Aspall Cyder - Cider and Vinegar

5 drinks from my first Thanksgiving

13th January 2015

Henry's Travels

Cider – or ciderkin as it was referred to in the day, was listed alongside Cheate bread and Butter on the "Bill of Fare" for the Plimoth Plantation 1627 Harvest Dinner with the Pilgrims. Conjecture remains as to exactly what this liquid really was, but cider was at the heart of Thanksgiving meals for many a long year since. Much has changed, both in drinking habits in the US, and the celebration itself; so given that, plus the fact we were in wine country, I have no issue swerving from the history books in my drinks choice.
  • Rae’s Bloody Mary

    What better way to start your Thanksgiving Day feeding than with a Bloody Mary for brunch?

    Thanksgiving Dinner is usually mid-afternoon sometime, and with a lot to prepare even with the generous help of Whole Foods, a brunch of eggs and Rae’s Bloody Mary mix set us up well for the thanking to come.

    Bloody Marys can be as divisive as Martini’s; so many have a view on them, but here is an oh-so-simple recipe that delivers every time. Rae refers to these as “the playa-fied version” – so born of Burning Man. A minimum fuss, maximum output recipe that lends itself so well to the harsh environment of the desert and as it happened here, deep in the redwood forest of Russian River.

    It goes like this - a combo of regular V8 juice, spicy V8 juice, chilled vodka (important for the desert) and spicy pickle juice. Garnish if you feel the need.

    I know, I already hear the cries of “cheat”. “where’s the sherry?”, “what about the muddled cucumber?” and so on. Yes, fine, many a qualified mixologist – both amateur and professional – will be sure they can make something both more intricate and better to taste. But in terms of accessibility, both in the making and consuming, I defy anyone to come up with a recipe that is both this simple, and this delicious. 

    And there is the key to so much about food and drink – it’s the simple things, done effectively, that should make the greatest impression. 
  • 2. Thomas George “Concrete”, 2011 Chardonnay

    We visited a few wineries on our Russian River tour; as a very broad generalisation, the better looking the outlet, the worse the wine and vice versa.

    True, on this trip we found breaches of that particular rule both ways, and Thomas George certainly fell into the “nice place, decent wine” category. On the whole, most vineyards we passed, and the wineries we visited majored on Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. 

    We didn’t taste a great Pinot Noir the whole trip – at least, not one from California. As a grape, it works best in a colder climate, so regions such as Oregon, parts of Washington, as well as New Zealand and Northern France are where it is most at home. California? Too hot, and the resulting wines we tried were all out of balance, not enough acidity from the growing conditions to give it great drinkability. And boy, are they expensive – particularly when placed against the better New Zealand equivalents you can get at most decent wine shops.

    What we did taste, were some great Chardonnays, and this one was a standout. Based on the Westside Road, north of Russian River, this is a very welcoming place to visit, complete with “cave” tasting rooms and a scenic picnic spot we took full advantage of. The name of this wine is derived from the concrete egg tank that it is fermented in. They add no yeast, but rely on the local natural strain; fermentation is slow and maturation allows for minimal filtration of the wine. The wine itself has a fresh, green grape aroma. The fruit forward is clean and crisp with a full, rich body with hints of citrus. Finish is clean and moreish. 

    Did well with the leftover turkey sandwiches we prepared for the trip, and was a gravy marriage made in heaven.
  • 3. Sandhi, Santa Barbara County, California – 2012

    Ok, so not strictly speaking a wine from this region, Santa Barbara is actually closer to Los Angeles than to San Francisco.

    Russian River is in what’s called North Coast; Santa Barbara is South Central Coast, and down there on the whole it is hotter and the wines fuller, lower in acid with a higher alcohol. And on the whole, not my cup of tea. But then there’s Santa Barbara, and a geography that allows the ocean to have a dramatic effect on the vines and the wines they produce.  I would love to claim this as my own personal discovery but I have to doff my cap to my colleague Colin to whom I defer on all things vinous. It was he who educated me on this particular region when I informed him we were headed to wine country.

    The wine itself I found on the list of the Farmhouse Inn, an extremely well renowned Inn and eatery in Russian River. It was here we dined the day after Thanksgiving when done with all the cooking and washing up. Not quite Michelin starred, the menu is extensive, with plenty of local and excellent fayre. They do offer a wine pairing tasting menu, which to my surprise only included overseas wines. That wasn’t what we were here for. So into the menu I dived, and this is what I came up with.

    Sandhi are based in the Santa Rita Hills area, and are relatively new to the game being founded in 2010. The best way I can describe this wine is a cross between a Chablis and a White Burgundy; as far from the flabby, strong, oaked variants of the grape as I would imagine coming from a hotter climate. The colour is a gorgeous and enticing gold that offers up a fresh and zesty aroma; body and structure are well balanced and there is a delicate salinity running through it. The finish is long and lively. 

    This matched pretty much all of our starters – I found it particularly delightful with my grilled octopus. Definitely would look out for these guys again. 
  • 4. Halcón “Esquisto”, Yorkville Highlands, California – 2011

    Another dive into the wine list at the Farmhouse Inn revealed this beauty.

    Grenache is the mainstay of Chateau-Neuf-du-Pape, so to spy this on the menu, grown in California, it was too tempting not to try a bottle. The blend was actually 40% Grenache, with 30% Mourvedre and 30% Syrah making up the numbers. All these vines I was informed, grown above 2,000 feet in Mendocino County.

    I wasn’t sure what to expect, and was a little concerned when the wine poured – it had a pronounced purple colour, but also looked a little opaque, and I feared would be a little mean. 

    I needn’t have worried. A spicy aroma of cherries and berries rose majestically from the glass. The mouthfeel was exceptional, silky smooth in texture with a harmonious tannin structure. It offered flavours of black cherry, a soft pepperiness with a tiny hint of cacao nib. The ripeness of the flavour carried right through to a full yet soft finish. 

    A fabulous food accompaniment on the night, I fancy this would be a great Autumnal aperitif. 
  • 5. Dogfish Head 60 minute IPA

    If I were shipped off to a desert island and told I had to choose one beer for the entirety of my stay, this would be the one.

    My love for it is matched only by my frustration that I cannot get hold of it in the UK; although if what a little bird recently told me is true, that will change in 2015. It will be a good year.

    Dogfish Head are a mighty US craft brewer; opened in 1995 by the charismatic Sam Calagione, it produces in excess of 175,000 barrels of beer annually. No small beer.

    And this is by no means a small beer; it is continually hopped over 60 minutes with 60 hop additions. ABV is a not so mighty 6%, but at 60 IBU’s (that’s a measure of bitterness) it certainly packs a punch on that front. But it is a baby by comparison to the 90 and 120 minute variants – the former the first out of the Dogfish Head stable. Or tank.
    It wasn’t difficult when compiling our list of drinks to take up to Russian River to add a couple of 6 packs of 60 minute IPA in. We were after all going to watch “The Game” on Thanksgiving afternoon, and what could be more traditional Americana than a 6 pack and a game of gridiron. (The game in question was the 49ers vs the Seahawks; the 49ers got whooped. “Hell Yeah!” etc…).

    This beer is as formidable as the Seahawks were on the day; it pours a deep copper hue with a creamy looking head. Whilst there are strong hints of freshly mown grass, the aroma is dominated by pine resin and grapefruit. The flavour is wonderfully mouth filling, coating the tongue with resin and orange pith, all carried by a malty sweetness that gives great balance. 

    More please. Roll on 2015.