Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Sweetest Fruit is Stolen Fruit ™



A well-trained and mysteriously financed gang of marauding thieves invaded Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma in the dark of night and ruthlessly plundered prized wine grapes for heretofore unexplained purposes. The theft became even more bizarre when it became obvious that particular varieties in selected vineyards became the target of these curious raids.

(No, not really.)

A chef in Sonoma engaged in a conspiracy with two Dry Creek Valley grape growers to unmask one of the best kept secrets of wine country living. With great cunning they laid the plans to boldly reveal the far limits of fruity aromas and flavors possible only to those who live amongst the world’s best vineyards.  Their plans recently came to fruition (sorry) with a new brand, Stolen Fruit Cocktail Mixers.

(Closer, but not quite.)
The chef and the grape growers are real, but altruistic more than nefarious in their attempts to showcase the essential quality of fruit from grapes grown for fine wine. They’re doing it with Stolen Fruit Cocktail Mixer.

If you’ve lived amongst the vineyards and enjoyed the bounty of the land, you know about verjus.  It’s simple (as most great things are): the unfermented juice of grapes captured fresh in the bottle.  Verjus is marvelous for cocktails (even the non-alcoholic ones, or perhaps especially for those) and adding flavor and aroma to your dishes.

Quick, Easy, Taaty!  Stolen Fruit Blood Orange
Muscat, Ron Zacapa 23yo Solera Rum, sparkling
water, orange bitters and ice.
The Stolen Fruit trio decided to make the magic of verjus more readily available to the public by selecting choice single-variety grape juice from aromatic winegrapes---Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Grenache, Zinfandel---and judiciously blending the verjus in various recipes using other fruits, herbs, and spices.

The results are fruity explosions of flavor useful for drinking or cooking.

You can enjoy Stolen Fruit quite simply by splashing a couple of ounces in a tall glass and topping with seltzer or soda for an exotic range of flavor-driven non-alcoholic sippers.  Or you can go that one step further and add your favorite spirits, wines, beers, or ciders to the mix. Finally, Stolen Fruit could easily become your standby for easy-peasy fruit vinaigrettes for all those fresh summery salads
Stolen Fruit comes in five enticing renditions, each showcasing a particular variety combined with companionable additions.  The ingredient list alone makes the mouth water in anticipation.

A Garden of Earthly Delights
Stolen Fruit Lemongrass Ginger Sauvignon with
Encanto Peruvian Pisco.
A slap in the face ginger spice (Please, sir,
may I have aother>) with the soft caress of
lemongrass

The Flavor Range: 


·        Jasmine-Juniper Viognier –Viognier verjus, organic juniper berries, organic green jasmine tea, dried grape skins.

·        Lemongrass Ginger Sauvignon – Sauvignon Blanc verjus, dried lemongrass, organic dried ginger, organic lemon juice, dried grape skins, lemongrass oil. 

·        Blood Orange Muscat - blood orange concentrate, filtered water, muscat verjus, dried grape skins, star anise extract, cloves, organic allspice, organic vanilla extract. 

·        Hibiscus Grenache –grenache verjus, dried hibiscus flowers, organic cinnamon, organic dried ginger, dried grape skins, star anise extract, cloves, orange extract.

·        Fig-Grains of Paradise Zin -mission fig concentrate, zinfandel verjus, grains of paradise, dried grape skins, organic vanilla extract.

Stolen Fruit Hibiscus Grenache, Boulard Calvados VSOP, La
Croix Pamplemousse Sparkling Water, and  AZLab Sunshine
Orange Bitters for a fruity explosion of flavor.
Even though Stolen Fruit is labeled as a “cocktail mixer”---and does a fine job of that---it performs to perfection as a sauce ingredient or base for different foods. 

Consider, for starters, stir fried shrimp with Lemongrass Ginger Sauvignon; a rich meaty grilled steak with the Fig-Grains of Paradise Zin (and admit it, just the thought of those together makes you hungry); grilled chicken or roasted pork with Hibiscus-Grenache; Blood Orange Muscat with duck, or as a salmon glaze; as an appetizer with mild cheeses, or a glaze with char-grilled prawns and scallops.  The possibilities are endless.

You can find Stolen Fruit at their website here. They have recipes galore, lots of good usage suggestions, and a handy order page that makes selecting and shipping easy.

Get some!

Monday, September 12, 2016

New Deal Distillery releases Cascadia d'Amore American Bitter Aperitif

Celebrated Portland craft distillery New Deal
 launches its Northwest interpretation of a European herbal liqueur, 

the first in a series.




Tom Burkleaux finally admitted what had been preoccupying his time for the last year or so by releasing New Deal’s latest, the floral and herb bitter aperitif, Cascadia d’Amore.

One of the real benefits of being a craft distillery in the Pacific Northwest is being able to make your own product your own way, without the pressure of absent overlords flourishing global market statistics and focus groups in your face while at the same time insisting you pare the costs to the bone, because ROI. 

The other is the abundance of fresh, pure, local botanicals grown by actual people you can talk to and work with to get exactly what you want for your new project.

Burkleaux had both of those advantages, and he used them to masterful effect in his yearlong project to produce a bitter aperitif in the European tradition that reflected the particular nature of the Oregon Cascades.

Cascadia d’Amore is a bright yellow-white traditional alpine aperitif, of the type you’ll find in eastern France, Switzerland, and Austria.  Burkleaux established the base of Cascadia with two different bitters performing two different functions. Gentian provided a more leafy/floral bitterness and angelica root more woody, earthy tones, with each hitting the palate at different points.
Cocktail Time with Cascadia d'Amore

On this base, Burkleaux meticulously sourced and experimented with various local savory botanicals, with combination after combination and recipe after recipe. Finally, he settled on pungent lavender, herbal tarragon, and tiny organically grown rose buds as his key ingredients.

The abundant florality is immediately apparent, and the dual support of bitters adds a solid base that still plays well with the delicate aromatics, and remains light on the tongue and persistent in the finish.

Cascadia Collins
by Daniel Osborne
Bull in China
The Cascadia d’Amore would be a handy and versatile bottle to have around. Serve by itself, chilled or on the rocks, perhaps with a twist of either orange or lemon for a simple but profound aperitif. Or you could splash some Italian Prosecco in the glass for a slightly spritzy version (great with greasy potato chips and fat green olives, by the way).

A creative way to use a stimulative aperitif such as this is to incorporate it into the meal. Serve a small chilled glass of Cascadia d'Amore with Venetian-style Sardines in Saor, with the fresh sardine lightly crusted with flour and pan-sauteed to crispness and served with an Italian sweet-sour sauce.  The flavors are amazing, and gastric juices will be activated.

You could also use the Cascadia d’Amore as an interesting enhancement to a cocktail, perhaps in lieu of more assertive and heavy cocktail bitters.

Negroni Blanco/White Negroni
The Cascadia would also be a natural companion for gin. They would, as the saying goes, play well together. An ideal cocktail to begin with is the “White Negroni’, the brighter, lighter expression of Negroni with gin, Cascadia and Cocchi Americano from Turin..



The Cascadia d’Amore is a labor of love, crafted without compromise to pay tribute to the mountains and valleys of the Cascadia Range. It is a product of the place and the people that make Oregon unique.


Sunday, September 11, 2016

La Moule: Dream Pops, Bitter Belgian Blondes and Ptit Moules Frites


La Moule is a Portland treasure, a Frenchy mussels and beer joint seamlessly inserted into a funky neighborhood. Under the capable hands of Aaron Barnett (he of St. Jack fame) and Tommy Klus (St. Jack, Kask. Multnomah Whiskey Library, Blue Hour and others) it conveys the feel of a Parisian hangout plopped down on a Portland street like it has been there forever, teetering carefully between rustic simplicity (at which the French excel) and casual elegance (ditto), with that easy-going universal welcome that Portland is famous for.

Sit on the bar side of the two parallel rooms and it’s a bit darker, a bit more quiet, and comfy with a series of booths in which to sprawl. The bar is leveraged into the end of the room in an “L”; staffed with a great crew of beertappers and cocktail builders, they keep the room humming.

Dresm Pop
The cocktail menu at La Moule is engaging and catholic in its careful appeal to any and all. There is a small selection of low-alcohol aperitif drinks that manages to carry an astonishing array of flavors to get the gastric juices flowing.  The beer selection, although short, will cause even the most experienced tankard-hefters to swoon. And the cocktails are seriously fun.  Or serious and fun.  Mostly fun.  There’s a touch of whimsy there, without in the least compromising the quality.

We began with a Dream Pop (which lived up to its name), a frothy, foamy gin sour in a deep coupe. Gordon’s Gin (one of the most under-rated of the vast selection of gins) is laced with lemon, a delicate rose liqueur (not a typo, by the way, it’s rose as in the flower, not rosé as in the wine…although it is rosé pink in color), almond-rich orgeat syrup, egg white, and cardamom bitters.  All the ingredients mingle frivolously, each peeking out with its own aroma and flavor addition, but all combining for a fresh, light, lively, floral-botanical and slightly nutty confection. It is what it is: a Dream Pop.

Dream Pop with Butter Lettuce and Avoccado Salad
(Even Better!)

And by the way, since we invoked rosé, you should avail yourself of an altogether delightful and surprisingly powerful gamay rosé from France, the Laurent Gauthier Beaujolais-Villages Rosé .  This is what I call a stealth rosé, so lightly pink and water pale it lulls you into thinking there’ll be no substance there. Heh. 
Laurent Gauthier
Gamay Rose'

When it hits the palate, the lean, tart, compact intensity of the fruit registers, saliva flow spontaneously, and you contemplate, first, how good it will be with the food, and second, how good the next glass will be.  Don’t know where they got it, but this, my friends, is a keeper.

After that lovely butter lettuce, avocado and radish salad and some tasty bleu cheese croquettes(!), the Ptit Moules Frites arrive (a half serving for each of us, the classic Mariniere and a tomato-salami-spicy Diavolo,

Then I couldn’t resist any longer. A Duvel was calling my name, and when better than with a perfect bowl of mussels and frites?


Duvel is a buxom Belgian Blonde and is close to the epitome of that style in my personal pantheon of biere. One of my most cherished traditions when visiting France or Belgium is to find  Duvel (very easy to do) and have a “Biere Picon” in ritual progression: first, a glass of foamy rich Duvel, then a small admixture of Amer Picon, an orange liqueur in the second glass of Duvel. (Punter’s Tip: Since Amer Picon is not officially exported to the U.S., it’s not easy to find. But if you wish to try a similar experience, use Bigallet Viriana China-China instead. It is more bitter than the Picon, and packs more of a punch, and may actually be a better companion. (I have to experiment more before I make that declaration.  Research, research, research.

The cocktails, the beer, the wine and the superb moules frites (although you should not make the mistake of thinking said moules are the only game going; there’s a short but impressive list of other foods that deserve attention and ingestion) all combined to lull us into a stupor of the nicest kind.



)

Friday, September 9, 2016

It's September! Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is here!!!

If, as T.S. Eliot proclaims, April is the cruellest month, then September must be the finest.  The torrid days of summer are in decline and there is the barest hint of chill in the air, morning and evening. The dogwood trees carry red leaves in warning and the Rose of Sharon bushes brandish the last defiant pink and purple flowers.

September is also a month for bourbon drinkers. It is the month the Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is released.  This once yearly limited release has become a cherished tradition, celebrating its 15th Year honoring one of bourbon’s icons, George Garvin Brown, the founder of what was to become the Brown-Forman Company.

In his fierce drive for quality, the enterprising young pharmaceutical salesman had a simple but brilliant insight that made his fortune. Whiskey was a major pharmaceutical in the 1800s; however, it was sold in barrel only, and often “stepped on”, adulterated, by less than honorable profiteers. 

Brown rectified that by creating the first commercially available whiskey in clear glass bottles, labeled, sealed and signed with his name to guarantee the quality and purity of the whiskey. This was bourbon the way the distiller intended it to be, pure and untampered. Other distillers rushed to copy his method and success, but Old Forester (originally named after the most respected Doctor in Louisville, Old Doc Forrester; the spelling was slightly altered on the bottle) became the whiskey of choice for the most discerning drinkers.
Under George Garvin Brown and his descendants, Old Forester became embedded in bourbon lore; now it is the only bourbon made since the 1870s, through Prohibition (it had federal medical dispensation) and until today by the same family owners.


Fifteen years ago, to honor Mr. Brown, the prestige and persistence of Old Forester, and the prosperity of Brown-Forman Company. Birthday Bourbon was created.  Master Distiller Chris Morris (now with the assistance of Master Bourbon Specialist Jackie Zykan ) selects barrels of a single day’s distillery run that showed immediate promise of excellence and were placed in an ideal location in the rick house---in this case, high up near a west-facing window for maximum sun/heat exposure to enhance the maturation, then meticulously tracked it through its lifetime. The choicest barrels of the one-day run are selected when they are just right—usually twelve to thirteen years---then mingled and lightly diluted with pure water to the distiller’s choice.

Each release of Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is unique, a fiery liquid photograph of one day maintained, mellowed and matured for 12 years.

Morris uses his skills and intuition gained from years of husbanding Old Forester to its fruition. This is the ultimate in natural bourbon expression while remaining entirely true to its own tradition: the same mash bill, the same warehouse, the same aging and mingling process. The difference is the fiercely focused selection of the finest run of the year.


The 2016 is a spendid addition to the collection, certain to please any bourbon fan. Selected from 2004, and thus a twelve year old, the whiskey is amazingly fresh and lively. The emphasis is on the fruit and spice of a rye-heavy mash bill, with cherry liqueur lavishing the palate, immediately followed by pungent spice, the lively snap of fresh shredded ginger, a streak of butterscotch, a flash of Beeman’s Clove Gum (and who remembers that now?) and a light, bright, fresh tang of citrusy subtones that keeps it lively.

With any 12 Year Old bourbon, there will be wood notes, some so thuddingly dominant as to preclude the more subtle nuances. Not here; not in the Birthday Bourbon. The 2016 edition is restrained and elegant, not “woody” at all, with the vanilla and chocolate and chewy licorice in strong supporting roles but not dominant and never edging out the fruit and spice. It is a testament to Morris and Zykan that the superb balance of aromas and flavors exists in such harmony.

At a perfect delivery strength (for this particular whiskey) of 97 Proof, the whiskey maintains the style of Old Forester superbly; it never shows excessive heat or burn, finishes rich, and lingers long on the palate and warmly down the throat. At 97 Proof and 12 years, this bourb

When you see it, strike fast. With only 14,400 bottles produced it will not stay long on the shelves. And it would be a shame to miss a splendid bourbon such as this.
on beauty could almost be dubbed a “Triple-Bottled-In-Bond”.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Justin Siemer: Method, Madness and the Miele Mel


Let us make a cautious descent into the mind of Justin Siemer, real estate worker bee turned craft bartender. Not just a bartender, mind you, but a craft bartender. Siemer’s restless questing mind ponders aromatic and flavor combinations that tend to both surprise and delight those of us on the other side of the bar. His creations are, by the very definition of the word, crafted.

Siemer loves the constant counterplay of ingredients, and creates complex dynamics with his cocktails, as evidenced by one of his recent concoctions, the Miele Mel, which resides on the list at Americano PDX, that dual altar of Italo-chic coffee and cocktails on east Burnside recently named the Best Bar of the Year 2016 by The Oregonian's OregonLive.

At the Oregon Bartenders Guild Local Social, I had the occasion to try the Miele Mel.

Miele Mel by Justin Siemer
The Miele Mel is not just a drink to enjoy, although you surely will do so; it is a drink to consider, to contemplate, to sample slowly, repeatedly, noticing sharp contrasts along with subtle nuances.  It also seems, at first glance, a mish-mash of contradictory ingredients.  Ah, but there’s the beauty of it!
At first appearance it appears to be a pisco sour, yet it is neither pisco nor sour. Yes, there is citrus juice (grapefruit) but in combination with most ‘sours’, there’s little sourness, The honey plays a part in toning down the grapefruit to a sub-textural element---pleasantly present but in no way dominant---but even more important is the mutating effect of the fleur de sel, sea salt.

Mingle all the ingredients---bourbon, amaro, honey, grapefruit, vermouth vinegar, bitters salt, and egg white foam--- and you begin to understand the inherent complexities of this drink. It is almost synesthetic in its effect, where “flavors” become textures. The soft eggy foam of the egg white. The pithy snap of grapefruit. The even sharper, brighter tartness of the admixture of vermouth vinegar supplying a curious combination of barrel oxidation and acetic acid. The broad richness and velvet texture of the honey.

And speaking of honey, there is an interesting congruence within the cocktail; not only is there honey, there's a clear echo of honey in the amaro.  Amaro Sibilla by Distillerie Varnelli, uses wild mountain honey as its sweetener, along with a chestnuts and walnuts, dried fruit and hand-crushed bitter herbs and barks, laced with sweet vanilla and coffee. The Sibilla provides a firm foundation for the rest of the drink's components, and continues to exude the earthy "root and fruit" nuances that constantly emerge.

Amaro Sibilla, Distillerie Varnelli



They key to the drink, however, is the fleur de sel, the one ingredient that plays robustly with all the other ingredients and acts as a catalyst, a mutable agent that literally changes the taste components as you’re tasting them. Sip and pick up the grapefruit, then feel it change when the salt asserts itself, because salt lowers the intensity of citric acidity and mutes the tartness.

The one and only quibble I had about the Miele Mel was the bourbon did not seem to assert itself clearly. Perhaps a rye?  But given the nature of this drink, why not a smoky Vida mezcal, an Añejo Tequila, or a robust, earthy Armagnac?


The Miele Mel quite literally changes from sip to sip, from second to second, yet somehow retains its integrity as a cocktail. And that is an impressive feat of craft legerdemain.


Most bartenders work very hard to “perfect” a drink, to finalize it, to ‘nail it perfectly’ before sliding it across the counter. But for Justin Siemer, that’s when the adventure begins. His drinks are created to come alive only when they interact with the drinker. They are changeable and tricksy things, those drinks he creates.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Cognac and Armagnac Master Class You Will Not Want to Miss

If ever you have wanted to explore the two great wine brandies of France (and the world), this is an opportunity you will not want to miss.

The Society of Wine Educators will feature a Cognac and Armagnac Master Class during their Annual Conference at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., on August 10.  Click here for details
This event is open to the public.

Christine Cooley of Heavenly Spirits LLC and Hoke Harden, CSE and B.N.I.C. Certified Cognac Educator from the Taste & Compare Academy of Wine, Spirits and Food, will cover the history, terroir, grape varieties, processes and styles of both regions, underline their similarities and their differences, and then conduct two grand tastings of Cognac and Armagnac.



Cognacs

Distillerie du Peyrat, Organic, Fin Bois
Normandin-Mercier, Petite Champagne VSOP
Normandin-Mercier, Fine Champagne Prestige
Jean Fillioux Cognac, Grande Champagne, Tres Vieux
Camus Borderies XO, Single Estate
Cognac Park Cigar Blend Reserve XO
Hine Antique XO, 1er Cru Grande Champagne
Pierre Ferrand Selection des Anges, 1er Cru Grande Champagn



Incredible Cognacs and Armagnacs
will be tasted side-by-side.  The best
of each region will be showcased.
While you are learning the differences in the two spirits, you'll be
tasting those same spirits.
 







Armagnacs
Marie Duffau, Bas Armagnac, Napoleon
Artez, Bas Armagnac, Napoleon, Folle Blanche
Dartigalongue, Bas Armagnac, Hors d’Age
Delord, Bas Armagnac, 25 Years Old
Chateau de Laubade 1986, Bas Armagnac
Darroze, Les Grande Assemblages 12yo
Domaine Tariquet, Vintage 1993, Bas Armagnac
Janneau Grand Armagnac XO


Eight impressive cognacs and eight outstanding Armagnacs!  But that’s not all.  The Master Class will also include a Pineau des Charentes, a Floc du Gascogne, and an Armagnac and Vanilla Essence Liqueur.


You won’t want to miss this exceptional tasting of the two great brandy regions.


Again, SWE membership is not required. Contact the Conference for details and tickets.


The Mayflower Hotel, in the heart of Washington, D.C., two experts, 16 exceptional brandies, a Pineau, a Floc, and a dessert liqueur with ice cream.


What more could you possibly ask for?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Serendipity: The delicious congruence of two books

When you’re a book lover, and most especially a history buff, it’s always a delight when you find a well-written book on defining historical periods.  But when you find two such books at the same time, with each standing alone yet reinforcing and echoing each other’s different theses, it’s a feast of plenty for the mind.

One of my favorite writers on the topic of antiquity transitioning to modernism and how our global society formed itself is Tom Holland.  He is erudite, deeply and broadly immersed in the rigors of archaeology and history, and is a downright brilliant writer, bringing his subjects alive and painting vivid word portraits on every page. 

His book was “In The Shadow of the Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World.” And full disclosure, the original release was subtitled “The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire.” I snapped it up immediately, and looked forward to spending lots of quality time with it. (Here’s a link to the WSJ review.)

Meanwhile, the library coughed up a provocative e-book from noted journalist and writer Robert D. Kaplan on a subject near and dear, the study of how geography influences and even directs human societies, “The Revenge of Geography: What The Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts And The Battle Against Fate”  (I should note that two core classes at university that massively affected me, and still to this day do so, were Geology and what was called “Human Geography”, which was precisely the study of human societal development through the impact of geography.) And here is a link to the New York Times review by Anne-Marie Slaughter, a wicked sharp writer on her own merit.

So here I had the most excellent Holland book with a fascinating theme as well as the Kaplan book, with an equally fascinating theme---and was able to read them jointly.

Holland’s thesis was the transition from antiquity to the development of ‘modern society’. He maintained that the one major thrust of society during a pivotal moment was the development of monotheism, when the dominant state religions shifted from rampant polytheism (the worship of an abundance of gods in relative tolerance, or at least the lack of singular domination) as opposed to the rise of the “one god”, the jealous god, the intolerant god.  And of course he concentrated on the tension of the Judaeo-Christian Roman/Byzantine Empire, the Zoroastrian Sassanid/Persian Empire, and the injection of the rise of Islam into the mix, expanding and influencing world social development at a crucial moment.

Kaplan’s book was intent on reviving the importance of the study of ‘human geography’, or how human society can be influenced, shaped or directed by geography---again, a subject I have always been fascinated with but which has fallen into obscurity by the rise of “global society” being able to overcome geographical barriers, deciding that “geography doesn’t matter.”

Kaplan ranges widely, and well, through history, applying his ideas and showing how they have affected countries and regions and the entirety of human society in ways large and small.  Each chapter is an illumination. He relates many of the same historical episodes as Holland (although much more than Holland as he ranges over eras more widely while Holland stays focused on one particular transitional period. But each book certainly reinforces and echoes the other.

After reading both books, traversing from one to the other, I kept noticing that on the cover of Kaplan’s book a blurb from Malise Ruthven, The New York Review of Books, included descriptive praise that could just as comfortably be applied to Mr. Holland’s opus (Sorry; couldn’t resist.):  “…displays a formidable grasp of contemporary world politics and serves as a powerful reminder that it has been the planet’s geophysical configurations, as much as the flow of competing religions and ideologies, that have shaped human conflicts, past and present.”  Well said, Ms. Ruthven; that’s as good, and considerably less wordy, encomium to either and both books as can be.

As an example of Kaplan’s thesis, he relates the ‘geographical imperative” forced on Germany (meta-Germany, let’s say) by being sandwiched between the West and the East, with the wide open plains of access from either direction threatening. (As a personal aside, while a teenager I lived in Germany where the entire might of Europe and the U.S. militaries sat waiting for the inevitable Soviet invasion through the Fulda Gap---because geography dictated that path.)

Kaplan entertains the all-too-valid concept of “continental-bound” societies against “maritime-commercial” societies, and the peculiar necessities of each. Thus, in a geographical sense, a country or people act a certain way because of their geographical situation.


Holland echoes the geographical concerns and influences as well, but his interest is much more aligned here to the influence of monotheism and how it impacts cultural, political and violent struggle among societies.  

Although Zoroastrian monotheology has faded from our consciousness, as has much of the Sassanid/Persian/Parthian Empire that so strongly contested the Byzantine Empire, it was one of the forces that drove much of the western world into the form it has today. As the Byzantine Empire “won” the centuries-long conflict against the Sassanids, only to have their celebrations cut brutally short by the eruption of Arabic Islam out of the barren stretches of Saudi Arabia (So tellingly echoed by author Frank Herbert in “Dune”.) within less than a decade.

Holland notes the unavoidable similarity between the Byzantine-Sassanid-Islamic cauldron and the various and sundry conflicts that have succeeded it, most notably for us because of proximity in time and space, the West versus the USSR, Germany versus both Europe and Russia the various manifestations of the Islamic/Ottoman state versus the Judaeo-Christian state, and many, many others, humans being as cantankerous, combustible, and ideology-driven as they are.

Either book is pure joy to read. The writing in each is magnificent; the erudition on display is delightful and commanding.  Read them together and it becomes a reinforced delight for history buffs and those who continue to attempt to understand both human nature and the world.