Wine articles

It’s so easy to laugh, it’s so easy to hate.

It’s traditional at this time of year for newspapers to contain lists of the best things of the past year selected by well-known people. In the books pages it is  normally an excuse for politicians to claim that they have read this year’s Booker prize winner and in the wine pages for columnists to say what they will be toasting the new year with. This is no fun at all. What I want to know is which book/ wine/ film they hated. People are so much more  entertaining when writing about their dislikes. In that spirit, here are my least favourite wines of the year:

Julia, Avondale, Paarl, South Africa, 2005. I think this one is a Bordeaux blend. When it was young I imagine that this wine was merely unpleasant but after 5 years it is actually horrible. On the nose were notes of burnt rubber intermingled with rotting meat. I don’t think I actually put it in my mouth.

Eaglehawk Shiraz, Wolf Blass, Australia, 2008. I  would not be surprised if this wine was a byproduct of the Ribena factory beefed up with a little wine. You can’t even cook with it because the blackcurrant taste turns every gravy into jam.

Burgans Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain 2009. Not horrible just disappointing. This grape should be very fresh, dry and lemony whereas this one was flabby and dilute. Sadly many high street versions of this grape and other fresh Spanish whites seem to miss the whole point of these styles. If you want to know  what they are meant to taste like try:

Val do Saines Albarino, Rias Baixas 2009 from Marks & Spencer. This smells like the sea and is very dry and zingy in the mouth. I could happily drink a whole bottle whilst getting messy with seafood. It’s nice to end on a positive note

Wine articles

Oldish wines

Traditionally wine merchants not only used buy wine and sell it on to their customers but they also matured it until it was ready to drink. Now most wine is sold as soon as it is bottled. Wine merchants claim this is because: a) people prefer to drink younger wine these days and b) because most wine is made to be drunk younger. It also conveniently releases money that would otherwise be tied up in maturing stock. Some wines, however, insist upon a little aging and thankfully for those of us without the space or the patience to keep them there are still some merchants fulfilling their traditional duties. Here are a couple of my favourites:

Chateau Ducluzeau, Listrac-Medoc,  2000 – £15.75 – this claret tastes of the days when the term gentleman’s club meant batty colonels and cigars rather than strippers and cocaine. It smells a bit like that too.  I found it refreshing and barely tannic with a mellow sweet finish.  Available at From Vineyard Direct who sell a lot of good mature wine.

Macon La Roche VineuseOlivier Merlin, 2006 – £10.50 – Affordable red Burgundy is normally a recipe for insipidness but this is inky black and powerful. I’m glad it has a little age as it’s power has been softened somewhat making it very drinkable. Available from House of Townend – a Hull-based merchant whose customers I insulted in a previous column.

Both these wines would be great for Christmas day but I may have written this post too late to receive deliveries from either. So I am going to recommend one wine which always seems to be sold mature. I am not sure who takes the trouble to wait until it is ready but I am glad they do. It is also widely available and cheap:

Cotes du Rhone, Guigal, 2006 – £8 approx. (Majestic often have it on offer for less) – a traditional blend from one of the biggest producers in the Rhone. It smells of leather and herbs and tastes like having old friends round for supper.

Wine articles

The first rule of wine club is. . .

I’m planning on starting a  wine club so that I can drink wine I wouldn’t normally be able to afford. This club, will be in the words of Dr Frasier Crane, ‘just about wine and clear constitutional procedures for enjoying it.’ Without clear guidelines, a wine tasting can turn into a free for all or even a drunken brawl. I have seen it happen. Here are my ten golden rules of wine tasting:

1 – Talk about wine. Don’t invite people to your tasting if they aren’t interested in talking about wine. I’m not expecting discussion about the relative merits of limestone and clay for ripening Pinot Noir but I do want some level of engagement with the task in hand. If I wanted to gossip about other people’s marriages then I would join a book group.

2 – Get the level right. Don’t invite people who do want to talk about soil types unless you too want to talk dirt.

3 – Don’t mention Robert Parker. There is nothing duller than constantly measuring one’s opinions against a noted authority whether you agree with him or not.  There should be a box in which offenders have to £5 for every mention of his Bobness.

4 – No perfume. I went to a tasting recently put on by venerable Hull wine merchant, the House Of Townend, where a couple of ladies stood by the white burgundies spraying each other with Lovely by Sarah Jessica Parker. My wife, having no experience of Yorkshire women, thought that they were prostitutes.

5 – No sobriety. This is one of the many topics on which Michael Broadbent and I disagree. He says ‘it is nothing short of ridiculous to drink one’s way through a tasting’ whereas I think a degree of intoxication is vital for English people to shake off their self-consciousness and talk freely about wine. There is, however, a fine line between Bacchic inspiration and being a drunken twat.

6 – Lots of food. This is vital to avoid point 5 getting out of hand. Bread, cheese, cold meats, sausages, a little game pie, pate, perhaps some salt cod croquets,  nothing too fancy.

7 – No scoring. By all means have a favourite at the end of the evening but don’t try and give your opinion a specious scientific gloss by attaching a number to it

8 – No smoking. I do love an occasional cigarette but not during wine club.

9 – No drugs. They numb your palette and lead to you making outrageous pronouncements such as ‘Rioja is for babies.’

10 – Wines will not be drunk blind. There should be no competitive element in the evening. The basis of the club is to try wonderful wines not to impress with one’s ability to recognise a Tuscan cabernet with one sniff.

Now all I have to do is find five people willing to follow these rules. It might be difficult.  Hopefully I will report back on the first meeting very shortly.

Wine of the week

Wine of the week: an Australian original

I said I wasn’t going to tell readers what they should be drinking but I’ve changed my mind. From now on I’m going to recommend one wine each week which I will call my ‘wine of the week.’

This week it is the Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon 2005.  This is a great wine to give those who think that all Australian wines are clumsy over-oaked monsters. A lot of them are but Australia also has a unique style of white where the grapes are picked slightly underripe and then bottled with no oak treatment. Initially they don’t taste of very much but after a few years in bottle start to blossom magnificently. The semillons from the Hunter valley have this property as well as the marsannes from Tahbilk in Victoria.

Normally you have to do this ageing yourself or pay a large premium to buy them mature but Mount Pleasant have done all the work for you and at £8.99 from Sainsburys it is a bargain. The wine is just beginning to bloom with nutty toasty flavours contrasting with a nice limey acidity. We drank it with our Thanksgiving turkey last week but this will just get better if you have the patience to keep it.

The wine was named in honour of our Queen’s marriage to Philip; there is also a shiraz named after him. I doubt that anyone will come up with anything as elegant to commemorate the forthcoming royal nuptials.