Monday, 27 December 2010

Miles 5.55; Bike miles 0; Units: who is counting, it is Christmas!

Given the paltry number of miles run, I shall gloss over them very quickly, stopping merely to point out that it was a) Christmas b) snowing and C) I felt pretty lazy. In consequence the impact of the festive eating frenzy is felt more keenly than usual. There is some statistic about the number of calories eaten and drunk on Christmas day. Reader, I ate them.

So, on to the wines - and what is Christmas if not a time for family, relaxation and plundering the cellar?! We were six for Christmas day, which commenced with a bottle of our usual Champagne, Pol Roger Brut, ably followed by Laurent-Perrier 2000, an exceptional addition from Janet's uncle and aunt Alan and Rosemary - one of three bottles of same which they brought, I should point out - the others of which slipped down very nicely on Boxing day when the rest of the family arrived. Happy days. Then on to the main feast, for which we went very 'classic' with claret, burgundy, Sancerre, Rhone and port. The Volnay 1er Cru Potel 2002 was just lovely, silky-smooth, the perfect drop for those who want something with a bit of juiciness but not too heavy. The Phelan Segur 2003 performed well after a good 3 hours of breathing, with plenty of pencil lead and cedar oak. To my mind, a bit too dry. Better still was the Vieux Telegraphe 2001, just right now, ripe, sweet fruit, like drinking redcurrant sauce with your turkey! Christmas pud was flamed with a Janneau 8 year old armagnac - and yes we did also imbibe some alongside it. Then, the Graham's 1983 to complement the Silton. My, that wine is just perfect - a big flavour but no rough edges, just smooth, ripe porty notes. Alan and I pretty much polished the whole bottle off (as my head found out the next morning) because everyone esle was either 'taking it easy' or 'feeling a bit unwell'. Thank goodness I didn't decant the Quinta do Vesuvio as well...

Two brews that missed the picture were the Sancerre, Les Baudrières' 2009 Dominique Baud (delightfully crisp) and the beer, a Flack's Double Drop from a new brewery in Romsey ( Yes, I tried them all, some more than a try..

One final wine to mention is from Monday. Nobody here, a day to relax - so we had a simple lamb hotpot with a bottle of d'Arenberg The Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 (Fareham Wine Cellar £25 amongst others). Truly one of the most 'cabernet' wines I have tasted for a while, all blackcurrants. Glorious at the start, though it did cloy towards the end of the bottle. But no matter. We were watching 'The Holiday' and we were toasty at home. How schmaltzy is that?!

ps (and only read on if you are into wine-buffery...) not my words - borrowed from Parker...makes sense of why it is so Cabernet-y!

The grapes for this wine come largely from a near extinct clone of Cabernet Sauvignon. This unnamed clone yields no more than one tonne per acre because of its very poor setting ability and the tiny size of its berries - thus the quality of the grapes is far superior, with wonderful violet and blackcurrant aromas, great acidity and long, intense fine grain tannins.This wine has a deep dark vibrant colour. The nose shows intense blackcurrant and cranberry fruits, subtle cedary cinnamon spice, barrel-ferment and controlled oak derived aromas with violet and mint scents, as well as liquorice and chocolate smells. Intertwined is this wonderful green edge that lifts the wine into a cool climate spectrum (McLaren Vale) which typifies the cool year. These aromas combine with some cassis, blueberry and cranberry with lingering mocha and plumy fruit are just showing through amongst a long, intense, vibrant, gritty fruit tannin finish.

"The spicy 2003 Coppermine Road Cabernet (aged in equal parts new French and new American oak) reveals copious qualities of blackcurrants, cedar, vanilla, and white chocolate aromas, followed by spicy, tannic, full-bodied, powerful, dense, well-structured flavours." 94 points, Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate, October 2005. 

Friday, 24 December 2010

Ten Top Tips for Chaps on Christmas Shopping

Gentlemen – your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to purchase successful presents for your nearest and dearest, without it appearing obvious that you did in fact dash in at the last minute with a few of your so-called colleagues from work, in a bit of last-minute ‘aren’t we the wags’ camaraderie.

With this in mind, might I tentatively suggest following these words of wisdom.

Never forget the cardinal rule of Christmas present buying – your sweetheart imbues the act with a great deal more importance than you can ever know or guess, and that you will suffer in many and various small ways for months (perhaps even for years) if you get it wrong. How often have you heard “well it is not as bad as the pink cardigan that you bought me in 1997”?  If you hear this every year then you are clearly not taking heed of the lessons.

Let me offer you hope – it is possible to buy the wrong present but get away with it, provided that it is abundantly clear that is it bought with the right intent. However much of this comes down to the quality of your back-story (“I remembered that in August when we were walking past the fisherman’s shack on Corsica that you liked the old-fashioned look of his equipment so I have bought you a wooden-handled spade and fishhook”) and the ability to counter the inevitable disappointment on your wife’s face with true sadness at failing her. Can I emphasise that this is a very high-risk strategy and not to be contemplated unless all others fail – it is the ‘Nuclear Option’ of present-buying.

Remember the perils of shopping too soon for your beloved’s gift, however – I am reminded of the well-known joke:

It was Christmas and the judge was in a merry mood as he asked the defendant, "What are you being charged with?"
"Doing my Christmas shopping early sir," replied the defendant. 
"Well, that's not a crime," said the judge. "How early were you doing this shopping?"
"Before the store opened," answered the prisoner.

and worse still you may find that she has already bought it for herself (as she assumes that you will not have picked up on any of the 30 or so hints littering the conversation in the last month) or indeed that you will buy it before the ‘hinting’ season starts (roughly around late November for the vast majority).

Avoid telephoning your wife to ask her what she wants. This is especially to be avoided when you are, say, at the perfume counter, and you need to know if she likes Chanel No. 5 or Miss Dior. It is better to guess, and to choose an unknown scent (you can try to palm this off with “I thought that it would really suit your natural muskiness/athleticism/sense of fun etc etc and it’s nice to try something different, isn’t it”) than to make it obvious that, despite several years of marriage and children, you have no idea what she really likes in perfume.

The aim is to find a suitable present for your beloved. You know you have got it wrong if you hear any of the following:

* I’m getting a gift too? Wow!
* If I had not recently shot up 4 sizes that would've fit.
* This is perfect for wearing around the basement.
* To think - I should get this the year I vowed to give all my gifts to charity.
* “I really don't deserve this."

Also to be avoided are gifts which are quite obviously for you. Picture the scene – roaring fire, children smiling and happy, a small sherry at your hand as the good lady Wife rips open the proffered package. Her face falls, and you say “but didn’t you always want an Xbox 360?”. Clearly she didn’t and you will suffer for this. 

When purchasing anything battery operated, assuming that this is something that the Wife actually wants, (stop tittering please) then bear in mind that you may need to consider its ability to be used on Christmas Day.  Someone has stated that the three phrases that best sum up the Christmas season are - "Peace on Earth”, "Goodwill to Men" and "Batteries not included."

An even higher-risk strategy than the ‘Nuclear’ Option is to try to take a High Moral Stance – eg to claim that you have not bought anything flashy as a “stand against the vulgarity of modern life and the commoditisation of Christmas, the dumbing-down, the general acceptance of mediocrity and the grubby, ill–mannered tedium of so much of modern life.” by “turning ancient rituals of courtesy and gift-giving into revolutionary acts of non-conformance”. This will not wash (especially if, like me, you work for B&Q, retailer of Christmas tat) and you will be accused of being a tightwad as you hand over the crushingly retro present of a clove-studded orange and a few sweets in a stocking, or some such nonsense. Please remember that this only makes sense to you and the lads down the pub.

Remember that as the minutes tick by on Christmas Eve in John Lewis, the expenditure should rise by around 5% for each 10 minutes of shopping – so if you were planning to spend £100 at 10am, by 12 o’clock this is £171 and by 2pm it is a staggering £307. By this stage true panic will have set in, however, so you will randomly buy something expensive and then suffer the double derision of a poor choice AND scorn for wasting money.

And finally, just realise that you cannot win and that you are permanently going to be on the back foot!
Good luck, chaps – you’re going to need it!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Miles 24.15; Bike miles 0; Units: 25

A week of three halves as far as running goes. I had to drop Monday circuits as my cold was still in full swing, and the voice had not quite returned. Many saw this as a real boon, of course, to hear me croaking! I ventured out, carefully, in the snow on Tuesday, in my trail shoes. What a lovely evening run! There is something great about getting back out there when you have had an enforced break. I managed a slightly longer run on Wednesday, with a bit of speed, so I felt properly back in the swing.

A very different activity on Thursday - out with Ian my coach, to video my running style! It was of course cold and slightly drizzling, to make it a great all round experience. We worked our way to the floodlit football pitch at the local School, and thankfully they were not using all of the ground, so we could take over a corner and use the excellent light. The gods smiled and stopped the rain too (though not the cold - can;t have it all I guess). It is amazing what you find out when you then watch it back in slo-mo...all those tiny nuances of running that you didn't know you did!

The third half of this strange week was a lovely Sunday run with the club - not, as intended, a 20 miler, rather an 8 mile steady jaunt around the sports grounds in Eastleigh - and great it was too. We even saw the little santa train go by..and you don't get that very often.

Wine-wise, a most busy week. On Friday I ran a tasting for 30+ work colleagues. 6 wines to give an all round intro to tasting, and cover off grapes, styles, countries, and make it relevant to Christmas! All of the wines were excellent, I think, and all under a tenner from Majestic:

Knappstein Riesling 2010 Clare Valley £6.99.
Lime, floral aromas, honeyed palate, lingering dry finish.

Pouilly-Fumé 2009 Domaine des Rabichattes, Grebet Père et fils £10.99
Flinty, grassy, nettles, gooseberries on the palate. Crisp, dry.

Errazuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2009 £8.79.
Gorgeously rich Chardonnay, tropical fruits, subtle oak, lovely complexity

Wither Hills Pinot Noir 2008 Marlborough £9.99.
Medium-weight, ripe red berry fruits, great richness. Just so easy to drink!

Antony's Yard 2008 Graham Beck £7.99.
Classic S. African 'Bordeaux Blend'. Ripe currants and plums, great balanced palate, gentle oak. Yum!

Crozes Hermitage Les Jalets, Jaboulet 2006 £9.99.
Bit of age on this one - benefits from 3 hrs decanting. Beautiful berries and spices, rich, warming

As I said - I would be happy to serve any of them.


Sunday, 12 December 2010

miles 0; Bike Miles 0; Units 26

Yes, dear reader, you read it right - zero miles. There are good reasons for this. Circuits on Monday, then a wine tasting on Tuesday (of which more later). After this, the running week and my general health took a distinctly downward turn. I was so 'cream-crackered' on Wednesday that I just came home and moped a bit (though I should point out  I finished off the Christmas cards as well, so none of these claims of man-flu please!). Thursday was taken up with the team Christmas 'do', which largely killed off any remaining voice that I had (having croaked my way through the day since Wednesday morning). Foolishly I tackled the gym on Friday - a pretty good session, though a few snuffles. Thought I was over it but how wrong I was! I somehow cricked my neck on Friday night - agony! - and woke up on Saturday all snuffles again, and no running today or Sunday. So, instead of being halfway through the Tytherley 20-miler I planned I am writing my blog instead.

With no running to talk about, I think I shall simply wax lyrical a bit about simple pleasures. As for many of you, I am sure, this past month has been a 'credit-card-basher' with Christmas on the way. I find myself having a love-hate relationship with purchases - I am both gadget-lover and materialism-hater at the same time. This inner tension exerts itself most noticeably when we've bought about 3 or 4 presents, and then are searching for 'a few extra bits'. I just come over all anti-materialistic, which of course is totally silly..the inner turmoil of 'Tom and Barbara' vs 'Jerry and Margo' I suppose.

So, this Saturday, it was a delight to remind myself of the simple pleasures of a cup of good coffee, the paper, a beer over lunch, and reflections on optimistic possibilities. Yes, these aren't free, but they are not pricey either! Life cannot be always just these things, but when it is, it's very good! And it helps when the weather is crisp, cold and dry.

Wine this week has to be a reflection on Tuesday's tasting event - 45 business folk in a hotel in Windsor. The selection (all from Majestic) was tailored to the festive feast, to go with salmon, turkey and beef. I was delighted at how well the Soave went down - a bit of a long shot for me, but I figured we've all tried enough New Zealand Sauvignon, so it's great to have something else dry and crisp, and also only 12% so you won't be under the table by mid-day. The Champagne was also very good at £15 - worth snapping up if you don't want to blow the bank this year. The winner, without a doubt, was the tawny port - most had tried a tawny before, but not one as good as this. I suspect there will be 45 households in the Berkshire area not buying Vintage Port but Tawny Port this year..!

Champagne Jacquart Brut NV (£15.00)
Soave Classico, Inama, 2009 (£11.99)
Macon Fuisse Viellies Vignes, Christophe Cordier 2009 (£11.99)
Ch. Grand Laurie Larose, St. Emilion Grand Cru 2006 (£14.99)
Roaring Meg Pinot Noir, Mt. Difficulty, Central Otago 2009 (£13.99)
Crozes-Hermitage, Yann Chave 2008 (£13.99)
Taylor’s 10 year old Tawny Port (£17.99)

And finally, a sorry excuse for this week's video! Also something odd is happening to my videos that I need to look into. However, no time to re-record - it's only 9 seconds, you'll get the point I was trying to make!

Normal service next week I hope.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

miles 29.58; Bike miles 0; Units 26

A good running week, even though I just missed the 30+ miles planned. I had to forego my Saturday session in favour of the demands of Christmas shopping! As it happened I think a bit of a rest was a good thing anyway, so I'm not especially worried about that. On Tuesday I ran my first track training session with the Southampton Athletic Club down at the Southampton sports ground. This was a bit of a shock to the system in -2C temperatures, a covering of snow on the track and biting winds. This is, however, the kind of tough session that you feel just great about having completed, and radiate at the end with the thought that 'if I can do this I can do anything'. You would be amazed that there were loads of runners there, from sprinters doing 50m accelerations to youngsters running hills in shorts and a t-shirt! As I was kitted out fully in long sleeves and leggings, a little bit of wind was taken out of my sails by these kids running in what I would barely see as summer gear!. Track sessions are great for pulling you along with the group - and I was pleased to hang in there, albeit with the slowest pace group (slow in this case being defined as about 5m40s-per-mile!) and not to be at the very back at the end. I will return in a couple of weeks.

It felt a very peculiar week, to be honest. I had Tuesday and Wednesday away from the office, and had always planned to spend Thursday working from home, catching up on the detail from those tow days. So, I woke up on Thursday morning to a blanket of snow, our first of this winter 'campaign'. The house was warm, and though I had not in fact planned to go out, suddenly I felt 'snowed in' and isolated. This of course was not true, especially as the delivery drivers with our new bathroom managed to make it through. Strange how your external world reflects on your internal one, though. The one upside was that I decided to take a mid-day run in the snow and light, rather than in the evening - what fun, the crispy whiteness through Ampfield wood, everything silent, traffic free and softened by the snowfall. I was also delighted to find that my trail shoes, as well as providing good grip, were indeed watertight as promised, so I arrived home still with toasty toes! All in all an odd feeling.

I haven't got a video recorded as yet - so I am going to post this up now, and I will add one over the next few days as time allows. Plenty of good wines, though!