The Wine List #23 Light, fashionable, unexceptional

DSC00139Grape: Pinot Grigio

Wine: Dino Edizione No7, Veneto, Italy.

Alc Vol: 12%

Hugh Johnson says: “Light and fashionable in northern Italy but top,characterful versions can be excellent. Cheap versions are just that.”

The label says: “Characteristically crisp and fruity, this wine is created from vineyards in northern Italy. This provenance gives the wine freshness, flavour and more juicy red apple and berry character.”

Food recommendations: “Serve chilled as an aperitif or with lightly spiced food.”

Retired Blokes says: We were given this wine as a gift. We didn’t have great expectations of it, and we weren’t surprised by tasting it. The Dino label has become a common sight on our supermarket shelves; the wines seem to be on perpetual “special offer”. I couldn’t discover much about the winery, but the number and variety of wines produced under the label makes me suspect it is one of those European wine-lake producers; and this would be one of those “cheap versions” dismissed by HJ. We left it in the fridge until it was well chilled (probably too chilled; it did improve as it warmed up). We drank it with chicken and chorizo pasta. It wasn’t awful, it just wasn’t anything exceptional – but at the price it is sold, it isn’t going to be.

One for the wine rack? No, but we’d like to discover and taste one of the more characterful versions praised by HJ.

It’s not about the wine: The Palladian Villas of Veneto are World Heritage Sites. The villas, country houses for rich families who also owned palazzos (town houses), were designed by Andrea Palladio (1508-1580), perhaps Italy’s most influential architect.

The Wine List: retirement project to taste wines made from all of the main grape varieties listed in Hugh Johnson’s pocket wine book.


Fancy A Pint? #31 It’s beer, but not as we know it

IMGP6143County: Selkirkshire, Scotland (now part of the Borders Region).

What is it called? Red Eye Flight

Who made it? Tempest Brewing Co, Tweedbank (website:

What is it? Mocha Porter

Alc Vol: 7.4%

The label says: “A powerful awakening, cold infused cocoa and roast Arabica coffee, galvanise the chocolate and roasted malts. A rich dark complex porter with a fresh ground aroma and intense depth of flavour.”

Retired Blokes says: It is beers like this that make me pause and think of my grandfathers. One was a coal miner, the other a tinplate worker; jobs that gave a man a healthy thirst. They drank pints of bitter, or occasionally of mild. I can only imagine what they would have to say about a craft beer such as this – probably, they would be bemused at the idea of making beer that doesn’t taste like beer. Having said that, I thought it was as flavoursome as the makers claimed, and was very nice – but only as a novelty.

Fancy another? No thanks.

It’s not about the beer: Sir Walter Scott, author of Ivanhoe and Rob Roy among other historical novels and poems, was appointed Sheriff-Depute of Selkirkshire in 1799, an office he held until his death in 1832.

Fancy A Pint? Retirement project to sample beers and ciders made in every county of the United Kingdom.


Murder in a land of shrouded mountains

Country: Faroe Islands.

Book: The Blood Strand, by Chris Ould. Published by Titan Books.

Plot: A man is found unconscious in his BMW 4 Series car on a lonely lay-by early one morning. There is an attache case containing a large amount of money, a shotgun and somebody’s blood inside the car. The police initially suspect a blackmail gone wrong, but when the body of a young man is washed up on a near-by beach, it becomes a murder investigation.

Where and when: The contemporary plot covers several of the Faroes.

The detectives: The investigation is led initially by local detective Hjalti Hentze, “an unpolished man, at least in appearance.” He is soon joined by a visitor; Jan Reyna is a policeman who left the Faroes when he was five and was brought up by his aunt in England, and who now returns because the man found in the car is his estranged father. Hentze and Reyna work, sometimes together and sometimes separately, to solve the case – and uncover some dark secrets in Reyna’s Faroese family.

Sense of Place: Ould does an excellent job of conjuring up a vision of these remote islands, especially in the first third of the book when he is setting the scene for the plot. Right from chapter one there are repeated references to the wind, which seems to blow constantly across the forbidding landscape:

“The wind shepherded the clouds quickly across the bowl of sky between the undulating, rounded peaks of the surrounding mountains and fells. The landscape was treeless, brown green. In places it was traced out by black strata of rock.”

The buildings fit the landscape: Reyna describes the passing scene as he and Hentze drive to the isolated beach to view the body:

“Occasionally I spotted isolated concrete or stone sheds, most with rusty tin roofs, seemingly abandoned. There were no fields, fences or walls – almost no sense that anyone had any use for this open, treeless landscape.”

Reyna draws a direct link between the bleak landscape and the people who live within it:

“But it was the high, sculptured mountains on either side of the broad valley that took my attention the most as I tried to contemplate their scale. I wondered what living in these places did to your sense of personal meaning and importance. Did the overwhelming vastness press down on you – on your soul even – or did it make you expand against it?”

Landscape, architecture and people are brought together overtly in a later passage: “half the places I saw remained anonymous and impossible to interpret … unidentifiable, precisely designed buildings … Private, discreet, without show. The Faroese way.”

This is a place of shrouded mountain and valley, where the architecture is functional rather than beautiful, and the people are shaped by the uncompromising landscape and climate.

So, where next? After all of this rain and wind, I fancy somewhere hot and dry. So we are off to South Africa. Our next crime read is Nowhere, by Roger Smith.

World Crime Atlas is my retirement project to read a crime novel set in every country listed in The Times atlas of the world. I’m especially interested in the sense of place created by the author.

Orphaned at 65

WE buried my father on Tuesday morning. He was 101 years old.

The funeral service was held in the small village church where he had been choirmaster seventy years ago. There were yellow and green Spring flowers on his coffin, and vases of daffodils on each windowsill of the church, which was filled by around seventy mourners.

The canon read the eulogy I had written for him, and I added a personal tribute to the man who had been devoted to my mother for 73 years, and who was cast adrift by her death in December.

After the service, we lay his coffin in the grave that had so recently been my mother’s final resting place too.

So, in three months, I have gone from Retired With Parents to a newly-orphaned pensioner. I have written before about the growing phenomenon of people reaching an age to retire from work and still having one or both parents alive.

Again, my new situation would have been extremely rare not long ago, but is one that our increasingly longer-living population means will be become more and more the norm.

When your parents reach such advanced age, their deaths must, surely, affect you differently than if they had died twenty or thirty years younger? Perhaps the sense of loss is the same, but is the grief lessened, both because they were blessed with long and full lives, and because they are finally released from final months of distress and sorrow?

As we left the church, one of the mourners described their deaths as “the end of an era.” Such a statement would seem hyperbolic or vain-glorious; my parents lived out their lives quietly in a small village on the outskirts of a town (later city) in south Wales. They may have lived through major events (in my father’s case, including two world wars, four monarchies and twenty-five governments), but the rhythm of their own lives was the steady one of generations before them in that village.

But I understand what was meant; having lived together in their village home for so long (73 years married and four years of courtship before that), their passing does feel like something significant – not least, of course, in my own life, but also for the village community.

Our daughter, meanwhile, has moved into my parents’ home; life goes on, there is continuity. I’m glad about that.

The Wine List #22: an intriguing mix of dry and fruity

IMGP6134The grape: Gewurztraminer.

The wine: Cave De Turckheim 2014, Alsace, France.

Alc Vol: 13%

HJ says: “One of the most pungent grapes, spicy with aromas of rose petals, face-cream, lychees, grapefruit. Wines are often rich and soft, even when fully dry. Best in Alsace.” I’m not sure if I’ve ever eaten rose petals; I’m certain I’ve never eaten face-cream.

The label says: Very little, actually; “dry – round – aromatic” covers it.

With food? The label was more forthcoming,; “excellent aperitif; entrees; fish with sauce; poultry, exotic meals; blue cheese.” Something for everyone. We drank ours with a fairly ordinary Chinese takeaway.

Did we like it? It was a resounding No from The Current Mrs Feeney. She dismissed it as “sweet” – which it wasn’t, but the mix of dryness and aromatic fruitiness is odd on the tongue. I thought it was intriguing, and the sort of thing this project is all about.

One for the wine rack? I’d prefer a Riesling, but will happily keep a couple of bottles of this for Asian takeaway nights; but the look on TCMrsF’s face suggests I’ll be drinking alone.

It’s not about the wine: The Schlumpf museum of automobiles, in the Alsatian town of Mulhouse, is home to more than 450 cars.

The Wine List is my retirement project to sample wine made from each of the main grape varieties listed in Hugh Johnson’s pocket wine book.

Fancy A Pint? #30 Welcome return of a well-travelled ale

IMGP6133County: Bedfordshire (but see * note below)

What is it called? Courage Directors’ Superior Ale

Who made it? Wells and Young’s Brewing Company, Bedford.

What is it? An amber ale.

Alc Vol: 4.8%

The label says: “Full of character with a distinctive spicy hop aroma, the perfect balance of Crystal malt with crisp, fruity, nutty hops and a lasting finish.”

With food? No recommendations on the bottle. I drank it with that reliable old staple, a bowl of roasted peanuts.

Retired Bloke Verdict: It has been several years since I last had a pint of this. It was a welcome reminder of how lovely it is. Rich and smooth.

Fancy another? Yes please.

*It’s more complicated than that. The beer was originally brewed exclusively for the directors of the Alton Brewery in Hampshire, in 1903. Since then, it has at different times been made in breweries in Reading, Bermondsey, Bristol, and Tadcaster. So its current geographical connection with Bedfordshire is just the latest stage in its story.

It’s not about the beer: The world’s first tractor was invented in Bedfordshire by a racing cyclist called Daniel Albone. The Ivel Agricultural Motor was patented by Albone in February 1902.

Fancy A Pint? is my retirement project to sample beer and cider from every county in the United Kingdom.

The Wine List #21: a decent rack filler if the price is right

IMGP6117The grape: Carignan and Grenache.

The wine: MontPierre Reserve Fitou 2014, Languedoc, France. Bought on special offer in Sainsbury’s supermarket.

Alc Vol: 12.5%

HJ says: (of Carignan) “Low yielding old vines now very fashionable everywhere from south of France to Chile; best Corbieres”; (of Grenache ) “Becoming ultra fashionable with terroiristes, who admire the way it expresses its site.” Fitou adjoins Corbieres, so that’s close enough for a Retired Bloke.

The label says: “This full bodied and spicy red is packed with blackberry and cherry fruit flavours with a hint of spice.”

Food combination: “perfect match for grilled meats, tomato-based pasta dishes, and hard cheeses.” We drank half a bottle with grilled pork chops and potatoes roasted in duck and goose fat. The other half we drank with a casserole of chicken, mushrooms and potatoes with a Herbs of Provence stock; not exactly what was recommended on the bottle, but the wine went just as well with either dish; it just goes to show you shouldn’t get too hung up on the suggested food combinations.

RBV: As the above suggests, a very straightforward and adaptable red wine. Unremarkable, but good value when its priced around £6/7 on offer. Pleasant enough for everyday tippling or a midweek family meal.

One for the wine rack: At the right price, a decent rack filler.

It’s not about the wine: Rugby is the most popular sport in the Languedoc region, unlike other parts of France where football is king. But in the eastern part of Languedoc, bullfighting and other bull-related sports are also popular.

The Wine List: the retirement project to sample wine from all of the main grape varieties listed in Hugh Johnson’s pocket wine book.