Monday, 5 August 2013

Through a glass, darkly...shattering wine preconceptions

As a wine writer, it’s part of my stock in trade to shatter other people’s misconceptions about wine.  These are the kind of bombshells I like to throw at you, you know the kind of thing:  sherry doesn’t have to be sweet and is perfectly safe for the under 65s to drink!  White wine is often better than red with cheese!  Riesling is a top quality grape variety and shouldn’t be ignored!  It really is OK to drink Beaujolais, a lot of it is very good!

You’re probably reeling from that lot for starters, so take a moment to compose yourselves while I press on.  Yes, it’s all very well when I’m the one dishing out the home truths – but what about when I’m faced with my own “No!...Really?” moments?

To wit, a mixed case of wines from Aldi arrived on my doorstep recently.  I’d never considered buying wine from them, thinking it unlikely that a discount supermarket would be investing much effort into its own-label wine range.  Well readers, I must say I was pleasantly surprised in some cases.  I also took the opportunity of a residents’ meeting to try them out on a group of unsuspecting neighbours – without at first revealing where the wines had come from.   Far be it from me to suggest that Surrey drinkers know not to look a vinous gift horse in the mouth, so to speak.  However, they seemed happy enough to drink them and were suitably surprised at the quality for the price.

I especially enjoyed these bottles from the selection:

The Exquisite Collection Côtes de Provence Rosé 2012 - £5.99
A pale pink blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah that delivers gently fruity, rose-petal scented flavours and bags of refreshment.

The Exquisite Collection Rias Baixas Albariño 2011 - £5.99
Albariño is a classy white grape that makes crisp whites with an alluring blend of freshness combined with a hint of stone fruit – peach in this case.  It may not be the best Albariño on the market, but at this price, well-chilled and served with something fishy, you can’t go wrong.

The Exquisite Collection South Eastern Australia Shiraz 2012 - £5.99
I normally avoid wines labelled South Eastern Australia like the plague – this denomination is a catch-all that covers a geographical area roughly equivalent in size to western Europe.  Would you buy a wine that was “produce of various members of the European Community”?  Only to slosh into sangria or to mull, or to play a cruel trick on a wine snob, I imagine.  I hope I haven’t given you ideas there.  In any case this has a tasty mix of dark berry fruits, blackcurrant, bitter chocolate and something savoury, even slightly wild about it, thanks to the inclusion of Cabernet Sauvignon, Durif and a sprinkling of Petit Verdot in the blend.  At 14.5% alcohol it packs a punch, but would stand up admirably to smoky barbecue fare.

Crémant du Jura 2010 - £6.99
This 100% sparkling Chardonnay from the tiny Jura region in eastern France delivers sensational quality for this price.  I recently served this at a wine dinner and, very gratifyingly, it drew gasps of disbelief (and appreciation) when its identity (and price) was revealed.

I often puzzle over the worth of tasting notes for wines.  Is there really any point in trying to convey to other people how a wine tastes to me?  Who’s to say whether a wine smells of strawberry rather than raspberry or cherry – are such things not in the eye (or nose) of the beholder?  Nevertheless I soldier on, reassuring myself that I’ve been at this for a few years now and have honed my skills to such a degree that I am able to communicate something useful to distinguish one wine from another.

Yet again, however, my high falutin’ thoughts on my own worth were brought crashing down to earth by my son the other day.  I was tasting a rather classy Italian Sauvignon Blanc – Vie di Romans “Piere” Sauvignon Blanc 2009 to be precise, available from independent merchants, including Laithwaite’s, at around £26 a bottle.  My son asked to try the wine and of course I obliged.  After a second of reflection he said, “Mmm it’s really fruity, but not sweet and kind of tangy. I love this kind of wine – yum.”  Here he is again, this time describing the Portuguese red wine, Marco de Pegoes Terras do Sado 2010 (£7.99, or £6.49 if you buy two bottles from Majestic), “It smells soft, musky.  Mmm is tastes so nice it makes you want to have another sip.”   He’s ten years old. 

I should stress that I only ever let him have a sip of wine, before you think of grassing me up to social services, but he’s obviously been paying close attention to those sips over the course of his brief tasting life and I am now seriously considering letting him do all my tasting notes in future.