‘When I go to buy a chicken I like to have three to choose from. When I go to buy wine, I’m now presented with 300. It’s completely bewildering’. I struggled to believe my ears listening to the excellent Radio 4 Food Programme on the three major London wine fairs in late May. Was the blogger interviewed at the London International Wine Fair (LIWF) really complaining about ‘the sheer profusion of wines available from so many different countries and grape varieties and different takes on winemaking’?
It would be easy to knock Tesco’s new raft of lower alcohol wines given that few wine lovers would be likely to enjoy these saccharine zero to five per cent confections. You have to wonder whether ‘encouraging customers to be mindful of the amount of alcohol they consume’ plays second fiddle to the commercial imperative that ‘lower alcohol wines have seen positive sales growth over the past year’. According to the research company Wine Intelligence, lower alcohol sales will increase to six to eight per cent of the wine market.
Oh to be in England, yes, but its fizz doesn’t need me to bang the patriotic drum for it given that everyone from Raymond Blanc to Alan Sugar have been in on the act ad nauseam. Nor does this column need to overstate the virtues of English sparkling wine when it’s earned its own bragging rights thanks to an intrinsic quality and a mouthwatering maritime freshness. Hardly a day goes by without a report of English bubbly beating champagne at its own game; yet further evidence that English fizz has come of age in the year of the Diamond Jubilee.
I don’t find it easy to say the name Chablis without finding my mouth starting to water. While most chardonnay likes a touch of oak for texture, Chablis doesn’t need it. In fact its mouthwatering qualities derive from lack of use of oak in all but the grander premier and grand cru manifestations. Why is that? Thanks to a delicacy born of its cool location at the northern tip of Burgundy, chardonnay here reacts like the aromatic grapes of Alsace and Germany, preferring little or no oak to show at its bone dry, tongue-tingling best.
Solear Manzanilla, Barbadillo
There's a wonderfully fresh yeasty-savoury tang to the nose of this bone-dry white from the coastal sherry town Sanlucar de Barrameda, and it's met by a refreshing sea-salty flavour and an savoury bone-dry tang on the aftertaste. Chill! £4.99, half-bottle, Waitrose, Tesco.com
2011 Mas Christine Roussillon Blanc
A prima donna thanks to a pernickety insistence on marginal climates, pinot noir is not for nothing known as the heartbreak grape. While cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay were strutting their stuff in the New World, pinot noir’s dainty feet remained resolutely planted in the narrow 30-mile strip running from Dijon through Beaune to the Côte Chalonnaise. Call it the Sideways effect if you will, but today the siren lure of its sweet perfume and voluptuous flesh has become irresistible, conquering growers and converting consumers alike in increasingly unlikely locations around the globe.
The staid image conjured up by the name might deceive you into thinking that the Wine Society is some fusty Victorian institution of gnarled sherry and claret tipplers. In fact this no-frills, no-nonsense, non-profit-making company delivers on all the features you could want from a dynamic independent wine merchant: consistent quality, competitive value, adventurous range and unparalleled service. Last month I came away from the Spring tasting itching to put together a delicious dozen at around a tenner. My problem was the self-imposed limit.
I don’t as a rule find wine trade reports a riveting read but one line that caught the eye recently was ‘five million people in the UK drink sparkling wine at least once a week’. While I do more than my bit for the statistics, I wasn’t surprised to see that not only are we the biggest guzzlers of Champagne outside France, but that we’re also drinking a lot more affordable fizz from elsewhere.
‘After some exciting changes, we’re setting off on a new adventure’, says the new Oddbins. If hitting the rails and imploding could be called exciting, the 36 branches that survived the debt-ridden crash engineered last year by ex-Oddbins boss, Simon Baile, must be breathing a sigh of relief simply to be alive. Today’s chain may look a little anorexic compared to the 150-odd high street branches of two years ago.
The Seventh Earl of Longford was mercilessly lampooned for his trawl of Copenhagen’s red light district. He argued that in the interests of his porn-busting research, he simply had to visit one of the city’s raunchiest nightspots so that Christian morals could be upheld. On the same basis, it could be argued that like the so-called holy fool, I really should visit, not Copenhagen, but Bordeaux and taste the 2011 vintage in barrel next month if only to critique it as not worth buying en primeur, or pre-release. I don’t think so.