Thursday 13 February 2020

Real Wine Gums? You can stick 'em.

The last time I tasted wine gums, I hadn’t tasted wine. They were part of a peculiarly English route to drinking alcohol which, instead of the watered-down wine offered to French children, began here with wine gums. You chose one of the supposedly grown-up flavours, and then tottered around for a second or two pretending to be drunk. Not, as I recall, pretending to be a wine connoisseur. 

Wine gums were later followed by those hideous chocolate liqueurs at Christmas, a vile combination of cheap chocolate, with a sugar shell inside, enclosing a dribble of nasty sweet liqueur. Somehow as children we believed these noxious sweet items were somehow “drinking”. From which it was then a painful route through shandy via cream sherry to Southern Comfort (Southern Comfort!) to actual, discerning adult drinking. And it all started with wine gums.

But of course, there was famously no wine in Maynard’s wine gums. The confectionery business had been founded by Charles Riley Maynard, a strict Methodist, who was enraged when the gums were created by his son and heir, Charles Gordon Maynard. But the father was persuaded by the fact that the gums contained no actual wine; and Maynards have continued to the present day with that tradition. Or, I suppose, deception.

Yet now, from Amsterdam, comes The Real Wine Gum.  Beautifully boxed, stylishly designed, and described on their website as “edible wine”.

“The Real WINE gum isn't a candy for children,” they say, playing fast and loose with their capitalisation, 'but an "adult luxury happiness'.” Indeed; €7.50 for a cute 50g box is certainly not pocket money. And they describe it within an adult lifestyle. “Everybody recognizes that moment; when you’ve worked hard all day, and can’t wait for that first sip of wine once you get home. That moment can now already take place at work with our Real WINE Gum.” And look – it even resembles a bunch of grapes!

But let’s get one thing clear – there is no actual wine in these “Real” wine gums, either. “We created a wine gum, which actually tastes like wine, but doesn’t contain any alcohol.” So they’re playing similarly fast and loose with their use of the term “real’. And they “actually taste like wine”, eh?

Well, they have a distant, fragrant kind of flavour which, in that way of sweets, you could have told me was grapefruit, lemon or elderflower and I would have believed it. They say on their ingredients that it contains “Chardonnay wine aroma”, and it does have an appropriately faint flavour, in that way of “tasting” a scent on your palate. And there’s a lingering, vaguely medicinal aftertaste, as if you’ve sucked a throat lozenge.

“Adult luxury happiness” I’m not so sure about. I'm not even sure what it is.There’s nothing to object to about their flavour, but a €7.50 bottle of actual Chardonnay would give me a great deal more happiness per se.


The closest Maynard’s equivalent wine gum, “champagne”, is black, yielding a key advantage to the Real WINE Gum which does at least have the colour of a Chardonnay, albeit a fairly flaccid one. But that raises the whole issue of Maynard’s colours; how come both champagne and port are black? Is that why, unlike their wine counterparts, they actually taste the same? And how come “port” is black, but also orange and… green? What is this green port? Or green sherry?

And of course, the taste matches the colour, not the wine. Which also means, no doubt much to the chagrin of the French, that “claret” and “burgundy” taste exactly the same. Basically, raspberry. Ish.

Also, the embossing is rubbish; about half of each word is illegible. Perhaps, under some kind of product description edict, they are now trying to play down the wine titles, and pretend that they don’t say champagne, port, sherry, claret or burgundy? Perhaps mine have already been sucked? (Don’t…) Or perhaps this blurring is a sophisticated way of imitating the effect of alcohol, taking the wine gum’s relationship to wine into a new and surreal dimension?

Because it certainly fails to imitate the taste; the “champagne” gum has an almost nutty flavour, with an aftertaste that provides another reminiscence, that of licking postage stamps. And it also now has a spongy, bouncy texture, whereas the gums of my youth were as tough as an eraser.

But a few are embossed simply “MAYNARDS”, which removes any expectation of a wine flavour. And these taste simply of hot asphalt playgrounds, and my go, and chinese burn, and swapsies, and that big boy over there did it, and got you first, and no returns.

Which is why the designer wine gums, in trying to echo the "Real" taste, look and fragrance of wine, have surely missed the point. Wine gums are not meant to taste of wine. They taste of childhood.


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