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Agas, Pheasants and Bare-Knuckle Boxing




Beech roots and leaves at Danebury Ring





We have been tasting a large number of wines of late, both at home and at various supplier tastings. Our brief has widened with the launch of The Daily Drinker, so that we are now keeping 'em peeled for yes, those wines that will rise, like loaves in the baking oven of an Aga, into a state of plump readiness with time in the cellar and, yes, delicious nuggets for everyday consumption; but now we are also interested in the lovely oddballs, too: those wines that people really should be drinking and aren't. And we have been meeting with success across the board.

I am not blind to the fact that we have offered some rather pricy wines of late and I thought that, in deference to the puddle of mouldy gravy that is the global economy, I might bring to Bowes Wine clients a number of wines that offer real interest, will develop into something really special with cellaring and that also represent excellent value. One of the key places to go trawling for such wines is the south of France and I have already found a couple of luscious rubies; gems of exciting and faceted character. One of them also happens to have just come 78th in The Wine Spectator's 100 Wines of 2008.

On the subject of Agas, we were at my sister's house in Surrey the other day and, having decided that a cup of tea might go some way to easing the stresses of modern living, I duly lifted the lid of the hot plate and set down a kettle so to provide super-heated H2O for just such a beverage. Distracted by some complex topic that was being poked back and forth about the room by the assembled conversationalists, I joined in, leaving my hand resting on the handle of said kettle. Next thing I knew, the lid of the Aga has dropped onto the back of my hand. The combined shock of the burn and the weight of a substantial piece of falling ironmongery suggested to my subconscious brain that I withdraw my extremity sharpish, an action that caused the removal of much of the skin from my knuckles. I am becoming tired of people asking about the wound, so have taken to muttering "you should see the other guy" when asked, perhaps adding a slight curl of the lip to suggest that I am of that band of characters quite capable of exchanging blows with a like minded individual, perhaps by the bins in a pub carpark.

And on the subject of not just Agas, but ovens more generally, it being the season for such things I cooked a brace of pheasants the other day. Now, I am usually a tad lazy about prepping birds for the pot and most often "breast" the beasts, there being not a great deal more than the breast about them to enjoy. However, I spent some time and cleaned up two hen birds in short-ish order and cast my eye among the pages of Prue Leith's excellent tome Leith's Cookery Bible. Following the recipe rather more closely than is usual, I procured some strips of pork fat which I tied around the birds, smearing the exposed remainder with butter, dandruffing the whole with salt and pepper and then placing in a baking dish containing half an inch of water. Through no skill of mine, something truly extraordinary was forthcoming. Both Victoria and I stated that we'd never eaten such good pheasant before. It's a dish that will be made again before there are too many more leaves on the ground. Doesn't game make the cold months of the year an altogether better place to be?
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