26 Feb 2011

Monkey Poo Coffee! Philippine Alamid Kopi Luwak (£14.99/50g, Sea Island Coffee)

I was sent a sample of this famous (notorious?!) coffee recently. It's the stuff that gets eaten by monkey or raccoon-type creatures called civets - a relative of the mongoose - who like the sweet taste of the berries. It then ferments in their stomach juices where it's partially digested, they poo it out, and then it's gathered up from their poo on the jungle floor, washed (the packaging stresses thoroughly, thank god) and dried, before being roasted as normal.

Jack Nicholson drinks this stuff in the film The Bucket List, in which he and his friend (Morgan Freeman) are both terminally ill and they go on a road trip armed with a list of experiences to try before they die.

It's not cheap at all, but it's a nice coffee, and good for novelty value. I tried the pre-ground stuff and prepared it simply in a cafetiere. A subtle, slightly smoky aroma and a fairly earthy flavour (which I suppose you might expect!), it reminded me of some Ethiopian (non-monkey poo) coffee I had recently at Opposite in Leeds' Victoria Quarter. That was quite light-bodied, almost like a cross between tea and coffee, and probably best drunk without milk to get the subtle aromas.

Philippine Alamid Kopi Luwak

Chavs: Scum or Scapegoats?

Nothing to do with food or wine this, just something interesting I've noticed lately - how the word chav has increasingly entered common speech. Not just among schoolkids, but among adults who put themselves across as otherwise intelligent, broad-minded people. It's used on social media, in blogs, on twitter. And I wondered, why is there something about the word that doesn't sit quite right? When someone who's quite well-off uses the word, why does it seem just a bit unpleasant? Is it an acceptable word to use or not? Is it just harmless snobbery, if there is such a thing, or is it something more nasty? And then I noticed there's a book coming out later this year entitled 'Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class'. So, is chav-bashing the demonisation of the working class?

The joke seems to be: chavs are unemployed, or at least poor, lacking in class, and they all dress the same, and eat and drink the same things (as if the middle classes don't); they don't have much money or taste. That seems to be the joke. You read stuff on twitter along the lines of, "Ha ha, I just saw someone in a tracksuit who hasn't got a job like I've got, they don't do the civilised things I do, what a loser." The Top Gear school of satire.

Maybe using the word is a bit of a giveaway of your own politics. You're skating over the fact that the person in the tracksuit might not have enjoyed the same upbringing, the same life chances, you had. An insult for our 1980s-style times. Previously it was the Irish, blacks, gays, more recently asylum seekers and Muslims, now it's chavs.

Perhaps when we hear the word chav in 20 years' time, we might cringe a bit, like when we see a clip from a 1970s sitcom and the middle class characters are spouting casual racism about their next-door neighbours.

Or is it not so bad? Is it a harmless nickname for people who are lazy, antisocial, aggressive, uncivilised? Perhaps also it depends how you use the word?

But even if you say you're using the word against a certain type of person who doesn't work and doesn't apparently contribute much to society – isn't that still a bit nasty? Are you naturally morally superior to them? If you'd had their opportunities, their school life, been born to their parents, had their home life, done their jobs… who would you be?

19 Feb 2011

A Trip to Aldi: Ramon Lopez Murillo Rioja Reserva 2005 (£5.99) and Finchley's Ales Golden Pale Ale

A trip to B&Q on a Saturday afternoon - who could resist calling into Aldi next-door and taking a look around its random selection of goods? Especially its alcohol section, with bizarre looking bottles of Grappa from holidays past and intriguing cans of 'premium lager'.

I came away with a bottle of Rioja, a bottle of Aldi's own Golden Pale Ale and a bottle of Wychcraft Blonde Beer. So all in all I was quite restrained. I've had the Wychcraft Blonde before, so I was more interested to try the wine and the pale ale.

I found the pale ale a bit of a strange one, with a bittersweet flavour and an aftertaste that I personally didn't enjoy. It actually reminds me of Desperados a bit, which isn't a brilliant thing for me - I realise Desperados has a bit of a cult following (it's a beer flavoured with tequila and other stuff like citric acid and sugar) but it's not one of my guilty pleasures. And I was expecting a pale ale, not an alcopop/beer hybrid.

But I've enjoyed the Rioja. I suppose £6 isn't the absolute cheapest of cheapsville - there were one or two bottles of red around the £3 mark in Aldi - but you still might not expect great things. But it's nice. Perhaps it helps that for some unknown reason I've not had a Rioja for a while, so maybe I'm more forgiving because I was ready for one. But there's a pleasant nose of cherries, plums and rosemary, with a thin twist of sweet cigar smoke. That's followed up by more cherries and herbs in the mouth, with a good acidity that keep things fresh. A decent and very easy drinking glass of wine. And a nice softness to it that you only get from an aged wine that's had the chance to grow into its own skin.

5 Feb 2011

St Hallett Barossa Riesling 2009 (£4, Co-op)

This is a real bargain.

Flinty on the nose, minerals, rocks baking in sunlight. In the mouth, sherbert lemons and pear drops minus the sickly sweetness, with a waxy edge. A shaving of coconut on the finish.

Grown-up traditional lemonade. An early evening refresher, sweeping away the cobwebs of the day. At this price, snap it up.