It is hard to assess the wisdom of the proverb which counsels never looking a gift horse in the mouth as many a gift horse would benefit from a good buccal inspection. The concept is that we should be grateful for what we are given and that overly close inspection can cause offence. An unlabelled bottle of wine has nestled in our depleted wine rack for an unconscionable length of time owing to its lack of credentials. If being without a label is a disadvantage for mere store cupboard tinned goods then it is life threatening for a bottle of wine, particularly if that wine is from the bocage of the Vendée. Even the vagabonds of old, that lived by begging, dreaded their passage through the Vendée which had already built a reputation for producing frighteningly dreadful wines from their local, and now outlawed, Noa and Othello grapes. The Othello produces methanol on a level only found in absinthe and, as with absinthe, it was rumoured to drive one mad. The fact that “Britain has Talent” even exists has already driven me mad so I was eager to draw the cork on this dark beauty whose only identity lay in the numbers 2002 figuring on the exposed end of the cork in the mouth of the bottle. The colour was deep and delicious and the “legs” suggested an unlikely alcohol level so I necked a couple glasses. Sadly, but not madly, I realised it was quite an ordinary glass but not one at which a vagabond would turn up his nose. The main effect of the methanol was to inspire me to make a very good supper of sausages, mashed potatoes and onions. Mashed potatoes need care in their creation. They not only need care but also the right ingredients and the right tools. First put the peeled potatoes, cut into manageable pieces, into cold salted water and bring them to the boil. Drain them in a colander when cooked and pass them through a potato ricer. Now is the time to add butter, salt, white pepper, an egg and enough creme fraiche and milk to create a creamy smooth ambrosia. Goes very well with forbidden grapes.
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