Consumer tastings keep me sane. Well not so much sane as in touch with how normal people think - that's 'normal' as in those who don't spend all day spitting into buckets and sinks (note to self to post soon about spittoon nightmares). For pro spitters, it's all too easy to forget that many folk go for immediate impact in wines, rather than looking for life beyond the first few sniffs and sips. For example, I was tasting with a group of locals last night, and we tried two Chilean Syrahs. The Viña Falernia Syrah 2005 from the northerly but chilly Elqui Valley (£5.95 Tanners) was lovely gentle fragrant wine, more like Crozes Hermitage than anything from the New World. Yum, and a bargain to boot. Then came the Pangea 2004 from Apalta (£25-£30 Harrods, Roberson), which is a joint venture between Viña Ventisquero and Aussie Shiraz maestro John Duval, the ex-Penfolds winemaker. This was much more a bruiser, albeit a classy bruiser, with the rich oily texture and roasted notes you find in many Californian Syrahs. Both very tasty wines, and I expected a split panel, but no, virtually everyone preferred the brawn of the Pangea to the more subtle charms of the Falernia.
But the surprise of the evening for many was a German Sekt, the Solter Rheingau Riesling Brut 2004 (~£13 The Winebarn). I can count the number of times I've ever enjoyed Sekt on one hand and still have enough digits left to pick both nostrils. And Riesling with bubbles can be just OTT. But this was a very tasty, punchy wine, full of fruit but not too aggressively so, and with fresh acidity to keep your mouth clean. Not as good as 1996 Krug, but a fraction of the price