I haven’t posted a wine blog for some time now, so I thought it was time I started catching up.
After the last budget earlier this year, we now pay £2 tax on each bottle of wine we purchase. This has effectively put paid to the £1.99 bottle of wine. It has also encouraged more visits to France, where it is still possible to buy a drinkable bottle of wine for €1. And of course, if it is for home consumption, there is no tax to pay when you bring it back to UK.
I was reading an interesting article today which argued that we not only pay far too much for wine, but we also rarely buy good wine. I suppose if ‘good’ wine (including the £2 tax) now costs nearer to £10 a bottle, we are much more inclined anyway to buy cheaper ‘plonk’ at, say, £5 – the same as we used to pay for a bottle before the new tax (actually the increase was only 10p, but psychology starts to play a part at £2 extra a bottle). But the argument was that few vintages are actually good anyway. We have always known that French wine is grossly overpriced in this country, partly because the French don’t want to downvalue their main produce, but also because we tend to be snobs and pseuds where wine is concerned. We are inclined to describe a wine as ‘tasting of flint and sea grasses with an nose of new-mown hay’, rather than saying it is a bit acidy and not really fit to drink. Or we might say, ‘solid, beefy red which will go well with barbecued meats’, instead of admitting that it is only bearable if we fill our mouths with chilli sauce and ketchup at the same time. This may be right. So maybe the best thing to say about wine is that you like it. Or conversely that it simply isn’t your sort of wine.
The article made the quite valid point that, when we walk into a pub or someone's house, and are offered a drink, we usually just say 'red' or 'white' and never 'do you have a 2006 Eikendal, or something similarly packed with lime and strong aromatics please?' This means we profess to have an opinion about wines, but usually just drink any old stuff going. We would never do that with beer. I've never heard anyone ask for a pint of something wet and hoppy; we usually know exactly what we want. And there are usually several choices of beers to consider too. In passing, I have just heard that Doombar, that Cornish bitter, named after a notorious sandbank at the mouth of the River Camel, has just become Britain's biggest-selling pint. And quite right too!
Last week the French launched what may be an answer to this pretentiousness - a cola-flavoured wine, called Rouge Sucette (meaning red lollipop in French).
I have to confess that I’m surprised that it is the French who have done this; if anyone else had tried to market it, I’m sure the French wine growers would have objected. Anyway, this drink is made from 75% grapes and 25% water, sugar and cola flavouring. It will cost €2.95 a bottle (and maybe £5 in the UK). But beware – before you go serving chilled tumblers of it to your kids, it is 9% proof.
In interesting contrast, Sedlescombe Regent, a red wine from East Sussex, has just won an International Organic Wine Award. Our whites and champagnes especially have been winning awards for years now; maybe we are at last beginning to rival the continental monopoly on reds too. Soon it will only be the pretentious among us who buy wines from the Old World at all. Unless you fancy alcoholic coke.
Incidentally, a US study, which used judges at the California state fair wine competition as test subjects, found that only 10 per cent of them realised when they were served the same wine again and again. I’m sure this is not just American experts, a similar test had similar results in France some years ago (and was not repeated for probably the obvious reasons). So just say 'I like this' and leave it at that.
So there we are. Here are the two wines I received from my family for Fathers Day. Both because they are wines I am known to like.
This is Porcupine Ridge, from the delightful Franschhoek region of South Africa, which specialises in interesting (not to say unusual) blends. My bottle was a Syrah Viognier.
Viognier is normally served as a white wine; in this case it was blended with the Syrah to produce a red. It comes out tasting not unlike the Pinotages for which South Africa is known (and which first turned me on to Porcupine Ridge), but without the tarmacky taste some people don’t like as much as I do. I wouldn’t dream of drinking wine with strong-flavoured meals and expecting to taste it, although a good Pinotage can out-taste even grilled meats, so I tend to drink, then eat, and then drink some more. Don’t spoil this Syrah Viognier with a barbecue in the middle though, it is better with plainer food. It is smooth and spicy, as you would expect from a Syrah, but also a little perfumed and scorched, like a vanilla crème caramel full of bitter black cherries. Yummy!
And the other wine today is a Paul Mas Vermentino.
Mas is another producer, this time French, who experiments with individual grape varieties. The Vermentino is a Mediterranean grape, so rich and fruity. It predominantly came from Italy, but is now also grown in the South of France. The Mas Vermentino has a lovely smoky (I obviously like the burnt flavours!), citrusy aroma with a dry, but lush taste. Think lemon meringue pie with a blow-torch across the topping. Mmmm. This is what to drink on the patio when summer begins. Oh, has summer gone already?!