We have two categories of wine in our household. There is The Cellar, which My Affianced believes is protected by trip wires and light beams like something out of Mission Impossible. The Cellar is wine for guests, for special occasions, and for that dim and distant day when some of it might actually come to maturity. (Like sons, that day never seems to be when the calendar predicts, but moves to its own, unfathomable timetable.)
And then there is kitchen wine, so-called because that’s where it’s kept, to be drunk everyday, cooked with, or downed by sons and friends without repercussions. It’s a key tenet of my choice of kitchen wines that (a) they are inexpensive, and so can be used in a carefree fashion, and (b) that everyone will like them. Hence one of the staples of the kitchen wine rack is Chianti.
Chianti has a bit of tradition behind it. The very word classico on a label suggests something more serious than one of those New World attempts at ironic humour, or a gruesome pun on a region of France. (Goats Do Roam, anyone? Languid Duck? Or should that be Long Dog? ) Chianti is also a lighter red, which suits My Affianced more than the heavyweight stuff. (Which, of course, is in The Cellar…)
So when I spot what appears to be a bargain in the Chianti region (as it were), the chance of a kitchen wine with cellar interest is just too good to miss.
When it comes to wine, a little knowledge can be a dangerous (and occasionally expensive) thing. Bear that in mind, CJ. Knowing that riserva means a chianti has been aged for a statutory number of years, and knowing that modern chiantis succeed by blending just a touch of another grape with the traditional sangiovese, I was immediately lured to the Familae Piccini Chianti Riserva, which ticked all those boxes. Plus, it looked like a bargain.
Piccini’s regular, bog-standard Orange Label chianti was in Sainsbury’s at £6.59; but the better Superiore, normally £7.99, was reduced to £5.32; and the top of the range Riserva, normally £10.99, was reduced a staggering 50% to just £5.49. For the top of the range! An eleven quid wine for half price! And – here was the clincher – it had a security tag!!
Now call me miserly, call me mad, but I have never bought a wine from Sainsbury’s bearing a security tag. Frankly, if I was spending enough on a bottle to merit a security tag, it wouldn’t come from Sainsbury’s. So this was confirmation that I had spotted a real bargain. Along with the luxury condoms and the Mach 3 razorblades, this was clearly a shoplifter’s favourite.
And was it my imagination, or did the woman on the check-out give the label an appraising look as she removed the tag. And give me an admiring glance, too? Clearly a man, as Damon Albarn would say, who knows his claret from his Beaujolais.
Well. Once I got home, I did some research, as we who have a little knowledge of wine are wont to do. Am I in good company amongst the reviewers?
And here, in November 2008, is Jane McQuitty in The Times recommending the Piccini Riserva 2005, a “a bright, beefy, leather, truffle and spice-laden chianti” – reduced to £4.99.
In December 09, here’s the York student website recommending the 2006 Familae Piccini Chianti Reserva: "Rich and fruity. Good with lamb. A bottle for that Sunday roast with the housemates, perhaps?" – £5.49 was £10.99, Sainsbury’s.
£5.49 was £10.99, Sainsbury’s.
And in April 2010, here’s Tim Curran in the Mirror : "Sainsbury's has superior Italian red Familae Piccini Chianti Riserva DOCG 2007 with its cherry flavours that go with red meat and game (half-price at £5.49 until Tuesday)."
So, what we are actually talking about here is a five quid wine. Not a security-protected, £10.99 bottle, unless you are unfortunate or stupid enough to buy it during the rare periods when it is not reduced. A wine which every year sells for £5, or thereabouts. A little knowledge which, frankly, changed my whole perspective.
As a five quid kitchen wine, this is perfectly good; fresh, light, inoffensive, moderately fruity and with a slight spiciness on the palate to give it some grip.
But as an eleven quid cellar wine, it is shallow, lacking in depth or complexity, with no richness or depth. It disappears in the mouth, with too little aftertaste.
Take your choice as to which is an appropriate response. The wine’s the same, it’s the expectations which are different – driven by price, and a little knowledge. Oh, and a security tag.