Cocktails seem to be “back”, not taking over but an alternative to bubbles as the pre-prandial drink of choice. Based on spirits, they act fast. Many cocktails are downright silly but that is the point. They’re meant to be.
A reader commented on my post about “unfriendly” tables (8th December, 2017). She saved herself from a boring night by ordering a Naked and Famous. (See below.) I’d never heard of it so I “researched” the topic. It seems there are many cocktails with agonizingly risqué names. Could you order one of these and not blush – Sex on the Beach, Climax, Buttery Nipple, Silk Panty Martini? The Orgasm has been around for a while and frankly, I’d like to stay innocent of its ingredients.
To make cocktails on call, willy-nilly, one needs a massive array of bottles. Setting up a cabinet to rival the one coveted by Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, would make drinking Roederer Cristal and Krug look downright economical in comparison. So chose your cocktail and stick to it.
For the recipes below, there are ratios, not quantities. I leave you to decide the amount that makes a decent drink.
Negroni is my favourite. It’s has enough bitterness to make it a true aperitif, it’s stylish and adult. We changed from flagon red vermouth to a decent bottle and it was worth it. A garnish of orange is important (and counts as a daily fruit portion).
Equal parts – gin, Campari, sweet red vermouth, orange slices.
Manhattan – Maraschino cherries are as important as the main ingredients. Use a decent basic whisky. A single malt would be a waste and an affectation while a wonderful peaty whisky (e.g. Lagavulin, Bowmore or Laphroaig) is in fact ghastly used this way.
1 part sweet red vermouth, 2 parts whisky, dash bitters, minimum 3 maraschino cherries per glass. (Classicists insist on rye whiskey or bourbon, but when in need...)
Bloody Mary is my overseas airline drink - serenity and nutrition at the same time. I like it made with gin rather than vodka and a nice “side salad” of celery jumping out of it. I refuse to drink vodka, a drink that prides itself on having little flavour.
I like the lemon/lime cocktails, especially for the vitamin C. (HaHa.)
Whisky sour, White Lady, Between The Sheets, Margarita are all good and not too sweet. (See the Google Cocktail Bar.)
Naked and Famous falls into this category.
Equal parts - tequila (or mescal), Aperol, Green Chartreuse, lime juice, garnish slice of lime.
Cocktails need a statement glass. If in Sydney visit The Glass Pavillion on the corner of Queen and Oxford Street, Woollahra. The owner is a glass fanatic and sells wonderful sets and oddments at madly reasonable prices.
Madame Bollinger is purported to have said, “I drink Champagne when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it -- unless I'm thirsty.”
We are on the new direct flight to Hobart with Jetstar. We are squashed but quite comfortable at the front of the plane, having a warm chardonnay sparkling in a plastic. Living high, we snack on a cashew-sesame “Munch”.
I think of Mme Bollinger. The packet tells us we can enjoy “Munch” alone, with company, after a work-out, after yoga or gym, when we’re hungry or as a snack, on a morning break or even in the afternoon. I guess a plane is OK also. It's versatile. Furthermore, we’ll know we are looking after ourselves. Wow! It must be good.
“Eat something decent. Tear here," says the packet.
“Munch” comes in a no-nonsense plastic pack and consists of neat squares of what looks like a standard nut “health” bar. It’s OK but, as Rowen Atkinson said in Love Actually, it is oh so, so, so much more.
It is all natural, vegan & nutritious with a 4 star health rating. It contains 0% dairy, honey, cholesterol, trans fats, gluten or artificial additives. In a word (or several) it’s all wholesome nutrients for body and mind.
It is a guilt-free recharge (good for those who feel a lot of guilt, I guess).
It is artisan-crafted and kitchen-crafted using centuries-old methods (love those centuries) - whole-food nutrition & inherent goodness with custom-made rice malts and flavours that nature intended.
Antioxidant-rich berries along with other goodies like fats (Not ordinary fats! No! Essential fats i.e. fats that are essential!) lift both you and your spirit. Artificial additives & preservatives are banned.
It is made in China from imported and local ingredients (Imported? Where?) - this from the country that sells live-plucked feathers and down for doonas/duvets.
You are challenged to "Eat something decent. We’ve done the thinking for you and you’ll know you’re looking after yourself.”
And, all of this information can be found on one tiny flat packet 10cm x 16cm. Wow -the power of words!
A wine writer came to dinner one evening and certainly brought a generous selection of wine. (He'd just finished a wine-tasting.) He scoffed at my wine glasses. I held myself in check and did not mention that when we visited him, he was still chopping when we arrived, spent most of the evening in the kitchen (stir-fry is difficult for 10) and gave me a paper napkin.
Getting together is first about being with friends (a stranger is a friend you don't yet know - 1970's hippie adage), then about the fun of the accoutrements and the food. It's not a wine-tasting.
At left, a small (very small) selection from C. who doesn't think he could chose just one glass.
I love the coloured stems, the custard cups (middle RHS) and (Wow!) the Germanic roemer riesling glasses with amber stems (Riedal, just calm down!)
The following letter was sent to the Weekend Australian Magazine
(4-5 November, 2017). I was embarrassed for our top wine writer to see him styled in the magazine holding a metal (pewter, silver?) wine goblet (and a very hideous one at that).
The yearly wine issue is a pleasure and source of useful information but who on earth “styled” the images of an embarrassed James Halliday? I assume the tawdry trappings of this erudite and respected wine writer are styling him as a king of wine. A noble concept but the metal goblet was gauche back in the 70s. To have Mr Halliday holding a wine receptacle in metal today is astounding. We’ve come a long way in our drinking sophistication to want to hold glass, to see the clarity and colour of the wine and have it at optimum temperature. Please don’t encourage us to dig out our hideous pewter wedding presents!
BOTH THE FOLLOWING STORIES CAME IN FROM THE WINE DILEMMA.
BOTH TRUE, BUT THE WRITER ASKED TO BE SHIELDED...
I once gallantly stood aside and allowed a woman to enter a charity wine-tasting ahead of me. As a result, she drew the lucky door prize and won a top-table tasting of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Latour, Mouton, Margaux, Haut Brion and other illustrious wines, a once in a lifetime opportunity.
She did offer me the ticket, but I politely declined. I encouraged her to enjoy her win.
I asked her afterwards what the wines were like, and she said, "They were alright".
So I went outside and let her tyres down.
THIS ONE SHOWS AMAZING GALANTRY...
I recall one such incident.
I took a rare bottle of old and irreplaceable vintage port to a dinner party at a winemaker's house. Call him "A". The bottle got lost in the bonhomie and wasn't opened. That wasn't intentional. "A" hadn't looked at the label and I wasn't going to make a fuss. It went to a good cause.
Some time later, I showed a different vintage port to a wine writer. He declared it was pretty good, but nowhere near as sublime as one that "A" had recently poured him. "It was a ..." and he named the wine I had given to "A". Again I bit my tongue, gently, kept my own counsel. Expressing petulance also comes at a price.
Was I upset, the adding of insult to injury? Not in the slightest, just bemused at the irony.
By then it was A's wine, as you accurately said, the moment it entered his door. He could do with it as he liked and probably couldn't even remember where it came from.
He wined and dined me that night as he’d done before and since, and we have a long, close friendship far more rare and valuable than any rare and valuable bottle of wine. Had I taken along a bottle of wine that I would not have missed, that would have devalued the friendship, and me.
And it was only a bottle of wine after all. There are always others.
In Australia, (and elsewhere, I’m sure) it’s a nice tradition that people bring a bottle to a gathering but my number one rule is, the minute you walk in the door, the wine no longer belongs to you.
1. It seems some people worry that the lovely bottle of wine they’ve selected for a friend’s dinner will be whisked away and they’ll be served an inferior wine?
What to do…
Forget it. It’s not the last supper. Would anyone really think friends are whisking it away to serve on another occasion? Who on earth are they keeping it for? This is a myth. Perhaps the friends don’t know the wine. Perhaps they really like their own selection.
Feel compassion and next time, bring a simpler bottle. If they are secreting it away, they are to be pitied. It’s only wine, (but surely no-one knows anybody like this).
2. Have you gone to dinner and worried that your wine won’t be served so you’ve turned up with it opened, to force your host’s hand? Golly, I hope not.
Never do this. It shows lack of trust and greed. You’re bigger than this. Just hand the bottle over. It’s not the last bottle of wine you’ll drink.
3. Have you refused to drink the wine you’ve been poured and demanded to drink yours? Golly, I hope not. Eating together is about sharing the experience, the food and the wine.
Just drink it. Put up with it. It’s not the last supper. If it’s truly ghastly, drink less (which is not going to do any of us any harm).
Nice idea for the hosts…
You’ve probably got a few bottles planned for the night and guests will also bring some. This could be more than you need. Do not give the wine back, (rude and vulgar).
Write the givers’ name on the label, along with the date. Later, ask these friends over and say, “Come to eat with us. I'd like to drink that bottle of wine you brought.”