Thursday 9 July 2015

A word in your ear: Chinon, Domaine du Colombier

Psst! Dancer’s Delight, at Kempton, 3.30. Oh, and Chinon, Domaine du Colombier, at Sainsbury’s, 7.00.

That’s how I sometimes feel about wine recommendations. It’s like being offered a racing tip. Or an insider steer on the stock market. “Blue Horseshoe loves Annacot Steel”. It’s still a gamble, but at least if it doesn’t turn out well there’s someone else to blame.

CJ lost faith in recommendations a long time ago. During a vain attempt to buy some highly-publicised orange wine he finally acknowledged “one of the most basic rules of wine-buying: that anything publicised in a newspaper will be unobtainable the moment you take an interest in it. I know that.”

Because of course, wine’s a limited commodity. You can’t simply produce more, like a well-reviewed book. So if everyone rushes to buy it, it can leave the shelves as bare as an Iron Curtain grocer’s. Although despite the increasing popularity of wine, I think we’re unlikely to see recommendations inducing a Black Friday brawl over the Pinot Grigio. 

And often, the columnists find and recommend wines which are off the beaten track – or, as we prefer to say, aisle. Or they recommend something which, even if affordable by the bottle, has to be ordered from somewhere remote, or is only sold by the case. So a £10 bottle which you might have tried becomes a rather more daunting £120 punt.

Sometimes, though, it all comes together. A credible critic, a wine available by the bottle, a reasonable price, and a retailer I can get to. As in the Observer, where David Williams recommended this bottle of £7 Chinon from Sainsbury’s.

Like any inside tip, I kept this information to myself, plus a few hundred thousand Observer readers. I sidled nonchalantly into my Sainsbury’s wine aisle, to avoid alerting the other shoppers and inducing the shopping frenzy of an IKEA opening. Easy, easy, nothing to see here…only to find that the supermarket itself had stuck the recommendation on to the shelf.

I presume this is because you’re being tempted to try something which costs £7, a relatively expensive purchase by Sainsbury standards, let alone CJ’s. There’s little point them putting up reviews of, say, hummus, because you’d only be spending 90p. And if you consumed seven quid’s worth in one go, you’d probably end up the colour of a sandy beach.

Or is it because critic, supermarket and winemaker all recommend this as a red to be drunk chilled – and if only one of them said it, your average Sainsbury customer would refuse to believe them? “Great for chilling down”, it declares, although there are those who might be confused as to whether that refers to the wine, or the mindset.

(“If there’s one thing I know, Doris, it’s that you don’t drink red wine cold.” So no, chum, there isn’t even one thing you know. Let me get to the checkout first, before you try and pay with a ten shilling note.)

Incredibly, despite the review, the price, the persuasively authentic-looking label, and presenting on the eve of a heatwave the advice about drinking it chilled, there was some Chinon left. People, as Jim Morrison said, are strange.

My bottle spent one of the hottest days of the year chilling in the fridge. And it was a perfect summer evening drink; bright in colour, a slight aroma of the ferme, and a peppery, cherryish flavour. Chilled down like that it was light, refreshing, and it tasted authentically French, in that way that New World wines do not. For £7 it transported me to a French table far more cheaply than the Eurotunnel. And the queues were shorter.

But of course, it’ll all be gone by now.


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