Friday, 31 January 2014

Dryathlon - complete

Time to celebrate (well, perhaps not at 7.30 in the morning) as I have completed 31 consecutive days without a drop. I don't see that happening again for a while! However, a huge thanks to everyone who has supported me in this - so far we have raised just under £1100 and there is more to come in (if promises are kept - I know who you are!!!).

Off to London now then back home to pull some corks.

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Wine - again, at last!

My first wine-related post in a month! It feels like a very long time but, having lasted 31 days without a drop, I can start thinking about it again. The trouble is, I can't decide what to have tomorrow. I have already made the beef stew and extracted three bottles from my stash, all potentially superb in their very different ways. I don't want to be partisan in any way so none of these comes from stock!

First, a 2004 Chateauneuf-du-Pape from Pegau, one of the estates I really rate that I don't work with. Their pricing has gone a bit wild lately - I used to buy these wines when the exchange rate was 1.6€/£ and the bottle price was 25€ (does this make me sound old?) whereas the 2010 was on 'offer' for around 40€ - but it is classic, old school Chateauneuf. Usseglio's Imperiale is a bit like this in some vintages - or used to be before Stef modernised the style.

I took delivery of a case of 2010 Aloxe-Corton during the month from Domaine Croix. A bit young but it promises great things, I am told. Also, a  case of 2004 Barolo from Ciabot Berton. A great vintage but the wine is from Roggeri, the lieu-dit that produces the most tannic wines in La Morra, if not all of Barolo. Perhaps I should hold this one back to have with a rare steak sometime soon. Or not. Decisions, decisions...

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Dryathlon - almost completed

Just three nights to go and nearly £850 raised so far for Cancer Research. That's before the promised donations if I make it (I know who you are so get your credit cards ready!) which should take it over £1000. This is quite incredible so thank you to everyone who has made a donation already and, if you haven't, please think about this as it is for a really great cause. It is a horrible fact that virtually everyone knows someone who has been - or will be - affected by this most horrible of illnesses so, please, stump up now!

For my part, the last few days have been trickier than earlier ones simply because the project is nearing completion. The chicken stew a couple of nights ago would have been improved by a glass or two of Coudoulet de Beaucastel Blanc, for example, and tonight's pizza will be crying out for some Negroamaro or Barbera d'Asti (or Alba - I'm not fussy just now).

Friday is Chinese New Year and, by coincidence, I will be celebrating the end of my dry month with some friends, one of whom is also looking forward to Saturday, by enjoying a meal at Wok'n'Rock, a new restaurant in Lakenheath which has the good taste to buy its wines from BRW. So, given that I generally drink beer with oriental foods and, frankly, my life won't be improved by a bottle or two of Tsing Tsao, that just leaves two evenings before Saturday.

So, what about Saturday? I can almost taste the Boeuf Bourguignon already but the choice of wines is too great. Classically it should be Burgundy, of course, and I do have a couple of Pinots I would like to sample. However, a Southern Rhone red would work just as well - a mature Chateauneuf, for example (I have been contemplating Raymond Usseglio's 2004 since it was discussed at the Trinity tasting on 7th) - or, indeed, a good Piedmontese Nebbiolo. Too many choices. Perhaps I should start a sweepstake on which wine it will be - that should be good for a few more quid in the Dryathlon pot!

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Friday, 24 January 2014

Dryathlon - just a week to go

OK, so there are eight more evenings but I have come this far so I don't expect to fail now.

I do have a question for any scientifically minded readers: why, if I have never suffered a hangover in my life, am I now, after over three weeks of abstinence, waking up with headaches. Is my body finally waking up to the fact that something is different? Perhaps, if I kept this going another month, I would actually lose a couple of pounds. Hmmm. No, I don't think I need to test that possibility.

Another tasting this morning whilst I stood by and sniffed. This time a local (very good) restaurant which will remain nameless until they either buy some wines (in which case it is clearly the best and most discerning restaurant in the are) or not (in which case, well, all being well I won't need to go there). A selection of Italians was sampled with the reds very well received, especially the Dolcetto and Barbaresco from Nada Giuseppe, the Barbera 'San Lorenzo' from Cascina Saria, the 2007 Barolo from Serradenari and two of the wines from Puglia: Leccisi's Salento and the '1952' Brindisi Riserva from Sampietrana. They were all a delight to smell; another week and I will delight in tasting them.

Several friends who started out on this dry binge have succumbed so I am in the very happy position of being able to smile smugly - or, at least, I will be when they start reappearing on 1st February!

Thanks, as always, to everyone who has supported this monumental effort and, to anyone who hasn't but has a couple of quid to spare, you really couldn't donate it to a better cause.

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Monday, 20 January 2014

Dryathlon - just one weekend to go

I know I am getting ahead of myself and the weekends are no more difficult than the weeks but, having already come this far, I think I can start relaxing a little. It is not yet time to begin thinking about what the first wine will be on February 1st (as if I haven't already been there!) and there have been a few tricky moments recently - such as last Friday when, after a late sandwich for lunch, no dinner had been put together so the children ended up with a rather odd combination of Italian-nuanced chicken with chow mein which, frankly, held little appeal for me. Ordinarily I would have headed for the nearest block of parmesan and a bottle of Nebbiolo of some description but this was not an option so I patiently waited until it was too late to give in before confessing my desires. I discovered I was not alone! At least, with teeth brushed, turning back was sufficiently difficult and, I am pleased to report, we did not succumb.

Whilst many people are still holding onto their pennies in the belief that I will fail to make it to the end (a week on Friday! The light is now becoming visible), others seem to hold the opposite view: that I have said I will do this so, of course, I will. I suppose they are right (and, certainly, that remains the intention) but that doesn't make it any easier. It is a subject that, because some find it comical, is often raised which makes it no less frustrating. Actually, that is probably a better word. This is not proving remotely difficult but frustrating, annoying, tedious? Yes.

On top of all this, a couple of social engagements. Fridays are now out as we have to leave for London on Saturday mornings whilst it is still dark but on Saturday we, somewhat tired after our early morning, went out for an evening of sitting stunned and sober whilst everyone else was jolly and oiled with as much (or as little) wine as they wanted. Sunday lunch was, perhaps, worse as I had made a venison pot roast which, frankly, screamed out for a Chateauneuf-du-Pape circa 2000-2004. The lunch guests all got a glass or two, of course. How cruel is January?

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Thursday, 16 January 2014

Dryathlon - the half-way point

At noon today, I will reach the tipping point. 372 out of 744 hours of abstinence. Inevitably I have been teased by friends and family who think their comments oh so clever and witty (do I sound bitter?) but, as stated already, the only problem I have had is that I miss my glass(es) of wine. I enjoy them; it really is that simple (have I laboured this point enough?).

One new discovery though: the old joke that is you don't drink/smoke/have sex you don't live longer, it just feels like it is true! (Well, I can vouch for the not drinking bit.) So, thanks to Dryathlon, I have become a time lord: the clocks in my house have ticked more slowly in January 2014 than ever before. Move over, Doctor!

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Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Dryathlon - two weeks in

It's two weeks since I had a glass of wine! Unprecedented. Sorry, I should start again...

My name is James Bercovici and it's two weeks since I had a drink. There, that sounds more like a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous or the Catholic Confessional. AA and CC. In between lies BB: bloody boring without a drink!

As previously reported, I have no physical problems with not drinking and, actually, no psychological ones either, it's just an enjoyment thing. And as for the Catholic bit, I don't think there is enough space on the internet for me to get started. So, I'll stick with bloody boring.

What has been interesting is the search for meals that positively discriminate against wine. Tonight, a simple choice: hamburgers.

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Monday, 13 January 2014

Dryathlon - two weekends completed

Whilst I have always enjoyed wine mid-week, the weekends are traditionally trickier although not necessarily around here since our middle son won a place on the Royal Ballet School's Junior Associates programme and has to be ferried to London every Saturday morning, thereby rendering Saturdays extremely tiring and socialising out of the (car) window. However, two of the four weekends of my dry month are now out of the way and still my only regrets about doing this are my enjoyment of a glass or several once the children are upstairs.

However, there are a couple of down sides to all of this that I had not expected. Whereas I had hoped to shed a few pounds, the hole in my diet caused by all of this seems to be replaced by puddings. Worse still, I am sleeping so heavily now that I am waking up with aches all down the side of my body. Nobody told me about the perils of a good night's sleep!

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Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Dryathlon - 25% through (almost)

Yesterday presented the most difficult obstacle so far: a wine tasting at Trinity College. As previously reported, I took a generous dozen (actually 14 bottles) along for a tasting with the wine committee starting with three whites from Piedmont (Nada Giuseppe) and the Rhone (Brusset and Usseglio). This last wine was, frustrating, slightly corked although I was only able to discern this from its slightly muted nose (I am not tasting wines in case some accidentally slips down!) but the Nada was especially impressive today. I invited the panel to re-taste it after the subsequent Nebbiolo wines and it showed even better apparently.

The reds started with a Burgundy (Joblot), then Piedmont (Nada again, then Battaglino and Serradenari) all of which were distinctive and alluring. The Battaglino had a very different aroma - more punchy - on first sniff but later on had more in common with the exotic Barbaresco and Barolo wines. I was pleased to find the Serradenari so well received - it's rare to find such a good Barolo at such a low price!

The remaining French wines were mainly from the Rhone: a Xavier CDR (100%), a Rasteau from Coteaux des Travers and Christophe Coste's Capucine all youthful but the 2005 Chateauneuf from Raymond Usseglio showed its class and Christophe's pure Syrah 2007 'Ombres' could easily be confused for a Cote Rotie with, perhaps, just a hint of extra sweetness in the black fruit.

The table wines were rounded off with a pair from the South-West: Berthoumieu's 2008 'Charles de Batz' and Cedre's 2008 were, understandably perhaps, found to be on the rustic side by a panel perhaps more used to more mature wines from more refined regions but they were, I hope, appreciated for what they are and I certainly enjoyed sniffing both glasses over the remaining twenty minutes or so to monitor their evolution in the glass.

One of the fellows had brought along another bottle, a Niepoort 1997. Apparently the college has a large stock of these and, so far, the committee has found them to be highly problematic. This bottle, purchased in Holland was no better: signs of seepage made for a bad start but the aromas of acetone (think nail polish) were extremely off-putting and showed no signs of abating. Sadly, this is apparently not uncommon in this vintage of this wine. Fortunately for the college, the producer has offered to replace their stocks with another vintage.

So, apart from this last wine (which was never going to be tasted in that state), I think I can congratulate myself for not yielding to temptation - and there certainly was temptation! It was difficult though - so I really don't have any qualms about asking you to make a donation to Cancer Relief: if I can turn down a taste of all these lovely wines, you can find a spare fiver (or tenner!).

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Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Dryathlon - one week in, only three and a half to go!

I suppose I am learning something about myself with all of this non-drinking: I take it all too much for granted. Of course, there is always a glass to be had and has been since I first got the bug and started bringing back cases rather than just bottles from holidays but that doesn't mean I have to drink it all up. Actually, there are some bottles in my collection which would benefit from extended ageing; I can't remember the last time I had a bottle of anything over 15 years old (aged Rivesaltes excepted). Indeed, looking through my cellar list, I have few bottles that would qualify for this age bracket. Some of the oldest bottles are some Loire reds which, frankly, have only survived because I have little interest in them. Maybe I just need to fall out of love with Burgundy for a few years!

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Monday, 6 January 2014

Dryathlon - this is almost too easy

Apart from the obvious - I rather like wine and would prefer to be able to enjoy a glass here and there - I have not had any problems with not drinking over the last 134.5 hours. That said, I was given strict instructions last night not to mention the W word between 6pm and 8pm. This is, apparently, the critical period when a glass before dinner, whilst the children are otherwise engaged, or with the food itself, are, well, just expected. Still, only a little over 600 hours left!

The big hurdle comes tomorrow when I will be presenting wines to the wine committee of Trinity College. No tasting for me, I fear, lest I should be tempted. Anyone who has already donated or has promised to do so once I complete this task can rest assured that present at the tasting will be someone who will be happy to report back my success or otherwise.

The wines for tomorrow are:

White wines                                                                                                                         
1.      LANGHE BIANCO Nada Giuseppe 'Armonia' 2012                                               
         50% Arneis, 20% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Favorita, 10% Pinot Bianco 

2.      CAIRANNE-CÔTES DU RHÔNE VILLAGES Domaine Brusset 2012 'Les Travers'                   
30% Clairette, 30% Grenache Blanc, 20% Roussanne, 10% Marsanne, 10% Viognier
3.      CÔTES DU RHÔNE Raymond Usseglio 2012 'Les Claux'                                                         
         50% Grenache Blanc, 30% Clairette, 20% Roussanne

Red wines
4.    GIVRY 1er CRU Domaine Joblot 'Cellier aux Moines' 2011                                                       
       Pinot Noir

5.    BARBARESCO RISERVA Nada Giuseppe 'Casot' 2008                                                           

6.    ROERO Fabrizio Battaglino 'Sergentin' 2009                                                                            

7.    BAROLO Tenuta Serradenari                                                                                               

8.    CÔTES DU RHÔNE Xavier Vignon '100%' 2010                                                                         
         Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Cinsault, Carignan, Vaccarèse, Cournoise with 5% Roussanne/Viognier            

9.    RASTEAU Domaine des Côteaux des Travers 'Prestige' 2009                                                
         50% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 20% Mourvedre

10.   CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE Château Capucine 2009                                                             

11.   CÔTES DU RHÔNE Christophe Coste 'Les Ombres' 2007                                                       

12.   CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE Raymond Usseglio 2005                                                                
         80% Grenache, 10% Mourvèdre, 6% Syrah, 2% each Cinsault and Counoise

13.   MADIRAN Domaine Berthoumieu 'Charles de Batz' 2008                                                            
         90% Tannat, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon

14.   CAHORS Château du Cèdre 2008                                                                                            
       90% Malbec, 5% Merlot, 5% Tannat     

So, anyone in doubt of the sacrifice I am making should now understand.

I have just realised it is Twelth Night so does that mean I have only 19 days left? I thought not.

I reached the nominal £500 target for donations today so have increased this now to £750. Please donate if you can - it's for one of the very best causes around!

Friday, 3 January 2014

Dryathlon - day 3

Not that I am counting, of course. However, I do have one question about all of this: why is it that, as soon as I start something like this, lunch and dinner invitations start flowing? It's either sod's law or (more likely) that people reckon they will get away with popping fewer corks if we are off the sauce. Lunch today with cousins from overseas, dinner this evening (with vegetarian friends so there really is nothing in it for me except some excellent company, of course) and lunch tomorrow with one of my oldest wine-drinking companions. Still, I will be over 10% of the way through it all by then.

The food and wine pairing side of things is something I am watching closely. So far, it really hasn't been an issue as pizza on NYD was such a subdued affair that wine would have just sent us off to a ludicrously early night. Yesterday's home-made Peri-Peri chicken (based on a friend's secret recipe which I am forbidden to share) was spicy enough to keep my mind off the accompanying liquid. The subject of Sunday lunch did crop up though: I spied a very delicious looking piece of beef when dropping off a case with the butcher today but how can I have that without a Burgundy, Bordeaux or Barolo?

And, on the subject of Barolo, thanks for the donation Rick but don't rub it in!

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Thursday, 2 January 2014

Dryathlon - one day in

So far, so good but, then, New Year's Day was never going to be a great challenge.

Recap: why am I doing this? The Cancer Research angle is not the real reason - more an incentive to stick with it (about £450 raised so far and promises of more to follow) - and I am not especially concerned about my health or even my weight (although rough calculations suggest I will save up to 20,000 calories in January alone unless I counter this with richer foods).

It certainly isn't to save money: the wines we have been drinking over the last couple of weeks since we decided to go ahead with this have been among the better wines in our personal cellar (I won't bore you with a list) so we have probably consumed the same value or wine in the last two weeks as we ordinarily would up to the end of January.

So, it must just be the challenge: can I last a month without wine? The simple answer is, of course I can. The only difficulty is that we have been invited out several times for dinner already by sceptics, doubters and people who just want to try to catch me out. If anyone puts a bottle of DRC in front of me, I may just crumble but otherwise I am resolved to stick this out. After all, at 10am on 2nd January, I am nearly 5% through the challenge!

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