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Perfect wines for imperfect times: Madeira and stale pastries

With much of the world now in lockdown, db is launching a new service for our home-based readers: we’ll select the ideal wine to soothe your domestic disagreements, starting with a Madeira for a squabble over stale pastries.

Even a pain au chocolate can incite rage during the coronavirus lockdown

Although I’m sure you will have read plenty of worthy advice about managing family life during this strange period of home-based schooling, working, dining, and exercising, let’s face it, living together in this enforced manner is the source of a huge amount of arguing.

You may have started the lockdown with a strict routine, setting your alarm at the same time as normal, even dressing as though you’re about to do the usual commute, as well as planning the indoor equivalent of an outdoor exercise drill, while setting meal times, and being a civil and sensitive partner to a loved one, and a patient parent to little ones.

But after a few days under the same roof, you’re getting up later, working in pyjamas,  becoming increasingly sedentary, snacking on sweets, and eschewing the hard work of preparing roasted feasts, while finding everyone around you increasingly annoying.

Thankfully, there’s always wine, with its instant powers to enhance your mood – when consumed in moderation of course, and preferably at the end of the day, not immediately after breakfast.

Now, with the disorder that comes from setting your own schedule, it seems unsuitable to try and pair a wine to the perfect moment, or a particular dish – which probably can’t be created with bare shelves and shut-up specialist retailers thanks to Covid-19.

Rather, it seems more apt to match wine with what I imagine is most commonly occurring in households under lockdown – arguments.

Of course such disagreements may take many forms, from little altercations over stacking the dish-washer to big set-tos over parenting techniques.

Now, I would welcome suggestions from our readers, so if you can please send me what you’ve been arguing about, I will reward your honesty with a suitable wine for the altercation. If you want to remain anonymous, I of course understand, and please let me know.


To get the ball rolling, I shall begin with some sources of disagreement from my own house, which I share with my wife Ettie, and two children, Bea (aged 12) and Ottilie (who is six).

The most recent concerned a packet of pain au chocolate. I’ll then provide a wine that could provide calm to the situation (if not necessarily a solution to the disagreement).

A reader writes…

Dear db,

In these uncertain times, a Blitz spirit has descended on our house. We’re all mucking in, but our fundamental outlooks are diametrically opposed. My approach to life is entirely Catholic: an endless cycle of indulgence and contrition; while I suspect my husband is a closet Protestant; I imagine he’d have found Cromwell a bit naff. He is frenziedly frugal, abhorring waste even in times of clover, and has responded to the corona-conditions with crazed relish.

In an uncustomary fit of economy in Waitrose, masked upped, a fortnight ago, I spotted some cut-price mini pains au chocolat, to be eaten sharpish. I figured they’d be fine heated up the following morning; however, a week later, I found them lingering listlessly in the furthest reaches of the pantry. Confident I could pull a fast one, I hid them in the bin, lest my husband should spot them in the compost.

My duplicity was unmasked on one of his hourly scourings of our household waste products, and he was enraged, foaming at the mouth about how my behaviour will have us on the streets before long. I explained that eating them would necessitate a visit to the emergency dentist, but he’s as stubborn as he is parsimonious.

What libation should I have turned to in my hour of need?

Dear reader,

Arguing about out-of-date foodstuffs is a common disagreement among couples during the lockdown stockpiling taking place right now.

However, your source of frustration is highly specific, requiring something rare in the world of wine: a drink providing instant relief to rage, and a reminder that the only perishable product that reliably improves with time is great wine.

I also believe the best way to deal with such an altercation is to consume something that never goes off. A product that starts life fully mature, and therefore has no use-by date.

While a range of fortified wines come to mind, especially aged tawny Port, I think Madeira would pair wonderfully with a pain au chocolate, particularly one hardened with time, with its combination of sweet and woody flavours.

Although the instant fiery caramel hit from a Henriques & Henriques 20 year old Verdelho would indeed soothe the brow, should one be sharing this bottle with your stale pastry scoffing partner, he would appreciate something richer and sweeter to take on the challenge of a cellared pain au chocolate.

And so my perfect wine for this imperfect time is a Boal Madeira from Pereira d’Oliveira. I’m suggesting the 1988 vintage, because that is the last great aged example of this type I tasted blind, as it featured in the latest version of db’s Global Fortified Masters – where it was one of the best samples of the competition.

I suggest sipping it chilled from a large wine glass while you watch him chew his way through the dried-out pastry and dark chocolate.

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