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Wine articles

An unusually bad wine

Wine writers very rarely write about horrible wines. Their columns are full of exciting recommendations for readers to buy. There are two reasons for this. Firstly wine writers feel it is important to support wine as an industry. They think it is important that more people start drinking wine and then perhaps they will develop an interest and maybe even start reading wine columns. In this way they function like a provincial newspaper anxious not to be too negative about, say, the restaurant scene in Bolton in case readers decide they don’t want to eat out anymore let alone read a column about it. The second reason is that most wines these days are fine. Even the worst wine at Tesco’s will be merely dull. It’s easy to write about bad but it’s very hard to make a dull wine interesting.

Therefore, I was surprised this weekend when I tried a wine that made me gag. It was the Chocoholic Pinotage 2013. Now of course the name does make it sound nasty and it is made from Pinotage – the grape whose signature flavours are acetone and burnt coffee – but recently I’d had a bit of a Pinotage epiphany so was eager to try it. According to the bumf I was sent it is made from partially dried grapes like an Amarone. I’m a sucker for anything made from dried or partially dried grapes so I actually opened the bottle with something bordering on excitement. I took a sniff, it smelt of instant coffee and chocolate (note there is no actual chocolate in this wine), not a nice smell but a thing of delicate beauty compared with the taste. It’s quite hard to describe the flavour because I had such a visceral reaction to it, there was more coffee and chocolate and then POW!, it was as if someone had grabbed my throat and was trying to throttle me. I took another sip, and BANG!, a wall of acidity and raw tannin made me grimace involuntarily. I stopped sipping at this point. When that had gone, there’s a cloying finish like cheap coffee ice cream. Yes this wine is actually sweet.

DarlingI would say avoid at all costs but it’s so unusually bad, that’s it’s worth trying. It’s probably not, however, worth spending the £11 it costs just to experience its awfulness. It’s available at Harvey Nichols who normally stock such good wines. Perhaps they just saw the label and thought it looked nice. It is a pretty label. The producers say that it goes well with chocolate. You’d be better off with a budget port or just eating the chocolate on its own. 

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Beer Spirits Wine articles

I’m bored with wine

Of course I’m not! I love wine. I’m just bored of ordinary wine. As a wine columnist for the Lady I get sent lots of samples. It sounds very exciting but the truth is that most of them aren’t very good. The whites in particular are desperately dull. My wife doesn’t even try them anymore. During this bout of sunny weather it has dawned on me that I would rather drink a gin & tonic, an Aspalls cider or even a bottle of Heineken than almost any sub £7 wine. There was an article in the Spectator  that got a lot of flack called Why Does Anyone Drink Wine by top advertising guru Rory Sutherland:

“But wine drunk on its own is often a terrible drink, usually consumed for appearances’ sake, or because the drinker lacks the confidence to complain, or for want of any alternative source of alcohol.”

You can read the whole thing here. I don’t agree with everything he says; he makes the mistake of conflating two types of wines, ordinary stuff, which is drunk by the undiscerning drinker or drunk by the discerning drinker when he’s not being discerning, and the more interesting stuff. But broadly, it’s hard to disagree with him. If you want something delicious, you’re almost always better off having a non-wine drink.  

The problem with cheap wine is that producers are trying to make a consistent product out of a an inconsistent annual crop. Wine doesn’t take well to industrial production. Grapes lose flavour when over-cropped. Rivals to wine: beer, cider, gin etc. don’t have these problems. They’re not aiming to be vintage. The big brands are industrial products and they’re not ashamed of it. Yes there’s an awful lot of bad beer and cider around, but most pubs, supermarkets and corner shops offer a few interesting beers, a decent cider and a superb selection of spirits for the same price as the not-so-good stuff.

This summer we’re drinking cocktails and my wife is happier than ever. The only problem is what to do with all those leftover samples. I could give them to my neighbours but the best thing to do with a cheap white is to add Aperol or Campari, fizzy water and ice to make a Bicyclette. Or you could party like its 1979 by adding Creme de Cassis to make a Kir.