfe around for dinner.

While admiring the delicate baroque statues I was approached by a stylish young French couple who asked if I might take a picture of them together. Ten minutes later I had somehow managed to break their camera, and the girl stood sobbing while her partner comforted her with man-sized tissues and a can of Red Bull.

This afternoon we recorded the radio programme for Vltava.. The premise was that I was to be given three bottles of wine with the labels covered, and had to place them in order of price – from cheap to expensive. I considered this a rather vulgar idea, but was persuaded to continue by a very pert and forward young interpreter called Nadezda who massaged my shoulders, caressed my brow with a wet wipe, and assured me that she would translate my every word with integrity and intelligence.

After sampling each of the wines, I was horrified to discover that I had identified none of them correctly, and had actually placed them in reverse order in terms of price.

The first bottle was revealed to be Terroir ”Les Cailloutis” Corbiéres – a wine that I estimated to be the most expensive and which turned out to be a mere 430 koruny  per bottle (around £15).  The next was Baron de Ley Gran Reserva „Viña Imas“ a Tempranillo which I said I wouldn’t pay more than a fiver for, and which turned out to retail for around £25.

The final bottle was Beaune 1er Cru „Clos de l´Ecu“ Domaine Faiveley Hrozny – a fine Pinot Noir at around £50. It was a deep garnet colour, with a fruity, somehow leathery tone, and a red pepper aftertaste. Unfortunately I mistook it for Tesco Reka Valley Bulgarian, which retails for £3.36 per bottle, and which I purchased recently in Muswell Hill using 20 Clubcard Points.

On the way back to my hotel, Vaclav and I passed along Navratilova Street, which I assume was named after that pushy woman with the muscular arms and barber shop haircut. Half way up Navratilova we happened upon the “Moravian Wine Archive”, which soon revealed itself to be a  restaurant in the best traditions of Czech hospitality.

We began by sampling a number of local wines, notably from the northern region of Bohemia. There were several grape varieties I hadn’t heard of including Müller-Thurgau, Gewürztraminer and Grüner Veltliner. My arm was also twisted into trying wines blended from Zweigeltrebe, Rulandské modré and Blauer Portugieser.

We then ordered some smoked meat with horse-radish, and followed that with garlic pancakes and roll-dough dumplings. Then Vaclav suggested I try some Becherovka – a traditional alcoholic beverage which contains water from Karlovy Vary, natural sugar, and a harmonic blend of herbs and spices. But it’s mostly alcohol. 38% proof to be precise.

According to Vaclav, no two bottles of Becherovka are absolutely identical – depending on “variables” it can vary slightly from day to day – strong rainfall or dry periods, different soil, time of harvesting and other factors causing fluctuations in the strength and taste.

As far as I remember, Vaclav and I drank about twenty shots of Becherovka, and I have to say that I noted no fluctuations in its taste. There were, however major fluctuations in our behavior, and when the waiters asked us to leave at around 11.40pm, we became mildly argumentative and aggressive.

On our return to the Mövenpick there were a number of high class prostitutes hovering by the lifts. I think Vaclav was tempted, but even in my severely inebriated state I could not bring myself to engage with an orifice that had so recently been filled by the engorged wurst of an overfed German businessman.

UFO spotting with a fine Antinori Tignanello 2005

In 1975 a New York liquor store owner called George O’Barski reported that while driving home to New Jersey in the early hours of the morning, he had seen a UFO land in North Hudson Park. O’Barski pulled over his car to watch, whereupon the UFO sprouted metallic legs and landed. Within seconds, twelve diminutive aliens jumped out, each carrying a shovel and a bucket, and they set about taking soil samples from the park.

Having rather too much time on my hands in New York City, I yesterday came up with the notion of visiting North Hudson Park for myself and attempting to have a close encounter.

Suspecting that George O’Barski may have been a little worse for wear during this inter-planetary incident, I decided to begin my vigil by dropping into a nearby liquor store. This turned out to be Riverside Wine Merchants in River Road. After perusing the cellars for more than an hour I eventually decided upton two bottles of Antinori Tignanello 2005, at ninety dollars a pop.

Produce of Tuscany, this Cabernet Sauvignon is a delightful ruby red in hue. The store were kind enough to allow me a small taste before purchase, and I experienced a myriad of flavours in its complex aftertaste. Notably, the Antinori Tignanello brought back to me fond memories of eating unsweetened dark chocolate by candlelight with a lover from Tuscany who adored having his feet massaged with cocoa butter. There was also an unmistakable hint of Golden Shred orange marmalade. It was obvious that this sophisticated and emotive wine would be ideal for long hours spent watching the skies.

I took the lightrail and arrived in North Hudson Park at twilight. I spread out my Buccleuch Tartan blanket on the grass and took in the view of the Upper West Side of Manhattan. So many lights. So very little concern for global warming. I flipped open my trusty old Dorchester picnic hamper and opened both bottles of the Antinori Tignanello – reasoning that the second bottle would have plenty of time to breath while I drank the first.

Ninety minutes passed, and to my great disappointment I failed to have close encounters of either the first, second or third kind. I think secretly I was hoping that by the time I got to the second bottle I would be joined by aliens from the planet Zob. Or even better, by some tall, handsome stranger in a USAF uniform. But it wasn’t to be. I sat alone beneath a quiet and uneventful sky.

At 10.06pm I cheered myself up by unwrapping a pyramid of Pouligny-Saint-Pierre – my favourite French cheese. First made in the 19th century this crumbly, distinctive goats cheese is yellowish brown in colour and speckled with blue mould. It’s both sour and salty, so its flavour perfectly matched my mood at that moment.

I have visited the sites of numerous UFO sightings, aften accompanied by varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, and I am always both disappointed and exhilarated. UFO spotting is like fishing. It’s not the catching, it’s the waiting. I think if I was ever to actually see a flying saucer it would be something of an anti-climax. Because the long wait would be over.

Half way through the second bottle I slipped into a deep and fitful sleep, and dreamed of being abducted by Klingon warriors wearing white dress uniforms covered in blue mould. I was awakened at 1.00am by a fat police officer smoking a cigar. I offered to share the final half bottle of wine with him, but he declined politely, even when I told him that 2005 was a very good year for Antinori Tignanello.

He kindly said that if I didn’t mind he would rather accompany me to Kennedy Boulevard, and see me safely into a Yellow Cab. When I objected to this plan of action he became less polite, and grasped me firmly by the arm – saying that he’d alternatively be more than happy to put me into the back of his squad car and drive me “downtown”. I wasn’t absolutely sure where “downtown” was, but I had a feeling that it wasn’t anywhere near where I was staying.

It didn’t take me long to find a taxi, and I finished off the wine on the way back to the Pennsylvania on 7th Avenue. Luckily someone had left a slice of pizza on the back seat of the cab, and I have to say it went very well with the Cabernet Sauvignon.

Valpolicella in Central Park and memories of Missouri

I got mugged on 4th Avenue today. Seventy dollars for a bottle of Allegrini Veronese La Poja. It’s a fairly average Valpolicella which Allegrini condescended to bottle in 2003, and I picked it up in a bijou little merchant in Union Square. As they wrestled the money from my hand, I noticed that the price was actually reduced from ninety bucks, so the crime might actually have been a lot more serious.

I opened the bottle under an ageing elm tree in Central Park in the company of an old army pal Drippy Whithers, who shared my opinion that its finish was disappointingly short for a wine in this price range. It sports a passable nose and a decidedly plummy character, but I suspect 2003 was as poor a year for this wine as it was for me.

Last night I shared a grubby double bed in the East Village with a bass guitar player and his slightly overweight Puerto Rican girlfriend. I met them by chance in a bar somewhere around East 15th Street, and after several dozen shots of  Don Julio Blanco Tequila, they invited me back to their apartment, where they took it in turns to take advantage of my semi-comotose state.

I must say, that they were both most enthusiastic and energetic in their endevours, and I quickly formed the impression that they regularly trawl the East Side for inebriated travelers with whom to achieve congress.

I awoke at 6 am, surprisingly refreshed and extremely hungry. After writing a polite thank you note to the young couple, and sticking it on their fridge door with a magnet, I crept silently from the scene – my shoes tucked under my arm.

I had breakfast at a Mexican diner on East 10th Street called the Life Café. It was crowded and fairly disorganised and the staff completely ignored me for around twenty minutes. When I finally got served I ordered a Bloody Mary and some eggs, and it arrived after what felt like several hours. When the bill came I formed the impression that I had accidently been charged for two breakfasts, rather than one. But I was mistaken.

This evening I shall dine at a favourite old haunt of mine in Brooklyn. Abistro on Myrtle Avenue is worth every penny of the cab ride from Manhatten and last time I went I had some extraordinary mussels and trout.  The service was welcoming and friendly, and the price was nowhere near as alarming as many similar restaurants in New York.

It was at Abistro that I first met Adelgonda de Córdoba – a medium bodied personal trainer from Peru. We shared many a happy evening together in Brooklyn, and in 2006 we hired a 1958 Buick and drove from New York to the Ozark Mountains in Missouri. There we had a romantic and over-indulgent long weekend in a log cabin overlooking Table Rock Lake near Branson.

My fondest memory of that trip was catching a seven pound bluegill and rock bass and having my photo taken with it before it kicked like a mule and slid right out of my hands and back into the lake. Adelgonda laughed so much she had to go into the local general store and buy some new underwear.

Believe it or not, Missouri has seven wine producing regions. We  took the four stop wine tour, taking us through Linn Creek, Camden County, Stover and Cole Camp, where we dropped into the Eichenberg Winery and quickly polished off two bottles of their oaky sweet Triple Creek. These were happy times.

I no longer see Adelgonda de Córdoba. She sold her gynasium and sauna in Williamsburg and went back to Peru. I believe she is now a local politician in her home town of El Milagro.

New York, 3 September 2009

I’ve never much liked the taste of wine. But I learned from a remarkably early age that I have a sensitive and cultured palette, and am able to identify a myriad of complex flavours and tastes – quickly getting an accurate site map of what the great unwashed might consider a palatable sensation in their ulcerous mouths. At least that’s what I tell people and they seem to believe me. Which is how I fell into wine.

Today finds me sitting next to the fountain in Washington Square, New York, drinking a bottle of semi-serviceable Italian plonk. It turns out to be Cantina del Taburno Falanghina, and says on the label – in agonisingly small print – that it was bottled in Campania in 2008.

This information is actually of very little interest to me at this precise moment, as it is lunchtime. I just want something to wash down the industrial-sized bacon and avocado sandwich I bought about an hour ago at the Hello Deli on West 53rd Street.

But since we are now on the subject of Cantina del Taburno,  I will say, if pressed, that this particular falanghina has a pleasantly dry and lemony finish. I am also reminded for some reason of tinned fruit with condensed milk. My nanny used to force me to eat tinned fruit with condensed milk – a desert of which I was never over fond, and of which I am surprised to be reminded today – particularly having parted with around 15 bucks for the bottle.

I’m in New York visiting an old girlfriend Lady Gravel-Drive, who lives just around the corner from here at the tackily expensive end of Fifth Avenue. She’s having a fundraiser this evening, for which I sent over a couple of cases of Nicolas Feuillatte bubbly. I think she will enjoy the toasty fruitiness of the pinot noir and pinot meunier, but I’m guessing that her guests will be far too generically American to appreciate the subtleties of the blend.

Next week I’ve been invited to a Whisky Tasting and Dinner Cruise on the Hudson River, which will apparently offer over 100 Single Malt Scotch Whiskies, while cruising around Manhattan Island to the sound of Mantovani and Barry Manilow. Fine wines will also be on offer, but I shall try and avoid them and stick to the single malts. Surely I should be allowed an occasional night off from the acidic rigours of the grape.

The cruise is on September 10, and I am sure I will experience the usual sinister shudder down my spine as the boat chugs past that large building site behind Battery Park.

So, what’s a chap to do in New York for the next 7 days? It’s such a dull place once the novelty wears off. This is my twenty seventh visit to the Big Apple, and I have taken more bites out of it than I care to remember. Some of them unpleasantly sour – the buildings are too tall, the roads are too busy, the women are far too loud, and Broadway is quite frankly too long.

Thankfully, Manhattan has some of the best restaurants in the world. So, after the New York sun has shot its bolt and slumped exhausted behind Hoboken, I usually manage to keep myself thoroughly over-entertained.

My favourite restaurant in New York is the Chanterelle in Harrison Street. The décor is unadventurous, the menu hand-scribbled, and some of its more pretentious customers might actually find the surroundings a little scruffy. But the duck is sublime, and the oysters are served with caviar and pickled cabbage. I shall eat there this evening, then jump in a cab and finish off at the 119 Bar in East 15th Street. I’m told it is a delightfully sordid and dimly lit place – ideal for getting quietly hammered and picking up penniless musicians.

Fear and gushing in Niagara

Read this review at ViniVino: http://www.vinivino.com/review/trius-grand-red-hillebrand-2005/1388/

Trius Grand Red Hillbrand 2005 by Melton Thornaby

Canadian wines are not usually my first port of call, but my good friend Hardy Hogg Marchmont this week re-introduced me to a magnificent Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon from the Niagara On-The-Lake region. Sporting a distinctive cedar nose, this spicy rascal is punchy and fruity on the palate, and is a snip at around fifty dollars.

Not long ago I knocked at the heavy oak door of the Hillebrand Winery and asked to whet my whistle, whereupon I was led along a marble floored corridor to the candlelit inner sanctum of the tasting room. Already inside were two middle-aged Norwegian tourists of the female variety, who after sampling the delightfully full-blooded red with me, insisted I accompany them back to the Anchorage Motel Bar and Grill.

Modesty forbids me to reveal what transpired with the two ladies – suffice to say that 2005 was a very good year for Trius Grand Red Hillbrand. I think I shall order a whole case.