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Make time to stand and stare

Jun 1, 2018 5:50 AM

THE practice of the after-dinner drink - long-cherished by the English gentry and enshrined by the practice of gentlemen retiring to the library while ladies repaired to the parlour - has sadly been rather neglected, to our loss.

The after-dinner drink was, by and large, port - from non-vintage to venerable vintage.

Madeira is another drink, both before and after, (but generally after), hence the oft-repeated "Madeira, my dear . . ." to the bright young lady of one's admiration, in the attempt to further induce her into a sense of well-being, relaxed and . . .

Last week, I was delighted that one of our dinner party group had the brilliant idea of bringing along a Madeira, a D'Olivera Sercial Madeira 1971.

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D'Oliveira Sercial Madeira 1971

A medium-dark brown opaque liquid, with a seductively rich sweet floral bouquet of very ripe dark berry fruit, a heavy bouquet which hung around at the back of one's mouth and nasal passages, a palate of deeply ripe sweet berry fruit reminiscent of over-ripe citrus fruit with sweet tarry and chocolatey notes, ending cleanly and smoothly, leaving a lingering sweetness on the palate.

And an impulse to reach for another mouthful, so seductive was the effect.

D'Oliveira Reserva Verdelho Madeira 1890

Transparent medium-brown colour, a lovely full bouquet, quite alcoholic, very sweet, like brown sugar but with lots of fine acidity, smooth long lingering finish. Lovely wine, astonishingly youthful-tasting for its age.

Madeira comes from the island of Madeira, which explains its name. It comes in four forms: Sercial from the white grape (from which it is named) grown on the island of Madeira and is one of the four fortified wine mades in Madeira, the others being Verdelho, Bual and Malmsey, in ascending order of sweetness.

It is also the lightest, the driest and the most acidic. The year 1971 indicates that the wine is from a single vintage year, and had been aged a minimum of 20 years.

My own personal choice is the Malmsey as I prefer my dessert wines to be sweet. One other useful note about Madeira: It is capable of extremely long life as a result of its high-ish alcohol content.

The decline in the practice of serving dessert wines to the point that it is almost completely absent is regrettable.

It is, in the long term, detrimental to both our physical and mental health. I find that lingering after dinner over a dessert wine - be it Sauternes or Madeira or port - very relaxing in these days of impatient haste.

"What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows."
- Leisure,William Henry Davies, 1871-1914

In a Stanford University study of the effects of taking a nature walk, such as through a garden, as opposed to a walk in town, a brain scan showed reduced activity in the area of the brain linked to mental illness.

This ia a finding which is cause for serious thought. We need space, a period of time out of our often frenetic pace of life.

We need to re-think our conviction that keeping very or even too busy is necessary in order to "get ahead", whatever that means.

Time to stand and stare. It is a line which often comes to mind, and it persuades me to slow down.

Time to stand and stare, and that is where the after-dinner pause comes in, accompanied by a glass of wine, port or Madeira - whatever the personal preference. Or even a cup of coffee or tea, or glass of water.

The important thing is the stillness and the quiet reflection. But all too often, the reply to the suggestion to stand and stare is: "No time."

That might be true but one suspects that most times, the "busy" describes "running around in circles". Most of us are guilty of that some time or other - some more than others.

Hence the need to stand and stare, emptying one's mind of the myriad of inconsequential things so as to focus only on the essentials.

Alternatively, take a walk through a garden or through a forest, or through MacRitchie Reservoir. Even one's own garden, perhaps. Anywhere away from the city and all its hustle and bustle.

And the best time? After dinner sitting on the terrace with a glass of port or Madeira.