When you have sunk to the bottom, you can only go up. Even Sediment, when agitated or disturbed, will rise. In a bid to remind my palate, not to mention CJ, of what wine is all about – and having sunk to the depths of the cheapest wine I have ever knowingly drunk – I decided to find a good, complex bottle of wine which I might actually enjoy. An interesting wine.
As an aide-memoire to what decent wine is about, I’ve been re-reading Simon Hoggart’s book Life’s too short to drink bad wine. Well, not on the Sediment blog, it’s not, old chum. Not my life, anyway.
But in between making me obscenely jealous of the wines he has tasted, Hoggart also offers advice, including the following: “If you have an independent merchant near you,” he writes, “or a good well-run branch of a chain – the sort that trains its staff and keeps them – make friends.”
Now, from my parents to my business partner, people throughout my life have exhorted me to “make friends”, usually with the complete failure resulting in a sandpit fight. Or its adult equivalent.
Nor can I say that I am “friends” with any other shopkeepers. I have been to our local paint shop several times, but I am still treated as a stranger. Mind you, I have never gone in with what I suspect might be a memorable request for "an interesting paint"...
Nevertheless, I thought I would try out Simon Hoggart’s principle in order to purchase a wine which, in both senses, was not bad. So I entered my local branch of Oddbins with the lazy gait of the flaneur who has nowhere better to be, and an ingratiating grin.
The assistant certainly looked as if he was trained – unlike the staff in my cornershop, he had clearly been taught that his job description was best fulfilled behind the counter, and not outside having a smoke. Nor was he glumly perusing his P45. ("Ah no mate, interesting wine comes in next week - but I'm afraid I'm off to work up the road, in the paint shop...") All systems go, then.
I explained that I was looking for something of a treat, something complex I could drink by itself. He asked what kind of thing I liked, and I said I really liked old clarets with a backbone, like St Estephes. He immediately offered me a 2002 Medoc, which frankly smacked of the obvious rather than the interesting. Then he proposed a Tuscan, a much more stimulating idea.
I said “Hmm…??” in a quizzical manner, meant to suggest, “Perhaps you have something even more interesting hidden away for your friends?”. Clearly this was misinterpreted as “Can I spend a little more?” It led to the offer of an extremely expensive mature Rioja.
It was actually me who suggested the Terlato & Capoutier Shiraz/Viognier. I had seen this mentioned on an American website, as one of the best value wines of the year. (Not cheapest, but best value, a distinction lost on certain wine writers.) And I was intrigued by whether comfortable Australian Shiraz had been lifted into something a bit more complex by a great French winemaker.
“Ah, now that is an interesting wine,” he agreed. He went on to say that it was an unoaked Shiraz, which meant you could drink it younger, and that the Viognier added primarily to the nose.
Reasonable guidance - but what makes this wine interesting to me is the union between one of the great old winemaking names of the Rhone, and an enthusiast from the New World. Like that duet between Bing Crosby and David Bowie. (Well, that was a bit ropey, actually, but you get my point.) What happens when the traditional skills of France meet the modern, affordable produce of Australia?
He suggested opening it an hour before drinking – and added that “opening” really meant pouring it into something like a glass, with greater surface area. All of which was extremely good advice.
As he wished me an enjoyable evening, I liked to think that our exchange had gone beyond the merely fiscal. I couldn’t say he’d become my friend – but perhaps, and who can blame him, he was a little wary of the unctuous grin.
The wine itself was absolutely delicious, a description I am thrilled to be able to employ within the Sediment blog. First I gave it an hour in a claret decanter. The nose is cedary but creamy, and the wine has the richness, the spicy warmth of a Cote-Rotie; but with the weight reduced by the absence of oak, and the little lift of the Viognier (a grape I associate with appley white wines), it just sings off the back of the palate. There’s a lighter, fruity note of summer about it, rather than the autumn and winter I associate with Shiraz. If I have any criticism, it’s that the absence of the oak meant I missed having something to tether the wine down, and make it a slower drink – but perhaps that’s my justification (if any were needed) for polishing off the bottle in a single session.
This was everything I wanted – a reminder of how enjoyable wine can be, and a genuinely interesting treat. And as to my burgeoning friendship with the chap in Oddbins, I will try and remember to report if I go back whether he remembers me, or ushers me outside to avoid upsetting other customers.