Summer wines make me feel fine

Here’s a longer version of my latest Lady column and a little Isley Brothers just in case you’re not feeling summery enough with all this heat:

Writing about winter wines is easy in Britain because you know it’s going to be cold so you need lots of alcohol and richness to keep warm. Summer wines are harder because of our unpredictable climate.  That is why it’s vital to include some autumnal offerings for when the weather refuses to play cricket. And then there’s the barbeque factor. You need robust reds to stand up to all that grilled meat and burnt sausages. That is why many summer wines are actually winter wines in disguise. Anyway I don’t suppose it really matters as long as they’re good. My top tip would be to serve all the reds a little colder than you normally would do in the winter. On a hot day even the most muscular of reds will benefit from thirty minutes in the fridge whereas very light reds are nice properly chilled. And finally if the sun really shines, don’t be afraid to put a little ice in your glass, even if the contents are red.

Percheron Old vines Cinsault 2013 (Wine Society)

A very pale red, this has to be the most adaptable wine of the year. Serve it cool and it’s great with lighter meats, serve it cold and it’s a particularly good rose. One word of warning, it’s 15% so don’t give too many glasses to Granny.

Capcanes  rosé 2013 (Theatre of Wine £8.90)

A manly Catalan rosé! This is another very adaptable wine, it’s rich and spicy enough to stand up to flavoursome meats but also extremely refreshing.

Picpoul-de-Pinet Cuvée Ludovic Gaujal 2013 (Yapp Bros £10.25)

Picpoul might be the ultimate summer wine. This is a superior example with a super fresh nose, like smelling the sea. It’s richer than your average Picpoul with lovely tangy, herbal quality.

Crozes-Hermitage ‘Les Meysonniers ‘ M. Chapoutier 2011 (Tanners £16.99)

This is the posh BBQ wine. It tastes meaty and peppery with supple tannins that cry out for a good bit of rump steak. Les Meysonniers has to be one of the consistently great bargains in wine.

Harvey Nichols Port 10 year old Tawny (£27.50)

I’m on a one man mission to get people drinking port year round. In Oporto they drink tawnies like this chilled, it really accentuates all that lovely ripe fruit. The is just the thing with hard cheese or on its own with a slice of seed cake for a mid-morning pick-me-up.

Henners Vintage 2010 (Wine Pantry £27)

It has a lively lemony nose with hint of vanilla. In the mouth there are green apples, beautiful tiny bubbles and a whisper of custard on the finish. If I was getting married again and I had the money, then I’d go for this wine.

Pic St. Loup Morrisons Signature 2011 (£8.99)

This is the everyday BBQ wine to go with supermarket sausages and burgers. It’s good and drinkable and with its notes of rosemary and leather tastes distinctly Languedocian as well.

Coteaux du Languedoc ‘Les Muriers’ Mas Bruguiere 2012 (Yapp Bros £13.95)

One of the best value whites I’ve tried this year. It would be double the amount if it came from the Northern Rhone. It’s intense, nutty and tangy with a gorgeously silky texture. It will probably age too but I can’t wait that long.

Château Moncontour Vouvray Demi-Sec 2013 (M&S £9.99)

Have a sniff of this and you’ll think of apple pie with cinnamon. Your friends won’t notice because it’s so well-balanced but this wine actually sweet or at least slightly sweet. There’s so much acidity, however, that tt finishes dry and bracingly fresh. I think it’ll be good with goats cheese and grapes. It’s also low in alcohol, 11%, so granny can have a few glasses.

Aldi Prosecco NV (£7.29)

A friend of mine who is getting married asked me to recommend a Prosecco. He was a bit put out I when I suggested this one. ‘I’m not that cheap!’ he said. But this is genuinely good: very clean, fruity and fun with none of those off flavours you sometimes get in cheap Prosecco.

Marks & Spencer Beaujolais 2013 (Marks & Spencer £7.99)

This is the red to put ice in. It smells of oranges and cherries and tastes youthful and crunchy with just a hint of stalkiness; really good simple Beaujolais.

The Wine Society Fino NV (£6.25)

Not only a bargain but also one of the best finos on the market. It’s very dry and lemony with a certain salty tang which lingers deliciously in the mouth. It’s just a shame about that dreary label. I always have a bottle of this in the fridge.

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Whole Lotta Rosé

We live in a time of rosé. The number of rosés in the shops is multiplying at an alarming rate. There are Greek rosés, English rosés, Malbec rosés, Sangiovese rosés, I’ve even spotted a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc rosé made by adding a little Syrah to a white wine. Most of these are ghastly so it’s comforting to know twas ever thus. Writing just after the war in the New Yorker*, A.J. Liebling observes: “In the late thirties, the rosés began to proliferate in wine regions where they had never been known before, as growers discovered how marketable they were, and to this day they continue to pop up like measles on the wine map.”

Then as now the reason these wines were not any good was not down to anything intrinsically wrong with the style and everything to do with how cynically most were produced: “The wines converted to rosé in the great wine provinces are therefore, I suspect, the worst ones – a suspicion confirmed by almost every experience I have had of them.” Note that Liebling suspects that the rosés are not so much made directly from grapes but concocted from inferior wines. Reminds me of that Sauvignon Blanc rosé.

For Liebling there was only one that would do, Tavel, a beefy Southern rosé made from Cinsault and Grenache. When he lived in Paris in the 1920s, it was his stalwart companion: “the taste is warm but dry, like an enthusiasm held under restraint, and there is a tantalizing suspicion of bitterness when the wine hits the top of the palate.” Part of what makes Tavel so good is that it’s almost a red wine, it’s a deep pink with some tannic bite.

Here are a few nice roses that I recommended in my Lady column this week. I hope Liebling would approve:

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Negrette Rose 2013 (£7.99)

Very simple wine packed with lots of strawberry fruit.

Sevilen Kalecik Karası R Rose (M&S £9.49)

This is from Turkey and comes in a silly bottle. It has a very herby nose and is quite full-bodied with some nice crunchy refreshing fruit.

Pizarros de Otero Bierzo Rose (Majestic £9.99)

So dark it’s almost a red wine, it smells like it’s going to be rich but it’s actually extremely dry and piquant with a whisper of tannin.

Domaine Houchart Saint-Victoire Rose (Wine Society £8.50)

My rose of the year so far. It has a lovely smell – honey, herbs strawberries – and it’s tangy with plenty of fruit but not overblown.

*Article is Just Enough Money taken from Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris.

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You know you’ve made it when you’re cited on Wikipedia

The most popular article I ever wrote was something examining what sort of sherry Niles and Frasier drank on the sitcom Frasier. As you can see it attracted a fair amount of comment. Well now that article has been cited as a source on Wikipedia:

‘Frasier and Niles Crane frequently consumed sherry, perhaps Bristal’s (sic) Cream, on the TV sitcom Frasier.’

Scroll down and you’ll see World of Booze cited. Now I know that Wikipedia does have a bit of a reputation for unreliability but it’s still surprising that someone used a blog as a sole source and even then got the name of the drink wrong. That’s the last time I use Wikipedia when arguing in the comments section on the Guardian about Palestine.


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News from World of Booze

A rather disjointed post this week. The book is now fully funded so I will stop boring on about it. Thank you to everyone who bought a book. You can still pre-order a copy and have your name in the final edition. This does mean that rather than blog about wine, I’m meant to just concentrate on the book so this may be my last post for a while. I’m now imagining a lone bugler playing The Last Post – so poignant!

I’m also off twitter until the book is finished. It’s peculiar because I keep thinking these silly thoughts and then I think, that’s funny, I’ll put it on twitter, but then I can’t, so I just let it pass. Then it occurs to me that it wasn’t that funny anyway so I’m glad I did something else.

Crowd-sourcing seems to be very much the thing du jour. Digby Fine English, the sparkling wine named after the hero of my book, Sir Kenelm Digby are currently raising money using this method. Unlike some similar ventures you aren’t just doing this for goodwill, you do get a stake in the company. Imagine if they turn out to be the new Facebook or Amstrad, you’ll be rich, RICH! The offer ends at midnight tomorrow (5th June)

Finally I wrote something silly for Tim Atkin’s website – Fortnum & Mason online drinks writer of the year no less – about wine and cats. It’s awfully clever.


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Has supermarket wine got duller or have I got pickier?

Last week I thought I may have lost my sense of smell. This would have been disastrous for my highly-paid career as a wine blogger. I’d been at a few tastings and rather than the wine speak flowing from my nose to my brain and onto the page, I just wrote things like ‘quite fruity’ or ‘a bit dull.’ I kept trying wine that just didn’t seem to taste of anything, I looked around at the cream of the British wine writing establishment and they were all scribbling notes frantically whilst lightly bopping to a bit of Simply Red on their ipods. After one particularly unenlightening tasting, I sat down to have lunch. An oldish man asked me what I thought of the wine and I pulled a face, he leaned in and said ‘they don’t taste of anything, do they?’ So it wasn’t just me. Perhaps Tim Atkin et al, were just writing, dull, duller, dullest over and over again on their tasting booklets.  Has supermarket wine got duller or have I got pickier? I think they’ve got duller. This isn’t the place to muse on why this might – perhaps something to do with Michael Gove. Instead I’m going to recommend one that really stood out.

It’s rather snappily called, Sainsbury’s Winemakers’ Selection Gran Reserva Cariñena 2008 . Just rolls off the tongue doesn’t it? Luckily it’s nicely packaged with a sort of golden age of Rioja art nouveau label. The contents are old-fashioned rioja style too but unlike similar wines you can buy, there’s plenty of fruit to go with all that creamy oak. I would even go as far to describe it as juicy. It’s blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha from a region called Cariñena. Helpfully Cariñena is also a synonym for the grape variety Carignan which originated here. This wine contains no Carignan. You’d never call it dull and it’s only £6 a bottle. What’s even more exciting is that until 30th May there’s 25% off wine at Sainsbury’s when you buy six bottles or more. so that works out at £4.50 a bottle.

This offer excludes Scotland as the Scottish government don’t trust their subjects not to take advantage of this offer, down six bottles and then rampage up and down Sauchiehall Street naked painted in woad.


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On cellaring ordinary wines

It’s not often I get told off for not talking about wine. In fact a few years ago a flatmate bought me a heavy glass ashtray and said that she’d brain me with it if I started pontificating on the subject. But yesterday someone commented  that I should stop talking about my effing book (I paraphrase here) and get back to wine which is the whole point of the blog. So suitably chastened, let’s talk about wine.

When I worked in the wine trade I had a colleague, let’s call him Clive, who claimed that Glenloth, a very ordinary Australian red that we sold for about £3.50 a bottle, became something quite notable after a few years in the cellar. I assumed at the time that this was nonsense, also Clive coached women’s hockey which I thought was somehow suspect as well. Anyway, I thought of Clive whilst rooting around in my father’s garage last month. He really does have a lot of wine including odd bottles that he’s forgotten about. I thought it would be interesting to pinch/ liberate a few and see how they had fared. I didn’t take anything particularly good, just everyday stuff that was probably over the hill. Here’s how I got on:

Chateau de Pena 2008

An old Wine Society favourite from the Roussillon. The current vintage on sale is the 12 at £6.75. This is normally a slightly chewy robust sort of wine with lots of dense black fruit. Three years or so in the garage and it had emerged better than ever. The fruit seemed brighter (I am of course working from memory) and with more cherries, the tannins were very gentle and there was a distinct herbal quality. Best of all there was none of the stink, dilution or vinegar one can get with wine that has been kept too long. The flavours were crisp and bright. Only a chewy finish gave the age away. Verdict: Pena does age.

Château la Dournie, Saint-Chinian 2007

Another old favourite this time from Majestic (current vintage is 2001 at £9.99). Now I could see immediately that it had been kept too long, the colour was very pale, the tannins had gone but apart from these, it was in surprisingly good condition: still plenty of fruit, some lovely spice and a distinct woody smell to it. I’ve had Gigondas that have aged worse. Verdict: worth keeping though not for 7 years.

Cave de Saumur, Le Nivieres 2010

I normally love this wine from Waitrose (currently on offer for £6.69 doesn’t say vintage but would be 2012/13) but an extra two years aging had not been kind to this wine. Hardly any fruit or any taste in fact though still a nice smell of green peppers. Verdict: don’t keep.

So what did I learn from this rigorously scientific experiment? Well most wines are designed to be drunk young and you’d be foolish to keep them. Some, on the other hand, might not necessarily be better aged, but they will be different and can be delicious and even interesting. The sort that stand up well to his treatment are cheap but not dirt cheap wines from the South of France. Basically if it’s got a bit of stuffing and isn’t all about upfront fruit, then it might be worth keeping. The other thing I learnt is not to go on about my book too much, this is a wine blog after all, dammit!


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Do all publishers and authors live in Islington?

This is an article I wrote for the May issue of the Literary Review:

It never fails to amaze me how prevalent the notion is that publishers and writers live in one Georgian square in Islington and hand out lucrative publishing deals to each other over glasses of dry sherry. Last year there was an interview in the Guardian with a young writer called Samantha Shannon who Bloomsbury signed  for a vast sum of money. In it she mentioned that her agent was a friend of her father’s and she had met her editor-to-be at a party. This was taken by many in the comments section as evidence of nepotism.  As if publishers hand out six figure advances to their friends. I only wish it were like this.

Five years ago I had a book idea, an agent and a bit of time on my hands having been made redundant. My idea was to write a history of the British Empire told through booze. It would look at how the consequence of Britain uniting and becoming a great power was the creation of lot of delicious drinks. Scratch the surface of almost any drink, port, sherry, champagne, rum, and there’s a story about Britain. Everyone I spoke to thought it was a splendid idea. My agent was talking not about whether it would get picked up but for how much.  Two editors I knew read the proposal and said they could see it as a book (though they didn’t actually put any money down which should have rung alarm bells.) After much tweaking it went out in 2011 and then. . .  silence. Eventually word trickled back like the rumours of a defeat. They all said the same thing ‘ this is just the kind of thing we would have published ten years, five years, six months ago but the market. . . . ‘ Editors weren’t taking on unknown writers no matter how often they’d got drunk with them  at the British Book Awards.

Click here to read on.

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