Sunday, April 15, 2007

Ripper or ripped off?

Just read Max Davidson’s bit in the weekend Telegraph. I’m in two minds about whether to agree with him. I know restaurants have to make money, but they shouldn’t do it by ripping people off. If you’re an ambitious restaurant that aims to inspire, tantalise, invigorate diners with your food, surely you should be seeking to do the same with your wine list. Let’s be honest – 90% of most nobby restaurant lists consist of the same old trophy wines. Perversely, the bottles on which the sommelier/wine buyer/whatever has actually used a little grey matter tend to be the most keenly priced on the list.

Put it this way. Heston Blumenthal probably makes a mean steak-frites, but you go to The Fat Duck to see him transform everyday ingredients into something other-worldly. Switch to the domain of wine. Tonight I’m drinking where ordinary ingredients – grapes – have been made extraordinary. It’s a white Arbois Pupillin 1999 from Overnoy (from Les Caves de Pyrene 01483 538820), and it’s a concoction that ticks the same weirdness boxes as snail porridge. Not everyone will like it’s funky attitude – it’s like a cross between fino sherry and Pouilly-FuissĂ© – but so what? It’s wines like this that should have the highest mark-ups, not me-too, big name Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy that a dog could buy, even though it might cost a lot of bones.

I’m not sure I like agreeing with Martin Isark, a man for whom the word ‘humble’ was not invented. But much as I enjoyed Max Davidson’s whimsical pricing policies for various London restaurants – with the coda that these places are only ‘well-known’ to that tiny body of people (someone once said less than 500) who regularly frequent London’s top eateries – I still resent paying three times the retail price for a well-known wine.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Old hippies never die, they just smell that way

Yum yum, California, I’m on a corpulent hippy of a wine tonight, like Jerry Garcia after a curry, while the acid is still weaving its magic, but before the flatulence and heartburn has set in. It’s Domaine de la Terre Rouge Mourvèdre 2001, a wild, feral, meaty wine, possibly too alcoholic for its own boots, but still enormously tasty. Why is there a sort of cedary finesse that is reminiscent of Bordeaux? Could this be related to the cork? I’m not sure whether a Stelvin-ed bottle would have this earthy meatiness. Then you taste it, and it’s like liquid raisins, but dry, like brown sugar and figs, wild, smoky, really, really tasty. Not great, but the sort of wine you want to spend an evening with, rather than something too profound that you sit (or stand, I’m not picky) in awe of. It’ll be fascinating to see how it evolves in the glass – and also to see whether I can keep my paws off it…

OK, 2 hours later. No sign of significant improvement, and certainly not a wine to keep, but still an absolutely lovely drink. Vineyard Cellars are the UK agents.