Wine articles

Your prejudice won’t keep you warm tonight

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” – Isaac Asimov

“Your prejudice won’t keep you warm tonight.” – Steven Morrissey

Prejudices are wonderful things. You can tell a man by his prejudices.  A prejudice is a one off judgement that you hold onto for the rest of your life. They can be irrational but they can also be based on a good piece of evidence e.g. I went to the White Horse in Parson’s Green and didn’t like the braying twats at the table next door ostentatiously arguing over who would pay the bill: ‘no seriously Jasper, fuck the fuck off, I’ll pay’ one of them said waiving his gold card at the nonplussed waitress. From this you can deduce that all former public schoolboys are wankers. Congratulations, you now have a prejudice. Luckily it’s a socially acceptable one so you won’t get arrested for tweeting about it. I’d like to add that it’s not our fault we speak so loudly. If every day of your life someone had shouted ‘speak up Jeffreys! don’t mumble!’ then you too would have a loud braying voice. Anyway I digress, prejudices!

I used to love my wine prejudices: Australian wine is jammy, English a joke and Pinotage unspeakable. When I became wine writer for the Lady I decided to confront them head on. I would go out of my way to drink wines that I would normal avoid. I take my duties extremely seriously and don’t want readers missing out on the fabulous world of wine because of my bigotry. I wrote last year:

“This year I’m to approach all wines with an open mind including ones that I normally avoid. This means you Pinotage, Australian Shiraz and any still wine from England. I will be become an equal opportunities taster, celebrating the diversity of the wine world rather than taking refuge, little Englander-like, in the comforting flavours of the old world.”

So how have I got on? Well I think I might be up for a Commission for Racial Equality award because I doubt there is anyone doing more to celebrate diversity in wine than me. Australian shiraz? Well not only do I now love Australian wine but I’ve learned to love that big rather malty style of shiraz that I used to think was vulgar. It’s not vulgar – it’s just plain delicious. This year I even fell for the ne plus ultra of Oz shirazes, the Dead Arm from d’Arenberg. Tick!

With English wine I wasn’t doing quite so well, I’d had lots of very good sparklers and some reasonable stills, but then last week I had an English chardonnay, Gusbourne Guinevere 2011, that tasted blind I would have said new wave Australian – very dry, very chic, and expensive – superb stuff. And if you’re a fan of very light German reds, their Pinot Noir isn’t bad either. Tick! Another prejudice down.

And Pinotage, well I have tried. I’ve really tried, I’ve drunk lots and I’ve drunk them with an open mind. I don’t want to dislike it. I like nothing better than being a contrarion. It would be cool to champion this underdog but sadly I haven’t found anything that I would want more than one glass of. Still the Warwick Old Vine Pinotage wasn’t bad – nicely smoky, smooth and with only the smallest whiff of burnt plastic.

The best thing about prejudices is that as soon as you demolish old ones, some new ones spring up. My latest is New Zealand Pinor Noir. I’m just not convinced and I’m really looking forward to being proved wrong.

Wine articles

Wine of the Week: Rigal Malbec L’ Instant Truffier 2011









A few years back I met the late Sebastian Horsley for lunch at the Lorelei cafe in Soho. We were there to discuss publicity for his forthcoming memoir, ‘Dandy in the Underworld.’ He waved at the menu dismissively and said: ‘it doesn’t matter what you order here, it all tastes the same.’ I was beginning to feel the same about the wine at Majestic: no matter what I bought, it all tasted the same. It was as if Majestic were using the Winemerchant 2000 ® (originally developed by Laithwaite’s) whereby an entire world of wines can created from an industrial estate in Bedford. They start with a base wine and then add ‘Real Languedoc Garrique’ or ‘Classic Rioja-style’ vanilla extract.

Perhaps it was my fault for being tempted by their special offers. Chianti Riserva at only £5.99 really was too good to be true. I had tried asking the staff for recommendations but these always turned out to be equally lacklustre. Perhaps they had gauged me as one of those customers who like their wines ‘smooth’ and would be put off by anything too interesting. After one too many disappointments, I’d stopped visiting my local branch in Shoreditch. But then we ran out of everyday wine, it was too late for a Wine Society delivery so I went back.

There was some late 90s house music pumping out of the speakers. It was about noon. Over the din, I asked the manager to suggest something red, cheap and Southern French and he suggested this malbec (I know more malbec, it’s as if I’m in the pay of the powerful malbec lobby.) This wine is all about fragrance, it’s floral, ripe and not heavy, it takes well to a light chilling, but there’s also a firmness at the end to let you know that you’re in Gascony. It’s made by a well-known Cahors producer but for reasons known only to the French it’s a Cotes du Lot rather than a Cahors. It’s not a complicated wine so I can’t think of anymore to say about it except buy lots and drink. Oh and it’s on special offer for only £6.99 a bottle. Sometimes those offers aren’t too good to be true.

Just in case anyone’s lawyers are reading I’m not claiming that Laithwaite’s and Majestic wines are concocted on an industrial estate in Bedford only that some of them taste as if they are. 

Wine articles

Youth-friendly wine tastings

CarlosGoing to a wine tasting can be an intimidating even for an experienced wine bore like me. There’s all those wines lined up, you have to take a sniff, a little sip, spit – don’t get me started on spitting, a subject that deserves a whole post of its own – and then you have to scribble something. Many’s the time when I’ll be sandwiched between noted wine writers such as Victoria Moore or Robert Parker, and I’ll literally not be able to think of anything to write. It just tastes like Bordeaux; ‘typically claret!’ I’ll write, hoping that Jancis Robinson isn’t looking over my shoulder. It’s even more awkward when the producer is there and wants to tell you about the soil in which the grapes were grown. ‘ Can you taste the schist?’ ‘mmmmm, yes!’

I remember my first wine tasting. It was the Oddbins wine fair in Edinburgh in 2000. I didn’t spit in those days and was later found sliding slowly down the stairs muttering, ‘I’m so drunk, I’m so drunk.’ (Not so drunk, however that I can’t still recall a Bonnezeaux from Chateau de Fesles.) Perhaps part of the reason I got so drunk was because I felt so awkward asking for the wine and then trying to pull a suitably wine-tasty expression when tasting it. Everyone around me seemed to know exactly what they were doing.

One way to make tasting a little more youth-friendly is to embrace the boozy side of wine rather than acting as if we’re judging Pomeranians at Crufts. We drink alcohol when we’re celebrating, why not combine wine with festivity? It’s pretty radical stuff but it seems to be catching on.  Whilst I was in California recently, a local wine merchant, Domaine LA, was offering Morgons on Superbowl Sunday, a day more usually associated with hot dogs and Budweiser. Now for World Malbec Day on the 17th April there’s an event in Dalston (I just resisted the urge to use the epithet fashionable before Dalston) called Cambalanche which combines wine tasting with other noted Argentine exports such as music, food and, er, graffiti.

It sounds fun. Instead of having to talk about fermentation temperatures or worrying about your spitting technique, you can munch on an empanada and strut around dramatically to Astor Piazzollo. I tried to persuade my dear old Dad to come but he’s boycotting Argentina because of their continued claim on the Falkland Islands. Instead he’s going to celebrate World Malbec Day by staying at home with a bottle of Cahors and some reheated cassoulet. Actually that sounds quite fun as well. What to do?