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I’ll never regret the Monday I cracked open a £200 bottle of wine with my chicken liver pasta

 My wine is, in a sense, constructed from memories – just as I am.

In my imagination, memory has its own room: a comfortable den inside my head, with thick rugs and squashy seats and lots of coffee-table books full of old photographs. The shelves hold wines I inherited as well as some I bought, and great bottles I have been lucky enough to try in good company. The fine wines I have swirled and spat at tastings aren’t present: for those, I must check my notes.

And then there are the wines whose fitness for the time and the occasion counted for more than price or prestige. Their names I may not have retained, but I can tell you where I drank them and how happy they made me.

There is a delicious rosé Cinsault, from Château Heritage in the Beqaa Valley, that fell down my throat in the Lebanese sunshine, a perfect accompaniment to enormous, juicy tomatoes and pillowy bread; or a pleasant white, in a tall, droop-shouldered bottle, suggesting Alsace, that washed down cold meat and salad by the pool on a family holiday.

Memories are a blend of many elements, just as every wine, fine or otherwise, consists of the rain the vines drank, the crumbled history in which those vines rooted, and the yeasts that alighted on the plucked grapes and started their transformation. My wine is, in a sense, constructed from memories – just as I am.

Sometimes it’s wonderful to splurge on fine wine, to drink something fabulous for an occasion. I treasure the recollection of the 1999 Gaja Barbaresco I drank, because it would go perfectly with chicken liver pasta, on an otherwise ordinary Monday night. It was wonderful – mushroomy and aromatic – and it needed drinking: I had almost kept it too long, for fear of opening it inappropriately. It was bought long ago and I did not check its market value before I pulled the cork, thank goodness, but Wine-Searcher tells me it is now worth £200. I have no regrets: the hedonism of an occasion that was no occasion at all will stay with me, and the memory is worth it.

Still, mainly I drink more realistically, and those cheery daily wines are memorable, too. Recently, I tried a clutch of Spanish wines that the Wine Society has gathered into a special offer (£79 for a mixed dozen until 9 April, though these wines won’t be dear after that, either). The two Garnachas (the grape better known as Grenache) are a Salvaje del Moncayo Garnacha, from Aragon, and Bajondillo Jiménez-Landi, from Méntrida, near Madrid. Both are fragrant, earthy and red-fruity, made to please both mouth and wallet.

There’s a decent Carignan, 3C Premium Selection, from Cariñena, which claims to be that grape’s original home, and Sabina, an unoaked Tempranillo (the dominant grape of Rioja) from Rioja’s far less famous neighbour, Navarra. Most of these wines are young – several come from the bountiful 2015 vintage – which helps to keep prices low. The Society’s Rioja Crianza can’t take advantage of that, as Crianza requires at least a year in oak and another in bottle.

Ageing wine is expensive; the best Riojas, the Reservas and Gran Reservas, are held in the cave for far longer than two years. Still, this Crianza 2012 is good: cheap wine should not be mediocre, any more than outstanding wine should be drunk every Monday. Much as I wish I could afford more top wine, I would still drink such tasty basics. A memory stocked with nothing but superlatives would be a poor place indeed.

Next issue: Felicity Cloake on food

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 06 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Spring Double Issue

Photo: Channel 4
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Who will win Great British Bake Off 2017 based on the contestants’ Twitters

An extremely serious and damning investigation. 

It was morning but the sky was as dark as the night – and the night was as dark as a quite dark rat. He walked in. A real smooth gent with legs for seconds. His pins were draped in the finest boot-cut jeans money could buy, and bad news was written all over his face. “I’m Paul,” he said. “I know”. My hooch ran dry that night – but the conversation never did. By nightfall, it was clear as a see-through rat.   

Some might say that going amateur detective to figure out which contestants win and lose in this year’s Great British Bake Off is spoiling the fun faster than a Baked Alaska left out of the freezer. To those people I’d say: yes. The following article is not fun. It is a serious and intense week-by-week breakdown of who will leave GBBO in 2017. How? Using the contestants’ Twitter and Instagram accounts, of course.

The clues are simple but manifold, like a rat with cousins. They include:

  • The date a contestant signed up for social media (was it during, or after, the competition?)
  • Whether a contestant follows any of the others (indicating they had a chance to bond)
  • A contestant’s personal blog and headshots (has the contestant already snaffled a PR?)
  • Pictures of the contestant's baking.
  • Whether a baker refers to themselves as a “baker” or “contestant” (I still haven’t figured this one out but FOR GOD’S SAKE WATSON, THERE’S SOMETHING IN IT)

Using these and other damning, damning, damning clues, I have broken down the contestants into early leavers, mid-season departures, and finalists. I apologise for what I have done.

Early leavers

Kate

Kate appears not to have a Twitter – or at least not one that the other contestants fancy following. This means she likely doesn’t have a book deal on the way, as she’d need to start building her social media presence now. Plus, look at how she’s holding that fork. That’s not how you hold a fork, Kate.

Estimated departure: Week 1

Julia

This year’s Bake Off began filming on 30 April and each series has ten episodes, meaning filming ran until at least 9 July. Julia first tweeted on 8 May – a Monday, presumably after a Sunday of filming. Her Instagram shows she baked throughout June and then – aha! – went on holiday. What does this mean? What does anything mean?

Estimated departure: Week 2

James

James has a swish blog that could indicate a PR pal (and a marketing agency recently followed him on Twitter). That said, after an April and May hiatus, James began tweeting regularly in June – DID HE PERHAPS HAVE A SUDDEN INFLUX OF FREE TIME? No one can say. Except me. I can and I am.

Estimated departure: Week 3

Tom

Token-hottie Tom is a real trickster, as a social media-savvy youngster. That said, he tweeted about being distracted at work today, indicating he is still in his old job as opposed to working on his latest range of wooden spoons. His Instagram is suspiciously private and his Twitter sparked into activity in June. What secrets lurk behind that mysteriously hot face? What is he trying to tell me, and only me, at this time?

Estimated departure: Week 4

Peter

Peter’s blog is EXCEPTIONALLY swish, but he does work in IT, meaning this isn’t a huge clue about any potential managers. Although Peter’s bakes look as beautiful as the moon itself, he joined Twitter in May and started blogging then too, suggesting he had a wee bit of spare time on his hands. What’s more, his blog says he likes to incorporate coconut as an ingredient in “everything” he bakes, and there is absolutely no bread-baking way Paul Hollywood will stand for that.

Estimated departure: Week 5

Mid-season departures

Stacey

Stacey’s buns ain’t got it going on. The mum of three only started tweeting today – and this was simply to retweet GBBO’s official announcements. That said, Stacey appears to have cooked a courgette cake on 9 June, indicating she stays in the competition until at least free-from week (or she’s just a massive sadist).

Estimated departure: Week 6

Chris

Chris is a tricky one, as he’s already verified on Twitter and was already solidly social media famous before GBBO. The one stinker of a clue he did leave, however, was tweeting about baking a cake without sugar on 5 June. As he was in London on 18 June (a Sunday, and therefore a GBBO filming day) and between the free-from week and this date he tweeted about bread and biscuits (which are traditionally filmed before free-from week in Bake Off history) I suspect he left just before, or slap bang on, Week 7. ARE YOU PROUD NOW, MOTHER?

Estimated departure: Week 7

Flo

Flo’s personal motto is “Flo leaves no clues”, or at least I assume it is because truly, the lady doesn’t. She’s the oldest Bake Off contestant ever, meaning we can forgive her for not logging onto the WWWs. I am certain she’ll join Twitter once she realises how many people love her, a bit like Val of seasons past. See you soon, Flo. See you soon.

Estimated departure: Week 8

Liam

Liam either left in Week 1 or Week 9 – with 0 percent chance it was any of the weeks in between. The boy is an enigma – a cupcake conundrum, a macaron mystery. His bagel-eyed Twitter profile picture could realistically either be a professional shot OR taken by an A-Level mate with his dad’s camera. He tweeted calling his other contestants “family”, but he also only follows ONE of them on the site. Oh, oh, oh, mysterious boy, I want to get close to you. Move your baking next to mine.

Estimated departure: Week 9

Finalists

Steven

Twitter bios are laden with hidden meanings and Steven Carter-Bailey’s doesn’t disappoint. His bio tells people to tune in “every” (every!) Tuesday and he has started his own hashtag, #StevenGBBO. As he only started tweeting 4 August (indicating he was a busy lil baker before this point) AND his cakes look exceptionally lovely, this boy stinks of finalist.  

(That said, he has never tweeted about bread, meaning he potentially got chucked out on week three, Paul Hollywood’s reckoning.)

Sophie

Sophie’s Twitter trail is the most revealing of the lot, as the bike-loving baker recently followed a talent agency on the site. This agency represents one of last year’s GBBO bakers who left just before the finale. It’s clear Sophie’s rising faster than some saffron-infused sourdough left overnight in Mary’s proving drawer. Either that or she's bolder than Candice's lipstick. 

Chuen-Yan

Since joining Twitter in April 2017, Yan has been remarkably silent. Does this indicate an early departure? Yes, probably. Despite this, I’m going to put her as a finalist. She looks really nice. 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.