Monday, October 22, 2007

Ein Zwei Dry - the battle of the tastings

Like buses, innit? You wait ages for a post and then two come along in quick succession. Don't be surprised to see more of the ammo accumulated over the past several weeks of tasting in the next few days.

Two of the main events of the past fortnight have been generic tastings of wines from both Chile and South Africa. 'Generic' is one of those words that wine folk casually slip into sentences and assume that everyone else knows what they mean. Just asked my wife what she thought a generic tasting was - the silence was deafening... So for all you normal people, a generic tasting is simply one where all the wines are from the same place.

So yes, Chile and South Africa, both countries with enormous potential, rapidly improving wines, increasingly experienced winemakers and - cue several more condescending clichés... I wrote earlier today of how we wine writers are on the receiving end of some rather uninspiring literature from wine companies, but it has to be said that we produce considerable amounts of gumf ourselves.

Anyway, Chile and South Africa. A test of how good someone's wines are is whether you want to rush home and drink more of the same or head for something completely different. I remember going to New Zealand a decade or so ago. When I returned home, the wine I craved most was grungy, feral Rioja Gran Reserva - there's only so much wine nice-ness a man can take... On my first trips to both Chile and South Africa, I came back pining for other people's wines. Having visited both in the last couple of years, I'm pleased to say that's changed. Both make Sauvignon Blanc I want to drink, and have a rapidly growing arsenal of other trump cards, to mix a metaphor or two.

But it wasn't the wines that impressed me at this autumn's tastings - it was the hand-dryers in the loos. The SA bash was at Earl's Court, and those who went to spend a penny found themselves face to face with the XLERATOR. Underneath it's sculpted nozzle was the slogan 'Feel The Power'. Yeah, right, I thought, feel the....WHOOOSH. The skin on my hands actually rippled under the Xlerator's jet of hot air. Any drops of water were blown off in a wave of shock and awe, and if I'd held my hands under the beast for any longer, I'm sure the same would have happened to my fingernails.

The following week, Chile was turning on the heat. The Xlerator was a hard act to follow, but at the Business Design Centre in Islington, they have hand-dryers that were every bit as good in the form of the Dyson Airblade. Yes, Dyson, as in those coloured vacs that people seem to either love or loathe. Where the Xlerator pummelled you into dryness, the Airblade nuzzled with its gentle yet speedy caress. I was hooked. I drank loads of water just so I could visit the gents as many times as possible. Which is why I'm writing this from a rather cramped police cell where paper-towel rationing is in operation...

OK, so I made the last bit up. And I assure you I will not allow the quality of the 'facilities' to influence my critical faculties. But having sampled several red wines at both events, it was surprisingly easy to draw analogies between the hand-dryers and several of the wines. Too many South African reds still seem to follow the Xlerator approach, with brawn rather than brain being the order of the day (even if they don't make your hands ripple). Meanwhile the Chilean reds are quieter and don't come with slogans like 'Feel The Power', but achieve the purpose they've been made for with increasing efficiency and élan.

COMING SOON - A comparison of Australian and New Zealand Chardonnays based on the quality of the bog roll at the generic tastings. A head to head between Tough Tiger Toilet Tissue (smooth on the top, rough on the bottom) and Dainty Double Damask Derrière Dampers (lightly moist for pampered posteriors - those with piles, in other words...)

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