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Wine articles

Good news from World of Booze

I heard the exciting news last week that this blog is the fifth most read wine blog in Britain according to Cision. Or it might be the fifth best or the fifth most innovative, how they rated the blogs is not clear, but however they worked it out it is nice to be appreciated. Thank you everyone for reading and commenting and making it feel less like I’m sitting at home muttering to myself.

Ahead of me in the top 5 are:

Berry Bros Blog – the oldest wine merchant in London; supplier of booze to Beau Brummell and former employer of Napoleon III when he was down on his luck.

Wine Conversation – written by an industry insider called Rob McIntosh who runs the wine bloggers conference. I like to think of him as the Dan Aykroyd character in Gross Point Blank except with wine bloggers rather than hit men.

Spittoon – the first and most prestigious wine blog in Britain.

Jamie Goode’s Wine Blog – this man is a Master of Wine. This isn’t like getting a 2:1 in English Literature from the University of Leeds; it takes years of rigorous study. I am rather in awe of people who achieve it. (editor’s note: Jamie Goode isn’t actually a MW – I think I must have mixed him up with Tim Atkin. Still Mr Goode is well worth reading and knows his onions as we wine writers say.)

And then at no 5 is me. So no idea what I’m doing in such venerable company but hopefully soon I will be approached by a shadowy cabal of Bordeaux Chateaux looking to preserve the status quo through lavish gifts, luxury holidays and veiled threats.

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As well as this blog I have started writing occasionally about booze for The Dabbler, Quintessentially Magazine and Slightly Foxed. They are all excellent publications and worth subscribing too or just reading for free in the case of The Dabbler.

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Finally a plug for a new blog that has nothing to do with booze from former wine writer Patrick Matthews. It’s called Middlesex County Press and it is, amongst other things an, appreciation of London’s unloved suburbs. As someone born in Harrow, it has a strong pull but I recommend you have a look whether you live in Chelsea, Inverness or San Luis Obispo.

Categories
Wine articles

Why do wine writers write only about wine?

There’s an article by Craig Brown (the humourist not the former Scotland football manager) about being present at the one and only meeting between Anthony Burgess and Benny Hill. Apparently it was not a great success. Though the two great artists admired each other’s work they could not find any common ground: Burgess wanted to talk about comedy and Hill wanted to talk about literature. Specialists often want to talk about almost anything else apart from their area of expertise. This is common in all walks of life except it would seem wine writing. Wine writers only talk about wine. Compare two writers for the Times for example: on the restaurant page Giles Coren pontificates about whatever he feels like with the actual food coming far down his list of priorities whereas Jane McQuitty sticks to recommending wine with not a mention of her hell-raising days at Studio 54*.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. There is a wonderful purity about reading someone who really knows their subject and writes about it to the exclusion of everything else. I like that Tim Atkin et al don’t blether on about their private lives (unless of course they were interestingly scandalous) or use their columns as a platform to opine Archbishop of Canterbury-like on the failures of the Coalition. And God forbid that wine should ever have the Observer Food Monthly treatment with its celebrity lifestyle nonsense. But it does seem odd how wine seems to exist in a bubble cut off from politics, culture and the minutia of everyday life. Occasionally it ventures out to look at global warming, tax rises or a black workers co-op in South Africa but mostly its nose is firmly planted in a glass.

This is fine if you are Jancis Robinson and have a large wine-literate audience to talk to. One of the joys of her website is feeling that you are part of a knowledgeable club. But other mainstream writers have the difficulty of not knowing quite how interested their readers are in what is a complicated subject. Inevitably many fall between two stools: one being too winey for the general reader; the other being not winey enough for the wine bore. Perhaps newspapers wouldn’t be cutting their wine pages if there was someone who wrote not to impart knowledge and recommend but merely to entertain. After all who reads AA Gill to decide where to eat?

* This is a joke. To my best knowledge Jane McQuitty never raised hell at Studio 54.

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Wine articles Wine of the week

Wine of the Week: Vinho Verde, Quinta de Azevedo, 2010

Until very recently on my parents’ fridge was a piece of schoolwork by my younger brother from when he was very little. I think the assignment was to describe his father. All I can remember about it is the line ‘my Daddy likes drinking Vinho Verde.’ It wasn’t his best piece of work and I’m not sure why it stayed on the fridge for so long when better works such as my poem about a psychotic tin of Del Monte peaches were consigned to the bin.

Perhaps it was because my Dad and indeed my mother really did love drinking Vinho Verde. Thanks to annual holidays in the Algarve, this was the first particular kind of wine that I was aware of. I once asked my father why he only drank it in Portugal, he muttered something about it not travelling which I didn’t understand at the time. What he meant was that the green wine – green because it is young not because of its colour – needs to be drunk as soon after vintage as possible. In fact it is probably best unbottled still fizzing with carbon dioxide like traditional Frascati or Heuriger wine in Austria.

This particular Vinho Verde is a breath of fresh air if you’re sick of tarted-up attention-seeking wines. It’s low in alcohol and gently lemony rather than bursting with tropical fruits. That’s not to say that it is bland: there is an electric almost Riesling-esque crackle of acidity and a slight fizz. Its cousin, Rias Baixas, over the border in Galicia is madly fashionable, expensive and often disappointing whereas Vinho Verde is free of all pretence. It’s the perfect thing to drink in large quantities with lots of seafood.

Currently on offer at Majestic for £4.99 when you buy two. Even at £6.99 it’s good value.

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Wine articles

Corner Shop Wine Challenge

Due to lack of funds, I have not been buying my regular cases of wine from Majestic or the Wine Society. As a result I am often caught out with no ordinary wine in the house so have to visit my local shop. Recently I’ve had a Lindemans Cawarra Cabernet Merlot – a bit grim, Wolf Blass Shiraz – tasted like an alcopop and a £2.99 Montepulciano d’ Abrruzzo – just about palatable chilled with spicy food. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was something wonderful that I had missed? So for the inaugural meeting of my wine club, I decided that we should do ‘the corner shop challenge’. Guests were asked to bring a bottle from a corner shop for not more than £7 (everyone including me ignored this rule).

Planning the evening I turned to Michael Broadbent’s invaluable Wine Tasting for help: ‘do not underestimate the number of people required to help, from supervisor to coat attendant. Numbers and quality of staff will, of course, depend on the nature of the event, it size and the place.’ The staff turned out to be variable. One of them worked hard all day cleaning and preparing delicious snacks for the guests. The other got drunk and droned on and on about his failure to find a publisher for his book

Wine 1 – Yellow label Riesling, Wolf Blass, 2006 – £8.49 (the label was smudged – I thought it said £6.49)

Despite my years of drinking and reading about wine plus two years in the trade, I have never been able to shrug off the childish notion than an old wine is a good wine. When I go into a shop I wonder what dusty gems might be lurking on the shelves rather than thinking logically about what poor storage conditions do to a wine especially ones designed to be drunk young. I hoped that the Wolf Blass would have become honeyed and nutty like a Pewsey Vale Riesling I had a few years back. The colour was pretty, yellow/ green and it smelt like mature Riesling (albeit not a very good one). Sadly on the palate it was clear that it was past it: very little fruit, not much acidity and no honey or nuts. Boo!

Wine 2 – Fleurie, Louis Jolimont, 2009

Cheap commercial Beaujolais is one of the worst wines known to man so from very low expectation this was surprisingly nice. No strange confected taste, no high alcohol without any flavour. Instead it was light, refreshing and a bit bland – like reasonable cheap Beaujolais if not a lot like Fleurie.

Wine 3 – Rioja Reserva, Campo Viejo, 2006 – £10.50

Rioja is a good standby in a corner shop or a supermarket as it is so rarely bad. This one was, however , a disappointment: much too soft and smooth with no bite whatsoever and none of the perfume that you would hope for in an over £10 Reserva. This was like a Rioja-flavoured soup.

Wine 4 – Fantasia Torrontes, Bodegas Lorca, 2009

One of my guests arrived a little worse for wear clutching this bottle he had won in a raffle. This fitted in with the spirit if not the letter of my rules for the evening so I let him in. Torrontes is an Argentine grape that is, I think, related to Muscat. It can be a little cloying but this was nice – slightly sweet, aromatic and refreshing if a little dilute.

Wine 5 – Casillero del Diablo Pinot Noir 2010 – £6.99

I like this one; it’s simple, meaty and delicious chilled with none of the jamminess that you can get in cheap Pinot Noirs. Not one to pontificate over but definitely the best wine of the night until we opened the. . .

Wine 6 – Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr, Riesling Auslese, Weingut Max Ferd Richter, 2003, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer

Blimey what a mouthful! This was the reward to my guests for having braved the mean streets of Bethnal Green to taste such dull wines. Quick explanation of the name, the first part is the name of the vineyard, the second is the grape variety, Auslese means that it was made from specially-selected late harvest grapes which were full of sugar. Then you have the producer and finally the area in Germany where it comes from.

Obviously this was in a different league to the others. It was the only one where people actually stopped gossiping to savour the wine. This smelt of petrol and limes. It had a similar colour to the Wolf Blass but it seemed to glow and shimmer. On the palate it was very full-bodied, sweet, but not incredibly sweet like a Sauternes, with toasty notes. A lovely drop but certainly not great. It was missing that electric charge of acidity that you should get from the best German Riesling – it was a little flabby. The incredible heat of the 2003 vintage might be to blame for this lack of structure or perhaps being kept for five years in the back of my cupboard.

My conclusions for the evening:

1) When in a corner shop buy the youngest wine you can find preferably from one of the big Chilean brands such as Casillero del Diablo or Cono Sur.

2) Better yet just buy a case from the Wine Society. For £7 you can get something worth discussing, for £10 something sublime.

3) Don’t organise a wine tasting around boring wines.

All wines without links should be widely available apart from the Fleurie which is a bit of a mystery. The 03 Auslese might be a bit hard to track down.