Thursday 29 November 2018

Bolney Dark Harvest: Unexpected

So, a few weeks ago, some pals come round with a bottle of this Bolney Dark Harvest stuff. I instantly place it somewhere no-one can get at it, unnerved both by its high-tone demeanour and by its Englishness - specifically, its red Englishness. Yes, I think we're all solid with the idea that English vineyards can do white, but English red still has the capacity to give me a funny turn, despite the fact that in this case it comes with a slinky good-taste label and a little badge from some bunch of international back-slappers, just like a proper red wine. So it vanishes.

Some time later, I rediscover it and knock it off over a couple of nights and what do I find? It seems okay, is what I find. I can't remember what year was on the bottle and I have never heard of the rondo grape, but at the time it just goes down, quite assertively, but telling a good story on the way. It also stays down, not always a given. I am reduced to holding the bottle away from me and squinting mirthfully at it, like an Edwardian with a pet monkey, scarcely able to believe that such a thing can be, but quaintly gratified that it does.

Then I'm stirred by a long-buried memory: doesn't PK have something to say about this, somewhere in Sediment? And what do you know? He does, but over seven years ago, which distresses the hell out of me, I mean, have we really been doing it for that long? Anyway, he thinks it's garbage: bordering on the urinal, rotting, like biro ink, very unpleasant. There you go. He's talking about the 2008, of course, not whatever it is I've drunk, a 2014? 2016? Maybe the 2008 is their outright catastrophe, the one they never mention, their first, cacked-handed attempt. There are some comments beneath PK's rant which back him up: most unpleasant is the shock; I have never tasted such a hideous 'wine' in my life; and so on. It looks bad.

And leaves me where? Well, I'm still quite enjoying it, retroactively. It probably is a bit of a yob as reds go, but in comparison with my usual idea of a red it's got depth, for sure, plus an element of structural integrity I don't get in, say, Waitrose's own label Rich and Intense Italian Red, £4.99. In fact, far from writing the encounter off PK-style by wheeling out that old Dr. Johnson Christmas cracker motto about dogs on their hind legs, I feel like enlarging my love for all English wines, not that I've got much of a relationship with them, but for those that I have, which pretty much amounts to:

Bolney Dark Harvest (see above).

Nyetimber, whose award-winning sparklings I have hit once or twice and which I have slightly liked in a dutiful sort of way, as if they were doing me good, especially in the sense of rinsing my gums thoroughly.

Denbies, where I went, not that long ago, to a birthday party held in the winery's larger-than-life event zone. It was very grand and we wanted for nothing (I was seated next to an Italian Jungian, that's how far out it was) and the booze - the wines, at least - were Denbies all through: red, white, sparkling and rosé. And I have a quasi-memory of being pleasantly surprised - slightly in the manner of the Dark Harvest - by, I'm thinking, the rosé, although it might have been the white. Either way, it was no hardship to drink the stuff and I can remember staring with fuddled benignity at my glass and thinking how clever they must be at Denbies to make something drinkable right next to Dorking.

In other words: given a broad-scale complication of Brexit, climate change, a collapsed pound and some half-way okay wines, the English option doesn't start to look so ludicrous. It would be nice if they adopted some sexier names - I'm thinking Saint-Didier l'Inconnu, Eternal Crossrail, Balthazar's Lost Weekend, Gutbucket Hampton, more like the stuff that comes out of the beer breweries or anywhere in New Zealand - but apart from that, I think we have go. We have the full English. Time for PK to take another run at the thicket of his prejudices.


Thursday 22 November 2018

Fortnum & Mason: a corner shop's wine

Which retailers’ names would you happily see on a Christmas dining table? If you were buying a Christmas pudding, whether for your own table or as a gift, you might well rely on a retailer’s label to convey its quality. And “It's a Fortnum & Mason pudding” is a bit more impressive than “I got this from Spar”. But what about the wine?

At home or as a gift, I’ve always been wary of retailers’ own brand wines. It can look as if you just grabbed a convenient bottle off the shelf along with everything else. And just because a retailer is well-known for one thing doesn’t mean that their reputation extends to wine. However fashionable the bottle, I’m not sure I’d turn to a Harvey Nichols Vin de Pays D’oc. Especially when, if you’re looking for advice, the web page suggests you “speak to a stylist”.

But what about picking up a branded Fortnum & Mason wine along with a pudding?

Fortnum & Mason succumbed last decade to the allure of shiny modern luxury, “refurbishing” its ground floor in the manner of a Duty Free in a Middle Eastern airport. Beneath ferociously surgical lighting lie the materials of the newly moneyed, the marble and limestone, the glass and brass. And in the centre, a shiny spiral staircase lifted from the style guide to a dictator’s palace.

Much of their food is clearly marketed at tourists, a mélange of supposedly Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian foodstuffs, things with pseudo-English names like “savours”   “hamperlings” and “smackerels”, all rolled together in a faux aristocratic world.

But ignore the jostling transit lounge entrance on Piccadilly. Enter instead around the corner, in Duke Street St James’s, where beautiful old doors are still opened by a proper doorman. And take an original dark, creaky, carpeted wooden staircase down, back in time, directly to the wine department. There you can browse amongst a splendid selection of wine, without too many offers of assistance, unless you stare too long into the locked cabinet of massively expensive bottles which you are clearly unable to afford.

Amongst an impressive selection of wines you’ll find their own brand “house selection”. And there are over 100, from all over the world, covering most conceivable varieties. Yes, they do have a “Fortnum & Mason Claret”, but they also have a Pomerol, a Pauillac, a St Emilion etc… and then, unexpectedly, amongst the usual suspects, a Fortnum & Mason Dão Tinto; a Greco di Tufo; a Gavi; a Priorat. It’s a frankly astonishing range, with each stating on the label the specific chateau or producer from which it has come.

And they have resisted the urge to colour the label eau de nil, to decorate it with an illustration of a  Wodehousian clubman, or stamp it F&M. Perhaps they have realised that visitors are unlikely to fly back nowadays with a bottle of wine as a souvenir; and so London consumers are granted a quietly distinguished typographic design.

I went for the most generic Burgundy, a Joseph Drouhin nevertheless, “seasonally reduced” from £15.50 to £13.95 (although why you would “seasonally reduce” Burgundy at Christmas I cannot fathom). And it turned out to be a graceful pinot noir, with a breeze of fruit, a bit of body and a hint of the agricultural around the edges; not a heavyweight, but clean, light and eminently drinkable.

As a place, Fortnum & Mason may not be what it was; but that’s true of most Piccadilly shops now. (Apart from the wonderful Cordings, and of course Hatchards.) But the old corner shop's label ought to be well received by those who don’t know one wine from another – and on this encounter, its wine ought to be well received by those who do.


Thursday 15 November 2018

Leaked Clues From The IWSC Jumbo Christmas Crossword - The Solutions

So I've checked these and I think they all come out. Took a bit of doing, but I can't see any gaps. Don't know about you, but I thought 6 Down was trying its luck; as was 22 Across. On the other hand, 34 Across and 11 down more or less handed it to you on a plate, so I suppose it evens out.

And now the question remains, are they going to re-write the whole crossword? Are they going to close their eyes and hope that no-one's noticed? We shall see.

Anyway. If you've come to this late, the clues alone are here.  And here are the answers -


4. Familiar appelation unites us from the Sixties (6) - Mateus
7. Sell a Gallic sweetheart? Take your pick! (8) - vendange
8. Here I live in fear (7) - terroir
13. Sweet, mistaken, earnest us (9) - Sauternes
14. Familiar aroma in odd pet case? (4,3) - cat's pee
19. See 27 Down - n/a
22. Ventoux mechanism turns white (10) - Montrachet
26. Writer gives up for old Antipodean (8) - Penfolds
30. Missouri anticipates mixture of dregs and an abrupt left to create a flower (7) - Moselle
34. Flavour like Kew? (9) - botanical
39. Fizzy, favoured six-legger contains harm? (9) - pétillant
40. What we're left with, 'e claimed to argue (8) - sediment


2. Prophet rises and gets working for a piece of California (6) - Sonoma
6. Adhesive dyestuff? Buff's commonplace (6,7) - grippy tannins
11. Messy slob's tipple (4) - bols
13. He waits for battle, story-teller loses article but invests a quarter (9) - sommelier
15. Some kind of CIA suggestion - Machiavelli might recognise it (7) - Chianti
18. Magical object loses player, gains most of actress - it's the water of life (8) - Talisker
23. Look in the residue, Rosemary, for traces of a river (5) - Duero
31. Common Era's not suited? It's a mess near Dijon (5,2,5) - Côtes de Nuits
35. German opera contains mixed-up falsehoods? Hock the lot! (8) - Riesling
36. Typical Chardonnay to evoke a serving hatch (7) - buttery
37. Keatsian Hipppocrene (3,4,3,8) - the true, the blushful


Thursday 8 November 2018

The Pleasure – or not – of Côtes du Rhône

The concept of ‘guilty pleasures’ is one I fail to grasp. Surely it is countered through the pursuit of a simple philosophy: if something makes you feel bad when you do it, then don’t. But be that as it may; it seems that Côtes du Rhône wines have been running a promotion entitled Guilty Pleasures.

I have only felt guilty about wine myself when I have paid too much for it. Perhaps not surprisingly, that seems not to be the gist of the Côtes du Rhone campaign.

“Côtes du Rhône wines are ideal to share with friends,” they say, differentiating them from precisely zero other wines. 

However, they go on to claim that these are, uniquely, wines to “enjoy everyday during those ‘Guilty Pleasure’ occasions such as indulging in your favourite TV series, eating a juicy burger or treating yourself to a pampering session.”

Do you feel guilty watching your favourite TV series? There must be some vegetarians who would feel acutely guilty about eating a juicy burger, and I would advise them not to do so; but that doesn’t apply to me. And nor does a pampering session, to which I am not aware that I have ever “treated myself”, although I have felt quite indulged during a visit to a tailor. But watching my favourite TV series? That’s something I enjoy. That’s why I do it.

But here, in one of their campaign ads, are the guilty parties, as it were. Perhaps their favourite TV series is Police Camera Alcohol, in which drunks fight, vomit and fall off pavements in economically deprived towns – and the reason these two feel guilty is that they’re getting themselves into a similar state, but bingeing on Côtes du Rhône rather than vodka, with the evening terminating in the comfort of their plush-looking sofa rather than the confines of a police van.

So she dances into their living room with a remote control in one hand and a bottle of Côtes du Rhône in the other. Calm down, dear, there’ll be a spillage! He, on the other hand, has taken the adventurous step of loosening his tie, a hideous mauve example which bodes ill for his taste. It all looks such fun; in fact, the ad must have done its job, because I feel I should copy them, perhaps in my own living room, where unlike the one in the ad, a security lanyard is not required.

With the name implanted into my psyche by the promotion, I scan the supermarket shelf like an average punter for a bottle simply and boldly labelled Côtes du Rhône – and there it is!


(No, I did not enter their competition, by posting this picture of my bottle with the hashtag #myrhoneguiltypleasure. Because by the end of the month a whopping 21 other individuals had done so on Twitter, and I worried that 22 might break the internet. Also, the winner is picked at random, which I was always taught was not a competition, but a lottery.)

This particular Côtes du Rhône cost £5.50. The back of the label suggests that it is “perfect with mid-week suppers such as spaghetti Bolognese or sausages and mash”, suspiciously avoiding any connection whatsoever with the flavours of French cuisine.

And equally, it seems to avoid any connection with the flavours of French wine. A slightly oily bouquet, a vague taste of postage-stamp glue and fruit gums, but essentially a bland and flabby wine, empty of flavour and character. Which might put any newcomer off Côtes du Rhône for good.

And ay, there’s the rub – because there is no single Côtes du Rhône wine. Even when that name is prominent on the label, it’s not a uniform and consistent product like Gordon’s gin. It’s one of the biggest appellations in the world, with over 5,000 growers. I have to wonder at the value in promoting Côtes du Rhône as a brand, when its wines vary so much, from the most magnificent, expensive examples down to, well, the one which the promotion got me to drink.

Which at £5.50 didn’t make me feel guilty. But certainly wasn’t much pleasure.


Thursday 1 November 2018

Leaked Clues From The IWSC Jumbo Christmas Crossword

So the big surprise this week, here at Sediment at least, was the partial leak of the IWSC's Wine and Spirits Christmas Crossword puzzle. Normally the IWSC goes to formidable lengths to keep its brain-teasers (high point of many a oenophile's year) under wraps until the week of Christmas itself, but this year someone's hacked the compilers and got out not quite half the clues and none of the actual grid. The solutions are also out in the wild, but heavily encrypted; they'll take a while to unscramble.

Anyway. Too excited and intemperate to wait, I've decided to put up the stuff that we have got, so anyone who wants to can get stuck in. I've managed a couple already (I'm pretty sure 15 Down is Chianti), but others are slightly harder going. Solutions should be through in a fortnight.

4. Familiar appelation unites us from the Sixties (6)
7. Sell a Gallic sweetheart? Take your pick! (8)
8. Here I live in fear (7)
13. Sweet, mistaken, earnest us (9)
14. Familiar aroma in odd pet case? (4,3)
19. See 27 Down
22. Ventoux mechanism turns white (10)
26. Writer gives up for old Antipodean (8)
30. Missouri anticipates mixture of dregs and an abrupt left to create a flower (7)
34. Flavour like Kew? (9)
39. Fizzy, favoured six-legger contains harm? (9)
40. What we're left with, 'e claimed to argue (8)

2. Prophet rises and gets working for a piece of California (6)
6. Adhesive dyestuff? Buff's commonplace (6,7)
11. Messy slob's tipple (4)
13. He waits for battle, story-teller loses article but invests a quarter (9)
15. Some kind of CIA suggestion - Machiavelli might recognise it (7)
18. Magical object loses player, gains most of actress - it's the water of life (8)
23. Look in the residue, Rosemary, for traces of a river (5)
31. Common Era's not suited? It's a mess near Dijon (5,2,5)
35. German opera contains mixed-up falsehoods? Hock the lot! (8)
36. Typical Chardonnay to evoke a serving hatch (7)
37. Keatsian Hippocrene (3,4,3,8)