Christmas Cabernet Taste Test

It’s just over 2 years since I hung up my abacus, and entered the Retirement Zone. As a leaving present, my thoughtful and generous ex-colleagues at Runpath and lovemoney gave me 6 bottles of wine.

But not just any old wine.

2011 Sassicaia, Bolgheri Sassicaia, Tenuta San Guido, Tuscany

This was 6 bottles of Sassicaia, from the renowned Tenuta San Guido estate, on the Tuscan coast just south of Livorno and not far west of the enchanting towers of San Gimignano, in our beloved Italy.

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Sassicaia is now recognised as one of the world’s best Cabernet Sauvignons. But it wasn’t always so. Read here about the interesting history of the estate, and about how the wine was only drunk privately from 1948 to 1967.

And this is what posh vintners Berry Brothers & Rudd say about it now:

Sassicaia is today one of the most sought-after fine wines in the world. This is largely because of the vision, energy and drive of proprietor Mario Incisa della Rocchetta.

The Sassicaia estate at Bolgheri came from Mario Incisa della Rocchetta’s wife’s family who had owned land there since 1800 – the name Sassicaia means,place of many stones, and the gravelly soil has been compared to those found in the Médoc. He planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and engaged the services of Piero Antinori`s winemaker, Giacomo Tachis.

Sassicaia’s first vintage was released to universal acclaim in 1968. Sassicaia is now widely accepted as one of the world`s greatest Cabernet Sauvignon wines and made history recently, being the first single wine to be granted its own DOC. The wines of Sassicaia combine intense notes of cassis and cedary elegance, with extraordinary power and length.

My own humble 6 bottles of the 2011 vintage have been laid down in bonded storage at BBR since 2014. But no longer. They have finally been released into my sweaty hands, awaiting suitable occasions to enjoy. And with my 60th year fast approaching, I’m not expecting any will survive until this time next year.

My brother Paul fancies himself as a bit of a oenophile.

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(image courtesy of Jantoo Cartoons)

Well, let’s find out, shall we?

I shall be uncorking my first prized bottle on Christmas Day, at the festive gathering of the Morris Mob. But to make it interesting, I’m going to give a blind tasting of 3 separate red wines.

Will Paul – or any other Morris – be able to tell the difference between an everyday drinking £8 Cab Sav from the Sunday Times Wine Club, a very decent £20ish option from the posh section at a supermarket, and the mighty 2011 Bolgheri Sassicaia Tenuto San Guido vintage, yours for around £120 a bottle?

Stay tuned to find out.

I just hope the Sassicaia has travelled well…..

Book review – H is for Hawk

I love all the different elements you’ve put on the plate, it’s beautifully presented and you’re demonstrating some real cooking skills. But for me, the dish just doesn’t come together as a whole.

This is but one of many oft repeated comments from expert judges on MasterChef, as they skewer the culinary hopes of another competitor. But I’m afraid the same thoughts began to run through my head as I got deeper into Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk.

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Winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction and the Costa Book Award in 2014, it is an accomplished piece of thoughtful – and thought-provoking – literature.

The author is a writer, a naturalist and an academic. And, after the death of her father, she spent an intense year training a hawk. Not just any hawk…a goshawk. Which she named Mabel.

Helen Macdonald – Image courtesy of Time Out

The book is multi-layered. At its core, it is a moving autobiography as the mental and physical energy required to train Mabel distracts Helen from the searing grief of losing her beloved father.

There was nothing that was such a salve to my grieving heart as the hawk returning. 

I felt incomplete unless the hawk was sitting on my hand: we were parts of each other. Grief and the hawk had conspired to this strangeness. 

A biographical thread also runs through the entire book, with the author recounting the parallel story of T. H. White’s own, less successful, hawk-training efforts, as told in his 1951 book The Goshawk.

And of course Helen’s own narrative includes some dazzling prose about the natural environment into which Mabel is gradually introduced. And in which the beautiful hawk is eventually flying free, rather than tethered to its trainer.

The hawk left the fist with a recoil of a .303 rifle. I stepped out to watch. Saw a chain of events so fast they snapped into a comic strip: frame, frame, frame. Frame one: goshawk spluttering from the fist in bars and pinions and talons. Frame two: goshawk low to the ground, grass streaking along under her. Chocolate wings, beating strongly, hump-backed. Frame three: rabbits running. Frame four: the pheasant, too, crouching and running into the wood’s safe margin.

Each element of the book is presented with consummate literary skill, but for me, the story just didn’t come together as a whole.

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Radio drama

Can there be a better medium than radio for some punchy drama?

I love some of the plays broadcast on Radio 4, and have been completely hooked on Forty Weeks, broadcast this week in 5 episodes of 15 minutes, at the back end of Woman’s Hour.

A romantic comedy about love, infidelity and accidental pregnancy, it was beautifully written by Katherine Jakeways.

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It may have been about yet another tangled love triangle, but it was written and acted with such humour, compassion and lightness of touch that it couldn’t fail to captivate.

And  hearing the story unfold on radio allows the listener to engage the imagination in a far different way to television, stage or silver screen.

Sam loves Rose. Sam’s Dad dies. Rose is working away from home. Sam shags Bayley. In a car park. Bayley becomes pregnant. Rose and Bayley become friends.

So far, so pretty predictable. But as each episode unfolds during the baby’s gestation period – lentil, lime, melon, cabbage, baby – the relationships of the protagonists take some unexpected and entertaining turns.

A listening joy from start to finish. It almost made me want to have a baby. Or write a play for radio.