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.
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.