Thursday 16 January 2020

Grape Expectations

Of all the wine recommendations published for Christmas, I fell for this one. I was lured in by the promise of a Pinot Noir with “oodles of ripe, gamey, savoury, truffle and red cherry fruit”. It was hard to distinguish which adjectives applied where (Ripe truffle? Gamey red cherry fruit? ) but there was clearly a lot going on for £7.50.

And it wasn’t just the additional fact that it was in Sainsbury’s, which meant I could slip some into the trolley while Mrs K was looking at the herbal teas. Nor the fact that it was only £7.50, reduced further to the mere fiscal bagatelle of £6.50 in time for festivities. No, it was the fact that it was from Bouchard Ainé & Fils

Because we have history, Bouchard Ainé & Fils and me. Some years ago, I was treated by one of my oldest and most generous friends to a birthday trip to Burgundy, and among other, more welcoming visits, we went to the “House” of BA&F in Beaune, for their regularly scheduled tour and degustation. They couldn’t know that my friend is one of the most assiduous buyers and generous sharers of good Burgundy in North London – but we certainly do not look like (nor, indeed, are) affluent American customers.

So the time of the tour came and went, and we were left ignored, while the staff courted Ronald and Pammy from Bediddlyboing. We left without seeing, tasting or indeed buying, anything. And from then on I have avoided the wines of Bouchard Ainé & Fils.

(And am I the only one to feel that their BAF diamond device looks distressingly like an imitation of the WWII RAF cap badge which my parents wore and proudly showed me as a child?)

But then I saw their Pinot Noir recommended in The Times. Of course, it’s not actually a Burgundy; despite deploying the Bouchard Ainé & Fils name, and the design of their bottles of Burgundy, and phrases like “full of history”, and “home region”. As their website explains, this is a Vin de France, which gives them greater “liberty”, to “blend varietals from different regions and vintages, plus choose the best technique to enhance them.” In other words, it’s a blended, boosted, generic Pinot Noir from all over. In disguise.

Still, as The Times said, it was “as close to burgundy as any £6.50 drinker is going to get this winter.” It reeled me in with that grammatically challenged promise of oodles, etc. And it proved to be a pleasant surprise; it was a bright, tasty Pinot Noir, with some decent fruit dancing over quite a solid body. I felt smug enough to buy some more.

But the second bottle went straight into a boeuf bourguignon for a family occasion. “How much do you need?” I naively asked Mrs K. “A bottle,” she said. I could only echo her occasional remark to me at the end of an evening – “What, a whole bottle?”

As one who relishes the consumption of their wine uncooked, this seemed excessive. But I bow to her culinary authority. And this was a relatively inexpensive way of providing a key ingredient. Plus I thought great, I will serve another bottle with the meal, do my knowledgeable host number, explain that it’s also in the accompanying dish, and with that smug feeling still in place, tell everyone what a great find I am putting before them.

But that third bottle was…a nonentity. Bland, dull, with the alcohol outweighing the flavour. “It just isn’t very good, is it?” said my brother-in-law, And frankly, if you explain a wine to someone else, and then it turns out to be rubbish, you feel a right numpty. What could I have been thinking?

There was only one thing for it – try a fourth bottle by myself. Because I found it hard to believe that a single wine could vary to such an extent. I divided the bottle carefully over three evenings – it’s not a dry January, but it’s not tipping it down, either. 

And this time it was… okay. A bit lightweight, but with some fruit to savour. Still, not a lot of bang for your buck, as it were; more a squib for your quid. As I believe they say nowadays, meh.

Inconsistency is not something you expect in a mass-market, blended, screw-cap wine nowadays. But I should have known to lower my expectations of the House of Bouchard Ainé & Fils.


1 comment:

  1. Ooh, turning your guns on Ms Jane's questionable literacy and the meisters of Beaune in one your style, sir! Ron and Pam will always win out unfortunately, and will absolutely love all four bottles equally.


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