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.
An invitation to judge wine competitions in Japan and China last month gave me an irresistible opportunity to take a good look at the fledgling wine industries of these two Asian powerhouses side by side. Comparisons are, as they say, odious and the differences are far in fact far more interesting and extensive than any features they have in common.
Offers for Bordeaux 2011 are now closing or closed. Did you notice? The ‘campaign’ to sell the Bordeaux 2011 vintage is a candidate for the most disastrous ever. How such a normally savvy region can get it quite so wrong is hard to grasp, but the Greek word hubris comes to mind. With a unique system known as the place, all the donkey work of selling is done by the city’s merchants, so the châteaux don’t have to get their hands dirty. But the châteaux do the pricing and they came unstuck this time round thanks to overpricing a little better than modest vintage.
In its efforts to communicate the pleasures of wine, this column tends to focus on supermarkets because they sell eight in 10 bottles. Some of the best wines though are often only available in a few branches or online. Worse, some still promote the half-price (or less) offer as if the wine is a bargain. Twitter at #wineripoff focused on this cynical ploy recently with Tweeters sending pictures of ‘shelf barkers’ showing both Tesco and Sainsbury’s claiming big price slashes for wines worth nowhere near their stated price.
I haven’t entirely given up on my new year’s prediction that Boris will ignite the Cauldron on Friday with Olympic Flame, a sparkling rosé made by RidgeView in Sussex. Even if it doesn’t come to pass, one English rosé fizz flying the flag for the ‘Isles of Wonder’ will be the deliciously tangy 2008 Hush Heath Balfour Brut Rosé, £36 - 39, Waitrose, Wine Pantry (02074033003). It’s one of dozens of quality wines selected from the Primrose Hill wine merchant Bibendum’s range to wash down the fancy hospitality fare at London’s six Olympic venues over the coming weeks.
Bastille Day: an opportunity to arm yourself with a bottle in celebration of the revolutionary fraternity of that horny-handed son of the terroir, the French vigneron. The Gironde was once the breeding ground of the counter-revolution and the Bordeaux château remains today a symbol of capitalist enterprise. The French co-operative movement in contrast bands together groups of like-minded individuals with small vineyard parcels. On their own, they are powerless; together, they’ve manned the barricades of winemaking and stormed new frontiers of marketing.
"A little bit of this, a little bit of that, but just your plain old summer”, forecasted netweather.tv. Perhaps a little more of that than we bargained for. Scarcely into July and I’ve already I’ve dusted the barbie down three times this year, once in March, once during the sunny pre-Jubilee week and once before flaming June flickered and died. I have the empty rosé bottles to prove it. Since this weekend marks the end of Wimbledon fortnight, the chances are that we may yet be in for a fourth if short-lived summer and that can only mean time to chill down and bring out the rosé again.
A few days lazing on a Greek island beach and it’s easy to forget that the wine you’re drinking smells and tastes like a bath full of pine needles. Retsina’s medicinal flavours are an acquired taste that can grow on you, especially if the local ouzo is too strong. But you never really quite wash those memories from your head, let alone your mouth. It wasn’t until Oddbins introduced a raft of fresh Greek wines to the chain way back when that it dawned on me that Greece had more to offer than retsina.