Wine articles


I decided to squander/ invest the last of my redundancy money on some En Primeur Bordeaux. I know that makes me sound like a former Goldman Sachs employee splashing out on a case of Le Pin but sadly my budget was more modest. My parameters were these: I mustn’t spend more than £500 (very easy when you only have £500) , I would only buy wines from chateaux I knew and I would buy more than one case. There were very few wines that fitted the bill. I was tempted by Poujeaux and Potensac but in the end went for the second wine of Gruaud Larose – Sarget de Gruaud Larose having recently drunk and loved the 2004.

Now to actually buy the stuff. I intended to go to an old-school wine merchant such as Justerini and Brooks but they had sold out so instead I went to Fine and Rare who are a brokerage firm rather than a merchant. I like to imagine them in blue shirts with white collars, pleated trousers and red braces shouting things like ‘Hong Kong says buy Climens ’89’ and ‘for fuck’s sake Clive dump those 97s!’.

Like many a delusional gambler, I have a method that cannot fail. Noting that second wines of classed growths have gone up enormously in price recently and that other excellent vintages (2000, 2005) of my particular wine are worth much more than the £135 a case (in bond) I paid, I think the 09 is undervalued. Hopefully it will go up enough so that in 5 years time I will have effectively a free case of wine. Of course by then the Chinese economy may have collapsed or, more prosaically, my wine may not turn out to be that great.

Of course speculation is a terrible thing for ordinary wine lovers. First Growth Bordeaux used to be bought by middle-class professionals rather than Russian oligarchs. Then in the 80s and 90s the money moved in and the prices rocketed. I don’t want this kind of thing to happen in the Southern Rhone or the Mosel where the best wines are still affordable. I wouldn’t mind, however, if Roman Abramovich suddenly took an interest in Sarget de Gruaud Larose 2009.

All wines are available from Fine and Rare

Books Film and TV Wine articles

Grape varieties don’t matter

The much-hyped comedy Sideways left me cold. I did leave the cinema, however, with the warm glow of the pedant for noticing that the grape varieties the Paul Giamatti character is most rude about, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, are the two that go into his beloved Cheval Blanc,  I remember thinking isn’t that just like Hollywood to make such a basic mistake. I now think it was a sly nod to the cognoscenti. Perhaps one of the film’s points is that grape varieties are not paramount, where a wine comes from, the skill with which the grapes are nurtured and the wine made is more important than the type of grape used.

The varieties that come in for the most flack are the German crosses, Huxelrebe, Bacchus, Muller-Thurgau etc. These grapes, normally crossings of Riesling with something that ripens earlier, were designed to have some of the flavour of their noble ancestor but be easier to grow consistently in Germany. They, especially Muller-Thurgau, are held responsible for the precipitous decline in German wines reputation since the War. So when at a recent tasting I was offered a glass of wine made from this variety I declined. The producer, La Vis from Trentino in Italy, insisted and watched with amusement as my face lit up: it was delicious. My notes say: ‘floral, v.fresh, spicy.’ It tasted like one of those madly fashionable Austrian wines and not at all ‘vaguely peachy with a flat, flaccid mid-palate, too often with a slight-suspicion of rot’ (the tasting note from the Oxford Companion to Wine.) It wasn’t Riesling but it wasn’t trying to be. I have the suspicion that those awful German wines owe more ludicrously high yields, bad quality fruit and huge quantities of sugar than any intrinsic varietal qualities. With those practices, the wines would have been awful no matter what grape variety they used.

Due to our damp cold climate, most English wines apart from the champagne-style sparkling wines are made from these Germanic crosses. I have always avoided them. Why have a Bacchus when you could have a Fiano was my reasoning. Well at the same Italian tasting I tried a dull dilute Fiano, a dreary Falanghina and hopeless Greco di Tufo (all Campanian grapes which can be excellent.) Perhaps it is time to try change my view. Wine critics have been praising wines such as the Chapel Down Bacchus for many years now. They have transcended their humble varietals. They are bought because of the reputation of the company rather, at the other end of the scale, as Cheval Blanc is.

La Vis Cru also do a lovely Gewurztraminer and a Pinot Grigio.  They are distributed by United Wineries.

Chapel Down Bacchus widely available.

Cheval Blanc widely available for those who can afford it. Petite Cheval, the second wine, offers some of the magic for a more reasonable price. Try Berry Bros & Rudd.

Wine articles

Designer sherries

Martin, manager at Oddbins in Leeds back in the early years of this century, used to refer to a morning sherry as a sharpener.  There is nothing quite so refreshing when hungover as an 11am Tio Pepe.  That is what is often forgotten about sherry especially in its fino form – just how deliciously moreish it is. One simply cannot get tired of it.

The marketing tactic for sherry these days seems to be based on how well it goes with fashionable Spanish food. It doesn’t seem to be working. Everyone is eating tapas at every meal and yet people are drinking less and less sherry. They need a change of plan. One way is to appeal to those interested in cult drinks. People will pay hundreds of pounds for a bottle of whisky from a single barrel especially if it is has an interesting story attached so why not the same for rare sherries. Lustau have been doing something like this for a while with their superb Almacenista range but now Navazos have entered the ring buying up distinctive barrels from within soleras to create designer sherries with packaging to match. I tried their La Bota de Fino recently; it’s an impressive drink, a fino with the flavours turned up to 11. This would normally have been blended into Valedespino’s finos; it is a rare treat to try it on its own. I also tried a single vineyard vintage unfortified Palomino Fino made in conjunction with Nierpoort, the Port people, an elegant wine that softly breathes the word sherry in your ear. It might be a bit subtle for my tastes. Even Gonzalez Byass themselves have got in on the act with an unfiltered Tio Pepe and I have noticed that the Wine Society now have a Fino Perdido (lost fino) in their catalogue.

Maybe the whisky model is the best way for sherry to survive, the single bottlings thrive whilst the big brands slowly contract. I think this would be a shame. The big sherry brands, La Gitana, La Ina and Uncle Pepe himself, offer astounding quality for the money. Containing immeasurable quantities of very old wines, they really are fine wines at everyday prices. Instead of trading on the Iberian food boom, Gonzalez Byass should put up massive posters saying ‘it’s never too early for sherry’ and then handing out free snifters of Tio Pepe to disgruntled commuters. That would reverse the decline.

Tio Pepe, Gonzalez Byass. Widely available for around £9

Tio Pepe Fino en Rama, no idea where you can get this from. Perhaps El Pepito sherry bar in King’s Cross, London

La Gitana, Hidalgo, widely available for around £7

La Ina, Lustau, widely available for around £9

Lustau Almacenista, prices vary, widely available.

La Bota de Fino, £27.50 Equipo Navazos

Nierpoort Jerez Blanco £20

Both from Bottle Apostle in Hackney

Fino Perdido, £7.95, the Wine Society