Thursday 27 June 2019

Get yourself trolleyed

Either I’m too sensitive, or else I’m gettin’ soft” – but am I the only one to feel a note of personal criticism behind some of the reports that Majestic is up for sale?

Because there seems to be some suggestion that Majestic customers are now all doddery old fools, who don’t realise that the world has moved on. That people simply aren’t supposed nowadays to drive to nearby places which sell wine, choose from an impressively huge offering, taste a few before deciding, buy half a dozen bottles or more and take them conveniently back home.

No, there are people who want to condemn that rather attractive proposition to the past. Instead, customers ought to be online, “subscribing” £20 a month, like paying a direct debit for gas. This gives you access to wines you have never heard of before, which will be delivered to your door when you’re’re out – or, more likely given your suggested demographic, in the toilet.

Oh, and you will have chatty online exchanges with the makers of your wines, who you are “supporting”. If you can squeeze them in between your supportive relationships with your potato grower, your ketchup provider and your sausage maker.

Given this dire alternative, I thought I should dodder along to my local Majestic, and remind myself why I ever went there in the first place.

That first time I went to a Majestic, I felt that I had, in some way, grown up in my wine-buying. Those were the days when Majestic sold a minimum of 12 bottles. And it was as if I had suddenly joined the real wine aficionados. These weren’t people picking up a single bottle because they were taking a gift to a dinner party, or looking for something to go with that night’s takeaway. No, these were people buying full, proper cases of wine, people who consumed and presumably stored wine on a serious basis. People I wanted to join.

And this week, I felt surprisingly good strolling those aisles again.

For one thing, they have spruced up the interior of my local Majestic. The bottles are no longer standing on teetering piles of cardboard cartons – there’s proper shelving, with the cartons stashed away beneath. The staff weren’t wearing that strangely contradictory combination of fleeces and shorts. And there weren’t any pallets to make you feel you were wandering around a loading bay.  In fact, it didn’t feel like a warehouse; it felt like a large shop.

In some branches, I can see online that this remodelling has gone too far, and the result looks like an over-illuminated Pizza Express. There’s also an obsession with “tasting”, with “creating” and “exploring”, which sounds like an activity session for toddlers. But hey, we can all get carried away. Calm down, guys. Have some wine…

Of which there was an impressive selection. No, a vast selection. There were seven different Chablis, for goodness sake. And not only were there bottles too cheap and threatening for me to consider, but there were others too grand and expensive; celebrated wines like La Reserve de Leoville-Barton, Bella’s Garden Shiraz, Segla Margaux, and my favourite Pouilly Fumé, Ladoucette. And for me, that’s important.

Established names set the benchmarks. They show that a merchant has access to the best as well as the rest, that they understand how good wine can be. They set a pricepoint against which to measure their cheaper wines. And they enable you to compare their descriptions of the wines you’ve never heard of against those of which you have.

From wines too basic for my palate to wines too clever for my purse, with plenty in between; what’s not to like? To be honest, there used to be a lot.  And for a while there, things looked grim. But the warehouse notion, that you’re buying bargain wine just unloaded from the back of a lorry, seems to have been quietly laid to rest; and buying from Majestic feels like it could be an attractive proposition again.

Yes, this may be the old businesss in new clothes – but, surely, better clothed than naked.


Thursday 20 June 2019

Thursday 13 June 2019

A lexicon for wine today

Just take a look at this wine, Lion And The Lily. So called because it’s “Bold like a lion, elegant like a lily”. Obviously.

The wine is described as “chic”, a characteristic which rarely finds its way into tasting notes; and some eyebrows may be raised by this rosé’s claim to be “The perfect wine to pair with Hamburgers”. But what particularly intrigues me is the use on its label of the verb, “to vint”. It says that it is “Grown & Vinted in France”. Which is a new one on me.

Does “vinted” refer to its harvesting, making, blending, marketing or selling? Does the term “vinted” refer to anything specific? Or could it be that the creation of a contemporary wine, with all of the commercial, industrial and branding processes involved, requires a new word in order to describe that operation attractively – and “concocted” doesn’t quite work?

Perhaps we do need new terms to keep up with modern wine culture. Not that “vinted” is new as such – Trollope referred to “the best wine that ever was vinted”, although it’s still not clear what that actually means – so perhaps some older terms could be similarly reclaimed. But whether it’s to describe the wines themselves, or the ways in which we now drink them, perhaps we could use some more words and phrases which simply weren’t needed in the days of the butt and the tappit hen.

Belfer – a very cheap wine, probably supermarket. “Wow, that’s a bit of a belfer”. Derivation: “bottom shelf”. Like the wine.

Spence – A household space for storing boxes of wine, eg understairs, which cannot really be called a cellar. “Is there another bottle in the spence?” (cf Chaucer, The Summoner’s Tale, “Al vinolent as Botel in the spence”)

Needle – a modest portion of wine, akin to a tasting sample delivered via a Coravin – “Try a needle of this one…”

Lefty – A bottle of wine brought by a guest, whose quality cannot be vouched for by the host. “Do you mind if I open a lefty?” Derivation: disputed: 1. such a wine is “left” by a visitor; 2. it tends to get opened when there’s nothing else “left”; 3. a lefty is never quite…right.

Spoonstander – a strong, syrupy red wine, esp. Shiraz

Smite – That modest amount of wine left in a bottle which isn’t enough to be worth saving for a following evening, and so might as well be drunk now, even if it’s just a bit more than you actually intended to drink. “Oh, look, there’s only a smite left, I’ll finish it off tonight” (cf Milton, Areopagitica, ‘It smites us into darkness’)

Greeted – “The wine was greeted in Bristol in 2018” – an attractive way to describe the moment when the bulk shipping container’s sluices were opened.

Undertop – to refill somebody’s glass with as little wine as you can get away with. “Can you undertop James next time, darling, he’s getting a bit loud.”

Mulberried – to have one’s teeth stained with red wine

Pumped – a wine which has been properly vac-u-vin’d, as opposed to someone having shoved the rubber bung back in without pumping the air out as you discover to your annoyance several days later. “Is this one actually pumped, darling?”

Sixer – a supermarket offer of a 25% discount when buying six bottles. “Hey, there’s a sixer on at Waitrose next week!”

Turn tail – to finish a bottle of white and upend it in an ice bucket, raising the issue of whether another is required. “Oh, have we turned its tail, then?”


Thursday 6 June 2019