Saturday, September 22, 2007

Manky onions as wine

A split second after the knife descended, I realised I was in the presence of a manky onion. You know the ones I mean, where the knife squashes rather than penetrates, where there's a whiff of vinegar, and where some of the layers have turned translucent. If you're feeling thrifty, you can chop out the good layers and save the rest, but today, said onion was rapidly filed under B (for Bin). If I'd spent more time in the shop squeezing my onions (settle...), maybe I'd not be in such a situation, but I didn't so I was.

And the same is true with wine. Manky onions abound in wine shops and on restaurant lists. Bottles that have been badly stored. Vintages that should have been pensioned off. Wines that quite simply were bad in the first place. And - it's true - bottles that were simply having bad hair days. There's nothing you can do about the last situation. Even Jimi Hendrix went out of tune from time to time. But for the others, you're going to have to rely on experience. The more you taste, the more you should be able to tust your own tastebuds to know what's good and what's not. If you find themes emerging, then vote with your feet - or should that be with your Lafite?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Let's parlais winespeak

They say: We're rationalising our range
They really mean: The labels have changed and the price has gone up.

They say: It's a blend of premium grape varieties
They really mean: Our wine is cheap

They say: We ferment at cool temperature to retain maximum fruit intensity
They really mean: This tastes of bubble gum and sherbet

They say: We left a small amount of residual sugar to lift the flavour
They really mean: It doesn't taste of anything, but it's sweet

They say: We picked early to retain some acidity.
They really mean: It's sharp and tasteless, but the yields were huge.

They say: It's an early drinking light wine
They really mean: It's got no flavour and won't last the year out

They say: The grapes are picked at maximum ripeness
They really mean: The grapes are picked too late

They say: The acidity and tannin will soften with age
They really mean: The acidity and tannin will not soften with age

They say: We are looking to expand into sparkling wine
They really mean: We are looking to make some money from sparkling wine

They say: We are looking to expand
They really mean: We are looking to improve our cashflow

They say: The UK market is very important to us
They really mean: The UK press is very important to us

They say: We've had some interesting results
They really mean: We've had some disgusting results, but Domestos are interested.

They say: The label is a freeform depiction of the sunset over the nearby lake
They really mean: The artist likes The Grateful Dead

They say: Our winemaker trained at Geisenheim
They really mean: We don't make reds

They say: My family have been making wine in California for many generations
They really mean: My grandfather was a bootlegger

They say: Our aim is to educate the wine drinker
They really mean: Our aim is to fleece the wine drinker

They say: We have stopped using lead capsules in order to promote 'green' values
They really mean: Plastic capsules are cheaper

They say: We practice a policy of minimum intervention
They really mean: Our wine is expensive

They say: We are experimenting with Italian and Rhone varieties
They really mean: Our wine is expensive

They say: The winemaker regularly travels to compare notes with producers in other areas
They really mean: Our wine is expensive

They say: This wine is best with marinated swordfish
They really mean: We opened several bottles, and ate several meals, and it went least badly with swordfish.

They say: The perfect partner for raw scallops marinated in dill and paprika
They really mean: Lousy with food

They say: It's an ideal restaurant wine
They really mean: It doesn't taste of anything, but the label's nice.

They say: This usually proves popular with the ladies
They really mean: It's sweet/pink

They say: Our wines are designed to sit on the same table as the top French ones
They really mean: We make ludicrously expensive Cabernet and Chardonnay

They say: We were the first to plant up in these hills back in the late 60s
They really mean: We also grow dope

They say: I’m not sure if I understand what you mean
They really mean: Our wine is expensive, flavourless and too tannic

They say: These are the results of our exciting new winemaking project
They really mean: These are clean but boring wines made to a price point by a foreigner

They say: The ideal partner for fish, chicken and pasta
They really mean: OK, so it doesn’t taste of anything

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Night of the Living Sauvignon....

This really shouldn't happen. I posted 3, three, THREE weeks ago about a South African Sauvignon Blanc tasting I was in the middle of. That night , some friends came round and relieved me of a few of the 90+% full bottles that I'd been sampling. But there were still several bottles hanging around which I hadn't disposed of thoughtfully - that's right, I just don't have enough friends...

Anyway, on return from France, brown and bruised (from overexerting myself on the Jungle Adventure parcours at a ski resort called Les Orres), they were still sitting there in the kitchen. Oh well, in for a penny and all that. So I tried one. And another. And another. And gadzooks, ods bodikins and all the rest, they were still astonishingly fresh. Some of them were actually better than when I first tried them over a fortnight earlier. What's more, there were a couple of older bottles from the excellent Cape Point vineyard in, er, Cape Point (over the hill from Constantia, imported by Yeo & Co), the 2001 and 2003, which had been sitting by the window where they would have had three hours of sun on those days in the last half of August when the sun actually shone. They should have been dead, but no, they were still wonderfully alive and zesty.

Does this mean that I'm going to recommend opening bottles of Sauvignon Blanc and decanting them a couple of days before serving? No, but it does seem to indicate that all those who put Sauvignon in the DYA - drink youngest available - category may not be 100% right. After all, good Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé can cope with bottle age, so why not Cape Sauvignon?

Look out for the picks from the tasting in my piece of Cape Sauvignon in a forthcoming issue of Decanter magazine.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Pink Chardonnay Frizzante

No, the title of this post is not a hoax. Such a wine already exists at £4.98 in Asda. According to the press release from Buckingham Vintners, 'It has been tailor-made for the consumer, with five essential criteria: it is first to market, it's pink, it's sparkling, it's made from Chardonnay and it's less than £5 per bottle.'

I'm not complaining about Buckingham and Schenk Italia for developing such a wine - I'm sure it'll sell by the bucketful. And I'm not going to slag off those who buy such a wine. What depresses me is that package of five criteria. There's nothing wrong with each when taken individually, but together... So, so sad. And we wine writers/communicators are as much to blame as anyone for not getting across the message of wine in a more user-friendly way. Slapped wrists and a bottle of Yellow Tail all round.

So what would my five essential criteria be for a consumer-friendly wine? How about...

1) It has a story to tell. And not one about oak barrels and medals. Weird people, three-legged cats and haunted trees are good.
2) It brings a smile to your face. Could be the label, could be the price, could be the flavour, could be all three.
3) It makes other wines jealous. In the sort of way that you look with a mixture of envy and admiration at someone who does things better than you.
4) It has a slightly warped side. Maybe it's not conventionally attractive, but you keep coming back for another look. Maybe it's a bit lairy, lippy, risque, naughty, but not to the point of intimidation or insult.
5) It makes people want to try other wines. Not because you want to avoid it, just because it makes you want to find more out about wine.

Chances of a press release about such a wine? Somewhere between slim and fat...

In praise of English supermarkets - no, not a misprint

Just returned from several days in the French Alps. In true 'coals to Newcastle' fashion, took along a few bottles of wine. I have rather a lot of the stuff, and I also have several of those purpose-made polystyrene containers that you can check into an airline hold knowing that they have a pretty good survival rate.

The only problem was I wish I'd taken more. Couldn't believe how depressing the range was in the French supermarkets. The Hautes Alpes is not a major wine region and my sole experience with the local vin de pays (Merlot, Chard, Cab S etc seem to be the favoured grapes) was not a good one. But so too were my encounters in Intermarche (the only nearby supermarket of any size) with wines from Bordeaux, the Rhone and the Languedoc - one musty wine is one thing, but a succession of dried out, fruitless wines leads you to think that there's something more than cork taint going on.

No doubt, with more time and effort there would have been a few more worthy wines in the range, but this was holiday, not work, and I just wanted something tasty to quaff while looking at the stars and eating too much. In the end found a decent red, the 2005 Visan from Domaine Bon Rencontre at around €6, and drank it several times.

So to all those who slag off our supermarkets, think yourself lucky. Even with all those bland, branded wines, their ranges are more adventurous, and their QC is very much on the ball.