Thursday 21 August 2014

Groundbreaking: Barbera D'Asti 2011

So this empty bottle has been sitting in the kitchen for weeks now: an Araldica Barbera D'Asti Superiore 2011 which I bought from Waitrose, once. Why is it there, not in the recycling bin?

'I must have had a reason for leaving it out,' I think to myself, using the logic of the dotard. 'I guess I bought it when some people came round and I wanted to look flash, and it was so punishingly good I kept the bottle as a reminder to get some more.' Since it retails for nearer £10 than £5, it counts as a Premium Purchase, but with all the money I saved by not buying any wine in France, I reckon I can justify a re-up this one time in order to settle the question.

By my standards this is grown-up thinking. Preening, I start to lose sight of the original proposition, and wonder: What if I were to do what PK and other real wine-drinkers do? What if I were to buy my wine by design, rather than by mere inadvertence? What if, instead of drifting aimlessly towards the drink section in the supermarket and grabbing the first wine bottle I see which hits the price point and doesn't have a picture of a flower or a zoo animal on the label - what if I consult another party on what to get, and then actively seek that wine out? An enterprise which, despite the profusion of print, personal and online experts currently jockeying for my attention, I have never actually undertaken? Suddenly, life is full of possibilities. What with this and the new carpeting on the stairs, 2014 is turning out to be a pretty groundbreaking year.

Of course, some pre-selection is needed, otherwise I'll get bogged down. And the first pre-selection I make is that whatever I buy must come from Sainsbury's, on account of the parking's good and you get free air for your tyres at the petrol station next door.

'Genius,' I mutter under my breath. 'Oh, and the mineral water's cheap, too. And I read somewhere that their bargain wines are not the worst.' What to look for? Ten minutes of internet wine-bothering yields Olly Smith's choice of a Costière de Nîmes ('Plump, sleek red'); a Taste the Difference Beaujolais-Villages ('Vibrant, raspberry- and spice-scented') from Hamish Anderson; and a Torre De Azevedo Vinho Verde ('Sparky, zesty and refreshing') from Terry Kirby. When was the last time I had any Vinho Verde? I can't wait.

Thing is, when I get to Sainsbury's with my shopping list in my hand, I find that the wine section is more chaotic than I was anticipating. Reds over here, whites over there, yes, and a solitary placard claiming a whole section for New Zealand, but there's a lot of cross-border traffic, with Italians and Spaniards muddled in with the French reds, while the whites are like a tinker's stall, stuff from everywhere jostling with stuff from somewhere else, and about sixty different kinds of Pinot Grigio. 'Where is anything?' a big bald man asks me. 'I have no idea,' I say. A few bottles further down, a guy in a high-visibility jacket stares disbelievingly at a Rioja. His mobile phone goes off, playing the Russian National Anthem as a ringtone. It's going to be a long morning.

In the end, I unearth the Beaujolais-Villages and the Costière de Nîmes, but not the Vinho Verde. For this I substitute a Sainsbury's own label equivalent, which I drink accidentally one day, remembering only to think how nice it is and when was the last time I had Vinho Verde? The Beaujolais-Villages, on the other hand, gives me a blotting-paper mouth and scalded adenoids. What have I done to Gamay that it should do this to me? Apparently the Duke of Burgundy outlawed its production at the end of the fourteenth century because it was so horrible: a piece of intelligence I wish I'd known before starting out. As a punishment, and quite unreasonably, the Costière de Nîmes is still in the pending tray.

Oh, and the Barbera D'Asti Superiore which set this half-baked train in motion? Well, I do buy some, and look at it for a couple of days as if contemplating the phone number of an ex-girlfriend, before giving in. Vanilla, caramel, nutty finish, rather likeably evasive and unpredictable, in the way that Italian wines can be (Vermentino, anything Sangiovese, just saying), quite a whoof at the end. I mean, it's okay. It's fine. I share it with a friend but we forget to say whether we like it or not. Did I really need to hang on to the empty so assiduously? Was it really so delicious all those weeks ago? And now I think about it: I never liked Beaujolais. Thanks, Hamish Anderson, for reminding me that I am as easily swayed as a grass skirt.


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