Wednesday 25 July 2012

The Wine-Drinker's Catechism of Cliché: Canaletto Pinot Grigio

What are three physical characteristics habitually found in wine?
Nose, legs and body.

What is the table condiment invariably found in a red Côtes du Rhône?

What other elements of the larder or pantry make their way in?
Spices, berries, fruits, liquorice, chocolate, jam, plums, aniseed, raisins, vanilla, coffee.

What intangibles, not of the pantry or larder specifically, may be found in both red and white CDR?
Roundness, concentration, bouquet, palate, finish, undertones, firmness, structure, complexity, structure, fullness, notes, suppleness, earthiness, subtlety, minerality, depth, florality, aromas, length, finesse, integration, smoothness, character, intensity, balance, grip, elegance, bigness, crispness, vibrancy, richness, raciness, softness.

And might any of these terms be used, jointly or severally, with respect to just about any wine you have ever come across in your life?
They might.

What idea may one articulate of any red wine at a wine tasting or other assessment, with almost complete impunity?
The 2009 is ready for drinking now, but could benefit from being laid down for a few more years.

What ludic-sounding seasonal comestible is deemed good with just about any red you care to mention?

And in the absence of game?
Cheese, beef.

What phrase, redolent of a state unattainable in this world, accompanies these items?
Perfect with.

Name an acceptable variation on this phrase
Perfect for.

What summer events, occurences or pastimes in particular may a wine be deemed perfect for?
Picnics, barbeques.

But not?
Archery contests, mosquito bites, exams, scuba-diving, bush fires.

A wine-maker may fall into one of two categories. What are these two categories?
Exciting new; well-respected.

The inclusion of either phrase in the description of the wine will do what to the purchase price?
Add a substantial mark-up.

And what reflexive use of the lungs and head does one employ at the mention of the price of a White Burgundy?
Sighing, head-shaking.

Accompanied by what gnomic countervailing assertion?
This is all right if you've got deep pockets, but honestly, a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc would do the job just as well.

Followed by what indications, jointly or severally, of the Chilean wine's suitability for the task?
Its crispness, freshness, good acidity, hints of citrus, zestiness, approachability, texture, minerality.

Accompanied, but not invariably, by?
Notes of tropical fruits, hints of melon, delightful suitability as an apéritif.

A glass of Champagne is frequently held up to the light to admire what chromatic characteristic?
Its straw colour.

Not be confused with?
The grassiness of many a Sauvignon Blanc.

Is it the case that there are times when only Champagne will do?
It is.

On account of?
Its elegance, biscuity quality, fine mousse, finish, style, bottle-ageing, complexity and, let's be perfectly frank, snob appeal.

Given the nature of the world we live in, what value would you ascribe to that last quality?

Giving the lie to what hoary apothegm?
You can't judge a wine by its label.

What are you drinking at the moment?
Canaletto Pinot Grigio, marked down to 5.99 at Waitrose.

What hasty conculsion did you draw when you caught sight of the clearly-advertised in-store price reduction?
They've overstocked again.

What bisyllabic epithet most pertinently sums up the drinking qualities of this wine?

What quadrisyllabic epithet most pertinently sums up its desirability in your own eyes?

What dismissive trisyllabic epithet most pertinently sums up this wine's rarity, or lack of same, and by extension, the status and defining quality not only of the wine but of the drinker himself?

Thank you. That will be all

CJ   (With apologies to the late Myles na Gopaleen)

Thursday 19 July 2012

New World…or is it Old World? – Stone Rock Bordeaux

Here we have a lovely bottle of New World Sauvignon Blanc, stylishly presented and modestly priced at £8. Except that it’s not. It’s a bottle of white Bordeaux.

Now, my beloved Bordeaux has been going through some extraordinary success, with its status rising along with its prices. And not just the claret; Jancis Robinson said that dry white Bordeaux was “a category that was exceptionally exciting in 2010”. 

So perhaps not surprisingly, there are many New World wines nowadays furiously marketing themselves with reference to the reputation of Bordeaux. We’ve got wines described as “Bordeaux-style”. We’ve got Chilean wines, looking as if they come from Bordeaux. I noticed some online retailers recently offering 3 “uniquely South American interpretations of Bordeaux”. I have even encountered (and mocked before) such wines as the St Francis Claret, from, er, California. “This is a true Sonoma County Claret”, they declare, surely a contradiction in terms.

Yet here we have the intriguing phenomenon of a 2010 Bordeaux, from that “exceptionally exciting category”, trying to look as if it comes from Marlborough. A French wine, pretending it comes from New Zealand. Oh, how are the mighty fallen.

Presumably the assumption is that a New World wine is altogether less grand, less complicated and probably less expensive than its Old World equivalent. All of which might lead the average punter to grab this modern-looking, £8 bottle from the shelf, before considering the traditional, drypoint-labelled, corkscrew-demanding, inconsistently-produced and unprounceably-named wines of Bordeaux.

What makes this appear to be a New Zealand wine? There’s the screwcap, still a relative stranger to Bordeaux. There’s the label, with its modern, minimalist design, printed on trendy butchers’ paper; the very word “Bordeaux” is relegated to the small print of the back label. There’s the announcement of the varietal, Sauvignon Blanc, something a traditional Bordeaux would never do. There’s the vintage, ironically a great year in Marlborough as well as Bordeaux. And then, as there’s so little else on the label, there is the name. Ah, the name.

One would not wish to accuse our Commonwealth cousins in New Zealand of a paucity of imagination. But in their search for names for their wine, they clearly left no stone unturned. A brief search for Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc turned up the names of 3 Stones, Stoneleigh, Field of Stones, Secret Stone, Stoneburn, Stone Paddock, Stone Bay, Little Black Stone, Stone Creek, Runestone, Overstone, Stoney Range, Heart of Stone and Kidney Stone. Only one of those have I made up.

Perhaps they have all slavishly followed the notion that Sauvignon Blanc has a flavour reminiscent of wet stones. Presumably, then, like Beckett’s Molloy with his pebbles, they have been sucking them to find out. Personally, I would prefer to put the wine itself in my mouth, and say that this is crisp, clean, light and grassy, completely delicious, with a slightly citrus edge, flavours of peach and scent of matchbox. Thoroughly recommended as a summer white, and infinitely preferable to licking walls.

But, I wonder, which of my esteemed guests is going to be pleased to see on my table a wine presenting itself like this? Fine if you’re buying for yourself; but “less grand, less complicated and probably less expensive” are surely not encouraging thoughts when you see the label of a wine that a host has provided. 

There’s an air of reassurance when you see a bottle of Bordeaux on a dining table, as opposed to the adventure which is a New World wine. Or, indeed, an unlabelled decanter. 

And the problem is compounded here because I’ve always hated decanting white wine. Primarily because I’ve found that decanted, the flavour of white wine often evaporates rather than improves. But also…am I alone in thinking that white wine in a decanter looks like a medical sample? The yellowish tinge, the bubbles winking at the brim… Don’t let me put you off that carafe of white, but now that I’ve said it… don’t you think…?

Beneath this modern exterior lies a classic French wine. But it’s like repackaging the Pléiade editions  in embossed foil covers. I never imagined Bordeaux of all places would hide its imprimatur, and bring us wines with names like Stone Deaf. 

Does Bordeaux really want to join the New World market? Well, perhaps it has done so already. The map on the retailer’s website presumably draws its co-ordinates from a reference in the descriptive text. So, when I checked, it appeared to have completed the repositioning exercise, by moving Entre-Deux-Mers.

To New Zealand.


Wednesday 11 July 2012

More Nostalgia: Nicolas Red, Les Petites Récoltes

There's no getting away from the moribund grip of nostalgia. In fact I am returning its mephitic squeeze this time by staggering about a mile up the hill to our local branch of Nicolas Wines to see what they've got on offer. Why? Because I have been seized by a horrible ungovernable nostalgic yearning: Nicolas was the first wine I can remember consuming at home, with my parents, in a domestic context. The first wine that, so far as I was concerned, ever made it through the front door of our house. Why go back to it now? I have no idea.

At any rate, the significance of Nicolas decades ago was less to do with the taste (I must have been about seven when it first appeared, so had to drink it adulterated with tapwater, and it couldn't have tasted worse if it had been adulterated with Gloy Gum; slightly less terrible in fact, as Gloy wasn't bad if what you wanted was a quick adhesive rush) and more to do with the change it provoked in the atmosphere around the table. At the time, Nicolas spent big on advertising in the colour supplements, showing a little three-wheeler delivery van plying the streets of Paris, bringing Nicolas to every address, much as the Unigate Dairy brought two pints of milk to suburban London; only this was a couple of litres of bright, serviceable wine, and Nicolas was its name, and it was, if you believed the copy, the wine the whole of France thrived on.

So my father bought some, and it came in these shapely yet modestly-adorned bottles with foil seals (like the foil on the tops of the innocent milk bottles) and little plastic stubs for stoppers. The first one was opened and placed carefully on the sideboard, like a loaded cannon, while we ate our Sunday roast. The effect was immediate. Up to that point, my Father had tended to drink beer with his lunch (beer from a freaking great brown bottle with a screw-shaped rubber bung, I might add) while my Mother inhaled a gin & tonic. Now, though, we had an emissary from the great wine-making continent of Europe in the room and suddenly, by association, we were at once more sophisticated, more civilised than we had ever been before, even allowing for the presence of my Mother's gravy and sprouts. After that, we never looked back. We started taking our holidays abroad and my Father grew some rather defensive sideburns. We became worldly.

So this is the legacy of Nicolas. Years have (of course) passed since those interminable Sunday lunches and Nicolas, which started out in Paris in 1822, has itself been through a few changes - especially in this country, where the Nicolas chain of shops recently acquired a new, UK-based owner in the form of Spirited Wines. The original link with France has thus been formally broken, although the shops still bear (for now, at least) the branding and the clarety paintwork of the last century, and seem much like any other pleasant, fast-disappearing, off-licence .

What they don't have, and haven't had for ages, are Nicolas branded wines, least of all in the big, artisanal bottles of childhood memory. Instead, they have a bargain line called Les Petites Récoltes, going for 5.80 a bottle (£5.80 apparently being the new £5.00) which cuts, effectively, the crap, offering everyday drinking at a just about semi-sensible price.

Very well. I buy a bottle of the Vin de Pays de la Cité de Carcassonne and take it home and open it and drink a bit and in no sense is it offering any competition to your user-friendly New World cornershop wines, being instead furious with acidity and alcohol and also a (not unpleasant) taste of burning leaves. This is a wine which is good with game, saltpetre or molten lead, not a wine to savour, PK-style, for its own sake. I write down the words almost depraved at one stage, before corking the stuff up and having a lie-down.

But I have to come back to it. I don't know why, but there is something perversely charming about this stuff. It doesn't taste like anything commonplace or even expected (turns out it contains every grape known to man, Carignan, Grenache, Cinsault, Cabernet-Sauvignon, Merlot), it makes no compromises at all, but what it does do, magically, is suggest some kind of awful barbarous old-school vin de table, the sort mythically offered at out-the-way rural eateries that everyone except me has managed to find somewhere in France, where the menu is what the patron decides to stick on a plate in front of you and where the drink is unlabelled and unknowable and borderline undrinkable, and yet satisfying somehow, and actually quite potable when taken with some (nice, greasy) food, the whole combining into a complete and exotic taste experience.

Cunning marketing has much to do with this in the case of Les Petites Récoltes. The bottles are made of no-frills clear glass, there's almost no labelling, and what labelling there is, is confined to two tiny scraps of coloured paper covered in twirly French handwriting - a rusticity which I'm sure was dreamed up in a chrome-filled office in La Défense, but which does the job for me, almost too potently. It creates such a genial mood of misty retrospection, a real Nicolas feeling, that not only do I put up with the bottle's persistently dribbly neck, I welcome it as a confirmation of its rough'n'ready unpretentiousness, just as I welcome its rough'n'ready contents. Just like the old Nicolas, it is selling me a dream of France in the comfort of my surburban home.

Am I a mug? Certainly. But it's as much fun as I've had with a bottle of wine for a long time. And when I can pluck up the courage, I shall drink the bottle of white - a Les Petites Récoltes Vin de Pays d'Aigues - which I bought at the same time as the red, and go down fighting.


Wednesday 4 July 2012

Normal wine for normal people: Tesco Sicil...

It may be hard for some of you to accept, but CJ and I are normal people. That’s why we spend much of our time on Sediment consuming and considering wines which are neither excessively expensive, nor excessively rare – and, consequently, not excessively good.

And like other normal wine drinkers, we do not necessarily have the wines we would like at hand. As we all know, the wines in my own (tiny, Mrs K, tiny) cellar are not for drinking. Yet. They are all either too young, too expensive or, I hope, too good to accompany a normal midweek supper, comprising the remains of Sunday’s gammon, with egg and chips.

Despite its similarity in price to pizza, no-one seems prepared to whiz round to us on a moped with a single bottle of wine. (Now there’s a business opportunity…)

Hence, I need to go out and buy a bottle, like a normal person – the kind of normal person, that is, who uses words like “hence”.

And so I am thrown upon the resources of a High Street which seems to be able to provide, at eight in the evening, a tub of ice cream of consistently good quality at a competitive price – but not an equivalent bottle of wine.

My local Tesco is called a Tesco Express, a nicety which may be lost on some readers from our former colonies. “Express” is used to differentiate my little Tesco from a Tesco Extra, Metro, Super, Pennypincher or whatever other suffix they come up with. It is not, in fact, faster; it is simply smaller than some of the others in their hierarchy; and therefore lacking any of the promoted or reviewed wines they might have in a Tesco Massive.

So I am faced with the usual sad choice of the branded and the blended. But then I notice a kneeling assistant, assidously putting bright yellow stickers on to a bottle which I can consequently only see is called Sicil…Vino Rosso Si…

I thought for a moment she might be applying a recently won Decanter award; or, at the very least, a price reduction. But no; this was a sticker proclaiming that the bottle is “Security Protected”.

Now, I have been fooled once before with the security protection on a bottle of wine, when I naively thought it might suggest a classier, more valuable product. But this bottle costs £4.15.

Why would anyone, faced with a display of wines, some as eye-wateringly expensive as £10.99, steal the one that costs just £4.15? I asked the girl putting on the stickers, who simply replied “Believe me, they’ll nick anything.”

Well. What a heartwarming view of one’s clientele. Presumably this embodies one of Tesco’s stated corporate values, to “understand customers”.

My local shoplifters clearly need a little enlightenment themselves, in the effort/reward ratio. Surely one bottle is as easy to steal as another; why steal one of the cheapest?

Or could it be that the eyes of the impecunious are instinctively drawn to the cheaper items on a shelf; then, when they realise they can’t afford even that, they steal it – without ever having looked at the more expensive stuff?

Anyway, the effect was to make me feel that I was in the kind of place where people would steal a £4.15 bottle of wine. Which must be a pretty lowly place. Remind me next time to bring both my Clubcard and my stab vest.

I paid for my bottle, like a normal person, intrigued as to what Sicil…Vino Rosso Si… might taste like. It was, as I had begun excitedly to deduce, a Sicilian red wine…

And it was incredibly…bland. A light cherry bouquet, and then a soft, barely detectable, blackcurranty flavour. None of that cheap vino alcoholic clench; more like sugar-free Ribena. The label says it "shows" flavours of red fruits; I prefer the verb "suggests".

This is the most drinkable, if least memorable, of all the sub-£5 wines it has been my sorry misfortune to drink. In most instances its consumption would be a pointless exercise, save in the pursuit of inebriation. But in terms of accompanying my supper, it succeeded in the same manner as, indeed, a successful shoplifter – by lacking any noticeable presence.

Was it worth it? Not was the tasteless wine worth £4.15 a bottle; that’s an almost academic question. But I’m left wondering whether it is worth a normal person being regarded as a potential thief amongst thieves in order to buy it.

However, I should just say that Mrs K claims no normal person would drink a glass of wine with gammon, egg and chips. She says a normal person would have had a cup of tea…