Commuter Belters 3: Waitrose Maris Organic Rosé

We’ve sampled gin in a tin. We’ve sampled a heinous vermouth and tonic. What convenience beverage next for our thirsty commuter? This week, the fine folk at Waitrose have provided an enticing can of pink wine…

Now, I don’t usually buy rose in a bottle, let alone a goddamn can. But against the siren song of a yellow Waitrose reduced label — together, of course, with the prospect of masochism for your amusement, dear reader — I’m powerless.

And that’s how I come to be toting this rather fetching can of Maris Organic Rosé. Trying with all my might to disregard the last time I tried commuter-orientated wine.

So let’s crack it open and get this over with.

Jesus hell. Sniff the newly opened can and it smells like lager. Hideous! Give it a few minutes to ‘breathe’ (though I’m not sure it’s capable of respiration, to be honest) and the beery stench gradually dissipates, but I’m afraid you’ll be pining for that lost aroma soon enough. Because now — now — it smells even more horrific. Like a cross between overcooked cabbage and a Venetian canal in high summer.

But I disregard the warning signs and take a swig. For you, reader. For you. The good news, I suppose, is that it tastes better than it smells. This is not, alas, a high bar, insofar as it doesn’t taste of damp flannels and sewage. Instead, it just tastes like the most mean-spirited rose you’ve ever had the misfortune to share an evening with. Spiteful, miserly, acerbic. This is the vinous equivalent of a sour, Brexitty old geriatric whose years of reading the Daily Mail and curtain twitching have sucked away any joy and softness of spirit. Squint your tastebuds and you can just about make out the mournful ghost of some supermarket own-label strawberry jam, which I suppose must be the ‘gorgeous [fruit]’ referred to on the can.

It’s actually worse than I expected (and, believe me, I expected bad). I thought I was in for saccharine, Blush-Zinfandel-esque stuff: wine for people who actually still have the tastebuds of a five-year-old. But, y’know, just as the dumbest, most sugary pop song can in a certain light be impressive, so can a genuinely crowd-pleasing wine. But this, this is just grim. There’s no art to it, not even that of catering to the lowest common denominator.

I think I’d actually choose the can of M&S Vermouth & Tonic over this foul muck. I’d flush the remnants down the nearest South Western Railway loo, were I not genuinely concerned for the wellbeing of the staff who maintain the tracks where it might end up.

Peasant Life: countryside, gin and stew. But no bloody giblets.

The other day I felt peasanty. I often feel peasanty. So I went to Waitrose (very much in the manner of a typical peasant) looking for thrifty cuts of meat.

Why is it so bloody difficult to find non-prime cuts of meat? Waitrose is better than most supermarkets, but still, try finding breast of lamb, or beef shin, or oxtail, or ANYTHING WITH SODDING GIBLETS WHATSOEVER. (Except the customers and staff, I guess. They must have giblets. But I doubt they’re for sale.)

I realise the lack of supermarket giblets reflects the realities of supply and demand. I shouldn’t be irritated at Waitrose, you’ll tell me in that patronising manner you sometimes adopt; I should be irritated that nobody buys giblets. I should be irritated at people in general.

Well, joke’s on you. I am already irritated at people in general. For so, so many reasons.

(Joke may actually be on me.)

Christ, get on with it, Parn.

So. Grubbing around in the refrigerator cabinets of Petersfield Waitrose I chanced upon some lamb ribs. Not a common find in Peef Waitrose, let me tell you. So I elbowed a few dithering OAPs squarely in the giblets and shouldered them roughly aside — and lobbed those ribs straight into my basket.

We’ve loads of carrots, potatoes and onions, thanks to our excellent (if occasionally chaotically administered) vegetable box. So while ribs aren’t the classic cut of lamb for an Irish stew, they’re bony and fatty. Which is good enough for me.

Now, what you need after the giblet-free geriatric scrimmage of a weekend visit to Petersfield Waitrose is either (a) an immediate escape to the quiet of the countryside or (b) a strong gin and tonic. I opted for (a) then (b).

A misty South Downs landscape, taken in the countryside near Petersfield in Hampshire

That gin and tonic is worth talking about, actually. Hampshire Navy Strength gin (£36.99 from General Wine) and Fever Tree Light tonic water, with big boulders of ice and a sprig of rosemary. This is a very good gin, let me tell you. A true silken-gloved thump of a gin, thanks to its hoofing 57% ABV. It’s made just up the road in Winchester, and it’s damn fine stuff. A bit of smoke from the tea they use as one of the botanicals, and the buttery smoothness imparted by the high alcohol content. Grab some if you chance upon it, dear reader. I’ll probably review this beast before long, as I like it rather a lot.

Bottle of Hampshire Navy Strength Gunpowder Gin

Anyhow, back to the lamb ribs. My preferred Irish Stew recipe is simple: lob a few sliced onions, some chunks of carrot, some peeled potatoes, loads of black pepper and a tablespoon or two of pearl barley into a big pot along with the lamb pieces. Cover with water and bring it to the boil, then simmer (gently, gently!) for a good long time… Several hours, please. The potato gradually melts and thickens the cooking liquid, while the onion turns ghostly and diaphanous and the lamb disintegrates. Outstanding.

If you have the self-control, make the stew a day ahead and then reheat when you’re ready to eat it, as (like most stews) its flavours improve that way.

When you can wait no longer, season to taste and add loads of rough-chopped parsley. I had mine with a bottle of the blindingly cheap Chapelle de Pena 2015 from The Wine Society, but the buggers seem to have stopped listing it. Probably because someone bulk-bought the lot. But something cheap and rustic feels, y’know, appropriately peasanty.

Bottle of Chapelle de Pena in front of a pot of Irish Stew

Anyway, I love eating like this because it’s incredibly simple, it generates virtually no washing up, and it’s bloody cheap. A pack of lamb ribs costs well under a fiver, and lamb breast or neck, if you can find it, is similarly thrifty. My single glass of gin & tonic probably cost me more than the whole portion of Irish stew I ate. Now, you may retort that you don’t need to save money by scrimping like a peasant — and that’s fine; good for you, your lordship. But I think there’s something conceptually satisfying about making a sodding delicious dinner for extremely little money — and, if you set aside the challenge of finding the meat in the first place, plus the effort required to clear your path of bumbling geriatrics, similarly minimal effort.

I still want some giblets, mind.