Thursday, 18 January 2018

The Wines That Made Us (1): Mateus Rosé

A special SEDIMENT series in which we look back at the wines which made us a nation of wine-drinkers – and revisit those wines today. 

You couldn’t go wrong. No worries about
vintages, or chateaux, or whether it would be dry or sharp. Ask for a bottle of white wine, and you had no idea what kind of polysyllabic German cheek-clencher you might be sold. No, for fledgling wine drinkers like us in the 1970s, it was twenty Rothmans and a bottle of Mateus, thank you very much.

Mateus Rosé had so much going for it. Unlike red or white wine, which were posh and old-fashioned, Mateus was, as you might gather, rosé – or, as its ads made clear for those who didn’t even know what rosé was, pink. 

It was very slightly fizzy. As wine novices, we were of course unaware of the correct term, petillante, but it seemed to be covered by the incorrect term, “very slightly fizzy”. And most of all, it was rather sweet. This in an era when the popular pub tipples of the recently-permitted were Southern Comfort for the fellas, and for girls, a teeth-coating combination of vodka and lime cordial. Which all meant that Mateus was a wine we could drink without fear – and without food.

None of us looked too deeply into the nature of the wine itself. The curlicued, parchment-coloured label simply suggested an established, traditional wine which was centuries old. It seemed authentic. It depicted the Palace of Mateus in Vila Real; “And,” said one ad, “no wine ever had a lovelier birthplace…”

Which obscured two awkward truths. First, the wine had actually been created only thirty years before, exploiting the collapse of the Port market across Europe during World War II. A group of friends in neutral Portugal seized the opportunity to exploit the glut of Portuguese grapes, by making cheap table wines which could be shipped straight across to the lucrative Brazilian market. Only when that market itself declined after the War was Mateus Rosé offered to emerging British wine drinkers.

And the Palace of Mateus was just a stately home near to the commercial winery, whose name and image were purchased for use on the label. The owners were offered the choice of a one-off payment, or a royalty per bottle. In a commercial decision akin to that of the record company exec  who turned down The Beatles, they took the one-off payment.

Then, of course, there was that bottle. “Beware of curously shaped or oddly-got-up bottles,” wrote Kingsley Amis in his 1972 book On Drink. “I would not want to decry Mateus Rosé, a pleasant enough drink which has been many a youngster’s introduction to wine, but its allure, and its price, owe a lot to the work of the glassmaker.”

Its frosted dark green glass hinted at protection of precious contents, while its shape was based on the water flask of a WWI Portuguese soldier. What a great story. Was it a military coincidence that this squat, flat bottle would also conveniently fit into the capacious pocket of a (fashionable at the time) calf-length ex-army greatcoat?

And the bottle led to the lamps. Unlike regular wine bottles, the shorter Mateus bottles were just the right height for bedside lamps:

These would presumably imbue one’s home with all of the sophistication and worldliness that was beginning to accrue to wine-drinking. They did, however, require the drilling of a hole in the glass bottle for the cable which, in the days before instructive YouTube videos, often required a trip to a local hardware shop for advice and equipment, followed equally often by a trip to a local A&E.

Hard as it may be now to believe, Mateus Rosé was drunk by fashionable people. 

It was not to be sneered at. It appeared in the background of a Graham Nash album cover, and in the lyrics of an Elton John song, things now equally hard to believe were not to be sneered at.

But as we learnt more about wine, we all thought less of Mateus Rosé. Its sugary flavour seemed unsophisticated, its colour trivial, and its bottle unsuited to modern tables, whether dining or bedside.
In 2002, they revamped it and dropped the word “rosé” from the bottle, on the grounds that “people know it’s a rosé”, Then a little over a decade later, they turned the bottle from green to clear, on the grounds that “people don’t know it’s a rosé”.

I can no longer find a Peter Dominic, where, in 1973, I would have bought it for 87p a bottle. But I did find it on the next-to-bottom shelf in the supermarket, for £5. Like me, it has changed a bit over the years.

Of course there’s no longer a cork, but even the screwcap is rose-gold, while the similarly coloured neck foil bears a signature which reads worryingly like weapons inspector Hans Blick.

The wine itself is a bold, lurid pink. It shines through the clear glass as if this were one of those jars which used to stand in chemists’ windows.

Was there ever such a thing as strawberry cordial? If so, that is how it smells. And yet, after a fleeting puff of fruit from its slight fizz, it has no flavour. None. Its formula was changed some years back, to appeal more to contemporary tastes, and perhaps the object was to make it as bland as possible. Perhaps if, as the Mateus marketing now imagines, you are on a yacht in the sun, you might enjoy a garish, slightly fizzy wine which tastes of nothing. But then, if you’re on a yacht, you might conceivably have more than £5 to spend on your wine.

So they’ve really taken everything away: the cork, the bottle, the label and the taste – and nostalgia along with them all. I can’t imagine someone turning up now at a girlfriend’s flat, wielding a bottle of Mateus Rosé like an overnight bag. But nor can I imagine someone staying up until 2am, explaining why Tony McPhee has a better guitar technique than Rory Gallagher. Neither the wine nor the conversation seemed very successful then; neither seem particularly appealing today.


Thursday, 21 December 2017

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Seasonal wishes from SEDIMENT to all our readers, and we'll see you next year.

Now we're off for a bottle or two of something appropriate: 


Thursday, 14 December 2017

My Perfect Christmas For Less Than Fifty Quid

This week's style icon: The 2017 IKEA Catalogue

For me, Christmas is a time to be together with friends and family, throwing a charmingly imperfect dinner party or chanelling my inner Heston Blumental with a wooden spoon and a long, lazy lunch with family and friends, or whoever I love to share my world with, friends and family and neighbours, the people who matter most in my life, whatever's on the menu. That's why it's important to de-stress, whether I'm attempting to slice fugu fish with a wooden spoon or channelling my inner Damien Hirst with a packet of frozen peas, big time. For me, the perfect start to any meal is a bottle of Aldi's Asti Spumante, at £4.99 - fizzy, refreshing, above all £4.99. If I'm in the kitchen, chatting and laughing with friends, all night long, sometimes with neighbours and family, I want to be in a no-pressure affair that allows me to be a guest, too.

For the main course? Don't sweat it: cooking doesn't have to be a high-end, stress-filled get-together of neighbours and a turkey and some family and friends and sprouts. Instead, it can be what you want it to be - channelling your inner Oliver Reed with three bottles of Aldi Cambalala South African Pinotage at £3.89 a bottle, or experimenting with a trio of Kooliburra Australian Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignons, £3.99 a bottle. Above all, Christmas is where we get together to share a meal, tell stories and make plans about how we're going to get home afterwards. The tables and chairs are based on the style I like and the size I need (XXL), and make a great place for telling stories about friends and neighbours and bringing together a few key pieces - the wonderful everyday - that make my style all my own, whether I'm in the kitchen or not, throwing out the old rules or simply ditching my inhibitions in a style all my own or in a zinc bucket.

Of course, a bit of downtime, some personal space, is also good, especially when I've had about all the friends and family and neighbours I can stand. For me, a big table where I can spread out and go solo, channelling my inner Søren Kierkegaard, is a must. Here's where I can create, eat, read and make my own 'project table' out of a handful of boxes and a wooden spoon and above all, a bottle of Maynard's Ruby Reserve Port, £4.99 from Aldi, although it's only 20cl, but that's enough to get creative and blot out the memory of mostly family, maybe with some catch-up TV if I can get the telly to work, but why only 20cl? I should have bought two. Anyway, it's enough to savour the moment and be the person I want to be without compromising my inner Malcolm Lowry. Mistakes are merely lessons inside out, I tell myself as I attempt to create the space that inspires me and wonder where I put my personal happy space, because that's all that matters. Maybe I should look in the bucket.

Because after all, if I create an inviting space, it can make any moment feel like I'm on holiday, although God knows I've had some terrible holidays, but that's no reason not to share the expectation that everyone will have a great time when it comes to finishing up the turkey leftovers at about nine o'clock with a couple of bottles of Aldi Castellore Sicilian Pinot Grigio, £3.89, and a looming hangover. This at least is where I can be the star of my kitchen, whatever I'm in the mood for making - although mainly I'm in the mood for making my way up to bed, except the friends and family are still here, sharing stories about other members of the family who aren't here and failing to make everyday dining a rediscovered delight, so there's no way I can create the right mood for merry-making and instead have to make do with a cheese biscuit and a bit of dried-out Stilton given that the only rule is there are no rules and if adults need a private space to recharge and relax, where, precisely, is that? In my busy life, with work committments and social media, all I want is a 'me-time' moment to zone out, but what are the chances? I ask you? And is it wise to start on the Tomova Salted Caramel Vodka Liqueur (£9.99) that someone gave us, just to get over the hump? Would that be a perfect no-compromise compromise? Maybe I should ask the people who matter most in my life, although they're now watching Strictly, so how about the washing-up? That's something I've noticed about the wonderful everyday: the tidying up afterwards. It never ends.