Sunday 25 July 2010

Del Gaudio Veneto Sauvignon / Sicilia Syrah

Part of the supposed appeal
of Shoreditch, where my office
is located, is the way in which
trendiness and down-to-earth
character (ie poverty) now sit
cheek by jowl. Sir Terence
Conran's boutique hotel/restaurant Boundary is but yards from “gentlemen’s venue” The White Horse. The fashionable bar and restaurant Boho Mexica is flanked by a “market sundriesman” (ie wholesaler of tat for Petticoat Lane). And cheek by jowl with Hawksmoor, one of the best (and certainly not one of the cheapest) steak restaurants in London, we find Wine Bargains of Spitalfields (which, needless to say, does not have a website).

It’s a scruffy little place, painted a disheartening red, with the usual depressing combo of selling wine along with confectionery. I’m sure Mary Portas is a stranger to the retailing principle of picking up a Lion bar along with your claret. But from this unpromising welcome, I was heartened to see that social mobility is alive and rising on Commercial Street.

For on the shelves of Wine Bargains, I was shocked to find some top flight Burgundy at £96 a bottle. £96! I didn’t even know those little yellow stickers could be printed with prices like that. Why, why is a rundown offie selling wine like that? Perhaps Hawksmoor are doing Bring A Bottle nights? Perhaps Tracey, Gilbert and George need somewhere local to pop into for a serious red?

Sadly, I am not in the market for £96 wine. I am forced to the jowl, as it were, rather than the cheek. But while the Echezeaux is up there on the top shelf, down on the floor was a little basket of bargains, like street urchins beside the bankers.

On a Friday lunchtime, the basket was irresistible. Surely, if Wine Bargains knows about its wine – and sadly it knows enough not to flog first rate Burgundy at Echo Falls prices – then surely even their cheapest should be worth trying. A selection of Del Gaudio Italian wines at just £2.99 a bottle, or two for £5, and while the producer’s name did not resonate like the great negociants, this was something for the weekend sir, one red, one white and Bob’s your uncle. Or Roberto.

So on Friday evening, it was the Veneto Sauvignon. I was intrigued by the back label description, which said, somewhat surprisingly, that this was a wine “with an intense Aromas (sic) of bell pepper and tomato leaf”. In fact, it possessed very little flavour – of bell peppers, tomato leaves or indeed anything at all. The removal of the screw cap, like the opening of a jar of instant coffee, released completely misleading fragrances; once poured, this was a bland, flavourless and hardly noticeable wine. Son No 1 claimed he could have drunk the whole bottle in 15 minutes, but frankly, against a second-year undergraduate, that is hardly a sensible wager. I couldn’t wait until Sunday for the red.

No, I mean, I really couldn’t wait until Sunday for the red. A Sicilian Syrah, rich and spicy, seemed the ideal accompaniment for Cumberland sausages on Saturday night. And had this been a rich and spicy Syrah, all would have been well. But again, this wine too tasted of virtually nothing. Bland, flavourless and insubstantial, none of which I would have said applied to syrah, a cheap bottle of which will normally cut through your sinuses like Oil of Olbas.

But let’s not quibble, given the warmth of Sicily and the splendour of the Veneto, about whether either of these wines are “indicazione geografica tipica”, as the label says. After all, what would be typical of the geographical region of Shoreditch – the classy Echezeaux at £96, or the shallow Del Gaudio at two for a fiver? Lacking a further £93.50 per bottle to spend, I am loath to pass judgement.


Monday 19 July 2010

Eva's Vineyard Chenin Blanc/Pinot Grigio 2009

Our Waitrose has just had a facelift - as part of which, its already extensive wine selection has been re-housed in shades of cappuccino and fired earth, with about fifty per cent more drink on display, shimmering and glistening under the halogens, and it looks beautiful, profuse and superabundant and daunting. When I look at it I feel obscurely doomed, as if I have lost life's race already but am being shown the trophies that the luckier and more talented competitors are about to get their hands on.

But I am brave and resolute and have little or no shame. My life is simple because I have no money. Price is my god, and the cheapest Waitrose wine I could find last week cost £3.99 a bottle, so the decision more or less made itself. All right, not the absolute cheapest, because that was a sinister-looking medium-sweet Lambrusco, but the cheapest which satisfied the necessary criteria, including a) screw top b) dryness c) from a country I associate, however tangentially, with wine production d) cheapness, i.e. demonstrably under £5 a bottle.

As it turned out, there were one or two gate-crashers at the party coming in at £3.99, including some plainly fight-inducing reds, but Eva's Vineyard, a white, got the gig mainly on account of its swanky label, handsome gold screw top, and classy vintage (2009).

And back-label copy, always a guarantee of quality. This 'Delicious example of an indigenous Hungarian blend,' contained 'soft floral aromas and delicate fruit flavours of fresh peaches and summer fruits,' which made it sound like a fascinating synthetic pudding, and in some ways it was. Once I'd chilled it down to just above freezing and had got over the chemical fog rising out of the wine glass, I was able to drink it without undue pain and nod to myself, 'Yes, this really does have floral aromas, topped off with delicate quality bath soap overtones and air freshner peaches.' And from a vineyard 'Perched high on the hills overlooking the River Danube', a phrase full of dreaming melancholy which worked on my imagination for minutes on end, until the first notes of a headache sounded and I started to drink a bit slower.

Drawbacks? None that I can remember, but then, I can't remember much other than that it was a wholly transparent straw-coloured wine beverage whose colour did not change as a result of being exposed to the air, which induced a quite pleasing floral throb in my temples, and neither (unlike some whites) stripped the enamel from my teeth nor caused me to pucker up so violently I had to eat my dinner through a tube. A winner, in other words.

(Note: the accompanying illustration shows the bottle minus contents, as I forgot to take a picture before drinking. It is not a completely transparent, or even invisible, wine)


Tuesday 6 July 2010

Errazuriz Carmenère 2009

My starter for ten is a Chilean red, from Majestic. There are some great Chilean wines – go on, get me started on Los Vascos, the wine managed by the Rothschilds – and Errazuriz themselves have produced some decent stuff. This one had a little medal on the label to say it had won something or another – but sadly, it was probably an award in marketing rather than winemaking.

Of course it was the price which drew me in. It started at £7.99, but bear with me. There’s an “improved offer” of £6.24. What does that mean, exactly? How does a reduction in price become an “improved offer”, like they’re bidding for your custom? In fact what they’re doing is justifying the next bit; they want to do that Majestic thing of “buy two and get money off”, in this case a 20% reduction. That, of course, is 20% off the “improved offer” price (are you still with me?), which makes it just £4.99. The price at which they always intended to sell it. So after all the jigs and reels, it’s a £4.99 wine.

Cracking, you think, an eight quid wine for under a fiver. So of course, you buy two, don’t you. Which makes you double the mug.

Because if that was an £8 wine, my arse is a concertina. And while you might think, what with the folds and the occasional windy noise, that’s not such a bad analogy, the relationship between this and an £8 wine is far more remote.

This is a thick, fruity wine, as if someone has pushed blackcurrants through a sieve. It has a single, fruit-based note; I likened it in the courteous review I left on the Majestic website to a band being led by its bass guitar; that bass drowns out everything else and just leaves you resonating. It’s strongly alcoholic, which with that powerful frutiness makes it extremely hard to drink. You could stand a spoon up in this one.

I warned My Affianced beforehand that this was a “chewy” wine, which made her want to try it, because she’d never understood that term. But this is a lady who finds Bordeaux in general a bit too heavy, and would feel a rioja was like lifting a sofa. For her, “chewy” now means a wine she couldn’t drink even with ice cubes in it to dilute it down.

I haven’t opened the second bottle yet. Remember those Pinochet days at Uni, when people would take a Chilean bottle to a party and leave it guiltily on the table where it would sit, untouched? This could, nostalgically, suffer that fate…