The En Rama revolution

This is something I wrote for Root + Vine magazine, the vinous off-shoot of Root + Bone magazine (which is always worth reading).

I tend to base family holidays around wine much to my six year old daughter’s annoyance. On a recent visit to Sanlúcar de Barrameda, we spent a wonderful (for me) afternoon at Hidalgo La Gitana. Fermín Hidalgo (below, stopping for a restorative plate of jamon and a copita at 11am), oblivious to my six year old daughter’s increasingly sulky antics, gave me sherry after sherry to try. With his venencia, that cup on a stick thing that you have to learn how to use if you want to be taken seriously in sherry, he delved into different casks and brought out treasures including a 90 year old pedro ximenez, a 50 year old amontillado and manzanillas with tiny bits of yeast floating in them. Until recently this last wine was an experience for visitors only, most manzanillas are sold filtered and blended, but now you can have something like the full venencia experience in the comfort of your own home. Just look for the words ‘En Rama’ on the bottle.

The word ‘rama’ literally means ‘branch’ or ‘on the vine’ which translates roughly as ‘in its natural state’. There’s no legal definition but the best way to think of En Rama is an attempt to preserve that straight from the barrel magic. They tend to be only very lightly filtered and are often from a single cask. The first sherry labelled En Rama was launched back in 1999 by Barbadillo but it was when Gonzalez Byass launched its Tio Pepe En Rama in 2010 that the style really took off. It was a revelation trying it next to the ordinary Tio Pepe, the world’s best selling fino. 

Martin Skelton from Gonzalez Byass told me that the sherry changed in the 70s and 80s. Finos used to be closer to amontillados in colour and flavour but with new technology such as temperature-controlled fermentation and sterile filtering they became the pale products like Tio Pepe or Manzanilla La Gitana that we know today. Don’t get me wrong, these are delicious wines: consistent, moreish and excellent value for money, there’s nothing better for knocking back well-chilled on a hot day. En Ramas tend to be fuller, richer and darker, in short wines to consume slowly.

En Rama is also the answer to a marketing problem. How do you get wine bores interested in a product that by design is unchanging? En Rama solves this at a stroke because each year is different. The back of the bottle will have the saca date, when it was taken out of the barrel. You can drink your wine young to get all that fresh flor flavour or keep it in bottle for richer, nuttier aromas. They are wines for people who are happy to have a bit of inconsistency. 

The En Rama revolution, if you can call it that, has raised quality across the board. Many wines don’t have En Rama on the label but nevertheless are now bottled with less or no filtration. I can’t claim this as objective truth, apart from the fact that I drink a lot of sherry, but the big brand pale sherries now seem to me to have more flavour than in the past.

There is the feeling in the sherry business that something was lost when production was industrialised. Now in an effort to reposition itself as a fine wine, sherry is rediscovering its past and this means making a virtue of the raw materials. Some bodegas are returning to single vineyard wines. Hidalgo were market leaders here with their always excellent Manzanilla Pastrana. The first thing Fermin Hidalgo did when I visited was to take me out to the vineyards (thankfully there was a dog for my daughter to play with). Unusually amongst sherry companies, they only use grapes from their own vineyards. All their finos are made from free run juice and fermented using natural yeasts. 

Some producers are taking the return to sherry’s roots even further. A 10 minute walk from downtown Sanlúcar, I met Ramiro Ibáñez who makes recognisably sherry-style wines but outside the DO (Denominación de Origen, like a Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée in France) because they are so unconventional. He doesn’t just use palomino grapes but a whole range of different varieties that for the most part disappeared after phylloxera hit in the 19th century. He doesn’t fortify his wines instead the strength comes from drying the grapes in the sun, a practice known as asoleo. And finally his wines are single vintage. According to Ibanez these are all practises that were once routine but disappeared. In contrast to the giant cathedral of the Hidalgo bodega, he works out of an old fisherman’s cottage by the Guadalquivir river. With his lighter manzanilla-style wines you can really taste the difference between different vineyards but his crowning achievement is a palo cortado made from rare grape varieties.

Afterwards, much to my daughter’s relief, we went for lunch at the nearby Bar Bigote. Here manzanilla was €1.20 a glass, the same price as beer but the sherry is aged for five years before it is sold. Clearly this is not sustainable. En Rama is a much needed attempt to push sherry upmarket where it belongs and finally it seems to be working. Sherry has seen some tough times but Fermin Hidalgo thinks the worst is over, sales by volume may still be declining for the region as a whole but they are picking up by value. According to IWSR (International Wines and Spirits Record) premium sherry sales doubled between 2011 and 2015. 

Andrew Ward who runs a great blog on sherry bars in Madrid, ‘Under the Flor’, told me: “There is indeed a lot more interest in sherry in Madrid these last two or three years – wine stores and restaurants almost always have a big selection these days”. And talking with London restaurateurs such as José Pizarro, I discovered that there is a confidence in the category that wasn’t there even two years ago. According to Pizarro it is the young customers who are the most adventurous. People who drink natural wines aren’t going to mind a bit of yeast floating in their fino.  Ibáñez is even more confident: he told me that sherry is actually on the verge of new golden age. It certainly tastes that way

 

After the sherry boom

Do you remember when sherry was the in thing? First some seriously good tapas bars opened like Barrafina and Fino in London, and Oloroso (the names are a bit of a giveaway) in Edinburgh. Then there were new things happening in the category with rare bottlings from Equipo Navazos, unfiltered en rama finos and the launch of the Great Sherry Tasting in London in 2011. Suddenly you couldn’t move for sherry in the lifestyle pages.

Ten years since Barrafina opened is a time as any to look at how sherry is doing after the PR boom. In 2005 22 million bottles sold were sold in Britain. By 2015 it was 10 million sold. Britain, probably for the first time since 1790, is no longer the world’s biggest market for sherry. It appears that the much-hyped sherry revival was only taking place in a few bars in big cities. For a proper recovery it needs to get out of the tapas ghetto.

One person who is trying to do just that is Helen Highley who started a specialist importing business, Sherry Boutique, 18 months ago. She pointed out that at customer tastings she puts on “sherry has still got an image problem. People tell us that they used to drink this with granny at Christmas and it is quite hard to get them to try it again.” Marcin Schilling, London Business Development Manager for Gonzalez Byass, begged me not to mention the G word in this article but it does point to a truth, sherry’s traditional drinkers are dying out and not being replaced fast enough.

Image result for barrafina

Don’t mention the g word

It’s not just the geriatric image that puts people off. Robert Boutflower, Private Sales Director for Tanners in Shrewsbury, told me that for young drinkers sherry has “the wrong flavour. It’s not fresh and fruity. It’s about as far from pinot grigio as you can get.” Sherry needs explaining to potential customers. Kiki Evans from Grape Night In, a pop up wine company based in Tooting, told me “we’re on a mission to encourage more people to enjoy the nectar of sherry.”

It tends to be the sweeter styles that newcomers like best. “What they drank with granny they still enjoy” Helen Highley said. But Marcin Schilling tells me that it is not so clear cut: “half will go for sweeter styles, half will go for drier styles.” Everyone I spoke to agrees that the easiest style to sell is  super sweet Pedro Ximinez though this is largely a Christmas purchase.

The more challenging styles go best with food. “They (En Rama sherries) are wines rather than sherries, freshness, purity and steeliness lend them to certain foods” Alistair Viner from Hedonism wines in Mayfair told me. Doug Wregg from importer Cave de Pyrene is also a restaurateur with wine bars in London: “once you taste an amontillado with some hard cheese, the wines begin to make sense” he said. High end restaurants seem to get sherry: at Le Gavroche they serve their cheese souffle with Palo Cortado Apostoles.

The trick is to get sherry listed alongside the table wines not alongside aperitifs, digestifs or spirits. Doug Wregg said: “it is important that customers understand that these are wines.” He went on to state the importance of “training, training, training until staff feel comfortable talking about the properties of different sherries. ” The key is “to have a very good sommelier” according to Robert Boutflower.  And serve the sherry in decent size glasses, cool or cold for fino.

Gonzalez Byass in particular are very active in spreading the word. They run the Tio Pepe challenge to encourage barmen to make sherry-based cocktails. “Demand for sherry in cocktails seems to keep increasing” Keivan Nemati, bar manager at the Zetter Townhouse in Clerkenwell told me. He makes a special Cobbler using Hidalgo sherry.

All of the activity is now taking place at the premium end of the market. According to IWSR (International Wines and Spirits Record) premium sherry sales have doubled between 2011 and 2015. “We sell a lot of top end sherry” Alistair Viner from Hedonism told me. Tanners have also done well with specialist sherry but Robert Boutflower told me that it’s based on a small number of loyal customers: “before I send out an offer. I can almost tell you the names of people who are going to buy it.”

“They are the most undervalued drinks on the market. Look at price for age of liquid you are getting a bargain” Alistair Viner said. Barbadillo have been more ambitious by releasing their Versos sherry last year at £8,000 a bottle. “We are still to sell one” Alistair Viner told me “the price is higher than it should be. Versos is trying to appeal to scotch and cognac market.” Boutflower is sceptical of this targeting of spirits aficionados: “whisky has a progression from beginners to collectors. With sherry there are not enough people coming in at the bottom.”

He went on to say: “our customers are two lots of people – people who have bought it for a very long time and a very small number of bright young things.” Helen Highley from Boutique Sherry also worries that sherry is polarised between the old customers and the tiny hipster market: “we don’t want it to be too cool for school. We want it to be mainstream.”

Marcin Schilling is confident that sherry can make new converts: “younger drinkers like to try new things.“ “We are now so much more interested in diversity in wine than we were ten years ago” Helen Highley agreed. Today’s consumers, however, are not loyal like the proverbial sherry-swilling grandma. Adventurous wine drinkers might buy Greek wines, natural wines from the Loire, or Vin Jaune instead of sherry.

It looks likely that sherry sales by volume still have much further to fall. But Robert Boutflower is convinced that sherry isn’t going to die out: “it will always be around because Spanish swear by it and back it up with sales. It will become a specialist drink like sake.” Getting and keeping new customers is an extraordinary amount of work compared with say selling malbec or prosecco but there is something about sherry that captures certain people’s imagination and turns them into evangelists. It may never be mainstream again but if producers can keep building the premium market then perhaps in a few years we can talk about sherry without mentioning the G word.

This article originally appeared in Harper’s Wines and Spirits

 

London’s Best Wine Bars

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Today, wine bars are fashionable. There’s even been talk that wine itself might be… *whisper it* cool. Things were very different when I was growing up. Wines bars were considered terribly old-fashioned. Most weren’t even aimed at wine lovers. Instead, they were places to drink that were open later than pubs. You might have gotten some cheese and crackers or shop-bought pate to eat, if you were lucky. There was a chain in the north of England called Yates’s Wine Lodge; from the name, you’d imagine it was a good place to discuss the difference between left bank and right bank Bordeaux. If you tried, you’d be in for a rude shock. On a Friday and Saturday night, Yates’s would be crammed with people getting uproariously drunk on anything but wine.

Even during the dark days, however, there were places serving good quality wine and food, and some of them are still around. What the newer places offer is sharper cookery and more adventurous wines, many of which are available by the glass thanks to the wonders of Enomatic machines or the Coravin (a sort of handheld Enomatic that dispenses a tasting measure and then seals the bottle with an inert gas). So I thought it would be interesting to examine the now-thriving wine bar sector in London. I’ve tried to group them roughly in order of opening, so you go from very old school to bang up to date.

 

El Vino, 47 Fleet St, London EC4Y 1BJ

A legend since 1879. Fleet Street used to be the home of London’s newspapers and this is where the journalists would drink and gossip. Women weren’t allowed at the bar until the 1980s! It’s less raucous now as the customers are mainly lawyers. The food is basic, the meat pies are the thing to go for. The wine list extremely old-fashioned, lots of claret, generic white burgundy by the glass, and none the worse for it. It’s recently been taken over by Davy’s, a wine bar chain, so it’s not clear what the future is.

 

Gordon’s 47 Villiers St, London WC2N 6NE

Entering Gordon’s is like being in one of those Roger Corman adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe. The ceiling is incredibly low, there’s cobwebs and candles everywhere. I keep expecting Vincent Price to be on the next table. It’s also a total tourist trap and can get unpleasantly busy, but is worth visiting for the amazing atmosphere. The by the bottle wine list is a bit dull so I’d recommend you order sherry or madeira which come directly from the barrel.  

 

Le Beaujolais, 25 Litchfield St, London WC2H 9NJ

It feels like nothing at all has changed in here since it opened in 1972. The wine list consists of mainly negociant Beaujolais. It’s not the kind of place to share your obsession with low sulphur Morgon producers.  You’re here to have fun. Sobriety is positively frowned upon and don’t be surprised if you ended up leaving with someone else’s wife or husband. The food is good especially the Boeuf Bourguignon.

 

Cork & Bottle 44-46 Cranbourn Alley, London WC2H 7AN

Another 70s stalwart. This place used to be very popular with the wine trade. They’ve probably moved on to somewhere trendy in East London which is a shame because this place is rather good. The room, a spacious and nicely lit cellar, is inviting. The, not particularly cheap, wine list is full of tempting stuff especially from Southern Rhone and Australia.  It’s recently changed hands and the food has improved.

 

Albertine, 1 Wood Lane, London W12 7DP

Out in Shepherd’s Bush in West London, in the old days when BBC TV centre was around the corner, you might trip over  Jeremy Irons or Maggie Smith sipping a glass of Muscadet. Since the studios closed in 2013, the clientele is now mainly newish locals who have been priced out of Notting Hill. The wine list very solid, with producers such as De Martino from Chile, just the sort of stuff that I like to drink at home. The food is good home-cooked stuff, beef stroganoff, chicken curry, that sort of thing. It has a proper family feel.

 

Andrew Edmunds , 46 Lexington St, London W1F 0LP

A Soho stalwart, this is more of a restaurant but notable for it’s extensive and often good value wine list. I often run into the eponymous proprietor at tastings around London and he really knows his stuff. Cooking is simple bistro stuff, usually delicious. It’s very romantic too.

 

Mr Lawrence, 391 Brockley Rd, London SE4 2PH

I’m count myself very lucky to have this place on my doorstep in south east London. They import their own wine from south west France as well as champagne and armagnac . You can order food from the pub next door and eat it in the wood-panelled splendour of the dining room. A neighbourhood gem but worth going to visit as well.

 

Planet of the Grapes, 9/10 Bulls Head Passage, Leadenhall Market, London EC3V 1LU

This business started out as a shop in Holborn, they’ve since expanded to three wine bars in the City and one further west in the neo-baroque Sicilian Avenue. You can buy wines to take away or for a corkage fee, drink them on site with food. The wines are excellent, very much the kind of thing that you can imagine prosperous stock brokers drinking, claret, burgundy, Brunello, and Californian cabernets.  Just don’t ask for natural wine.

 

Terroirs, 5 William IV St, London WC2N 4DW

This was the only natural wine bar in London when it opened in 2009. Some of the wines are a too natural for me but the knowledgeable  staff are always happy to steer me towards something more conventional. Whilst the wines can a be a little wacky, the food is decidedly classic, very French, cassoulet etc with particularly good shellfish. They have a sister restaurant in East London called Brawn.

 

10 Cases,16 Endell St, London WC2H 9BD

The name comes from their policy of buying ten cases each of special wines and selling them until they’re gone. They also do a regular house selection. On my last visit I had a very good mosel riesling by the glass and a Xinomavro from Greece with some great tapas. They’re currently trialling a one hour wine delivery service in central London so you don’t even need to leave your home to get the 10 Cases experience.

 

Sager & Wilde, 193 Hackney Road, London E2 8JL

Where Sager & Wilde sits used to be the roughest pub in East London, the British Lion. My Uncle used to go there to talk about horses with the locals. It was opened in 2013 by Charlotte and Michael Sager-Wilde and has since become wildly popular not least with the wine trade. The list is very modish with orange wines, Santa Barbara pinot noirs and Jura whites. Their cheddar cheese toastie has achieved mythical status. They have another venue which is more of a restaurant under the arches in nearby Bethnal Green

 

Wine Pantry, 1 Stoney St, London SE1 9AA –

A few years ago a bar that only sold English wine would be a punchline to a joke. Not now. English sparkling wines in particular are winning plaudits all over the world. The still whites, even some reds are catching up fast.  Julia Stafford, the owner of this place in Borough Market, bursts with enthusiasm. If you come sceptical, like I did, you’ll leave converted especially after half dozen oysters and a glass of Henners Brut Reserve.

 

Quality Chop House, 88-94 Farringdon Rd, London EC1R 3EA

This London institution was closed for a few years but reopened in 2014 under new management. It lives up to its name by offering the finest pork chop I think I’ve ever had (sorry mum) especially with their signature confit potato. It has a great wine list, of course, with a very nice Bergerac as the house red. Particularly exciting are the early 20th century Rivesaltes and Maurys (sweet French wines not dissimilar to port) which they offer by the glass.

 

Wine makers club, 41a Farringdon St, London EC4A 4AN

This was once a branch of Oddbins, the chain of wine merchants where I worked in the late 90s. It’s an incredible space under the Holborn Viaduct but beware, it’s basically a cellar, so wrap up warm. The cold smell of damp mingled with wine when you walk into the bar took me back to my days in the wine trade. They offer a very interesting selection of wines, particularly good on Tuscany with Brunello from Sesti and Chianti from Riecine. There’s simple food available to eat alongside.

 

Noble Rot, 51 Lamb’s Conduit St, London WC1N 3NB

The owners, Marks Andrew a former wine merchant, and Dan Keeling, former A&R man who discovered Coldplay, are geniuses are self-promotion. I’ve never known a new wine bar opening to get so much attention. Fortunately the place lives up to the hype, they’ve taken on a top chef, Paul Weaver, formerly of St. John’s, and the wine list made me want to empty my savings account.  On my last visit, I had some mouthwateringly juicy hogget (somewhere between lamb and mutton in age) which went down nicely with a well-priced bottle of Vina Tondonia Rioja. The owners edit a wine magazine also called Noble Rot which you can read whilst you wait for your food.

 

67 Pall Mall, London SW1Y 5ES

I shouldn’t include this place because it’s a private members club but the by the class list is so extensive that I thought it worth mentioning. I had an a delicious Cote Rotie from Jasmine for £9 a glass. It would be double anywhere else. With it I had some, very good, bar snacks but there is a proper restaurant too. My advice is to befriend a member next time you’re in London.

This originally appeared in Food & Wine magazine. 

 

 

Ivy League cocktails

I’ve been doing some serious research for my latest Guardian column. It’s on cocktails made with fortified wine. I did so much research that I feel a bit bleary this morning. No matter, I can pretend it’s work. This is what I drank last night:

The Princeton

Named after the University in America. I can never think of Ivy league schools without thinking of Louis Winthorpe III’s awful friends in Trading Places. I imagine everyone is called Dash, Tash, Cash or Tad Allagash.

On second thoughts Princeton sounds fun!. Here’s the cocktail:

Ingredients:

2 oz/ 60ml Old Tom Gin – this is a sweet gin. I didn’t have any so I used my special mixture gin which is based on Martin Miller gin topped up with dozens of sample bottles of gins I’ve been sent. I added a half teaspoon of sugar to make it sweet.

2 dashes orange bitters

¾ ounce/ 20ml – port chilled – I used Fonseca bin 27

Add the gin and the bitters to ice, stir and strain into a glass. I don’t have proper cocktail glasses so I used an Aspalls half pint glass that my brother pinched from a pub years ago.

Then very carefully pour the port down the side of the glass so it settles on the bottom. You will then have two-tone effect.

I couldn’t quite get the hang of this as it just tasted of sweetened gin. So I muddled it all together and it became better. A bit like sloe gin with a nice lift from the orange bitters. Only problem is it’s bloody strong and sweet. I can’t imagine drinking it all before it became warm.

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The gin looks a bit cloudy doesn’t it? It think that’s undissolved sugar.

Sherry cobbler
This was Dickens’ favourite. You can read all about it when the column appears.

About ¼ of a pint of  amontillado sherry – I used Tesco finest made by Barbadillo. It’s not bad

Tea spoon of sugar

Crushed ice, lots

Slice of lemon and grapefruit

This is very refreshing. Tang of sherry goes nicely with citrus

Found this very moreish especially as it became dilute

Adonis

Named after the former Minister of Education under Tony Blair.

1 part sweet vermouth – I used  a bottle of Martini Rosso that had been sitting in our cupboard for years

2 parts  fino sherry – Tio Pepe

2 dashes orange bitter, strip of orange zest

This is very light and delicate, could have done with more oomph. I ended up adding more rosso which improved it somewhat. The underwhelming results may have had something to do with my ancient bottle of Martini.

Tuxedo

Named after a country club in New Jersey where they always dress for dinner.

2 parts  gin (My house gin)

1 part fino

2 dash orange bitters

Recipe calls for one strip of orange peel, I used grapefruit

I like this. You can really taste the yeastiness and almonds of the sherry,  and it goes really well with the gin. The orange bitters lifts it too. One for martini fans. I’d probably make it with a little more gin next time. Still this is an excellent drink. Next time I have a gin party. This is going to be the drink de jour.

I’ll post the Guardian article when it appears. It’s awfully clever.

All sherry recipes adapted from Talia Baocchi’s excellent new book:

Summer wines make me feel fine

Here’s a longer version of my latest Lady column and a little Isley Brothers just in case you’re not feeling summery enough with all this heat:

Writing about winter wines is easy in Britain because you know it’s going to be cold so you need lots of alcohol and richness to keep warm. Summer wines are harder because of our unpredictable climate.  That is why it’s vital to include some autumnal offerings for when the weather refuses to play cricket. And then there’s the barbeque factor. You need robust reds to stand up to all that grilled meat and burnt sausages. That is why many summer wines are actually winter wines in disguise. Anyway I don’t suppose it really matters as long as they’re good. My top tip would be to serve all the reds a little colder than you normally would do in the winter. On a hot day even the most muscular of reds will benefit from thirty minutes in the fridge whereas very light reds are nice properly chilled. And finally if the sun really shines, don’t be afraid to put a little ice in your glass, even if the contents are red.

Percheron Old vines Cinsault 2013 (Wine Society)

A very pale red, this has to be the most adaptable wine of the year. Serve it cool and it’s great with lighter meats, serve it cold and it’s a particularly good rose. One word of warning, it’s 15% so don’t give too many glasses to Granny.

Capcanes  rosé 2013 (Theatre of Wine £8.90)

A manly Catalan rosé! This is another very adaptable wine, it’s rich and spicy enough to stand up to flavoursome meats but also extremely refreshing.

Picpoul-de-Pinet Cuvée Ludovic Gaujal 2013 (Yapp Bros £10.25)

Picpoul might be the ultimate summer wine. This is a superior example with a super fresh nose, like smelling the sea. It’s richer than your average Picpoul with lovely tangy, herbal quality.

Crozes-Hermitage ‘Les Meysonniers ‘ M. Chapoutier 2011 (Tanners £16.99)

This is the posh BBQ wine. It tastes meaty and peppery with supple tannins that cry out for a good bit of rump steak. Les Meysonniers has to be one of the consistently great bargains in wine.

Harvey Nichols Port 10 year old Tawny (£27.50)

I’m on a one man mission to get people drinking port year round. In Oporto they drink tawnies like this chilled, it really accentuates all that lovely ripe fruit. The is just the thing with hard cheese or on its own with a slice of seed cake for a mid-morning pick-me-up.

Henners Vintage 2010 (Wine Pantry £27)

It has a lively lemony nose with hint of vanilla. In the mouth there are green apples, beautiful tiny bubbles and a whisper of custard on the finish. If I was getting married again and I had the money, then I’d go for this wine.

Pic St. Loup Morrisons Signature 2011 (£8.99)

This is the everyday BBQ wine to go with supermarket sausages and burgers. It’s good and drinkable and with its notes of rosemary and leather tastes distinctly Languedocian as well.

Coteaux du Languedoc ‘Les Muriers’ Mas Bruguiere 2012 (Yapp Bros £13.95)

One of the best value whites I’ve tried this year. It would be double the amount if it came from the Northern Rhone. It’s intense, nutty and tangy with a gorgeously silky texture. It will probably age too but I can’t wait that long.

Château Moncontour Vouvray Demi-Sec 2013 (M&S £9.99)

Have a sniff of this and you’ll think of apple pie with cinnamon. Your friends won’t notice because it’s so well-balanced but this wine actually sweet or at least slightly sweet. There’s so much acidity, however, that tt finishes dry and bracingly fresh. I think it’ll be good with goats cheese and grapes. It’s also low in alcohol, 11%, so granny can have a few glasses.

Aldi Prosecco NV (£7.29)

A friend of mine who is getting married asked me to recommend a Prosecco. He was a bit put out I when I suggested this one. ‘I’m not that cheap!’ he said. But this is genuinely good: very clean, fruity and fun with none of those off flavours you sometimes get in cheap Prosecco.

Marks & Spencer Beaujolais 2013 (Marks & Spencer £7.99)

This is the red to put ice in. It smells of oranges and cherries and tastes youthful and crunchy with just a hint of stalkiness; really good simple Beaujolais.

The Wine Society Fino NV (£6.25)

Not only a bargain but also one of the best finos on the market. It’s very dry and lemony with a certain salty tang which lingers deliciously in the mouth. It’s just a shame about that dreary label. I always have a bottle of this in the fridge.

You know you’ve made it when you’re cited on Wikipedia

The most popular article I ever wrote was something examining what sort of sherry Niles and Frasier drank on the sitcom Frasier. As you can see it attracted a fair amount of comment. Well now that article has been cited as a source on Wikipedia:

‘Frasier and Niles Crane frequently consumed sherry, perhaps Bristal’s (sic) Cream, on the TV sitcom Frasier.’

Scroll down and you’ll see World of Booze cited. Now I know that Wikipedia does have a bit of a reputation for unreliability but it’s still surprising that someone used a blog as a sole source and even then got the name of the drink wrong. That’s the last time I use Wikipedia when arguing in the comments section on the Guardian about Palestine.

 

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!

Postscript:

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.