Sunday 18 February 2024

Cooking and wine

I've had an extremely productive weekend. A bit of birding on Saturday morning netted Treecreeper, Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail and a Bacon bap. The bacon bap is usually the highlight of any morning birding in Wanstead, and to be fair it was pretty good, but today it was eclipsed by the birds. None of them are rare, but they are all tricky. I was aiming for them all of course, but without any real feeling of certainty so to get them all, probably in the space of an hour or so, was really quite unexpected and very pleasing. 72 for the year - above average.

Back home I blitzed my to-do list, including a long and tedious admin exercise that I had been putting off since September. It was not as difficult as I had remembered it being, but it is one of those things that you simply have to get right, the stakes are genuinely high. I've done it once before, successfully I might add, but it was probably the most stressful fortnight of my entire life. Miracle of miracles it came off, still a massive high and one of the things that when I look back I am most impressed with having done. The time pressure and various other sensitivities aren't there this time, but still. It's impossible to approach it with anything other than anxiety. Anyway, step one is done and now we wait. 

I was going to devote some time to gardening but wasn't feeling it. Instead I turned my hand to cooking - a massive ragu that will provide several days of meals when we next need them most. This would have been ideal during the mental Ofsted/Year End period a few weeks back, but those times are never far away and will no doubt return. This is what we need - no takeaways, no ready meals, no garbage - forward planning like this means you can eschew all that. I use a traditional recipe that involves a massive amount of vegetable chopping - carrots, celery and onion. I put on an old episode of my favourite radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, and got to work. Each one is two hours long, and I was still on the carrots when the Powdermilk Biscuits segment came on at the end of the first half hour. By the time the hour mark came up I was into the onions, but that's an hour of chopping - you have to cut everything into tiny cubes and this is just not my forté. Mrs L came back from choir and helped me over the line, but the show had finished long before I had even got to the simmering stage - almost all of that time in prep.

The recipe calls for a whole bottle of red and there is no such thing as cooking wine in Chateau L. I opened the cheapest red I had and it was just delicious, a bottle of 2016 Cairanne, a wine I'd bought for under a tenner some years ago and patiently put aside. Five years ago it would have been a blow your socks off full-throttle alcoholic mess, but good things come to those who wait. So much so that I couldn't do it, a quick taste confirmed that this would be sacrilege. Instead I poured myself a big glass and went and found something else. Although pricier, this time there was no looking back, no hesitation, and in it went - 2019 Syrah from Yves Cuilleron, a producer from the Northern Rhone. Still a waste, but c'est la vie. The house smells lovely....

Do you see what I mean about the amount of chopping?

Getting there

There are some wines I simply would not cook with though. There is a category of wine for pure hedonistic consumption with like-minded people. Nerds. My people.  I've always drunk wine, it was as long ago as 1995 when I bought by first en-primeur case (where you buy it as a 'future', before it has been bottled), but during lockdown my interest in wine grew exponentially. When the world opened up again I did something very unlike me and joined some online wine forums. Some chat groups are all about online discussion but this was different, it was always destined to culminate in actually meeting real people. Whoa! I still remember turning up at a venue in Crouch End back in 2021, bottle in hand and full of trepidation. What would these people be like? Would they be normal? What if I don't like them? What if they don't like me! More importantly, what if my wine is terrible!! The shame! Etc etc. I needn't have worried - everyone likely felt the same way but it went well, so well that I now have a group of new friends and we meet up all the time for themed tastings or dinners. Sharing good wine is a genuine pleasure, and whilst courtesy of this group and others I've rotated into I've drunk some ridiculously good wine, it's still really about the people, their enthusiasm, their generosity, their knowledge, humour, and kindred spirit. The next one is coming up at the end of the month, a comparison of French and South African syrah from top producers. My entry is French, from Hermitage in the Northern Rhone, the middle one in the photo below. With the other bottles being brought by my friends it promises to be an epic evening, if you're into that kind of thing of course. Once upon a time I would have laughed at this kind of thing, the wine I drank I was divided into two categories - nice and eugh. But times change, people change, and along with birds, plants, photography and travel, wine is a full-fledged all-consuming hobby. I just wish I'd cottoned earlier.

I have now have a shelf in my cellar for wines scheduled for sharing at various events.


  1. I probably couldn't bear to share any of those! Sob.

    1. Good wine is 100% meant to be a shared experience in my view. There is nothing better. Of course this works best when the other people also turn up with something nice!

  2. Interesting. Do you still take part in your wine tasting "club"?

    1. Yep, and three of those bottles in the photo above are now consumed with those friends. The Hermitage was a big let-down, especially given the cost of it, but the Gevrey and the Cornas were excellent.