But the choice of wine can be a social minefield. Too cheap can be embarrassing, the equivalent of those mauve flowers from the petrol station with a bouquet of benzene. Too expensive can be awkward, either imposing an obligation to open it, or creating frustration if it’s whisked away never to be seen again. You also don’t know what the food will be, and whether there might be a serious wine buff amongst the guests. Nightmare…
Michel Chapoutier is a superstar winemaker, who makes some magnificent and expensive wines; see my little tussle with CJ over the content, cork and cost of the Terlato Chapoutier Shiraz Viognier here and then here. He has a great reputation, some slightly cranky ideas about biodynamic winegrowing, and best of all, even CJ can pronounce his name.
This Cotes du Roussillon has got the classy white labels which characterise top-flight Chapoutier wines, and which also carry the wine’s details in braille, always a good talking point (tactfully avoiding jokes about the blind drunk). And for this purpose, the price is spot-on. £8.99 means it won’t have appeared in any of the real bargain-buy round-ups, so you won’t look like a miser. Nobody even needs to know you got it from Sainsbury’s. Equally, it’s not so obviously expensive that your host might feel duty-bound to open it. However, so as not to spoil the impression entirely, do take it out of the Sainsbury’s bag…
Now, what if you arrive to find a wine buff? Someone lifts the bottle you’ve brought and peruses the label, at the 45o angle which immediately flags a connoisseur. And they say “Ah, right…” in that supercilious way which sends shivers down CJ’s spine because it indicates a smart-arse. (CJ’s posterior has been hyphenated with many adjectives, but “smart-“ is not one of them.)
Well, here’s the really neat bit. Chapoutier’s famous for his Cotes du Rhone wines, and this is from the Cotes du Roussillon, a different area entirely (the hint is in the name, CJ…) So if you find this wine being appraised by a buff, you can say something along the lines of “Yes, Chapoutier, do you know his stuff? Out of his usual area, of course, but it’ll be interesting to see how he gets on…”
And after that, like it or love it, it’s Chapoutier’s fault! You didn’t make a bad choice, you made an interesting choice, and if people are disappointed by it, well, “Perhaps Michel should have stayed at home, eh?…”
That’s if you get to drink it, of course. It may well get whisked away, like so many gift wines, never to be seen again. But if you do get to drink it, you will discover the final point in its dinner-party favour – it is utterly innocuous. This wine cannot conceivably upset anybody. It is not spicy or powerful; it is not weighty or rich; it is not tannic or oaky. To be honest, it’s a bit of a lightweight, which would be a disappointment if I was settling down for a fireside evening alone, but is ideal for an unknown meal with unknown people serving unpredictable food. It might get swamped in the taste stakes if you’re given anything to eat more pungent than a slice of ham, but no-one is going to wince at a glass of this. Frankly, they won’t even notice it.
If you do want a good, well-priced Chapoutier wine from Sainsbury’s for yourself, then go for the Taste the Difference Cotes du Rhones Villages . It’s cheaper, an astonishing £6.15; it’s Chapoutier on his home turf; and frankly, it’s a cracking wine, plump and full-bodied, fruity and spicy.
So why could you not take the Taste the Difference bottle to a dinner party instead? Oh, look, pay attention at the back. A Taste the Difference bottle looks as if you have just thoughtlessly plucked it from the shelves while trolleying your week’s necessities. Yes, you could still deliver a Chapoutier spiel, but it would come across as an experiment in saving money, a cheaper Chapoutier rather than an unusual Chapoutier.
So serve the cheaper but better Cotes du Rhone in the privacy of your own home; take the interesting, classy but bland Cotes du Roussillon out as a gift. Yes, I know such things are shallow – but there’s more to wine than just depth, you know…