Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Italians go to Cardiff

The thing about going away with Giulio the Singer is that he can't even start without toasting the trip. So, the luggage was loaded, the flight from Milan beckoned and he put the car key back in his pocket and announced the need for a glass of prosecco in the bar directly below his flat. The two young, er, lovelies work there. One prosecco led to another of course and we arrived at Malpensa with minutes to spare. The next day in Bristol we had the Mother of all pub crawls that started with Butcombe Bitter at 11.30 in the morning and finished with a wonderful pint of Fuller's ESB at 4.30 before taking the train to Cardiff to start again. Full marks to Bruno and Giulio who, as wine drinkers, acquitted themselves remarkably well in terms of consumption of ale.

Pictured is a Bristol pub where I used to drink at lunchtimes in my former life, The King's Head in Victoria Street. The old boy looks like he is about to nod off; happens a lot to people when I've had a few. Lovely pub, virtually the only one we visited that was unchanged. Bruno discovered he had a liking here for rough cider. Good boy.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Early doors

Sunday morning, local bar, 10.30am. You can say what you like, but you can't beat an early one.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Atavistic terror

I have had a healthy Anglo-Saxon fear of these ever since the first (and, fortunately, only) 51 Club holiday. It involved a coach trip from Euston Station to the South of France and two weeks in a tent with an ever-changing variety of companions. The campsite facilities were, er, shared. The leitmotif for the holiday was "Was there anybody I never promised a Rose Garden to last night?", usually delivered in the direction of our fellow campers at maximum volume during breakfast. Breakfast, from the little I remember, consisted of two bottles of wine and 20 Rothmans King Size.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Sideways it ain't

Because last winter was so mild, grape picking in 2007 took place much earlier than usual which meant that our wine tasting visit to Dodgy Tony (above in mid-pour) was brought forward by a month or so. Tony is based just north east of Venice and to be quite frank the landscape is pretty dull and flat. But his wines are anything but dull and flat, being extremely drinkable and, hurrah, CHEAP! This year our dawn raid got off to a flying start with the first samples being drawn off from the concrete vats in his yard at around 10 o'clock in the morning. California this isn't and we all stand around in his office/kitchen and start slurping wine and stuffing our face with local sausage grilled on his very open fire. I sampled about nine different types; from the little I remember of the morning, his Cabernet Franc came out top of his reds and his Sauvignon Bianco is just so fresh and clean, I'm going to have to take a demijohn (56 litres) of that too. I shall also get a half-demijohn of his Pino Grigio and three cases of Prosecco. That should see me through to the end of July. After this we all trooped off to a local restaurant for lunch. Bloody hell.
I think Dodgy Tony may be a little unfair; his rather stylish scarf means I may have to change his moniker to Smooth Tony. The old bags* with our party always go a bit unnecessary when he gets out his corkscrew.

This is a shot of a couple of Tony's various concrete wine tanks; very 1950s.
*Mrs Combo not present, I hasten to add.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Hell indeed

Hovering as I am between life and bronchitis-inspired death my brief moments of lucidity are comforted by the Mother of Grappas, the Guvnor, the No. 1, He Who is There When You Need Him Most, Mr Nardini of Bassano. Distilled in the same spot since 1779 using the traditional steam process (whatever that is), this is grappa at its most traditional and reliable. Grappa is made essentially from the bits (stalks, skin) that are left over from the grape after the winemaking process. Nardini is clean as a whistle, it doesn't burn on the way down and kicks in at a healthy, life-giving 50 degrees of alcohol. Yes, there are loads of fancy flavoured grappas in dinky bottles made from single varietal grapes but they are for poofs (not including Renato of course). If you go the the town where they make this stuff, Bassano al Ponte (you can see the bridge on the label), there are bars where some of the good ole' boys are in there first thing in the morning for a grappa sharpener. They resemble some of the locals I remember from the Cider Bar in Newton Abbot. Red-faced and speechless.