Wine articles Wine of the week

The irresistible rise of Picpoul

If you’re anything like me, you probably can’t wait to read what the big names of the British wine world, yer McQuittys, yer Becketts, yer Moores, are drinking this summer. To a woman this year, they have picked a Picpoul de Pinet. Picpoul is now firmly established on the middle-class wine lovers shopping list. Most restaurants, gastropubs and bars stock a Picpoul.  I don’t think it’s ready to take New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc’s crown yet but it’s definitely a contender.

The best thing about Picpoul from a wine bore’s perspective is that it is unbranded. You don’t have all that garish advertising and vulgar discounting that you get with Ned or Oyster Bay. Instead you can pretend that you have discovered it yourself whilst staying with your auntie near Pomerols. And yet Picpoul, in its own quiet French way, has been a masterpiece of marketing. It was originally the answer to a problem of what to do with all the grapes grown for Noilly Prat vermouth when sales of vermouth declined.

Those tall embossed bottles, ribbed for her pleasure, mean that it stands out on the shelves. They’re the opposite of the squat Burgundy-style chardonnay bottle, it’s a bottle that promises  refreshment rather than oaky fatness. Similar sort of wines such as Muscadet and Vinho Verde also come in tall bottles but the Picpoul bottle is unique (it seems they’ve taken a leaf out of Chateauneuf’s book here by having a custom bottle). And then there’s the name. It literally means ‘sting lips’ in French (or maybe Occitan), a reference to the grape’s high acidity. It’s an easy word for Anglos to say. Not too easy, mind, we don’t want the Pinot Grigio brigade picking up on it but once you’ve learnt how to say it, you won’t forget. In fact it fufils a similar role on the wine list as Chablis or Sancerre, in that drinkers can flaunt their French pronounciation with a word that isn’t hard to pronounce.

But unlike these famous names to the North, Picpoul’s reputation has yet to be tarnished by lacklustre wines. Quality is high, it may never soar to the heights of a Grand Cru Chablis but I’ve never had one that tasted of vingerary water either. These are good simple wines. The only problem is that most of them are too expensive in Britain. My favorite Picpoul from Domaine La Grangette costs €5 from the cellar door but £11.29 over here.  If you want a budget PIcpoul, Aldi’s has one for £5.99 which isn’t half bad. Luckily for me my auntie brought me a case of the Grangette back from France this summer. 

34 wines in Altrincham have La Grangette for £8.95 a bottle which when you factor in British duty and VAT (£2 plus 20%) is really good value. It’s significantly better than supermarket Picpouls. Thanks to James Heron for pointing this out. 

Oh and in case you’re interested you can read an update on my book here.

Wine articles

Mouton Rothschild – an affordable luxury

unnamedIn 2012 I won a bottle of Mouton Rothschild 1996 in a writing competition on Jancis Robinson’s site. When we moved house last year I didn’t trust the movers with it so I wrapped it up in layers of bubble wrap and carried it myself. Since then it has been sitting under the stairs looking for an excuse to be opened. Last month I learnt that my book will now be published so I invited my parents over for a celebration. It seemed as good a time as any especially as the cupboard under the stairs is too warm for long term wine storage. That was when the worrying started: I worried that it might be a bit young; Jancis Robinson recommended not opening it until 2015; I worried that I might drop it; I worried about what sort of food I should have with it – my wine books said lamb or beef but my wife is off the lamb and my mother doesn’t eat beef. I worried so much that I almost gave up on the whole thing. Eventually I pulled myself together, went to the butchers and bought a loin of pork.

While it was roasting, I gingerly opened the bottle, poured myself a tiny glass and had a sniff. It smelt extremely powerful and worryingly, very oaky. Had I opened it too early or perhaps I just wasn’t going to be to my taste? I decanted it, kept the sediment to make gravy and put the decanted wine in the fridge to cool slightly. Meanwhile I washed the delicate Riedel glasses that I never use as the last time I did I broke one.

How could a wine that I had approached with such reverence fail to be a disappointment? click here to read more at Tim Atkin’s site. 

Wine articles

I love old record players

My three great loves after wine are vintage cars, old bicycles and obsolete hifi. Bicycles aside, they’re silly things to be interested in when you don’t have any money. Nevertheless I wrote this thing recently for the Financial Times on collecting turntables. It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever written due to the paper’s insistence on facts, quotes and evidence – basically proper journalism rather than a series of stolen jokes.

In July 2012, an online auction was held by Peaker Pattinson of the contents of Bush House, home of the BBC World Service for 71 years. Among the microphones, photos of famous broadcasters and a Steinway grand piano was a giant German turntable, the EMT 950. Weighing in at nearly 80kg, it sold to a private collector for £3,800 (rather a bargain considering that, in the same year, John Shaw of Shaw Sounds, the British decks expert, sold one for £6,382). Such BBC spring cleans are a boon for audiophiles left cold by the digital era. Turntables, says Toby Rogers, a City lawyer from London, are “an escape from digital slavery. When you settle down with your vinyl, you actually listen to the music.”

Read more here.



Film and TV Wine articles

Buying wine at auction

This is a longer version of something I wrote for the Telegraph. It’s actually a bit dry but I want to have all my wine writing in one place hence why I’m posting it. Please ignore if you’re looking for jokes.

Wine auctions have been in the news lately though not for the right reasons. The case of Rudy Kurniawan, an Indonesian wine dealer, rocked the wine establishment. He made millions from selling counterfeit blue chip wines such Le Pin and Domaine de Romanee Conti. He’s just been sentenced to ten years in prison and a documentary abut him was released early this year, Sour Grapes. This shouldn’t put you off buying wine at auction just to be aware that it has the same pitfalls as buying art, antiques and vintage cars with the added one that wine is a perishable product.

Jamie Hutchinson from the Sampler with shops in Islington and South Kensington says ‘only worry about forgeries if you’re buying Domaine de la Romanee Conti, Lafite or somesuch’ More pertinent is how the wine has been stored. Extremes of temperature and bright light will damage wine. ‘A good way to check that it has been properly stored is by looking at the level in the bottle. For example a 30 year old wine such as an 82 Bordeaux, don’t buy if the wine level is below top of the shoulder.’ The auction house should be able to provide this information for you.  He added ‘wines for investment need  to be in sealed cases and stored under bond. You shouldn’t really see the wine you’re buying.’

Jamie added ‘there’s an awful lot of Bordeaux out there and most of it is overpriced.’ Bordeaux has declined dramatically in value, a case of Lafite 2009 cost £15,000 (before tax and duty) in May 2011 is now worth about £6,000, and Jamie thinks ‘it still has further to fall.’’ Burgundy however is made in such small quantities that it is less likely to lose its value. The tiny quantities mean that it doesn’t attract fund money the way Bordeaux did. His tip at auctions is to buy ‘village wines from second tier producers such as JF Mugnier, Denis Bachelet or Jean Grivot.’ These are wines from a named village such as Chambolle-Musigny but not a named vineyard within that village. If you are intent on Bordeaux, ‘buy from an underpriced vintage such as 2004, it’s the same price as 2002 and 2007 but much better and great to drink now.’

Burgundy isn’t the only area that is attracting collectors put off by the volatility of Bordeaux. Italian wines such as Barolo, Barbesco, Brunello and Supertuscans (Sassicaia, Tignaello) are starting to appear at UK auctions. We’re behind the Americans on this. They have been buying Barolo especially since the early 90s. Sergio Eposito of Italian Wine Merchants in New York is quoted as saying: ‘buying into Barolo today may be the best investment opportunity in the wine market.’

Unlike a Ferrari, you cannot restore a Mouton-Rothschild 1945 once it has been damaged.  ‘Whisky in comparison is a safe logical investment. In a sealed bottle it’s virtually indestructible’ Stephen McGinty from McTears auctioneers told me. Ian Buxton author of 100 Whiskies to Try Before You Die told me recently: ‘whisky auctions are very fashionable at the moment, springing up all over the place.’ The market in collectable whiskies divides into two types, those created by the distilleries specifically for collectors, and rare finds. In the former camp is the Macallan 1976 at around $76,000 a bottle. These are whiskies are destined never to be drunk. More interesting to Ian are ‘closed distilleries from places such as old Campbeltown. Something like Dalintober would be a special find. They stopped distilling in the 20s. A rare old malt good provenance could go for five or six figures.’ Again the key word is provenance, ‘Forgeries are a huge problem – Macallan bought a collection from Italy – paid a lot of money, and it turned out to be fake.’

Returning to Jamie Hutchinson from the Sampler: ‘don’t go into an auction without doing lots of research. Taste, learn about wine, read wine writers.’ The days of making quick money from flipping Bordeaux are over but if you do it right you can have both a sound investment and something good to drink.