Restaurants Wine articles

Why it’s better to drink wine with those you love

It’s been a long time since I last posted. I’ve been busy working on my still-nascent-but-perhaps-actually-about-to happen-book which is very exciting (potentially.) Less excitingly but more lucratively I have been writing travel guides to cities that I’ve never visited. Normally researching these cities makes me want to visit them – I had no idea that Baku had such rich Art Noveau architecture. The exception was Malmo which sounds like Middlesborough with added anti-Semitism.

So finally here are my wines of the year from 2013. An upside to being a wine writer is that I get to taste some extremely rare wines including this year some 19th century Madeira courtesy of Berry Bros. The downside is that these are normally drunk in a room surrounded by other journalists so that though one may appreciate them, you don’t actually enjoy the experience terribly much. Therefore my wines of the year, aren’t the necessarily the best wines, they are the wines I have enjoyed the most which means I drank them with people I love.

Marco de Bartoli Marsala Superiore Riserva 10 year old (Harvey Nichols £40)

Despite a bit of a marsala obsession, I had never tried anything from the most esteemed producer, the late Marco de Bartoli. I saw this on the menu at Bocca di Lupo for about £60 and as I was with my wife, we were a bit drunk and it was our wedding anniversary, I thought what the hell. I am so glad I did. It’s a wine with a story to tell. One sniff and we were in an imaginary Sicily of orange groves, Byzantine craftsman and long sultry afternoons. We had  a glass each and then drank the rest at home over the course of a week.

henry's wife is amazing

Domaine la Combe Blanche Cinsault L’Incompris 2011 (£8. 50 Leon Stolarki – pretty much everything I’ve bought from this man has been excellent and he’s not expensive)

This is my sociable wine of the year. It’s not one to think about terribly much, it’s just plain delicious like a good Beaujolais or a simple New World Pinot Noir. It goes with pretty much everything and everyone who tries it makes appreciative noises. I predict that 2014 is going to be the year of Cinsault if only in SE13.

Quinta do Noval Nacional 2011

Now I’m breaking my rule here. I drank this at a table surrounded by jostling sweating wine writers, sommeliers and freeloaders. It’s very expensive (if you can find it) and shouldn’t really be touched for 20 years, but it’s one of those rare cult wines where after one sip you understand what the fuss is all about. It’s just so concentrated, every sip there’s something new to discover, but it’s not flamboyant in the slightest. I’d kill to try this again.

That’s it. Now does anyone know five unmissable things to see in Ulan Bator?

 You can read some more of my 2014 booze predictions here.

Wine articles

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.

Wine articles

Christmas Wine Fair – special offer for readers

If you want to learn about wine or you just fancy a bit of variety in your drinking, then nothing beats a good wine fair. I remember the first one I attended, it was run by Oddbins in Edinburgh in 1999. Actually I don’t remember that much about it apart from a man lying on the stairs saying ‘I’m so drunk, I’m so drunk.’ Since then I’ve been to a lot of fairs both as a paying customer and as a journalist. They are a mixed bag: some have great stuff on tasting but they’re very expensive and others seem to offer great value for money but most of the wines on offer are quite dull (I’m thinking of a particularly well-known wine fair affiliated with a  Sunday newspaper here.)

The Wine Gang – a group made up of some of the country’s most prestigious and best-looking wine writers – are putting on their own Christmas wine fair in Bath, 2nd November, London, 9th November, and Edinburgh, 30th November. They’ve got some pretty impressive exhibitors lined up including Berry Bros, Gonzalez-Byass sherry and Charles Heidsieck champagne. Tickets are only £20 but readers of World of Booze can go for £12 if they quote ‘Blog 40’ when buying online tickets. For this you get to try hundreds of wines. It also gives you 10% of the masterclasses. It seems like extraordinary value for money; I reckon I could drink £12 worth of wine within about ten minutes of arrival. There must be some sort of catch, I thought, perhaps the whole thing is actually a recruiting drive for a new religion loosely based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. Joanna Simon, wine writer for House & Garden, assures me that this is not the case.  If readers can think of any better-value wine tastings, I’d love to hear about them.


Wine articles

Youth-friendly wine tastings

CarlosGoing to a wine tasting can be an intimidating even for an experienced wine bore like me. There’s all those wines lined up, you have to take a sniff, a little sip, spit – don’t get me started on spitting, a subject that deserves a whole post of its own – and then you have to scribble something. Many’s the time when I’ll be sandwiched between noted wine writers such as Victoria Moore or Robert Parker, and I’ll literally not be able to think of anything to write. It just tastes like Bordeaux; ‘typically claret!’ I’ll write, hoping that Jancis Robinson isn’t looking over my shoulder. It’s even more awkward when the producer is there and wants to tell you about the soil in which the grapes were grown. ‘ Can you taste the schist?’ ‘mmmmm, yes!’

I remember my first wine tasting. It was the Oddbins wine fair in Edinburgh in 2000. I didn’t spit in those days and was later found sliding slowly down the stairs muttering, ‘I’m so drunk, I’m so drunk.’ (Not so drunk, however that I can’t still recall a Bonnezeaux from Chateau de Fesles.) Perhaps part of the reason I got so drunk was because I felt so awkward asking for the wine and then trying to pull a suitably wine-tasty expression when tasting it. Everyone around me seemed to know exactly what they were doing.

One way to make tasting a little more youth-friendly is to embrace the boozy side of wine rather than acting as if we’re judging Pomeranians at Crufts. We drink alcohol when we’re celebrating, why not combine wine with festivity? It’s pretty radical stuff but it seems to be catching on.  Whilst I was in California recently, a local wine merchant, Domaine LA, was offering Morgons on Superbowl Sunday, a day more usually associated with hot dogs and Budweiser. Now for World Malbec Day on the 17th April there’s an event in Dalston (I just resisted the urge to use the epithet fashionable before Dalston) called Cambalanche which combines wine tasting with other noted Argentine exports such as music, food and, er, graffiti.

It sounds fun. Instead of having to talk about fermentation temperatures or worrying about your spitting technique, you can munch on an empanada and strut around dramatically to Astor Piazzollo. I tried to persuade my dear old Dad to come but he’s boycotting Argentina because of their continued claim on the Falkland Islands. Instead he’s going to celebrate World Malbec Day by staying at home with a bottle of Cahors and some reheated cassoulet. Actually that sounds quite fun as well. What to do?

Wine articles

That would be an ecumenical matter

From watching Father Ted, we all know that in a religious discussion you can’t go wrong by saying: ‘that would be an ecumenical matter.’ That way you will always sound like you know what you’re talking about. Recently I’ve been drinking wine with people with vastly more experience than me. It’s a nerve-wracking experience when a Master of Wine, leans over and says ‘what do you think?” My mind normally goes blank and all I can think of is ‘very nice.’

Recently, however, I have discovered the wine-tasting equivalent of ‘that would be an ecumenical matter.’ Here it is: ‘it seems a bit a closed to me.’ Doesn’t sound that impressive, does it? All it means is that the wine in question isn’t tasting of very much at the time. This could be because the wine is too young, too cold, isn’t very good, has only just been opened or, and this is the best part, just because your nose isn’t working as well as it should do on that particular day (top wine writer Fiona Beckett writes on this phenomenon here.) Once you say ‘it’s a bit closed’, people will normally nod and say ‘mmmmm I think you’re right’ or they might disagree but you’ll always sound like you know what you’re talking about.

Photo courtesy of Hat Trick productions.