Wednesday 8 December 2010

The Whale Caller, Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon

Who's responsible for this rubbish? No, not the Sediment blog – sadly, like a guilty schoolboy in a kept-behind class, I am all too aware of who is responsible for this misdemeanour – nor the rubbish on the right (appropriately incorporating this post's subject), but this rubbish:

In the coastal South African town of Hermanus, the Whale Caller waits on the cliffs, calling for the whales to return from the Antarctic waters. 
As you savour this rich red wine, with dark berry fruit and hints of chocolate and spice, you may just catch the strains of the Whale Caller's horn, blowing on the southern wind.

This twaddle is on the label of my latest foray into the disagreeable realms of the sub-£5 wine. And The Whale Caller (Waitrose, £4.29) is a wine with a lot of disagreement.

On the Ocado site – that is, the people who deliver the stuff – there is unanimous approval; six five-star public reviews, only dropping one star in one reviewer’s reckoning for “quality of packaging”, which is pretty odd when you think about it. What exactly is an inferior quality bottle?

The professionals seem ambiguous and, for once, divided. Anthony Rose in the Independent described it as “an affordable glugger” which I found faintly repellent. Do you “glug”? Would you think “glug” an acceptable description of your guests’ drinking manner? Or perhaps those who do “glug” would find this an appealing drink?

Equally, last August, Suzy Atkins in the Telegraph described the 2008 Whale Caller as “ a brill barbie red”. This to me is equally dubious. Does she mean it’s in the territory of potentially poisonous outdoor consumption, inducing stomach cramps and vomiting?

There’s surely more than a whiff of social judgement here. It’s not, you may note, a nice wine to drink at a barbeque, but a brill wine to glug at a barbie. Call me a subtextual post-structuralist, but methinks these are not your average Waitrose customers.

Sipping the wine in my study (he says – judge as ye may) I found it dull and thick. Any shiraz spiciness is flattened out by cabernet sauvignon to leave just a vague, nasal burn. It has a bouquet of diesel before, and a sickly, plastic aftertaste. The whole process of consumption is frankly distasteful.

Fiona Beckett, who also writes in the Guardian, is upfront about the wine (and not its audience) when she blogs that “It's incredibly jammy but not in a nice way with no structure or acidity. The best thing you can say about it is that it's not rubbery. And might be a bit better if you chill it.”

Why did I even buy it? Ah, that I can explain. Every so often, Waitrose offer 25% off all – yes, that’s all – of their wine. Like a mug, I trailed down to my local branch with a rucksack to grab half a dozen bottles of prime plonk. But of course, when I got there, none of the prime plonk was to be seen. Either the local populace had descended on my branch like the wolf on the fold, and stripped it of everything decent; or (as it was carefully phrased to the admirable Victoria Moore, then writing in the Guardian the good stuff had been, to quote the euphemism, “de-emphasised”. Victoria had tried throughout one offer to buy a particular Cornas online, and had been unable to find it. So where do you put them, she asked? "I'm not going to tell you,” replied the manager of Waitrose Wine Direct, “because I don't want you to tell your readers how to find them." So, having found no prime plonk myself, I foolishly settled for some of the cheaper stuff.

Fiona Beckett’s blog attracted a lovely comment from someone who actually lives in Hermanus, SA who says “It doesn't sound like this wine is doing a great job at promoting our little town of Hermanus. We have some wonderful wineries nearby… but I shouldn't think this wine is anything to do with them. 
We also do have a whale crier but his job is to blow his horn to show tourists where the whales are, not to call the whales back from the Antarctic!”

So even the label fails to live up to expectations. Indeed, as I savoured (hem, hem) this rich red wine, I caught the usual sonic background to my household wine consumption: cries of mislaid keys, ringing phones, the thunder of feet and exhortations to turn off lights. I’m afraid I did not catch the strains of the Whale Caller’s horn.

But at least I finally understand the notion of a Barbie wine. It’s like its namesake: malproportioned, badly balanced and tastes of plastic.


  1. Eric The Half A Bee8 December 2010 at 11:51

    The words of Monty Python have never sounded more prescient re glugging Barbie wines: "This is not a wine for drinking, this is a wine for laying down and avoiding"

  2. Great blog! Thanks CJ & PK. I am still giggling.

  3. Shocked that our Whale Crier (note - not 'Caller') in Hermanus should be associated with this wine range. Distell is a reputable wine company, and it should be ashamed of itself in riding the whale theme, and doing such a bad job of it.

    Hermanus has excellent whale-related wines: Southern Right (Hamilton Russell) and Whale Pod (Creation Wines).

    Chris von Ulmenstein
    Whale Cottage Portfolio

  4. Oh think i am one of the waitros oinks . I rather liked it and will be getting moor. But will now wear a hat and dark glasses

  5. Chris is right, this has nothing to do with Hermanus or the Hemel-en-Aarde. The attempted association that has been made is unacceptable.

  6. The missus and I quite like it. A little sweet and grape juice like but pretty good for the money. Sorry if that makes us bad people.

    1. No, no - rather, as one might say to a small child, you're not BAD - I'm just very, very disappointed...

  7. I like it, sorry better people.

  8. As someone who spends 6 months a year in Hermanus I was delighted to spot this product in Waitrose. Sadly it all about marketing bullshit. Hermanus gas some wonderful vineyards. Why don't Waitrose go buy from them.


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