Bordeaux, Burgundy, Beaujolais. My first editor assumed, and so therefore did I, that this was the holy trinity of Bs at whose altar the Indy wine reader would sip and worship. And so it was until the New World cocked an irreverent Life of Brian snook at the French, using the same grapes but undercutting the frogs on price.
It might make members of the House fidget in their seats, but for all but Tower Hamlets Council, which has banned Guy Fawkes, the idea of blowing up the Houses of Parliament brings a little wistfully anarchic glee into our lives. There’s nothing like a sparkler to get you into the mood for, er, sparklers and the like, and so if you don’t want to push the boat out too far on bonfire night, Marks & Spencer’s Sparkling Burgundy NV, £11.99, will give you a biscuity, weighty and richly mouthfilling fizz at an affordable price.
Despite the fact that truly innovative cooking in Mendoza is a yet to-be-discovered El Dorado, the steak is so good, the wine so juicy, and the Italian tradition so alive and well that even if Michelin is still only a rubber tyre in these parts, there’s much to be said for Mendoza’s food and wine. Argentina made history last month by winning the most International Trophies at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2011 by any single country since the competition began.
It was a happy coincidence that New Zealand staged two important wine events in the lead up to tomorrow's Rugby World Cup final. The first was the annual new release tasting that gives the press a sneak peek at the new vintage while the harvest in Europe is barely under way. The second was a review of Craggy Range with the big (for New Zealand) cheese, Steve Smith MW. If you don't know Craggy Range, get acquainted, because I can't think of another wine company that's managed to roll Bordeaux, Burgundy, Loire and Rhône styles into one harmonious group of wines so successfully.
It had taken a while for Arthur van Hoogstraten, who ‘won’ me at the last Independent charity auction, and I, to sync diaries. After scanning the options, Arthur plumped for the tasting of Clark Foyster (www.clarkfoysterwines.co.uk) followed by a seminar on terroir with the Plaimont Co-operative. I was delighted because Clark Foyster is member of the bright new Dirty Dozen group I recently mentioned and only sells wines that its affable MD, Lance Foyster MW, believes in.
Was it the prospect of the Dirty Dozen yapping at their heels that prompted The Bunch to pull out the stops at their autumn tasting a fortnight ago? Let me explain. The Dirty Dozen is a new grouping of some of the UK’s top independent wine importers, the Bunch an association that’s been going strong for a little while now. No-one’s suggesting that the Bunch has been resting on its laurels, far from it, but The Dirty Dozen is a new force in the land.
Spanish wine sales are up, we are told, thanks to Spain’s new flamboyant image. Marks & Spencer recently reported a 200% increase on last year and Spanish sales at Waitrose are 40% up. Various reasons have been suggested, from sangria nostalgia to the heroics of Rafa and the brilliance of Spain’s peerless world cup squad. What better example of Spanish excellence is there after all? Well, Cruz, Bardem and Almodovar apart, food and wine of course. El Bulli’s Ferran Adrià and the UK’s tapas bar and sherry revolution have done much to shine a new light on the huge strides made in Vino Español.
It’s ironic to think that you have to despoil the countryside to be green. As the high-speed AVE train scythes a path through between Madrid and Zaragoza, Don Quixote’s windmills of yesteryear have been substituted by today's vast farms of wind turbines. They’re not as beautiful, of course, but they’re not ugly either and it’s hard to begrudge their presence when they’re such a valuable source of much-needed alternative energy. Here, in these undulating rural plains surrounding Zaragoza, lie three of Spain’s least-known wine regions.
Is selling wine a business or a passion? I ask because judging this year’s Decanter Retailer Awards laid bare the yawning chasm between wine merchants for whom wine is a labour of love and those going through the motions to keep the shareholders happy. Broadly speaking, convenience and price are the driving forces behind the 8 in 10 bottles of wine sold by the supermarkets, while the two in 10 coming from independent wine merchants are defined by a passion to deliver quality and character.
Eton’s headmaster, Tony Little, recently complained that ‘we live in a strange society where it is possible to talk with impunity about elitism in football, but not in medicine or plumbing’. Coincidentally, the editor of Decanter Magazine, Guy Woodward, was accused of wine snobbery by Asda for saying that there’s a ‘huge amount of difference’ in quality between a bottle of wine that sells for £4.99 and one that sells for £6.99.