It took me a while to work out what the famous bon viveur André Simon’ was on about when he said there are no great wines, only great bottles. Investors who depend on a wine to increase in value might point to an objective standard of greatness, but the weight of expectation is a heavy burden. Many an anticipated ‘great’ bottle turns out to be a disappointment, many a no-expectations a lovely surprise, all the more so when the ambiance is right and the conversation flowing.
I’m not sure if the Telegraph columnist Peter Oborne stuck to his new year’s resolution of a dry January, but if he or anyone else managed to overcome their ‘gloom and terror’, then they deserve a pat on the back. Not that they’ll get one from the I-could-if-I-wanted-to-crowd. The dry January deniers are legion, not just a self-interested wine industry and tax-hiking government, but those convincing themselves that daily alcohol consumption could only be someone else’s problem.
Buy on an apple, sell on cheese, so the old wine trade adage goes. If the Himalayan mountains of cheese consumed during the frenzy of January’s Burgundy 2011 week in London are anything to go by, a great deal of the region’s wine has been sold en primeur before it’s even been bottled and delivered. Do you need Burgundy in your cellar? No. Do you want Burgundy in your cellar? Why wouldn’t you if you love wine? As Bordeaux alienates with arrogant pricing, Burgundy has grown in stature and popularity with much improved wine quality, more consistent vintages and greater availability.
I don’t know if it was my conscience that was pricked or my subconscious that kicked in, but either way omitting South Africa from my 2013 crystal ball was an oversight. After my last trip in the summer as a judge at the Old Mutual Wine Trophy Show, I found much to admire in the way Cape producers have gone about addressing deep-seated vineyard problems and a tendency to uniformity of style.
A window seat is a must when you fly into the pink city of Toulouse because of the astonishing bird’s eye view of the natural horseshoe bends in the Lot River as it snakes westward. The flat pastureland and sleepy towns of the Lot Valley exude such an air of deep tranquility that nothing appears to move. Yet for anyone lulled into a false sense of inertia, South West France’s wine region of Cahors is out to prove that nothing could be further from the truth.
Crystal ball-gazing as astrologers will tell you involves interpreting yesterday’s runes, call them what you will, and fashioning them into tomorrow’s near-certainties. Bordeaux’ new trade pact with Pu’er tea suggests that it can work as well with wine as tea leaves. So if the previous year’s harvest is a major clue as to how the world’s wines will turn out this year, it’s not going to take an Einstein to work out that for the second year running Bordeaux is likely to suffer at the hands of Burgundy.
It doesn't seem that long ago that I first visited The Sampler and tried out its pioneering dispenser, the Enomatic. For next to no cost, you could taste a range of wines by sticking your Oyster-style card in a machine which dispensed a tasting glassful of the wine in question. It was such a no-brainer that many other excellent wine merchants followed suit, among them Vagabond Wines at Fulham Broadway, Bottle Apostle in north London and the extraordinary new temple to fine wine, Hedonism Wines in Mayfair.
Food and wine matching is neither an art nor a science and much of the time it can be taken with a decent pinch of salt. It was brought home to me having recently returned from China where restaurant customers knocked back their wines that Western sommeliers would demand marriages for in heaven. No one dish resembles another. Our own likes and dislikes apart, the quality of the raw materials, the seasoning, saucing and spicing, are simply too varied to suit a one-wine-fits-all formula.
A taste of wine is worth 100 ads. So it proved with the wine walks which are consistently one of the most popular features of the Wine Gang’s Christmas tastings in London, Edinburgh and Bath. Groups of 10 wine consumers go walkabout with a member of the Wine Gang, stopping at different exhibitors to taste and talk about a wine. The interaction gives everyone the chance to taste wines normally outside their comfort or shopping zones and it gives the five members of the Wine Gang invaluable feedback as to consumer preferences.
I was chatting to a wine industry luminary last month who told me that they’d accepted the presidency of the International Wine & Spirit Competition thinking that it was the International Wine Challenge. IWSC? IWC? A simple enough mistake to make and a reminder that even those in the know can get confused now that medals are scattered like confetti and wine competitions two a penny.