November 14, 2023
For our fourth (but not our last!) visit within the pages of the Charles Dickens delight, the criminally under-read Barnaby Rudge, we get a view into some family relations, here between the, I’d say, villain of the piece, or one of such (perhaps the most villainous, though also well admired by many), and his son – who is, by curious ways and means, one of the heroes of the piece. While Mr. Chester, the father, may not be one who induces admiration within a reader (or not many of such), you can’t fault him for his views on wine in the below. Which goes to show that few are totally irredeemable. One hopes at least. Avoid being such yourself by reading the Barnaby Rudge Cocktail Talks Part I, Part II, and Part III (and really, checking out all the Charles Dickens Cocktail Talks will probably make you heroic, too).
“My dear Edward,” said Mr. Chester at length, with a most engaging laugh, “do not extend your drowsy influence to the decanter. Suffer that to circulate, let your spirits be never so stagnant.”
Edward begged his pardon, passed it, and relapsed into his former state.
“You do wrong not to fill your glass,” said Mr. Chester, holding up his own before the light. “Wine in moderation — not in excess, for that makes men ugly — has a thousand pleasant influences. It brightens the eye, improves the voice, imparts a new vivacity to one’s thoughts and conversation: you should try it, Ned.”
“Ah, father!” cried his son, “if —”
“My good fellow,” interposed the parent hastily, as he set down his glass, and raised his eyebrows with a startled and horrified expression, “for Heaven’s sake don’t call me by that obsolete and ancient name. Have some regard for delicacy. Am I grey, or wrinkled, do I go on crutches, have I lost my teeth, that you adopt such a mode of address? Good God, how very coarse!”
–Charles Dickens, Barnaby Rudge
October 25, 2022
It’s been a while since I’ve read a book by Magdalen Nabb, too long, it seems, as I’d forgotten how enjoyable they are. But, I was recently in Florence, where her (detective and mystery-y books, not the kids books as far as I know) books take place in the main, and felt I should revisit one of them in honor of the Florence revisit. Did that make sense? Blame the jet lag if not! Anyway, I went with Death of the Englishman, the first of her Florentine mysteries, featuring Marshal Guarnaccia (along with other reoccurring characters, some of whom get more time than he in some books. It’s neat, and incredibly well-done, how she balances out the various narratives. Very skilled without being showy). There’s a murder and a mystery and some thieves, too, all goods stuff, but the best stuff is the detailed look at Florence, the streets, the smells, the food, the sights, and especially the people and the routines and experiences they go through. If you love Florence, Italy, or mysteries well-written that transport you, then you should be in on these. Especially if you also like wine, grappa, or vin santo (like me).
“Well, try and get some rest, anyway, and drink plenty of fluids.” Both of them noticed at the same time the almost empty whiskey bottle standing by the parchment lamp. “Not that stuff.”
“I’ve never tasted it.” The Marshal drank half a litre of red every day with his evening meal, never more nor less, and a drop of vin santo on Sundays.
“And no wine, either, while you’re on this.” The professor was reading the Marshal’s mind as he wrote.
–Magdalen Nabb, Death of an Englishman
August 9, 2022
It’s been 8 years (!!!) since I had the first Cocktail Talk from the George Simenon book My Friend Maigret – which, if memory serves (sadly, it doesn’t serve as well as it once used to, hahaha), was the very first Inspector Maigret book I ever read, after picking up three at once at the now-much-missed Seattle Library Book Sale. Since, I’ve taken many a stroll with the taciturn-at-times slow-moving-at-times always-large always-interesting Maigret, and look to take many more, though my collection is getting nearer and nearer to full. What a treat to go back and read this yarn, which falls into the category of Maigret-outside-of-Paris in the main (there are a number of these, though not as many as in the city proper I don’t believe), as he and a tag-a-long Scotland Yard Inspector (in France to watch the famous Chief Inspector’s methods) end up on the Island of Porquerolles to solve the murder of an ex-con who had been bragging in one of the local bars (where they spend a fair amount of time, drinking the local white wine mentioned below) about his friend Maigret. There are many Cocktail Talk moments as usual with Maigret, don’t miss My Friend Maigret Cocktail Talk Part I’s anisette (and for that matter, check out all the Maigret Cocktail Talks), but the below has both the white wine and marc, the latter always a welcome addition.
“Did he go steal jewels in New York?”
“I rather think he’s in Paris,’ Mr. Pyke corrected him calmly, selecting a toothpick in his turn.
A second bottle of the island’s wine, which Jojo had brought without being asked, was more than half empty. The patron came over to suggest:
“A little marc? After the garlic mayonnaise, it’s essential.”
It was balmy, almost cool in the room, while a heavy sun, humming with flies, beat down on the square.
—My Friend Maigret, George Simenon
August 27, 2021
It’s funny (to me, if no-one else) to have a very tough drink name like “Fugger’s Revenge” for a light-bodied, friendly, vermouthy (in a way, though I’m not calling this vermouth, cause I don’t want the vermouth board after me), aperitif-style sipper (the aperitif board is much less ferocious). But the backstory really is not so tough, but is one of my fav wine stories (one that some people say isn’t true, is just apocryphal, etc. Some people are also fuddy-duddies and no fun to have a drink with. Avoid them). Anyway, it starts early in the year 1111. A forward-thinking German bishop named Johann Fugger was getting ready to travel to Rome for the Holy Roman Emperor’s coronation (this one was Henry V). Because he was forward-thinking, Fugger sent his assistant along the road first, to scope out the local wine, chalking the pubs or bars or 12th-century what-have-yous that had good wine with the word “est,” which is Latin for “there is” (the full phrase he kept in his wine journal was I believe “vinum est bonum” or “wine is good” basically). When this intrepid wine scout came into the town of Montefiascone, he so enjoyed the wines that he A: had a lot, and B: wrote Est! Est!! Est!!! on the bar’s outside wall to show his enthusiasm. I believe bishop Fugger himself liked these particular wines so well he never made it to the coronation, just stayed in Montefiascone drinking wine, and is buried there today. And, the white wines designated Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone are still made and enjoyed. And (here’s where it also comes back around), this particular homemade aperitif uses an Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone wine as it’s base! Neat! Awesome! Story!
There aren’t a wide range of these whites available here, but Pietro Est! Est!! Est!!! tends to be available, and it’s what I used. Light, apple-y, dry, and very refreshing, it provided the perfect platform for building this summertime aperitif (and it won’t set you back too much). The other flavorings almost all came from my yard, including white currants (want to know way more about my white currant bush? Check out the Currant Current liqueur, Strawcurranterry, a white currant strawberry liqueur, and A Particular Friend, a white currant mint number), fresh mint, and fresh marjoram. A little gentian root because life is bitter (but not, one hopes too bitter most days), a little vodka to im-proof things a bit (but not too much, as this is a very light-on-its-feet charmer), and a little simple syrup to round our edges without making it sweet. Altogether, this late summer aperitif rises to the level of the wine story with delicate herbal and fruit notes. Pretty swell on its own, chilled or over ice, but also a pleasant pal in cocktails (heck, though it is not a vermouth, it would make a mean Martini-esque drink when paired with a London-style gin).
1/2 cup white currants
1/3 cup fresh mint
1/4 teaspoon gentian root
1 Tablespoon marjoram
1 750 ml bottle Pietro Est! Est!! Est!! white wine
1 cup vodka
1/2 cup simple syrup
1. Add the currants, mint, gentian, and marjoram to a large glass jar with a good lid. Muddle well, but not wackily (you do want to break up the currants as much as possible).
2. Add the wine and vodka, and stir. Put in a cool dry place and let sit for two weeks, swirling regularly.
3. Open up the jar of joy and add the simple syrup. Stir again, and re-place in that cool dry place. Let sit two more weeks, swirling as you will.
4. Strain – I like to strain once through a fine mesh strainer, then twice (or as needed) through cheesecloth – into a good glass bottle. Store in the fridge (to keep nice and chilled).
June 1, 2021
We’re going to continue from last week’s Maigret moment into a little Maigret-a-thon, starting with a few Cocktail Talks (hey, don’t miss all the Chief Inspector Maigret Cocktail Talks, by the way) from the story collection Maigret’s Pipe, which has a host of hits starring George Simenon’s Parisian Chief Inspector, mainly leaning towards the latter part of his career and even into retirement (where he can’t stop solving crimes even if no longer on the French force). The story the below quote comes from is actually in the retirement phase, though with him back in Paris, drinking wine, and having one of his favorite dishes.
As Maigret paid for the drinks, he was already looking sprightlier than he had been earlier that morning, for he felt things had begun to move.
Roughly speaking, his impression was that the police were over-simplifying the situation and Mademoiselle Berthe was complicating it. Not far off there was a small restaurant favoured by taxi-drivers, with a couple of tables on the terrace, and as one them was free he sat down and discovered on the menu fricandeau a l’oseille, veal with sorrel, one of his favorite dishes.
The atmosphere was so redolent of spring, with light puffs of air so warm and fragrant that, particularly after a bottle of Beaujolais, he felt light-headed and wanted nothing better than to lie down on the grass with a newspaper over his head.
–George Simenon, “Mademoiselle Bertha and her Lover”
May 25, 2021
I’ve been re-reading (until I can get my happy hands on some of the books and stories I don’t yet have) a couple of George Simenon’s marvelous Inspector Maigret stories and books lately. Like many of my favorite yarns by my favorite yarn-spinners, I like to read or re-read some Maigret every so often. It’s always enjoyable just to delve back into the wonderful Parisian/French and mystery/crime and memorable character atmosphere and world Simenon created. One of the books re-read not long ago was Maigret and the Madwoman, which touches on a murder and a crime, but also into the, oh, person of Maigret himself in a way that pulls you in – or me, at least! Since it’s a re-read, and since Maigret liked tipples of various sorts, not so surprising that there is already a Maigret and the Madwoman Cocktail Talk Part I (which you should read, along with all the Inspector Maigret Cocktail Talks). Part II, this one, is wine-centric, and ideal for a spring day like today. Actually, I think I’m going to continue my reading with a chilled glass of white wine myself!
On his way back to the Quai des Orfevres, Maigret stopped at the Brasserie Dauphine for a glass of white wine from the Loire. He didn’t feel like a beer. The white wine in the frosted glass, with just a hint of a sparkle, seemed more appropriate on this lovely spring day.
It was one of the slackest time of the day. Except for a delivery man in a blue apron, there was no in the café.
He decided to order another.
–George Simenon, Maigret and the Madwoman
March 9, 2021
While this isn’t going to turn into The Uncommercial Traveller blog – though that wouldn’t be a horrible idea, honestly – we do have a few more stops with the wandering Charles Dickens, as he wanders through London and the UK and other parts and places as well, writing essays along the way. Today, we’re taking a journey with him to the essay called “An Old Stage-Coaching House,” where he visits a bar and town that used to be a stop for stage coaches, when such ran, before the trains took the wind out of the stage coach business, leaving towns fading behind (as in some ways the highways did to a lot of train towns). Our actual Cocktail Talk is from the owner of the Dolphin (the inn mentioned above), who still wants to give the Traveller a good meal, even if there are no stages running. Oh, don’t miss The Uncommercial Traveller Cocktail Talks Part I, Part II, and Part III, for more about the book, and all the Dickens Cocktail Talks for more good Dickens quotes.
‘If I couldn’t give you a pint of good wine, I’d—there!—I’d take and drown myself in a pail. But I was deceived when I bought this business, and the stock was higgledy-piggledy, and I haven’t yet tasted my way quite through it with a view to sorting it. Therefore, if you order one kind and get another, change till it comes right. For what,’ said Mellows, unloading his hat as before, ‘what would you or any gentleman do, if you ordered one kind of wine and was required to drink another? Why, you’d (and naturally and properly, having the feelings of a gentleman), you’d take and drown yourself in a pail!’
–Charles Dickens, The Uncommercial Traveller
October 27, 2020
Recently (just last week!) I had a Cocktail Talk from Qiu Xiaolong’s Death of a Red Heroine, which if you missed, you should read, and in the past, I’ve had Qiu Xiaolong Cocktail Talks, from it as well as other books featuring Xiaolong’s Chief Inspector Chen (and his partner Detective Yu, and other reoccurring characters), and you should read those Cocktail Talks, too, as well as reading the books they come from, if you’re interested in well-written mysteries, modern Chinese cultural expositions, classical Chinese poetry, or food, because all of that flows through the books like fine wine. Enigma of China is nearer the latter stages of the series (to date), and is a definite page turner. But where we’re Cocktail Talking from today is a part focused a little more on Wang Xizi than modern day, Wang being a poet from the Jin dynasty. Chen is visiting a place famous for Wang associations, and talks about a wine-poem game Wang and other poets played. A wine-poem game!
“It’s here. This is Lanting,” he exclaimed. “Wang and the other poets gathered at this stream, engaged in a wine-poem game.”
“A wine-poem game?
“They let wine cups flow down from the head of the stream. If a cup came to a stop in front of someone, he had to write a poem. If he failed to do so, he had to drink three cups as punishment. The poems were then collected, and Want composed a preface to the collection. He must have been very drunk, flourishing his brush pen inspired by the exquisite scene.
–Qiu Xiaolong, Enigma of China