January 25th is, as our Scottish cousins are well aware, Burns Night (or more accurately Burns Supper, or even more accurately Burns Nicht). Traditionally a celebration of the life of the poet Robert Burns, he is honoured by the consumption of haggis, washed down with scotch whisky.
There is a lot of pomp and ceremony surrounding the precise order of events and the presentation of the haggis, which has fortunately been annotated by Wikipedia, saving us the trouble of copying it out again here. Likewise Scotland.org ("The Official Gateway to Scotland", excluding the M74 of course) has a wealth of information on their National Poet, including a free iPhone app containing the complete works of the man himself, should you be interested.
The haggis itself is a mysterious beast - there’s even a vegetarian version of it available now, which is presumably easier to hunt down and catch – and should you be tempted to make one yourself The Guardian has instructions here, complete with a full list of (oft-discarded) ingredients. Making a haggis yourself is probably going too far – considering how long it takes just to cook the thing, a shop-bought haggis is a good idea. Serve with potatoes and turnips – tatties and neaps – both mashed, and follow with a Tipsy Laird (whisky trifle).
Essentially the haggis is a cross between prepared tripe and a spicy sausage, simple peasant fare, and good ones really are a welcome treat at this time of year. If you don’t fancy whisky with your haggis though, don’t despair – as wine expert Jonathan Ray recently pointed out in The Field magazine, Burns himself would quite likely have washed his down with claret, given half a chance:
The dinner being over, the claret they ply,/ And every new cork is a new spring of joy;/ In the bands of old friendship and kindred so set,/ And the bands grew the tighter the more they were wet.
(From Burn’s poem ‘The Whistle’, which describes a six bottles a-piece claret drinking competition!)
Whilst we couldn’t possibly condone this irresponsible over-consumption, we can recommend some sterling wines with which to toast the poet on his birthday, all of which have the Rhône / Provence herby spiciness to marry nicely with the haggis:
Neagles Rock Shiraz 2006 - an attractive bouquet of black berries and a complex palate of juicy, dark, ripe fruit with warming oaky undertones.
Côtes du Rhône Villages Rasteau: Saint Gayan 2007 - dark ruby colour, copious quantities of chocolate and black cherry flavours and warming tannins.
Pic Saint-Loup L’Arbousse 2009- A rich, compelling red wine with vivid garrigue fruit aromas, an earthy palate and fine-grained tannins.
Domaine La Tour Vieille: Collioure, Puig Oriol 2007 - a dense, dark, brooding red wine that is essential Collioure.
Traditionally, the evening is rounded off with a rousing rendition of Auld Lang Syne. I’m sure the poet (and your neighbours) wouldn’t mind if you missed that bit though…