Thursday 27 February 2020

A little bird told me…

Modesty would be a wonderful thing in winemakers. They would disappoint fewer people. They might even sell more wine.

I was wandering past the posh wine merchant’s, when I saw that they had a February sale on. With a Spanish dish for supper, I had reconciled myself to Rioja, as you do, when I was drawn to a Monastrell from Jumilla in their window. It was reduced from £10.95, which is 96p the wrong side of maybe, to j£7.95, A price which brought to mind those famous last words “you can’t go wrong”.

So I take home a bottle of Talento – or, as you can see on the label, Talento Talento Talento Talento…Alright! I heard you the first time! If New York, New York was so good they named it twice, what does that imply about repeating Talento nine times?

But then I am intrigued to find this on the back label: “Use what talents you possess, the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.”

Well, this is novel. Winemakers are notorious for not just blowing their own trumpet, but employing a personal brass band. Yet here is a wine seemingly suggesting that it may not be the best.

Althoiugh he is not credited, the quote is from Henry Van Dyke, a US Presbyterian minister and writer popular in the early 20th century. He penned a number of similar platitudinous quotations, such as: “There are two good rules which ought to be written on every heart - never to believe anything bad about anybody unless you positively know it to be true; never to tell even that unless you feel that it is absolutely necessary; and that God is listening. “ Which basically kills stone dead our contemporary birdsong, Twitter.

Yes, we definitely do want a range of “birds” in our wine “woods”. We just don’t need them chirping on about how proud they are of their product, about the proximity of their nest to that of a more celebrated bird, or the fact that they have themselves hatched from an egg laid by a tuneful parent – none of which are guarantees of a lovely song.

But let us not strain the analogy further. The posh wine merchant says from on high that “This is 'Bandol on a budget'”, an enticing phrase given that my Bandol stock is and will probably always be zero, and my budget little more. It’s a “vino ecologico”, which sets off a tremor of nervousness; but I am encouraged by the merchant’s idiosyncratic detection of “a whiff of Eccles cakes”, following which I trust they will baffle other international customers with references to pease pudding, custard creams and spotted dick.

Finally, they say, it “simply sings from the glass” – and we’re back in the woods with the birds.

But actually, it is distinctly tuneful. A dark, purplish colour with a heavy bouquet, leads on to an interesting combination of bright top notes over a weighty, soft base, with that cherryish thing of bitter fruit. It’s too full-on for a guzzler; it’s a very tasty wine to sip and consider. Appropriately, a beaker full of the warm South.

Which, given the way they have lowered my expectation (to say nothing of lowering the price) left me charm’d.

I actually went back and bought a case; they had more bottles in their shop than online. “Quick, said the bird, find them, find them”.


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