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1st December, 2020

The year 2020 wheezes to a close with a festive season characterised by dying pubs and restaurants and the prospect of further months of pandemic misery. There are two types of person who will go straight to the top of my twerp-o-meter when they inevitably appear in the media soon. The first one is your health expert, the sort that crops up on the BBC saying that people are eating or drinking or being inactive to a dangerous degree as a result of the lockdown. Of course they f**king are. These Cassandras will always be the type who advocated the full monty lockdown.

Then there is the pro-public sector Leftie who is, as we speak, getting ready to add to hag-ridden Boris’s woes with a diatribe about how public sector pay isn’t rising fast enough. That’s right, the very people who advocate the most dictatorial lockdowns, who banged the pots, let off fireworks and, no doubt, took the knee all the while, they it will be who, in the quagmire of £2,500,000,000,000 (that’s 2.5 trillion quid, taxpayers) national debt, will start carping about Tory cheeseparing despite having at all times advocated digging the Covid money pit. Don’t think it will happen? Stick around. Certain lefties I know are very reliable bellwethers, and they are starting to get bored with the pandemic: it’s gone on too long, and the opportunities to indulge those leftist passions of virtue signalling and denouncing others have not been as straightforward as they may at first have seemed. Somehow, despite being the result of public health mandarins’ love of worst-case scenarios, fallout from the lockdown is going to have to be presented as another shit-show from the wicked Tories. This will be a trend. I have little time for Boris as PM but if he’d somehow discovered a vaccine himself, he’d still be portrayed as pure evil. If he had tried to avoid a lockdown he would have been a monster; having a lockdown and spending a Cobyntastically enormous sum on related matters makes him terrible as well. He can’t win. Still, that’s the job.

Anyway, hang on, this is a drinks column.

My discovery, well, rediscovery, this month has been Santodeno’s sangiovese (£10 from Sainsbury’s). I have written here before of my pleasure in Italian ‘peasant’ wine. Everything you will need to know about the wine-snob end of sangiovese can, naturally, be found on wiki but let me tell you the best bit here and now: sangiovese derives its name from the Latin sanguis Jovis: The blood of Jupiter. Isn’t that great, fellow word lovers?

I bought a bottle of Santodeno’s sangiovese last year and was wowed by it but in all the mayhem of Covid I had forgotten it. I happened to be in Sainsbury’s when I spotted and renewed the acquaintance. I was cooking that evening at my parents’ house, a punchy Calabrian speciality of my own devising which I call spaghetti coglioni, recipe below. Coglioni being Italian slang for testicles. You’ll see why.

I was keen to know if the Santodeno sangiovese would be all that I remembered it being. I was not disappointed. Bold and full of berries and dark fruits, with a corresponding tiny touch of festive sweetness, it was also smooth as silk and even had a bit of complexity once the bottle had breathed a while. We were transported from this dark and unhappy land to Tuscany, a splendid country of the mind at any time, but very much so right now.


In a beer scene so completely dominated by the hipster hop fetish, one of my little interests is squirrelling out the exact opposite: the malty ales which I enjoy. Bishop’s Finger we all know. I renewed my acquaintance with this fine beer the other Saturday in a beautiful south London park. Myself and a pal beguiled a lockdown afternoon therein, with a selection of bottled beer. Bishop’s Finger 5.4% ABV, which describes itself as a strong Kentish ale, is named after the finger-shaped signs which gave direction to pilgrims on their way to Becket’s tomb in Canterbury. It is one of the oldest bottled beers still going, having been first brewed in the Fifties when malt came off the ration. Shepherd Neame make it in Faversham, a town I like with a very good pub in its marketplace, the Bear. The brewers use their artesian water and, so the website informs me, some archaic rule demands that only the head brewer can brew it and it can only be made on a Friday. We like these little traditions, and we trust you do too.

The other ale I took to our park drinks was Hobgoblin Ruby, 5.2% ABV in bottles. Here is toffeeville, here is caramel courtesy of chocolate and crystal malts mixed with Fuggles and Styrian Golding hops. It’s a lovely piece of work. I remembered the old Hobgoblin beer mats from years ago: ‘What’s the matter, lager boy, frightened you might taste something?’

The rain fell in a thin mist but we found a bench under a fir tree that acted as a very effective umbrella. We spoke about mental health and how a certain amount of sloth had crept into our lives with the pandemic. For instance in my bathroom several weeks previously, I noticed a large moth had become trapped in a cobweb near the ceiling. When I switched on the light he fluttered but could not escape. I like moths, who, as I see it, are NCOs to the butterflies’ officer class. But I did not rescue him and he expired in the web. Every morning until a few days before the park meeting I would see him hanging there, the cobweb his funerary shroud. One day I could take it no more and fetched the vaccum cleaner, up which he went, cobweb and all. For now he rests in the mausoleum of the hoover. Hold this thought: you will have a better Christmas than that moth. And on that note, I bid you a very Merry Christmas. Cook the recipe given below, drink some sangiovese with it, and try not to think about January.

Spaghetti coglioni (serves two)

3-5 Italian sausages (M&S do good ones)

Half a jar of any Calabrian hot sauce such as bomba or nduja

1 tin of cherry tomatoes

Fat teaspoon of tomato purée

1 tablespoon of finely chopped garlic

1 large onion, finely chopped

A good handful of De Cecco spaghetti or any pasta of your choice (I like spaghettini when you can get it)

Salt, white pepper and black pepper

2 pinches of mixed herbs

Squeeze the filling from the sausage skins and discard the skins. Form the meat into small balls. Slowly fry the onions for a while in a little butter and olive oil then put the balls in the pan to brown. This done, sprinkle in the garlic and fry for 30 seconds to a minute, taking care not to let it burn in the slightest – it will become acrid if you do. Drop in the Calabrian sauce, tomatoes and their juice plus the purée, some salt and white pepper and a bit of water. Turn up the heat and get the whole thing bubbling for a few minutes, then turn the heat down to medium, cover and simmer for about 40 minutes. Mix a knob of butter in just before serving and garnish with ground black pepper. Tip your cooked spaghetti into a warm serving dish and smother in sauce. Serve – with sangiovese.

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