Wine articles Wine of the week

Has supermarket wine got duller or have I got pickier?

Last week I thought I may have lost my sense of smell. This would have been disastrous for my highly-paid career as a wine blogger. I’d been at a few tastings and rather than the wine speak flowing from my nose to my brain and onto the page, I just wrote things like ‘quite fruity’ or ‘a bit dull.’ I kept trying wine that just didn’t seem to taste of anything, I looked around at the cream of the British wine writing establishment and they were all scribbling notes frantically whilst lightly bopping to a bit of Simply Red on their ipods. After one particularly unenlightening tasting, I sat down to have lunch. An oldish man asked me what I thought of the wine and I pulled a face, he leaned in and said ‘they don’t taste of anything, do they?’ So it wasn’t just me. Perhaps Tim Atkin et al, were just writing, dull, duller, dullest over and over again on their tasting booklets.  Has supermarket wine got duller or have I got pickier? I think they’ve got duller. This isn’t the place to muse on why this might – perhaps something to do with Michael Gove. Instead I’m going to recommend one that really stood out.

It’s rather snappily called, Sainsbury’s Winemakers’ Selection Gran Reserva Cariñena 2008 . Just rolls off the tongue doesn’t it? Luckily it’s nicely packaged with a sort of golden age of Rioja art nouveau label. The contents are old-fashioned rioja style too but unlike similar wines you can buy, there’s plenty of fruit to go with all that creamy oak. I would even go as far to describe it as juicy. It’s blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha from a region called Cariñena. Helpfully Cariñena is also a synonym for the grape variety Carignan which originated here. This wine contains no Carignan. You’d never call it dull and it’s only £6 a bottle. What’s even more exciting is that until 30th May there’s 25% off wine at Sainsbury’s when you buy six bottles or more. so that works out at £4.50 a bottle.

This offer excludes Scotland as the Scottish government don’t trust their subjects not to take advantage of this offer, down six bottles and then rampage up and down Sauchiehall Street naked painted in woad.


Wine articles

On cellaring ordinary wines

It’s not often I get told off for not talking about wine. In fact a few years ago a flatmate bought me a heavy glass ashtray and said that she’d brain me with it if I started pontificating on the subject. But yesterday someone commented  that I should stop talking about my effing book (I paraphrase here) and get back to wine which is the whole point of the blog. So suitably chastened, let’s talk about wine.

When I worked in the wine trade I had a colleague, let’s call him Clive, who claimed that Glenloth, a very ordinary Australian red that we sold for about £3.50 a bottle, became something quite notable after a few years in the cellar. I assumed at the time that this was nonsense, also Clive coached women’s hockey which I thought was somehow suspect as well. Anyway, I thought of Clive whilst rooting around in my father’s garage last month. He really does have a lot of wine including odd bottles that he’s forgotten about. I thought it would be interesting to pinch/ liberate a few and see how they had fared. I didn’t take anything particularly good, just everyday stuff that was probably over the hill. Here’s how I got on:

Chateau de Pena 2008

An old Wine Society favourite from the Roussillon. The current vintage on sale is the 12 at £6.75. This is normally a slightly chewy robust sort of wine with lots of dense black fruit. Three years or so in the garage and it had emerged better than ever. The fruit seemed brighter (I am of course working from memory) and with more cherries, the tannins were very gentle and there was a distinct herbal quality. Best of all there was none of the stink, dilution or vinegar one can get with wine that has been kept too long. The flavours were crisp and bright. Only a chewy finish gave the age away. Verdict: Pena does age.

Château la Dournie, Saint-Chinian 2007

Another old favourite this time from Majestic (current vintage is 2001 at £9.99). Now I could see immediately that it had been kept too long, the colour was very pale, the tannins had gone but apart from these, it was in surprisingly good condition: still plenty of fruit, some lovely spice and a distinct woody smell to it. I’ve had Gigondas that have aged worse. Verdict: worth keeping though not for 7 years.

Cave de Saumur, Le Nivieres 2010

I normally love this wine from Waitrose (currently on offer for £6.69 doesn’t say vintage but would be 2012/13) but an extra two years aging had not been kind to this wine. Hardly any fruit or any taste in fact though still a nice smell of green peppers. Verdict: don’t keep.

So what did I learn from this rigorously scientific experiment? Well most wines are designed to be drunk young and you’d be foolish to keep them. Some, on the other hand, might not necessarily be better aged, but they will be different and can be delicious and even interesting. The sort that stand up well to his treatment are cheap but not dirt cheap wines from the South of France. Basically if it’s got a bit of stuffing and isn’t all about upfront fruit, then it might be worth keeping. The other thing I learnt is not to go on about my book too much, this is a wine blog after all, dammit!



Do all publishers and authors live in Islington?

This is an article I wrote for the May issue of the Literary Review:

It never fails to amaze me how prevalent the notion is that publishers and writers live in one Georgian square in Islington and hand out lucrative publishing deals to each other over glasses of dry sherry. Last year there was an interview in the Guardian with a young writer called Samantha Shannon who Bloomsbury signed  for a vast sum of money. In it she mentioned that her agent was a friend of her father’s and she had met her editor-to-be at a party. This was taken by many in the comments section as evidence of nepotism.  As if publishers hand out six figure advances to their friends. I only wish it were like this.

Five years ago I had a book idea, an agent and a bit of time on my hands having been made redundant. My idea was to write a history of the British Empire told through booze. It would look at how the consequence of Britain uniting and becoming a great power was the creation of lot of delicious drinks. Scratch the surface of almost any drink, port, sherry, champagne, rum, and there’s a story about Britain. Everyone I spoke to thought it was a splendid idea. My agent was talking not about whether it would get picked up but for how much.  Two editors I knew read the proposal and said they could see it as a book (though they didn’t actually put any money down which should have rung alarm bells.) After much tweaking it went out in 2011 and then. . .  silence. Eventually word trickled back like the rumours of a defeat. They all said the same thing ‘ this is just the kind of thing we would have published ten years, five years, six months ago but the market. . . . ‘ Editors weren’t taking on unknown writers no matter how often they’d got drunk with them  at the British Book Awards.

Click here to read on.

Wine articles

Wine and Le Style Anglais

When authors or publishers get to a certain age, roughly 37, they are issued with a shapeless blue linen jacket. They then fill the pockets with books, papers, tobacco and various literary ephemera to make it more shapeless still. Men in the literary world are not known for their sartorial elegance so I was very impressed when I started attending wine tastings how well dressed everyone was. The first I went to as a wine blogger was a Brunello tasting and there was the Machesi di Frescobaldi immaculate in tweed and silk. And it wasn’t just him, his PR man John Franklin was wearing a nicely cut grey flannel suit. I felt scruffy, whereas in publishing I was thought to be quite the dandy.

The wine trade is one of the last hold outs for Le Style Anglais, that idealised version of English fashion developed in and around St James. It consists of shirts from Jermyn Street, shoes from Churches, suits from the Savile Row and a tweed jacket with red or mustard yellow trousers from Cordings. Noted devotees of this look include Jacques Thienpont from Chateau Le Pin and Javier Hidalgo from the sherry family who was immaculate in a three piece Prince of Wales check suit at the Great Fortified Tasting last year. One of the most charming things about Le Style Anglais is how the Europeans get it slightly wrong – everything is too new and too sharply cut with not enough smell of a dog blanket in the boot of a Volvo 240 estate. This uniform is a throwback to when the British dominated the global wine trade so it was fashionable to ape their look. In 18th century Porto some of the locals even affected speaking Portuguese with a British accent.

Until very recently it seems that the British hold on the sartorial standards of the trade was absolute. If you were in London selling your wine then suits or tweed ruled. A couple of summers ago, however, I glimpsed the future. I was walking down Brick Lane dodging the restaurant touts, looking for the RAW wine fair when I spotted a crowd of men who didn’t fit in. Their faces were weathered, they smoked intensely, they were scruffy and a little drunk. At first I thought they might be hipsters, or indeed vagrants, but they were speaking French – vignerons!  The look is the same, beards, check shirts, and a certain unwashed smell. Previously when the French came over to sell their wine they would dress up, now they were dressing down. I couldn’t work out whether hipsters dress the same as wine makers or the wine makers were in fact hipsters. Or perhaps they were dressing up as hipsters in order to sell their wines and then went back to the usual beret, Bretagne sweater and onions when they across the channel.

I see the Natural Wine Movement as a reaction against Anglo wine establishment. Is it any wonder that you rarely see natural wines from the Douro or Bordeaux? Its spiritual heartlands are the places with the least British influences, Burgundy, Beaujolais and the Loire. They are supported by a network of American writers and bloggers, it’s like the American Revolution all over again. This is reflected in the wines but also in how the producers dress. It is the French sticking two fingers up to the English. But it’s not just the French being difficult, there are those who see Le Style Anglais as evidence that wine trade is too male, too stuffy, too out of touch. The red trouser is the symbol of that most reviled of species, the wine snob. The Telegraph wine columnist Victoria Moore explicitly outlined this in a recent column on the new wave wine merchants: She wrote that the wine trade has traditionally been “A bastion of red trousers and thick third sons.” For natural wine fans and trendy wine merchants, scruffy attire is a sign of egalitarianism.

Now nobody likes equality more than me, but I don’t want to see the wine trade lose one of its most distinctive features. Can’t men be unsnobbish and still dress well? And don’t forget, wine bores come in many guises; they not always men in red trousers; the most condescending person I’ve met was in a trendy wine shop in the States. I’d hate to go to the Great Sherry Tasting in 2017 and find everyone dressed as if they work in a second hand record shop or, worse still, as if they’re attending a literary festival. Brothers! Keep the red trouser flying!


I went to the Great Fortified Tasting last month and I was delighted to see how much tweed there was on display especially from the Portuguese.

This article originally appeared on Tim Atkin’s Website.