Thursday 30 May 2019

A case to consider

It’s The Case of Ten Bottles. And sadly, it’s not a Sherlock Holmes story.

It’s an “introductory case”, offering 10 bottles of wine and two Riedel wineglasses. As opposed to 12 bottles of actual wine. These are merchants who say they are “determined to break the mould”, which calling 10 bottles a “case” certainly does in my book.

Is the ten-bottle case now a thing? Are we entering a world of a one-piece suit, a pack of 18 cigarettes and a box of five eggs?

We know all about “shrinkflation”, with fewer biscuits in a packet, less chocolate in a bar, a smaller number of fish fingers in a box. Sometimes they change the size of the packaging, sometimes they don’t; my packets of digestives now have an empty, loose bit of packet at the end which once contained a couple of additional biscuits. Unless you examine the quantity or weight, you think you’re still getting a bar, or a packet, or in this instance a case – but it actually contains a bit less.

In this case (and I mean “case”) it’s 2/12ths less. A reduction of 16.6%.

I don’t think they are trying to fool anyone. It’s clearly an introductory sampling, for first-time customers, such novices that they don’t even possess two decent wineglasses. Novices, indeed, who may not even know that a case is usually 12 bottles. But then, why call it a case?

It was bad enough when people started selling six-bottle cases. Wasn’t there a time when only champagne was sold in six-bottle cases? Partly, I believed, because of the weight of the (thicker glass) bottles, which made a 12-bottle case unwieldy; and partly because the cost was so high that people rarely bought 12 bottles at a time.

Now, the six bottle case is everywhere. Convenient, yes, lighter, and a less expensive single outlay; remember how Majestic’s customers increased when they reduced their minimum purchase from a twelve-bottle case to a six. But is it true that posh wine merchants call the six-bottle a Pauper’s Case? And it’s so confusing, when you think you’ve found a good buy by the case in a list, and then find it’s actually twice as expensive per bottle as you thought.

So why call it a case at all? Why not call twelve bottles a case, and six bottles a box?

And if, on decimalisation grounds, you feel that ten is a better measure than a dozen, because it makes it so much easier to calculate the cost of an individual bottle, then standardise that – only call it a "decem" or something.

But of course it’s the tradition of “a case of wine”, with all its social resonance, which is behind this. If you’re buying wine in quantity, any quantity, then the marketers think that by calling your selection a “case”, you feel you’re becoming a more significant wine purchaser, a descendant of George Saintsbury, that you’ve risen to the status of starting a cellar yourself, even if you actually live in one. No wonder they “introduce” you to multiple wine purchase with a “case”, even if it actually comes in a carton.

So how low will merchants sink to employ the term? How minimal can a multiple purchase be in order to call it “a case”? Merchants selling two bottles generally have the dignity to refer to them as “duos” or “gift boxes”.

But step forward Berry Bros & Rudd, because here is a Berry Bros Classic Collection mixed case… of three bottles. 

A “case” of three bottles. Three. From Berry Bros, of all people. I thought they were old enough to know better.


Thursday 23 May 2019

Bordeaux Grands Crus Classés 2015 - 2018

This week's style icon: David Mamet

A bar. CJ and PK are in a bar, seated at a table, drinking. They have just come from a tasting of a selection of Bordeaux Grands Crus Classés in Church House, SW1

PK: So this is the thing...and it's not just me saying this.
CJ: Uh-huh.
PK: Because this is, what? Look at me.
CJ: Alright.
PK: It's widely held.
CJ: It is.
PK: As day follows night. As the rich man takes his tithe.
CJ: Of course.
PK: Fuckin' right it is. But if.
CJ: If?
PK: What if? Look, look, what if there was there was...Jesus, look at me. At my age. These people, I beg them.
CJ: For pennies.
PK: You said it.
CJ: I do.
PK: I'm begging and they have...all this...
CJ: Riches.
PK: Exactly. Is that the law?
CJ: It's the unwritten law.
PK: It's bullshit.
CJ: As the duck flies south in the winter...
PK: Exactly.
CJ: To furnish his winter nest...
PK: So I'm saying. And this is just me saying. Listen to this. I'm saying we go back in.
CJ: Back in.
PK: And not just anywhere. We go to the Pomerol table.
CJ: That's a table.
PK: It's two hundred notes a bottle.
CJ: I hear you.
PK: We go to it.
CJ: Directly.
PK: Or indirectly. The point is...we're at the table.
CJ: Uh-huh.
PK: And a bottle goes...
CJ: Huh?
PK: We.
CJ: So...
PK: A bottle is removed. From that table.
CJ: Do they..?
PK: It goes. A whole bottle. We are at the table. A bottle goes.
CJ: Do they give us..?
PK: No.
CJ: We..?
PK: If that's how you want to see it.
CJ: They have people.
PK: I don't know they have people? A bottle goes. It goes to us.
CJ: People all around the table.
PK: I don't know that?
CJ: Do we..?
PK: By an action. We go back in. The bottle goes. We go out.
CJ: We take the bottle..?
PK: Those are just words.
CJ: We..?
PK: Take, leave, sample, liberate, possess. What are these words? There is no word, beg. Jesus. You say, that's a man? How do you know that? Fuckin' years I put up with this. Less than nothing they give you. Like they're superior. 'Oh this, oh that. Oh take this. This is all'...Pieces of...and we're grateful? No. We go back in. Maybe you wear a coat. A large coat.
CJ: In the..?
PK: Or a container. You got a bag. I say, 'Oh this, oh that', you have...
CJ: A receptacle?
PK: The bottle goes in.
CJ: And you're saying..?
PK: I finish my conversation.
CJ: That's what you're having.
PK: As civilised human beings.
CJ: I take the bottle.
PK: We leave.
CJ: Straight out.
PK: It's out of the ground. What can they do?
CJ: All I'm saying is...
PK: What?
CJ: It's not...
PK: What?
CJ: What I'm saying. They have people.
PK: You sad sack. You fuckin' sad sack.
CJ: It's..
PK: Don't talk to me. In fuckin' life, there is a time and then...what are you left with? That moment. You look back. Who is there to judge?
CJ: I have to go.
PK: You fuckin' pussy.
CJ: I don't have a coat.
PK: I have a coat.
CJ: I have to leave.
PK: Alright. And this is me talking. Wait. We change our focus.
CJ: Fuck you.
PK: Okay. Listen. We go down town.
CJ: What?
PK: Give me this much respect. Alright? We go to another place.
CJ: To the..?
PK: Not so rich as the Pomerol.
CJ: A lesser..?
PK: Pomerol, maybe they are watching.
CJ: It's possible.
PK: Another table, it's not so...
CJ: Not so...
PK: A smaller one, a lesser label, they'd want us to take it. Montrose. I don't know. Get the name out. If we just asked. We're doing them a service.
CJ: We tell them.
PK: Explain.
CJ: Alright.
PK: Who could resist?
CJ: Down there, it's fifty notes a bottle. Sixty.
PK: What's that to them? In reality?
CJ: Uh-huh.
PK: Alright. I'm asking. I'm asking.
CJ: Alright. But you have to wear the coat.


Thursday 16 May 2019

A Lifetime in Wine

• It’s a fresher’s week staple that tastes just fine in a polystyrene cup. Stonker (Innuendo Wines, £5.99) is an Aussie Shiraz from their More Bosh, Less Dosh range, which can hold its own against Monster Munch. Screwcapped for easy access. You’ll be surprised by its length, especially on carpeting…

• Anyone going backpacking this summer should take the opportunity to try some of the sadly neglected wines of the Far East. It’s only really in their local context that you can appreciate the unique qualities of these distinctive wines, where they can take their place alongside alongside Bali belly and the Rangoon runs. They rarely reach the shelves back home, so  you can enthuse about them later with little fear of contradiction…

• The Dine-in Meal Deal is back! You get a main, side dish and dessert, plus a bottle of wine, all for just £12. That’s right, your choice of a bottle of red or white!* (*Terms and conditions apply. The word ‘choice’ refers to either our Lite Brite White, or our Ruffan Reddie; alternatives not available.) For a romantic evening in, all you need are the candles…

• So my advice, when you’re out for a special meal, is never go for the second cheapest wine; that’s the one they think you’ll pick, and so it’s the one with the mark-up for mugs. (And they don’t know that we’ve seen through the tactic, because they never read articles about wine.) Instead, ask the sommelier for advice. It’s easy to think that wine waiters are just trying to persuade you to spend more, but they’re actually there to help, which surprisingly often does seem to involve persuading you to spend more…

• You can use our handy calculator to work out just how much wine you need for your wedding. Each bottle contains three or four glasses or possibly five at the stretch suggested by her mother, and an average guest will drink possibly half a bottle with the meal if his father is anything to go by. Add a glass of Prosecco per guest upon arrival, possibly three if there’s anywhere guests can hide their empties while the waiters are still circulating. The toasts will require a glass of proper Champagne per guest, even those who by then really shouldn’t have any more. So that’s three or four, or five, plus one, or two, plus another one. Or thereabouts.

• Thanks for signing up to Frogthwarts. We know that as a new home owner, you need to serve your neighbours and friends from something you can call a wine cellar but still fit under the stairs. That’s why our subscription service will deliver you each month a selection of wine that's socially impressive (ie French)…

• When there’s cause for celebration, why not enjoy an English sparkling wine instead of boring old Champagne? If you’re toasting a special occasion, like a new arrival, a new job, or a big birthday, you can now drink a native sparkling wine without anyone thinking you’re tight-fisted, because the price is similar, even if the taste isn’t really…

• As a regular buyer of our fine wines, we wanted to let you know about a small but very special parcel we have obtained. Of course you’ve heard of Chateau Trèscher; but on the other side of the valley and across the river, so really just next door, lies the lesser-known Chateau Inconnu. Their wines cost just a fraction of their neighbour, yet are said to be almost its equal by many in our sales department…

• Don’t miss out on this year’s en primeur. You may have heard stories of a terrible harvest in Bordeaux, but we’ve found some real gems amongst the dross, which we’re convinced will ripen up magnificently. And look at these IB prices! (NB: Our IB prices do not include duty, VAT, storage charges, price of eventual delivery or opportunity cost.) There are some real treats in store for those who can buy now for drinking in maybe fifteen years’ time…

• Fourteen years ago, Dad bought this case of Chateau Ververgood en primeur. I know he would have wanted to serve it to his friends, so I’ve opened up the case, and it’s just a shame he isn’t here to share it with you. And that it hasn’t quite turned out as he might have hoped. But then, the same could be said of his swimming…


Thursday 9 May 2019

Home Brew - The Aftermath

So now the dust has settled and our dreams have come to nothing, what have we learned? Not much, I think it's fair to say, except that home-made wine is harder to make than some people would have you believe. From the end of January to the start of May this Godawful stuff has been hanging around the house, both promise and threat, and to be honest the best bit was when it was fermenting in the upstairs shower, burping to itself and releasing a gentle aroma of unwashed vests from time to time. Hope is such a dreadful thing.

And now? Four bottles of red sewage are sitting among all the other bottles of professionally-made grog, looking for all the world as if they have a right to be there.

Possible courses of action:

1) Leave them another month or so in the near-mystical belief that they will somehow settle down and transform themselves into something I can pour into a glass and swallow. I did test the one bottle we opened for alcohol content and got - if I can read my hydrometer properly and manage the resulting arithmetic - a reading of 10.85% by volume, which puts it a shade stronger than Tixylix but not so as you'd want to shout about it. Sheer inertia will see to it that the remaining four hang around longer than they should, so I can see myself taking a sip in a few weeks' time, out of sheer devilry.

Probability: High

2) Tip the lot away, then go to the utility room as we grandly name it, and stare at the now redundant demijohns and other wine-making parphernalia, shaking my head and making noises between my tongue and teeth indicative of self-reproach and despair.

Probability: High

3) Try and use the DIY wine in cooking. Trouble is, I only know two recipes which seriously call for red wine, one involving chicken, the other beef. Chicken tends to come out better; beef just tastes like beef stew, even down to the stringiness of the beef, no matter what cut I use. Do I want to commit a pile of expensive ingredients to the pot, only to discover at the end of the cooking process that my homebrew has hideously denatured the lot?

Probability: Medium to low

4) Look up other people's experiences on the internet. See how common my experience is and if there's anything I can do to redeem the situation, short of spending more money on bottles of wine rectifier or sachets of re-structuring powder. Should I watch the video which came with the kit all the way through to the end? Perhaps I missed something. This, plus some time Googling my failure, could be a morning well spent. To do it, of course, I would have to have a relatively robust, positive outlook-type psychological constitution plus an attention span long enough to last a morning. I mean, on YouTube all those months ago it looked about as difficult as making a cup of coffee.

Probability: Low

5) Get rid of it by adulterating commercially-made wines with undetectably small percentages of homebrew. Actually, PK came up with this idea, inspired by the way top French winemakers introduce tiny - I mean, I%, 3% - additions of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot to a basic Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot mix to give their products a nuance, an intimation of something other. In this case, the idea would be for the principal red to smother my stuff completely rather than allow itself to be fragranced by it in any way. It would be a question of niggardly eking out. I'm tempted by this, I have to say; although if I have any sense, I'll Google the process first to see if it results in blindness or insanity and what the odds of that might be.

Probability: Medium

6) Find some other, completely alternative, use for it - cleaning the front steps with it, using it as for anti-corrosion in the car cooling system, trying it as a wood preservative, textile dye, watercolourist's medium, anti-attack spray, slug trap, tasteless practical joke, room scent (with diffuser sticks), enema, facepaint, sink degreaser, hair dye, Dadaist commentary on the middle classes, communion wine, untraceable ink for ransom notes, hair tonic, late Soviet-era borscht, hair remover.

Probability: Low to zero

7) Observe, in a moment of more hopeful lucidity, that, whatever else it may have done, my homebrew has at least given me a full but futile agenda. And an agenda, of whatever sort, is something we all need, especially as we get older. Or am I being too cheerful about this?

Probability: Borderline hundred per cent


You can read all the posts tracing our home winemaking saga in chronological order on one page here. Or you can read or download for e-readers a text-only PDF here.

Thursday 2 May 2019

The Great Sediment Wine Tasting

“Well… life all comes down to a few moments,” says Bud Fox, just before he goes into Gordon Gekko’s office for the first time in the movie Wall Street. “And this is one of 'em...”

It was time to taste our home-made wines, the culmination of a project which CJ finally steered us into some three months ago  . The equipment had been bought, the technology mastered, the wines made, bottled and matured (and, in one case at least, labelled). We had avoided potential spillages, floods and fermentation explosions. Now for the dangerous bit.

There were three wines on the night. There was Piqué, created of course by myself, PK; there was a wine garishly labelled Lobo e Falcao, a label which Mrs K mistakenly believed that CJ had created himself, until it was explained that he had, typically, just reused an old empty bottle; and, as a control, there was a “professional” bottle, of Waitrose Soft Chilean red, which is CJ’s £4.99 staple.

Sadly we were unable to replicate the tastings of homemade wine which appear widely on YouTube. Those seem to go quite well, and nearly always end with someone raising their glass and saying something like, “Y’know, it’s really not bad at all!” However, we simply couldn’t go along with two of their common aspects, which are that most of them seem to be conducted by chaps in (a) cheaply equipped utility rooms, and (b) shorts.

Our own tasting was conducted blind, in which we were ably assisted by our spouses; while we waited outside the room, the wines were poured into glasses A, B and C by our lovely assistants (© Debbie McGee). This 30-second audio clip will introduce you to some sounds rarely heard at formal wine tastings, and give you a flavour of the evening. Not the flavours – you wouldn’t want that:


Anyway, these are CJ’s notes on the three wines:

A: Gasworks, glue, rotten fruit. Bent double with revulsion on first taste. Emetic. Bent double on the second taste. Repulsive. Not a bad nose.

B: Burning carpet, scorches the tongue, doesn't seem to stop. On the other hand, it doesn't make me bend double. Borderline drinkable

C: Smouldering mattress, liquorice in puddle water, makes me bend double again. Most repulsive. The horror the horror

And PK’s:

A: This had a bouquet which can only be described as disturbing, blending as it did the scent of plastic with that of an unclean bottom. It tasted terrible, a nasty flavour of artificial fruit, like a packet of sweets left for some time in a warm car door pocket.

B: Reminiscent of being on a train with brake pad problems, or breathing in fumes of burning rubber from a distant riot. This one took me to a horrible, dark place of bitterness and nastiness.

C: With a strangely caramel bouquet, I felt this one was blander than the other two, smoother, less pungent and acerbic, and therefore marginally less repulsive.

And the reveal:

A was CJ
B was Waitrose
C was PK’s

What was peculiar was our polarisation. None of the three was actually enjoyable, but that which one of us hated most, the other hated least. So awarding points on a 3,2 and 1 basis, each of the wines ended up scoring 4.

Basically, they were all terrible. Which, worryingly, puts us on a level playing field with Waitrose…