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. 

Wine articles

Christmas drinks at the Lady

This is my Lady Christmas wine article that appeared in December’s bumper magazine. You can read their version of it here. If you enjoy it, please write to the Lady’s editor saying that I deserve a pay rise and more space. 

The twin themes of this year’s Christmas column are simplicity and duplicity. In the past I have recommended some expensive wine that I am sure nobody buys and then some cheaper stuff to open when people you don’t like come over. I don’t think that is how most of us do Christmas. So instead I’ve chosen wines for all occasions and all guests. So that’s the simplicity side taken care of. The duplicity part comes because all the wines I have chosen look and taste a lot more expensive that they actually are. Your guests will take a sip and think that you must be terribly successful. The important thing is not to let on how little you’ve spent. If someone comments on how much they must have cost, just wave airily and say ‘you’re worth it, darling.’ With the wines from the big chains, it’s worth checking online before shopping as they often have big temporary discounts before Christmas.

Palataia Pinot Noir 2012 (£8.99 Marks & Spencer)

German pinot noir is not only surprisingly good, it’s also fashionable and expensive. I’m not quite sure how Marks & Spencers do this for the price. There’s some proper pinot fragrance, ripe fruit and most importantly no jam whatsoever. There’s even a nice herbal quality. If you think your guests might be put off by German wine then decant it and pretend it’s Savigny-les-Beaune.

De Martino Chardonnay Legado 2011 (£8.50 the Wine Society)

Many people think they don’t like Chardonnay but in fact they’re just sick of drinking the oversweet, overoaked stuff associated with Bridget Jones*. They should try this cool climate Chilean one which is racy, citric and refreshing.

Marks & Spencer Cava Brut 2010 (£13.99)

Cava is a wine that rarely fails to make me yawn. Not this one! Made by Segura Viudas, it’s the best budget fizz I’ve had all year. There’s a whiff of pastry and then lots of fine bubbles. Best of all, it still has a gentleness that means you can drink it all night.

Waitrose Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut NV (£24.99)

Ignore all those supermarket champagne deals. If you’re not concerned with brands, this is the one to go for. It smells of apples with lemons and nuts on the palate, and a creamy texture.

Quinta do Noval Late Bottled Vintage Unfiltered 2007  (The Drink Shop have the 07 for £16.94 or Tescos have the 05 for £15.79)

A great one to impress any wine bores. They’ll see the name Quinta do Noval, the legendary port estate, and think you’re really spoiling them. This smells brambly with some smoke and spice. It’s sweet but the fruit tastes fresh and crunchy. There’s real concentration here; you could age it but it’s so good now with a nice piece of stilton.

Pedro’s Almacenista Selection Fino (Majestic £8.99)

Here one for the sherry aficionado. It has all the refreshing power of a good fino such as Tio Pepe but with a richness and meatiness that reminded me a little of roast pork. I would drink it before the meal with olives and almonds to sharpen my carnivorous appetites.

I’m now cheating and I’m going to recommend two wines to have if you really have had a successful year or maybe your family have just been extra sweet to you:

Domaine Grand Chardonnay Côtes du Jura 2012 (Berry Bros £13.99)

This part of the world, the Jura, is famed for Vin Jaune which tastes a bit like a farmhouse sherry. They also make more conventional wines that taste like white Burgundy. This one is quite buttery but with a good jolt of acidity and a distinct floral note.

Tassinaia, Castello del Terriccio 2007 (Lea & Sandeman £23.95)

A blend of Cabernet, Merlot and a little Sangiovese, there’s a whiff of pencil shavings, a hint of coffee and some lovely ripe fruit. It’s drinking nicely now but I’d decant to let the tannins soften; a wine so grown-up that it can end long-running family feuds.

*It is now mandatory when writing about chardonnay to mention Bridget Jones just as when writing about sherry you have to mention either maiden aunts or vicars and for cider tramps and teenagers drinking in parks. You can see the Bridget Jones/ chardonnay axis at work in two articles, one in the Telegraph and one in the Guardian

Beer Books Wine articles

Booze book round-up for the Guardian

This is the uncut version of an article that appeared in the Guardian on Saturday:

Oddbins stocked a wine in the late 90s called Kiwi Cuvee. It was a Sauvignon Blanc from the South France designed to taste as if it came from New Zealand. This summed up the direction wine was going at the time. For supermarkets flying wine-makers made products around the world to a formula and at the top end highly-paid consultants created lush ‘iconic’ wines for collectors. There were still plenty of interesting wines out there but the received opinion, not least from the European Union, was that unfashionable vines such a Carignan should be ripped out to be replaced with Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. This homogenising trend is over. Variety is now everything. Whereas before the concept of terroir – a sense of place – was mocked by Anglos as a marketing device invented by the French to sell wine without any fruit character, nowadays it’s a term used even by Australians. It’s telling that it is no longer italicised (though my spellcheck still tries to change it to terrier).

It couldn’t be a better time, therefore, for Jancis Robinson & Hugh Johnson to publish the latest edition of their World Atlas of Wine Atlas. It’s a very different book to the last edition in 2007 and now includes small scale maps of some of the most exciting emerging regions such as Croatia, around  Mount Etna in Sicily and Mornington Peninsula near Melbourne which is rivalling Burgundy for its elegant Pinot Noirs. The book is a celebration of terroir and a logical companion to Robinson’s Wine Grapes (2012) – an expensive and exhaustive encyclopaedia of every grape variety in the world. More than just being thorough, there’s an infectious sense of glee about this new Atlas. One gets the impression that Johnson and, in particular, Robinson with her humorous pedantry, really enjoyed writing it. The other new edition of a classic that is well worth buying is Alex Liddell’s Madeira, the Mid-Atlantic Wine. Madeira is a wine whose long and colourful history you can actually taste – 19th century wines from this island are still good to drink. Berry Bros & Rudd stock an 1875 D’Oliveira Malvazia for £689 a bottle.

It’s not only wine in which variety is being rediscovered. Fifteen years ago it wasn’t easy to find a of decent pint of bitter in London but recently a new wave of pubs have opened dedicated to craft products. Cider, for a long time a joke drunk by teenagers in bus shelters and the Wurzels, is now attracting serious attention. Best known for his beer writing, Pete Brown, has produced World’s Best Cider with Bill Bradshaw. Although it looks like a coffee table book with lots of, often stunning, photos it’s also written with wit, knowledge and passion. You might even go as far as describe Brown and Bradsaw as the Johnson and Robinson of cider. I had no idea that cider was so widespread outside the three cider superpowers of England, France and Spain. The Germans make cider and express surprise that anyone else does, the Irish drink the most cider per head and in Quebec they make a super sweet ice cider. It’s not all good news though, it’s shocking how few actual apples go into some commercial brands. Nevertheless, one gets the impression that cider is currently the most exciting drink in Britain and it will improve as growers match the best apple varieties to the right land just as the French did in Bordeaux and Burgundy generations ago.

It’s a great time to be drinking but it’s not necessarily a great time to be reading about drink. I saw far too many books along the lines of ‘200 Wines to Impress your Father-in-law’ or a ‘Beginner’s Guide to Craft Beer’. Most were illustrated and designed to be easily marketed to English language readers worldwide. They’re all starting to look alike when the products they celebrate are increasingly diverse. Drink books are now either for gifts or reference. What is lacking is the sort of book that you want to read in bed; an Elizabeth David or Jeffrey Steingarten of wine, perhaps, to make you smile, think and, rather than trying to educate, assumes a certain knowledge and interest on behalf of the reader.  There are lots of people writing about drink in an interesting way on the internet. There are even some Americans trying to combine comedy with wine albeit not very successfully. None of these writers however, are producing engaging books for the general reader.

The two books that I enjoyed most this year didn’t come from traditional publishers. Don’t be put off by the rather exclusive title of the first, “Reds, Whites & Varsity Blues: 60 Years of the Oxford & Cambridge Blind Wine-Tasting Competition” shows how  wine writers can entertain when they’re given a bit of space to breath. It features noted wine types letting their hair down or at least giving their toupees a good airing. I particularly enjoyed Oz Clarke on sticking it to the toffs as a grammar school boy at Oxford and Will Lyons on claret and the Auld Alliance. The second is an ebook only thing called the Sediment Guide to Wining and Dining. It brings a mixture of seriousness and silliness to the strange ritual of the dinner party. In the right hands wine and laughter can go together. Maybe next year a publisher will have the nerve to commission a full-length book in a similar spirit.

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Wine articles

Lady column – Perfect Ten

Rather ominously, the Lady have stopped putting my columns online so I’ll be posting them on my blog instead. Here’s my 2nd November offering:

As soon as I’m handed a wine list in restaurant, especially a good one, my mind goes blank. The thing I struggle most to remember is vintages. I can just about do Bordeaux but after that I’m lost.  Was 08 a good vintage in Tuscany or was it the Rhone? This stuff matters. Wine varies enormously from year to year.  Very infrequently a vintage comes along that makes life simple because it’s good all over the world. 2010 was good to outstanding pretty much everywhere but particularly in red wine regions that I drink most of: Burgundy, Rioja, the Rhone, the Languedoc and Bordeaux. The best thing about 2010s is not only do they have bags of ripe fruit but they are also very fresh. When you have a year like this, the cheaper wines, the ordinary clarets, the plain Bourgognes and the Cote-du-Rhones, are the ones to go for. So my advice when consulting a wine list is if it has 2010 on, then buy. I can just about remember that.

Yering Station Pinot Noir 2010 Slurp £14.99

Australia also had a good 2010. This is elegant and savoury, without excessive alcohol but with an Australian generosity of fruit. I liked it so much that I bought a case to go with our Thanksgiving turkey.

Cotes-du-Rhone Guigal 2010 £9.99 Majestic when you buy two bottles

This old stalwart is particularly fine in 2010. It’s great now but will be even better in a year or two when those tannins fade.

Grand Bateau 2010 £9.95 Roberson

Sometimes  you can get good claret for under £10 a bottle. This smells of ripe plums and leather and on the palate it’s smooth with enough bite to keep it interesting.
Hunawihr Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker 2010 Slurp £15.95

Riesling from Alsace might just be my favourite white  wine. This one is intense and sherberty, extremely dry with a long mineral finish.

Wine articles Wine of the week

Marks and Spencer’s celebrity hell

Marks & Spencer's Britain's Leading Ladies campaign








We should have guessed that Marks & Spencer was in trouble again from their recent advertising campaign. One can imagine desperate executives at head office shouting: ‘dammit John! We’ve got Mirren, Westwood and Twiggy, yet we’re still losing sales. Get me Lulu on the phone! What you can’t get Lulu? What about Petula Clark? Is she still alive? Edwina Currie? Do people like her? Ok fine we’ll have Emin then but can you get her to stop scowling?’

‘Actually scratch all that, Steve, we’ve got Bonham fucking Carter on board. Don’t ask how much it cost but put it this way, nobody’s getting bonuses this year.’

The reasons for the decline of this British institution have been well-documented. If you wanted basic quality clothes then Marks & Spencer was the only place to shop. Things have moved on and Marks haven’t or maybe they have but they moved the wrong way. And the less said about their nauseating branding as ‘Your M&S’ the better. All this noise, however, obscures how well they do food and drink. The wine department in particular has changed out of all recognition in recent years. It’s now for my money the best place to shop on the high street, better than Oddbins, better than Majestic and better than Waitrose. The range is adventurous with an orange wine from Georgia, some good Croatian and Sicilian stuff and as well as some solid classics from Rioja, Burgundy etc.

My mother used to tut at the extravagance of mothers who did all their shopping at M&S but as a thrifty shopper myself, I don’t think they’re that expensive. And the great thing about Marks is that even though it is technically a supermarket it is acceptable to buy their own branded chocolates, wine, flowers etc. as gifts in a way it wouldn’t be with Tesco’s or Sainsbury’s. (I was trying to explain this to my wife who is American the other day as she still hasn’t quite grasped how supermarkets fit into the class system.) For most people who don’t live near an independent merchant or a delicatessen, having a Marks nearby must be a Godsend particularly at Christmas.  If the clothing side went I don’t think I’d notice but a high street without their food and wine would be a very sad place indeed.

M&S are having a sale with 25% off wine when you buy six or more until 17th November. Here are two Germans that I’ll be stocking up on: 

Palataia Pinot Noir 2012  – £8.99 (£6.74 after discount)

A ripe but not at all jammy German pinot noir for under a tenner, I’m not sure how they do it.  There’s even a herby quality like you get in a Burgundy.
If you were feeling mischievous, you could decant and pretend it was Santenay.

Darting Estate Riesling 2012 – £9.49 (£7.50 after discount) 

This has a little 3% scheurebe in it as well. It’s super zingy, floral and so much fun. It reminded me a little of the young wine, Heurige, you get served in bars in Vienna. Also bone dry so don’t be afraid to serve to German wine-phobic people.

Books Recipes Wine articles

Pass me the cooking Barolo

My wife* is reading a book called Angelina’s Bachelors by Brian O’ Reilly. It’s billed as ‘a novel with food’ because it contains recipes by his wife or maybe mother, Virginia O’ Reilly. One in particular caught my eye, ‘Gorgonzola Beef Tenderloin in a Barolo Reduction’. The author not only suggests some Barolo producers but also recommends vintages. . . to cook with! Apparently the Pio Cesare 2004 is ideal for this recipe though, by implication, the 03 isn’t – too warm a vintage perhaps. This is clearly madness. Once you’ve reduced your wine and you’re tasting it through a mouthful of beef and blue cheese, the difference between vintages will be moot. Call me greedy but I’d keep the Barolo to drink and use a decent Nebbiolo (the Barolo grape) in the recipe. The Malvira Langhe 08 has a lot of the tannin and perfume though not the grace of its big brother. It’s £11.99. Pio Cesare 04 will be about £30.

It made me think about how good a wine should be to cook with. Received opinion in the wine world is that you should only cook with a wine that you would drink though I keep a bottle of slightly oxidised red by the hob for putting a slug in pasta sauces and it seems to work fine. I suppose it all depends on how long you’re going to cook the wine for and what role it plays in the dish. If it’s a major component or you’re not cooking it for long then you’ll need something decent. I made a disappointingly thin Bouef Bourguignon with a bottle of Romanian Pinot Noir last year. It would be fun (though not much) to make a dozen Bouef Bourguignons with wines ranging from a Chilean Pinot Noir to a decent Volnay. Which would taste best? I’ve made the dish many times and find that a good French country red such as a Cotes-du-Rhone works very well indeed. To be avoided are wines that might not taste sweet but have a lot of sugar in them, e.g. certain commercial New World reds. Some of them also have strange confected fruit which can strike an incongruous note in gravies and reductions.

The other wine-based dish I make often is a family concoction my wife calls swarthy chicken. We invented it during those happy days when we had lots of good Terre Arse (stop sniggering at the back) marsala in the house. When the marsala ran out I replaced it with a sherry, Botaina Amontillado, which was different but also delicious. I then got complacent and tried cheaper fortified wines: supermarket own-label finos, cooking marsala, white port. The results were a little sad. You really need an intense old wine to make the dish. So perhaps I’m being too hard on Brian and Virginia O’ Reilly. Perhaps they did try a wide variety of wines to make their dish and found that the most suitable were the Barolos mentioned in the recipes: Sordo 2007, Pio Cesare 2004 and Renato Ratti 2004. Or perhaps they’re just showing off.

*Apparently as a novel it’s not a success though there are lots of recipes she wants to cook.

Wine articles

Affordable Burgundy is not (always) an oxymoron

Red Burgundy is unreliable. The joke is that a cheap bottle costs you £100: that’s £15 for the one that’s decent and £85 for all the disappointing ones you bought getting to the good one; like most wine jokes, it’s not very funny.

I remember the first time I tried this most difficult of wines. It was whilst working as a wine merchant in the late 90s. After work one day, the manager took me into the back office and with a gesture that implied I was being initiated into an arcane order opened a bottle of Mercurey. He poured me a glass and we both took a sniff. It smelt good. Then I had a sip – nothing. It tasted of nothing whatsoever. When I commented on this, the manager just smiled and said ‘that’s Burgundy!’ From then on Burgundy seemed to be some sort of cosmic joke played on the gullible. The number of times I would try wines for large amounts of money and be unmoved. At the time I was discovering claret with its easily decipherable hierarchy, and reliable wines.  Claret – red Bordeaux – made sense to me; you tried a good Chateau in a good year and were rarely dissatisfied.

Eventually I did have a red Burgundy – a 2000 Clos Vougeot – that made me realise what all the fuss was about. It tasted wonderful but even here there was a note of uneasiness for my budding wine brain as I was unable to describe why it was so good. Bordeaux can be broken down into easily describable flavours – blackcurrants, tobacco, leather, pepper – Burgundy’s pleasures are more ethereal. Nevertheless I was hooked. I wanted more of that indescribable pleasure but knew that this habit could bankrupt me. Time and time again, I was told that cheap red Burgundy was an oxymoron.

So why is this? Red Burgundy is made from a grape variety, Pinot Noir, that is to put it politely a bit of a bastard: it’s picky about where it is grown, it’s thin-skinned and susceptible to disease. It turns to boozy jam if it gets too ripe which is why New World examples rarely thrill. This isn’t a problem in Burgundy’s cool climate where it often doesn’t ripen at all resulting in thin acidic wine. Oh and it tastes of nothing if over-cropped (too many grapes from one vine). Pinot Noir is about fragrance which is lost if things aren’t just right. Which explains why good Burgundy is expensive and often not all that good.

Or so I thought.

Earlier this year I went to tasting that made me think again. It was put on a by a company who import wines made with the kind of obsessive care that go into a top Nuits-Saint-Georges but because they are from obscure parts of Burgundy such as Maranges, Epineuil or Vezelay most of them wines cost no more than £15 a bottle (these wines are only comparatively cheap – you’re not going to find them in Aldi) The importer, Fingal Rock, are based in South Wales so don’t have the overheads of a swanky St James’s shop. It’s not easy to make money from these sort of wines because they can’t be bought at rock bottom prices and marked up but nor do they command a premium. They’re the wine equivalent of the midlist author and just as the greatest reading pleasure can come from reading a novel with no hype that you pick up on a whim, these wines provide joy without any of the snobberies and expectations of grander wines. Wines like the following are to drink, not to impress.

Bourgogne Epineuil 2009 Domaine Leger. This comes from right up in the North of Burgundy near Chablis. White wine country you would think, reds will be tart and thin. It’s light, yes, but it’s also got the sweetest fruit to go with the more typical herby flavours of Northern Pinot Noir. This is made from perfectly ripened fruit. Oddly it reminded me a little of the pricey (at least £25 a bottle) Californian Pinot Noirs from Au Bon Climat. But it’s 11.85! I’m not sure how they do it for the price. It’s amazing. I would buy cases and cases of this stuff.

Maranges 2009 Domaine Claude Nouveau. This is from nearer the heart of Burgundy but it’s still unknown so is sold entirely on its own merits. The smell brings to mind smoke and the whiff of the farmyard (but in a good way). It’s quite tannic and structured but underneath there’s a good seam of fruit. ‘Un vin masculin’ as the producer called it. It’s serious stuff and will repay keeping – £14.75

Santenay 1er Cru ‘Grand Clos Rosseau’ 2009 Domaine Claude Noveau. Another step up in quality – a premier cru from the Cote d’Or  for £17.85 a bottle. This is all grace, perfume and ethereal qualities – ‘feminine.’ The sort of wine to fall in love with and with a finish that goes on for ages.

All the wines above are available directly from Fingal Rock  01600 712 372 (actually the might not be available now as I wrote this article a while back.)

A longer version of this article appeared in the Lady Magazine.

Wine articles

How condescending is your wine merchant?

When I received PR bumf from a new wine website called Ten Green Bottles with phrases such as ‘innovative concept’ and ‘unique wines’, I was going to write something on the meaningless guff used to promote things. Then I realised that this isn’t the letters page of the Telegraph and that everyone is at it. Even the dear old Wine Society’s catalogue is full of wines described as ‘iconic’ when they mean ‘famous’, ‘sought-after’ or just plain ‘expensive.’ Instead I thought I would look at one of their claims that when visiting a wine merchant ‘the service is either non-existent or can be condescending.’ The patronising or, even more damning in today’s egalitarian society, snobbish wine merchant is a great stock character in conversation (normally in conversations between people in the wine trade trying to differentiate themselves from this stereotyped image.) I wonder, however, whether this figure might be more of a useful myth rather than anything mired in reality.

I have had two bad experiences with a wine merchant. One was in 2000 at Corney and Barrow on Kensington Park Road where they had some mature Pewsey Vale Riesling at a very reasonable price. I asked the shop assistant whether it was any good, he looked down his nose at me and said ‘well, it’s Australian riesling’ with the implication that as it was Australian it couldn’t be any good (turns out it was excellent.) My other bad experience has taken place in Nicolas on countless occasions where the staff more often than not combine superciliousness with ignorance. I don’t shop at Nicolas anymore. Oh and there was a wine merchant in Barcelona who actually threw me out for browsing too close to his wines.

To be fair to the chap at Corney and Barrow, I was wearing a sleeveless T-shirt, jeans with holes in and looked like I hadn’t been to bed in a while. I was working round the corner at Oddbins on Portobello Road. When a customer walked into the shop, I tried to gauge how interested in wine he (I’m using he in its little-used but grammatically correct neutral gender form) was. Pitch it too high and I would end up boring the customer, too low and he might feel patronised. With a complicated subject like wine, it’s a tricky act to pull off. Despite going to wine tastings every week and having read widely on the subject, I still glaze over when people start talking about soil types or fermentation temperatures.

It’s interesting to compare a wine merchant with other keepers of arcane knowledge such as bicycle shops or motor mechanics. I have lost count of the number of times that people in bike shops have actually been rude to me (I’m thinking of you in particular short stocky man with dark hair in Condor on Greys Inn Road) and with cars, I’ve been badly ripped off on a couple of occasions. Knowing quite a bit about bikes as I do about wine, hasn’t prevented these bad experiences (I know almost nothing about cars once you open the bonnet). My point, I suppose, is that in my experience wine merchants are no more unfriendly than other shopkeepers and certainly much more personable than many other people we deal with, bike mechanics, bank tellers or, worst of all, midwives. The problem, I think, is that some people are intimidated by the sheer multitude of bottles and so the whole process is fraught with nerves.

Ten Green Bottles have an answer to this as well in that they only stock a limited range of wines. I’m going to be looking at their wines in more detail in a forthcoming column in the Lady but meanwhile I’d like to recommend their Castello di Potentino Piropo at £13.50. This is a Tuscan blend of Sangiovese, Pinot Noir and Grenache. Sounds like it’s going to be a dog’s dinner but it’s actually rather beautiful. It’s pale-coloured, a sort of tawny red hue and mellow with flavours of spiced oranges and some gentle tannin. It’s a very laid-back sort of wine.

I’d be very interested in hearing readers experiences with wine merchants (and indeed bike shops, banks and midwives.)


Wine articles Wine of the week

Wine club 2 – this time it’s serious

At the RAW wine fair last month I tried a Hungarian wine that really impressed me and wanted to know how much it was and where I could buy it. The producer told me that it wasn’t imported to Britain. In a slightly rash moment, I emailed him when I got home and ordered 20 cases of the stuff:

Kurucver 2007, Badacsony, Csobanci Bormanufaktura

It’s an amazing wine, a blend of Pinot Noir, Kékfrankos (better known by its Austrian name of Blaufränkisch) and something else beginning with K. It’s also organic and low in sulphur for people who are interested in such things. I’m more interested in how it tastes: it reminds me of a slightly wild woodland Burgundy. There’s a lot of autumn fruit but also some woodiness that comes with age. A 2007 this wine is perfectly mature now. I’m offering it for £9.81 a bottle which is a bargain. I’d say that if this wine was on sale in a fashionable East London wine shop it would cost about £14. A Burgundy of similar quality would be about £20. You would have to buy a case which is a total of £117.72, if you want 6 bottles, I can find someone to split the case with you. Delivery in Central London or near Amersham Bucks is free. If you live further afield, I can arrange a courier at your expense. Email me on for details.

If I find enough takers then this will be a regular thing. Very good unusual wine at a reasonable price. I might start to specialise in wines from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Wine articles Wine of the week

Wine of the Week: Percheron Old Vines Cinsault 2010

Edinburgh is often described as the Athens of the North. Something to do with philosophy, I think, rather than a love of  columns and naked athletics. Beirut is the Paris of the East but the most popular city to be compared to is Venice with Amstersdam, St Petersberg, Bruges, Manchester and, of course, Birmingham all claiming to be Venices of the North. Well pinot noir is the Venice of the wine world; it is the most popular comparison with many grapes claiming to be the pinot noir of: insert point on the compass. Candidates for this honour include Rioja’s tempranillo, if you’ve ever tried a Vina Ardanza then you will know the comparison can be justified, st laurent from Austria, grenache and even burly syrah, not so odd if you’ve ever had a mature Cote Rotie. I’m never quite sure exactly what wine writers mean when they say this but I think it refers to wines that tend towards perfume, freshness, a certain (unjammy) sweetness and a lack of tannin. Wines to fall in love with rather than admire.  I would also add that like pinot noir all these grapes lose this perfume if the alcohol levels are too high, they are over-cropped or smothered in oak.

Which brings us onto poor unloved cinsault (Benjamin Lewin MW in his Wine Myths and Reality refers to it as a no-name variety – cover your ears cinsault!). It’s best known for making rosé but was also my USP (excuse the marketing jargon) to bring Lebanon’s wines to the attention of the world. I thought it would work better in a blend but it turns out I didn’t really know what I was talking about as there are some varietals cinsaults. The Domergues of Minervois produce a noted age-worthy red Capitelle de Centeilles made solely from this ugly duckling. Whilst I was in the Languedoc not far from Minervois I came across much enthusiasm for cinsault though no one seemed ready to abandon syrah quite yet for their serious reds.

Here’s a delightfully simple version from South Africa where they have large quantities of unloved old vines hence the astonishing cheapness of this version. On the nose it smells of confected raspeberries. It’s not unpleasant but it really does smell like raspberry flavour Mr Freeze ice pops. On the palate I found it spicy, light-bodied and refreshing. Quite nice. I popped it in the fridge and came back to it the next day. The chilling really brought out the fruit and the spice as well as giving it a little structure. Did it taste like pinot noir? Not really but it did do all the things that I would want in a simple Pinot such as a Cono Sur. The more I drink this, the more I like it, my wife likes it too – it’s very quickly on its way to being a house favourite. I can’t wait to try some more serious versions of this unfairly maligned variety. Remember readers, cinsault is for red not just for rosé.

Percheron Old Vines Cinsault 2010, Western Cape, South Africa – widely available. I paid £5.99 from the Wine Society. D. Byrne & Co in Clitheroe have it for only £5.79 – there’s canny Lancastrian buying.