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. 

Death of the Wine Snob

This is something I wrote earlier in the year for Spectator Life magazine but it has taken so long to appear that one of the shops I mention has since closed. Tant pis, as they say in East London.

Red-faced, plummy-voiced, with a big nose, the wine snob is a familiar social stereotype. He might laugh at you at a dinner party for mispronouncing Montrachet or be the face sneering at you from behind the counter of a stuffy wine merchant when you ask for a bottle of cava. Oddly enough, in all my years of buying wine and working in the wine trade, I very rarely came across this figure. People like this may have once been ubiquitous but nowadays the legend of the wine snob is kept alive by the wine trade as a way of proclaiming their egalitarian principles: haven’t we come far, they say, we’re not like those terrible blazer-wearing toffs.

Click here to read the rest. 

After writing this article, I had an experience in a trendy wine shop which suggested the wine snob is actually alive and well. He’s just changed a bit.

Top ten annoying food and drink words

Here are ten words that I particularly dislike in food and drink writing. I was going to explain why after each but seeing them there on the page, their awfulness is obvious. Suffice to say, I have put them in because they’re meaningless, over-used or just plain horrid (I’m thinking of you foodie.)

1)      Foodie

2)      Sustainable

3)      Oodles

4)      Quaffing

5)      Iconic

6)      Foraged

7)      Superfood

8)      Artisan

9)      Curated

10)   Heritage

Does anyone have anything to add?


I’ve just remembered how much I hate the phrase ‘popped & poured’ repeated ad nauseum on American wine sites such as Cellar Tracker.

Oh and ‘mixologist’, that should be somewhere high up on this list.

Ice wine

One of the drawbacks of having a wife who doesn’t drink very much is that it often means I drink more. Brought up by thrifty parents and taught at school to always finish what was on my plate, I hate to see things go to waste.  I’ve now got to an age where one glass over my usual two to three glasses can lead to either snoring or the dreaded waking up at 3am sick with worry about the mortgage or the price of cheese. So on one hand I have my frugal Scottish side and, let’s face it, my in-built love of booze screaming drink it and on the other my love of a good night’s sleep and marital harmony telling me not to.

Recently I was faced with a conundrum. We were going on holiday the next day and I’d picked up some Turkish food for supper. We had just under 1/2 a bottle of rose in the fridge (Chateau Barthes Bandol Rose, £9.99 at Majestic and really quite nice), not nearly enough to go with spicy grilled lamb for two. So I opened a bottle of red (Blind Spot GSM £7.50 The Wine Society.) Problem solved but after demolishing nearly half of the red I realised that I had to stop or they’d either be snoring, sleeplessness or even a hangover, none of them good when you have to get up at 5am to catch a flight. I’d have to let the wine go to waste unless of course i could preserve it some way.

Then I had a moment of inspiration/ light drunkenness, I popped the wine in the freezer and off we went to France. On our return I defrosted the bottle  curious as to how it would taste. It would have been interesting (though not very) to try the previously frozen wine against a fresh bottle but instead I had to rely on memory. It still tasted good but it was lighter, fruitier and simpler. A moderately serious wine had been turned into something frivolous and rather delicious. All went well until the last glass because at the bottom of the bottle was a purple sludge. That sludge was the seriousness that had been removed during the freezing process. I had inadvertently created Ice Wine.

Do you remember the craze for Ice Beer in the mid nineties? There was a lot of guff about smoothness and ultimate refreshment but actually the purpose of the ice process was to remove flavour from the beer. Tiny particles that contained beery tastes – yeast, hops etc. – were frozen and filtered out of the beer. The brewers had created something for those who found Sol a little too characterful. I think the big wine companies are missing a trick here. Many drinkers love bland products; many commercial wines are already chilled and filtered heavily. Instead of keeping it quiet, they should be shouting it from the treetops: Pinot Grigio Ice! Cava Ice! Sauvignon Blanc Ice! Come on marketing people, wake up!