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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.

 

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Wine articles

Rhone Olympics

As a student I got into a drunken argument with someone about who made the best Cotes-du-Rhone, Guigal or Chapoutier (it was in the bar of University College, Oxford, I was visiting.) I knew very little about wine at the time, in fact I had never tried the Guigal, I just thought the label was rubbish and therefore the wine must not be very good. Since then the Guigal has become a firm favourite of mine whilst I rarely buy the Chapoutier anymore.  I thought that it would be fun to put these two great names head-to-head to find out once and for all who is best and whilst I was at it try the cheapest wines from some of the other big names of the Rhone. There is one glaring omission: Jaboulet – I couldn’t find a bottle of their once-ubiquitous Parallel 45.

To make things more interesting we tasted all the wines blind and I threw in a Spanish red made from Rhone varieties. I asked my guests to give them a score out of ten but they ignored me and decided to guess how much each one cost. The tasting was not entirely scientific as the wines were of different vintages, different prices and we were eating cheese and quite spicy salami. Also there was no spitting. I’m not sure Michael Broadbent would approve.

The unanimous winner was: Cotes-du-Rhone Mon Coeur JL Chave 09 – this was easily the most expensive wine (£15.95 from Berry Bros) and everyone guessed this one at £15. It’s powerful stuff almost like a baby Hermitage with real structure and length. Really excellent.

Silver went to Pigeolet de Brunier 09 – if the Chave was a baby Hermitage this is a baby Chateauneuf: heady, spicy, mellow, raspberry fruit, very elegant with gentle tannins. Just the sort of thing you would expect from the second wine of Vieux Telegraphe. My guests said £12 – House of Townend have it for under a tenner.

Bronze went to Gran Sangre de Toro Reserva 07 (Co-op £7.99) I guessed this as the Spanish one probably because it was clearly the oldest.  We agreed that it tasted like £12’s worth of wine. Nose was rich and spicy and in the mouth it’s mellow with a very long finish. There may have be some nuttiness there too. I can’t read my handwriting. And in no particular order the other wines were:

La Veille Ferme 2010 – my wife guessed this one immediately. It’s like Rhone Beaujolais. Nice but completely different animal to the above wines and pointless to compare them. (£7.99 Majestic)

Cotes-du-Rhone, Belleruche, Chapoutier 2010 – I thought this was awful. A little green on the nose and then it was short rough, sweet and raw. I remember it used to be light and peppery. What’s going on here? Other people quite liked it. We guessed £7 (Majestic £9.99 on offer now two bottles for £6.99)

Cotes-du-Rhone Guigal 2009 – normally a favourite of mine. This one suffered from following the Chave. Nice meaty stuff with some brambly fruit but no real length. Perhaps it just needs a little time. We gave it a £9 rating. (£10 Waitrose)

Cotes-du-Rhone ‘Les Vignes Rousses’ Jean-Luc Colombo – tasted very young, very fruity, damsons and plums on the nose, light-bodied. I was very surprised to have something so light from this producer. £7 rating which I think is a little unfair. (Majestic £9.99 on offer two bottles for £6.99)

Cotes-du-Rhone Reserve Perrin 2010 – another one from the Perrin stable. Violets on the nose, light-bodied, some red fruit. Very nice stuff.  The team scored it at £9 (Wine Society £8.99)

Thanks to Berry Bros, House of Townend, Majestic and the Wine Society for providing the wines. Winners will appear in a forthcoming Lady column. Thanks for my guests for being Rhone guinea pigs. Finally here’s hoping that I don’t get arrested for using the words Olympics, bronze, gold and silver all in the same article.

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Wine articles

Corner Shop Wine Challenge

Due to lack of funds, I have not been buying my regular cases of wine from Majestic or the Wine Society. As a result I am often caught out with no ordinary wine in the house so have to visit my local shop. Recently I’ve had a Lindemans Cawarra Cabernet Merlot – a bit grim, Wolf Blass Shiraz – tasted like an alcopop and a £2.99 Montepulciano d’ Abrruzzo – just about palatable chilled with spicy food. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was something wonderful that I had missed? So for the inaugural meeting of my wine club, I decided that we should do ‘the corner shop challenge’. Guests were asked to bring a bottle from a corner shop for not more than £7 (everyone including me ignored this rule).

Planning the evening I turned to Michael Broadbent’s invaluable Wine Tasting for help: ‘do not underestimate the number of people required to help, from supervisor to coat attendant. Numbers and quality of staff will, of course, depend on the nature of the event, it size and the place.’ The staff turned out to be variable. One of them worked hard all day cleaning and preparing delicious snacks for the guests. The other got drunk and droned on and on about his failure to find a publisher for his book

Wine 1 – Yellow label Riesling, Wolf Blass, 2006 – £8.49 (the label was smudged – I thought it said £6.49)

Despite my years of drinking and reading about wine plus two years in the trade, I have never been able to shrug off the childish notion than an old wine is a good wine. When I go into a shop I wonder what dusty gems might be lurking on the shelves rather than thinking logically about what poor storage conditions do to a wine especially ones designed to be drunk young. I hoped that the Wolf Blass would have become honeyed and nutty like a Pewsey Vale Riesling I had a few years back. The colour was pretty, yellow/ green and it smelt like mature Riesling (albeit not a very good one). Sadly on the palate it was clear that it was past it: very little fruit, not much acidity and no honey or nuts. Boo!

Wine 2 – Fleurie, Louis Jolimont, 2009

Cheap commercial Beaujolais is one of the worst wines known to man so from very low expectation this was surprisingly nice. No strange confected taste, no high alcohol without any flavour. Instead it was light, refreshing and a bit bland – like reasonable cheap Beaujolais if not a lot like Fleurie.

Wine 3 – Rioja Reserva, Campo Viejo, 2006 – £10.50

Rioja is a good standby in a corner shop or a supermarket as it is so rarely bad. This one was, however , a disappointment: much too soft and smooth with no bite whatsoever and none of the perfume that you would hope for in an over £10 Reserva. This was like a Rioja-flavoured soup.

Wine 4 – Fantasia Torrontes, Bodegas Lorca, 2009

One of my guests arrived a little worse for wear clutching this bottle he had won in a raffle. This fitted in with the spirit if not the letter of my rules for the evening so I let him in. Torrontes is an Argentine grape that is, I think, related to Muscat. It can be a little cloying but this was nice – slightly sweet, aromatic and refreshing if a little dilute.

Wine 5 – Casillero del Diablo Pinot Noir 2010 – £6.99

I like this one; it’s simple, meaty and delicious chilled with none of the jamminess that you can get in cheap Pinot Noirs. Not one to pontificate over but definitely the best wine of the night until we opened the. . .

Wine 6 – Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr, Riesling Auslese, Weingut Max Ferd Richter, 2003, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer

Blimey what a mouthful! This was the reward to my guests for having braved the mean streets of Bethnal Green to taste such dull wines. Quick explanation of the name, the first part is the name of the vineyard, the second is the grape variety, Auslese means that it was made from specially-selected late harvest grapes which were full of sugar. Then you have the producer and finally the area in Germany where it comes from.

Obviously this was in a different league to the others. It was the only one where people actually stopped gossiping to savour the wine. This smelt of petrol and limes. It had a similar colour to the Wolf Blass but it seemed to glow and shimmer. On the palate it was very full-bodied, sweet, but not incredibly sweet like a Sauternes, with toasty notes. A lovely drop but certainly not great. It was missing that electric charge of acidity that you should get from the best German Riesling – it was a little flabby. The incredible heat of the 2003 vintage might be to blame for this lack of structure or perhaps being kept for five years in the back of my cupboard.

My conclusions for the evening:

1) When in a corner shop buy the youngest wine you can find preferably from one of the big Chilean brands such as Casillero del Diablo or Cono Sur.

2) Better yet just buy a case from the Wine Society. For £7 you can get something worth discussing, for £10 something sublime.

3) Don’t organise a wine tasting around boring wines.

All wines without links should be widely available apart from the Fleurie which is a bit of a mystery. The 03 Auslese might be a bit hard to track down.