BEST PARTY RED
2010 Taste the Difference Côtes du Rhône-Villages
This classic southern Rhône blend from the charismatic Rhônemeister Michel Chapoutier punches above its not inconsiderable weight with an invitingly spicy aroma and huge dollops of vibrant blackberry fruit supported by a lively, textured succulence. £6.99, Sainsbury's
The Four Palmas
An invitation to join in the blending of González Byass’ new Palmas range doesn’t come along every day, so when Martin Skelton, who heads up the UK office,, invited me, it didn’t take me long to say yes, yes please even. Imagine a game-loving monarchist being invited on a shoot at Balmoral with the Queen. Maurizio González Gordon, who runs the traditional family Jerez firm of González Byass, is sherry royalty, so the opportunity to join in the blending was not to be missed.
It’s a measure of how far it’s come since Tony Laithwaite hawked his wares in a Ford van that Laithwaites felt bold enough to put a selection of fine wines into its autumn wine tasting. Starting out as Bordeaux Direct, Laithwaites is part of the Direct Wines empire that includes the Sunday Times Wine Club, Avery’s and virginwines.com. It must have been a tricky decision because ‘fine wine’ can be a no-no for value seekers. And Laithwaites has always prided itself, often with good reason, on value.
After Nacho Manzano’s divine beetroot gazpacho soup at Ibérica in Marylebone, I was excited to see what David Muñoz, the boyish chef of two-Michelin star DiverXO in Madrid, could do. Muñoz was invited as Manzano’s guest to cook dinner at the new Ibérica in Canary Wharf. In the hands of anyone less talented, a dish like crisp oxtail sandwich with baby eel, jalapenos and finger lime, or potsticker Shanghai of pitu Caleya with its own broth, sea urchin, chipotle chilli and shitake, might seem pretentious.
Chatting to Patrick Sandeman at The Bunch’s autumn press tasting, it was beyond anyone’s worst nightmare that this most genial, talented and popular of wine merchants would lose his life in a horrific skydiving accident just over a week later. A fixture of the London wine scene, Patrick, with his partner Charles Lea, transformed Lea & Sandeman’s single Fulham shop into one of London’s most impressive retailers, its wines selected for quality, flavour and personality.
It’s an ill wind as they say and the economic climate of recent years has blown benignly for the big German discounters, Aldi and Lidl. With over 1000 stores in the UK between them, Aldi (461) and Lidl (600) have both seized on a gap in the market for attracting new customers to their everyday low price models. As cogs in the wheels of two bigger leviathans, they’re in a great position to pare overheads, and consequently prices, to the bone. The prize is the number of ABC1 yummy mummies sashaying into their car parks in their 4 by 4s.
Rural south-west France is the essence of the route feared by the less adventurous tourist in case of discovering something other than a beach. With the pink city of Toulouse at its hub, it's a colourful tapestry of 17 wine regions stretching from the Massif Central to the Pyrenean foothills. The better-known are Cahors, Gaillac, Madiran and the Côtes de Gascogne, but its 5,000 winemakers also lurk in obscure crannies such as Entraygues et Fel, Estaing and Thézac-Perricard (hands up who's heard of those?).
As I was adding a host of obscure grape names such as pelaverga, areni noir, and bovale sardo to some tasting notes recently, I was struck by the extent to which our experience of wine is circumscribed by a tendency to complacency.
I was standing on a Tuscan hilltop with one of the region’s great winemakers, Paolo de Marchi, when the call came through from his importer, Liberty Wines’ David Gleave MW. ‘David’s unhappy’, said Paolo; ‘at a wine dinner last night two of my Isole e Olena chianti classicos were corked’. He was talking of course about the problem of cork taint, which has become so prevalent that producers have been forced to find alternatives such as plastic, glass, and, most notably, the screwcap.
After the last tasting at which my mother refused to spit anything out, I was grateful for the fact that this wasn’t an option at London’s poshest new wine emporium, Hedonism Wines. Not so much as a sniff in fact of the fabled 1811 Yquem comet vintage at £97k or the grandiose Penfolds Ampoule at £120k. However, Tatiana Fokina, the Mayfair shop manager, was keen to impress on us that 500 of their 4,500 lines, including 1000 spirits, cost under £30.