The Wine List #29: a rich red Greek.

THE retirement project to sample wines made from every main grape variety mentioned in Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book.

DSC00312The Grape: Xinomavro. I had not heard of this grape before spotting the bottle in our local Marks & Spencer food store. This is what this project is all about.

The Wine: Thymiopoulos 2013, Trilofos, Naoussa, Greece.

What HJ says:Greece’s answer to Nebbiolo. “Sharp-black.” …Top quality can age for decades.

What it says on the bottle:This rich, smooth red is produced from the unique Xinomavro grape grown in north-west Greece. It is a challenging grape to grow, but maverick young wine maker Apostolos Thymiopoulos has masterfully tamed his Xinomavro to create a wine of finesse and intensity comparable to a fine Italian red. Careful bio-dynamic principles are followed to produce vines bursting with plump, healthy, ripe red fruit. M&S wine maker Jeneve Williams works with Apostolos to craft the M&S blend. Here they have produced a beautiful ruby-coloured wine, gorgeously scented with blackberries and damsons.” All this talk of maverick young tamers; who knew making wine could be so exciting? I’ll take their word on the bio principles, chemistry not being one of my strong suits (I came to an agreement with my chemistry teacher; I’d miss his lessons and practise my football; we agreed that neither of us would tell). As for the fruits; well, I’ll agree that the wine is fruity tasting.

With food? The bottle advises us to drink it on its own or with robust red meat dishes such as fillet of beef or venison steak. We drank some of it with moussaka (the Greek connection) and roasted Mediterranean vegetables; some more with a roast chicken dinner; and the last glass with bubble and squeak. Red with chicken? It worked for me.

So, did we like it? Not sure at first taste. Not as smooth as expected; HJ was right to mention sharpness. But a lovely colour and long-lasting tastes.

Are we buying more for our Wine Rack of Special Occasions? Probably not. But I’m glad we discovered it, so thank you M&S for your adventurous approach.

It’s not about the wine: The area around the city of Naoussa, according to Herodotus, was where the fertile gardens of King Midas were situated (Source: Wikipedia).


An undemanding screening

LAST week’s sunny weather having disappeared (well, this is Wales, where every silver lining has a cloud), The Current Mrs Feeney and I headed to the cinema today for a lunchtime (the benefits of retirement) showing of Our Kind Of Traitor, the film of the John Le Carre novel about a money-launderer for the Russian mafia who befriends an English Literature university lecturer, in order to pass on details about British politicians’ and bankers’ links with organised crime, in exchange for the British secret service arranging safe passage to the UK for his family.

I enjoy Le Carre. His is a world where nobody and nothing is untainted. I suppose it is quite religious in that aspect.

Ewan McGregor played the lecturer, Stellan Skarsgard the money launderer, and Damian Lewis the MI6 agent trying to seal the deal despite the dark forces of corruption lined up against him.

They – like the film itself – were competent but unremarkable. It was a pleasant enough way to while away a couple of hours.

Retired Bloke rating: OK.

When trains had names

YOU know that feeling when you wake suddenly and know that you have had a dream but cannot quite grasp what you were dreaming of and the harder you try to recall the more elusive it becomes until you are left with just a vague sense of something?

That was me this morning. I know (or think I know) that I was on a train. It may have been heading for Cornwall; or maybe not.

What I do know is that this train had a name. I don’t mean the engine pulling the carriages; I mean the actual train.

When I gave up trying to remember what the name was, I started pondering on how in the days of my childhood and youth there seemed to be many of these named trains, and wondering where they had all gone.

The early morning express from South Wales to London Paddington was called The Red Dragon. Two other daily named trains between London and Wales were the Cambrian Coast Express (to Aberystwyth) and the Pembroke Coast Express (to Pembroke Dock.)

I still recall, from the days when I was a member of that strange breed of human known as a train-spotter, such romantically-monikered timetable entries as the Atlantic Coast Express, the Bournemouth and the Brighton Belles, the Cathedrals Express, the Cornishman, the Coronation Scot, the Master Cutler, the Golden Arrow, the Royal Scot, the Cornish Riviera Express, the Caledonian, the Elizabethan, the Ocean Liner Express, and the Midlander.

Ok, maybe the last of these did not exactly reek of romance, but I am sure there was many a proud son or daughter of Birmingham who felt a surge of secret delight as he or she climbed aboard their ‘own’ train.

I mentioned all of this to The Current Mrs Feeney. Possibly there was a nostalgic catch in my voice as I gave her a personal tour of The Lost Trains of Britain.

I saw the flicker of alarm in her eyes. I knew what she was thinking: “Dear God, he’s going to buy himself a little notebook and spend his days standing at the end of windy station platforms, writing down the numbers of Diesel Multiple Units.” Or something similar.

I reassured her that this was not going to happen. It’s not as if I am one of those men who looks back or talks about the past, am I? She gave me one of those looks. You know those looks.

According to an article in the Daily Telegraph last May, there was once more than 130 of these named trains running daily on Britain’s railways.

So, what has happened to the Red Dragon or the Master Cutler of my youth? I believed they began to disappear when steam engines began to be withdrawn from service, and replaced with efficient but characterless diesel locomotives.

To my surprise, a little research revealed that some of them are (allegedly) still out there, carrying passengers between the UK’s capital and provincial cities across the land.

Perhaps so, but I do not remember seeing the Cathedrals Express or Bournemouth Belle on any station departure display for many years; nor do I recall any station public address system informing passengers that the train now arriving at Platform Four is the Bristolian, the Pines Express, or the Waverley.

And I am sure that none of them carry the resplendent brass headboards that adorned the front of the steam engines that pulled them in their heyday.

Is it too much to ask that the named train be restored to its rightful place? Surely it would bring a little romance back to the prosaic business of modern rail travel?


Out to lunch; choose a tie.

WHEN I retired, The Current Mrs Feeney and I promised that we would treat ourselves to lunch out every Friday.

I retired three years ago. We’ve managed about a dozen Friday lunch treats. What’s the problem? Life, in short; life, as somebody (it may have been John Lennon) once said, being the thing that happens to you when you were busy making other plans.

This week, however, we made it out. As an extra treat, we were out with a former work colleague; and when I say “former”, I mean thirty years former, when I was dipping a cautious toe into the turbulent world of being a newspaper editor.

TCMrsF and I met up with my former colleague and his wife at a wine bar for a couple of pre-lunch drinks (pints of lager for the men, gins for the women). Then it was on to the restaurant, where two bottles of Chilean Merlot and a small bottle of South Australian Sticky Chardonnay dessert wine suitably complemented the food (two hake, two belly pork, and sponge puddings all round for afters.)

I am delighted to report that, despite three years away from the world of the long business lunch (which was rare enough even back then), I was immediately back into mid-season form with the cutlery and glassware.

It’s true that, on returning home, I found it beneficial to lie down and simply rest my eyes. For four hours.

I digress. What I had meant to say was that, when we were comrades in print those happy days ago, my ex-colleague was a figure of general admiration on account of his sartorial elegance. Nobody’s suits were more suited; nobody’s neck ties were more tasteful.

So he turns up for lunch in a pink blazer and bottle green trousers. A man who clearly has made the transition from thrusting executive to bohemian man of re-discovered leisure.

I diplomatically enquired as to the whereabouts of his fabled suits and accessories of yesteryear; all gone to the charity shop of retired careers. I had to admit that this was very different from my own case. Three years on, and my wardrobe is still hosting shirts (double-cuffed, single-cuffed, plain, striped, checked) and racks of ties (plain, striped, etc).

Well, this plainly wouldn’t do. So the following day (a quiet day at home; out of choice, you understand, nothing to do with the previous day’s exertions) TCMrsF and I decide that The Time Has Come to have The Great Retirement De-Clutter.

We remove the shirts from the wardrobe. We put them on the bed. We survey the scene.

“Hmmm,” I say.

“Hmmm,” TCMrsF responds.

“Hmmm, ‘mmm?” I suggest.

“Mmm, ‘mmm” TCMrsF concurs.

And we put the shirts back into the wardrobe.

But we are far more ruthless with the ties. We carefully fold them all up and Рa neat touch this Рput them away in a box. Well, you never know when your future happiness and security depends on having a snappy green and red striped silk neck adornment to hand, do you?

Who knew getting rid of former work clothes could be so difficult? I’m sure a therapist could read much into this episode. Then again, a therapist could read much into any episode.

Satisfied with a job well done, we settle down in the evening to watch this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Ukraine’s entry was a song about Stalin’s ethnic cleansing of Crimean Tartars in 1944. It wasn’t one of those numbers you catch yourself whistling in the bath or over the sunny morning cornflakes. Sombre would just about cover it.

TCMrsF and I agree that, while it was no doubt admirable as a political statement, especially with things being a little delicate in Europe at the moment, it was unlikely to garner a single point from either the competing nations’ voting juries or the phone-in votes from the People of Europe.

It won. Beating the Russian favourite into third place. The runner-up spot went to that well-known European nation, Australia.

Don’t ask.

The Wine List: grape #28 – Colombard

THE Wine List project to sample wine made from each of the main grape varieties in Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book heads into the Robertson Valley, South Africa’s ‘land of wine and roses’.

DSC00308The Wine: Bon Courage 2015, Robertson, South Africa (Laithwaites)

Alc Vol: 12%

HJ says: “Slightly fruity, nicely sharp grape, makes everyday wine in South Africa, California and south west France. Often blended.” I’d say that fits into the category of ‘faint praise.’

The label says: “a fresh, lively wine with expressive notes of guava and pineapple. The palate is round and full with a long, lively finish.”

Food combination: “enjoy chilled as an aperitif and as a partner for seafood and lightly spiced meats.” We drank it with ‘tapas’ style dishes in our first al fresco lunch of the year on the deck (a Retired Bloke’s reward for three days of brushing, scrubbing and application of wood protector on aforementioned deck, to repair the ravages of a wet Welsh winter’s weather).

Did we like it? As with the Muscadet we tried last week, The Current Mrs Feeney was more of a fan than me (though I thought it deserved better than to be dismissed as an ‘everyday’ wine). We agreed that it was fresh and lively, with pleasant acidity, and quite fruity.

One for the wine rack? Again like the Muscadet, we’d happily have a couple of bottles to hand in the hope (living in Wales you learn to place hope above expectation in matters meteorological) of more outdoor meals under the summer sun.

It’s not about the wine: South Africa’s oldest skydiving club is based in the town of Robertson.

Carry on blogging?

I AM thinking about abandoning my blog.

It was started with the single purpose of building an online community of retired men. That has not happened. Perhaps there is no such online community to build; perhaps there is, but this blog isn’t the way to do it.

Perhaps it is time to accept that the blog is not going to achieve its objective, and shut it down.

I intend to continue some of my retirement schemes, however; in particular, sampling wines (The Wine List) and reading global crime fiction (World Crime Atlas). I’ll want to continue recording my thoughts; so I’ve decided to carry on blogging about these topics, for the time being.

I think I’m beginning to get back into the frame of mind I enjoyed when first retired; the sudden removal of pressure and (work-related) obligations. I suppose this means my parents’ decline over the past two years (and their deaths, eventually) might have had more effect on me than I had thought.

But perhaps this blog – with the accompanying and underlying requirement to post something regularly – was also beginning to irk me; as if I was again under an obligation, if only to myself.

Anyway, I’ll carry on and see how things pan out.

The Wine List: grape #27 Monastrell

THE Wine List project to sample wine made from each of the main grape varieties listed in Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book goes back to Spain.

DSC00298The wine: Infierno 2014 (Laithwaites). This wine was made by Mariano Lopez at Bodegas y Vinedos del Mediterraneo, in Yecla, Spain.

HJ says: “A star of southern France, Australia and Spain. Excellent dark, aromatic, tannic grape.”

The label says: “Infierno is a deep, full bodied red, made from Monastrell grown on unirrigated vineyards, in Campo Arriba, in the highlands of Yecla. Infierno is richly concentrated, yet perfectly balanced with a silky texture and intense plum and blackberry character.”

Food combination: Nothing suggested on the bottle. I drank it with something called Empire Pie, which consisted of lightly curried lamb, sweetened with mango chutney, topped with onion seed, fresh coriander and crushed potato. Very impressive if it was something I’d just rustled up in the kitchen, but in truth it was from Marks & Spencer’s Gastropub range of ready meals, and my contribution was to remove packing and film, and slam in the oven as per directions. The next night, I finished the bottle with a meal of wood fired thin Prosciutto Crudo and Fig pizza, served with quinoa and turmeric potato wedges. Yes, I got that out of a packet too. And both ready meals were delicious.

Did we like it? Not so much of the ‘we’. The wine was rich, warming, powerful, a real tannic mouthful of flavours. Everything that I think a good Spanish red should be. Which is also everything The Current Mrs Feeney dislikes in a glass. So it was just as well that she was staying in her sister’s on both nights, and I was dining (and drinking) alone.

One for the wine rack? Yes, especially for winter drinking.

It’s not about the wine: Yecla, with neighbouring Jumilia, is one of the primary regions for development of the Murciana and Grenadina breeds of dairy goats.