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Beer Wine articles Wine of the week

The Southwold invasion

On my visits to the seaside town of Southwold, I often heard complaints that the town was being taken over by Londoners (much of the time it was  Londoners doing the complaining). Now the people of Southwold have decided to fight back. Adnams, the brewery that dominates the little Suffolk town, is taking over London. They started stealthily with a shop in Stamford, Lincolnshire, then one opened in Spitalfields market and now another has appeared near where I work in Bloomsbury.

Adnams’ advertising may be a little hit-and-miss but their beer is lovely and they are a first-rate wine merchant. Their shops also do a nice line in up-market kitchenware: I have my eye on some spatulas that will be ideal for my mother’s birthday present. Whilst nosing around the Bloomsbury shop, I was grabbed by a member of staff and marched down the basement where they were conducting a wine tasting.

One wine in particular grabbed my attention Juniper Estate Shiraz from Margaret River in Australia. Adnams describe it like this:

‘You’ll want to save this whopper Western Australian Shiraz, with its chocolate-rich, blackberry fruit, vanilla oak and spice for folks you want to impress.’

Sounds pretty grim doesn’t it? Happily it tasted nothing like this description. In fact it was miles away from the clichéd image of good old boy Australian Shiraz, a wine described by Roger Scruton in I Drink, Therefore I am as ‘a wine for hooligans.’ The first impression was lively and fresh: this wine has a lot of acidity. Not that you would mistake it for Beaujolais, however, it’s full of sweet, bright optimistically New World fruit with some vanilla. I detected a floral flavour that I normally describe as violets but having never eaten a violet, I don’t know why I call it that. Must try to eliminate wine jargon!  It smells spicy. A 2005, it carries its age gracefully. The fruit is still very much to the fore though there’s also some woodiness and meat. I’d describe it as an Australian take on the Northern Rhone. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had chosen to label it Syrah rather than Shiraz. I wrote in a previous post that one of my wine prejudices was Australian Shiraz. The Juniper Estate made me realise that they don’t all have to be 15% monsters.

On leaving the Store Street shop I noticed that the pub opposite, the College Arms, is now an Adnams pub. Quietly, inexorably, the Southwold invasion has begun; London is theirs for the taking. If it means good wine, beer and quality fish & chips, then I shan’t be putting up a fight.

Juniper Estate Shiraz 2005, Margaret River, Australia – available from Adnams £15.99

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Wine articles

Drinking and driving

It was a correspondence with Richard Ross from Wine Lines that made me ponder whether there was a link between a love of cars and a love of wine. Mr Ross’s own particular money pit is an MGA 1600. On vineyard visits, it is surprising how often there will be a vintage car normally in a state of disrepair. This reached an apogee with the late and much-lamented Marco di Bartoli in Sicily who not only collected and restored cars but used to race them too:

‘We entered a series of connected garages and a scene unlike anything I’d imagined – what looked like a small auto factory. . . dozens of vintage cars – 1950s and 1960s Alfas, Fiats, Lancias, Porsches, an early 1980s Ferrari and collections of minuscule Fiat 500s. . ‘ Robert V. Camuto, Palmento

So what could the link be?

Making good wine is often unrewarding certainly from a financial point of view, it requires long hours, patience and a willingness to get your hands dirty. This is much like keeping an old Alfa Romeo on the road. You would only do it for love as neither are going to make you rich. Your old car will break down, hail will destroy your vines – either way your wife is going to be upset. Then there is that moment when you’re on a winding bit of road, you change down when not strictly necessary to go into a corner, power out and listen to that little twin cam engine sing as it hits 5,000 rpm. That’s the moment that makes it all worth it. It’s the same magic I imagine you get when you try your wine in barrel after a difficult vintage and its really rather good, or when you find a good bottle of Burgundy. As Jay McInerney puts it in a recent article:

‘Burgundy, a region whose wines sometimes reminded me of British sports cars of the sixties in their fickleness and undependability. . .’

So when shaking hands with wine makers, look not only for the callouses that show they spend time in their vineyards but also for oil stains from tinkering with old machines. Their wine will be worth trying. There is a flip side to this. You should be wary if they are driving in a brand new flash car such as one of those Bentleys popular with footballers. The wine equivalent would be an overripe oaked Cabernet in the international style; the kind of thing made and bought by people with too much money who never get their hands dirty. It may be impressive, but it won’t stir the soul.

My relationship with old wines is much better than with old cars. I once borrowed a 1963 Alfa Romeo Giulietta TI intending to drive from Nice to Calais with a Californian girl I hardly knew. The car belonged to a friend of hers. It was all going romantically on the A8 near Aix when to the strains of Bitch by the Rolling Stones the tread came off the right hand rear tyre. I’ve no idea how fast as the speedometer was broken.  I lost control and banged the car against the wall of the hard shoulder trying to get it off the road and out of the path of a juggernaut. We spent the next couple of hours on the back of a transporter – not a bad way as it turned out to see the vineyards of Provence.

My Alfa jaunt did end happily for me, the Californian and I decided to get married when on the Eurostar home (the car went to an Alfa specialist in Lyons for some expensive repairs. I hear she’s back in good shape and living somewhere near Swindon). My wife and I have just had our first child, Helena. Perhaps we should have called her Giulietta.

Part of me longs for an old car, ideally a Lotus Elan plus 2, just as part of me longs to own a few acres of vines in a hilly part of the Languedoc. I don’t know if either dream will come true but I like that I can get some of that magic when I open a wine such as a Vecchio Samperi from di Bartoli. The next day I can wake up, get in a modern Volvo and drive to my office job.

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Wine articles

Marsala club

My latest Lady column is online. Very modern! It contains my predictions for what we’ll be drinking in 2012. My big tip is fortified wine such as Madeira or Marsala. As I can’t find a stockist for Terre Arse (insert joke here) Marsala in London, I’m thinking of buying a case. It would work out at about £10 a bottle. Any London readers who want in on this please let me know. Even with my love of fortified wine, six bottles is too many for me.