Friday, 13 February 2015

Valentine's Day dilemmas

Once over the age of about sixteen, it seems, a handmade card will no longer suffice to show our devotion to the object of our affections. No, now it has come to mean handing over something along with the card – a gift seems to be in order.

What to get your Valentine?

Handbag? As my husband is doubtless painfully aware, even I can’t find the perfect handbag for myself, despite putting years (and pounds) into the search. What, seriously, are the chances of you doing it, just like that? However, if you are confident that this is where your strengths lie, go right ahead – and please, get in touch with me, as I would love to glean some of your handbaggy wisdom.

Underwear? Fraught with dangers, this. It must strike the right balance between sexiness, sluttiness and wearability. Get it wrong and you could be facing the cold shoulder. And if you get the size wrong (and there are so many ways it can be wrong) – well, all sorts of troubles await. Best avoided in my opinion.

Jewellery? Can be a good solution, but potentially spendy if you want to avoid anything too High Street.

Eat out? The most painfully, quietly strained atmosphere prevails across restaurants on the night of the 14th  February, as couples face each other across tables, over a variety of pink-themed plates of food, wondering why on earth they’re shelling out a small fortune for the privilege. I think you can see where I stand on this one.

Fancy box of chocs? Who doesn’t like to get a nice box of chocolates? This is a no brainer – tick.

Nice bottle of wine? Has to be the easy option doesn’t it? Any thoughts of Dry January are thankfully long past, it’s bound to be welcome, it can demonstrate your thoughtfulness - and you get to share it. Perfect, no?

This is always going to be a classy choice and you will never be short of options that transmit the message you’re trying to send.

Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV, around £36-£42, is something of a wine trade secret. This full-flavoured but elegant Champagne can see you through from aperitif to main course. What it says: “I’ve been around long enough to know what’s what. You’re in good hands.”

Gosset Grande Réserve, around £50 has delicacy but depth of flavour and is always delicious; a good choice if you’re heading out afterwards, or will be a delight with lighter, seafoody dishes. What it says: “I’m serious about having fun.”

There is one luxury Champagne cuvée that is practically made for Valentine’s Day – Perrier-Jouët Belle Eqpoque, with its Art Nouveau inspired decorative bottle. At £130 for the 2006 vintage from Waitrose it’s not something to knock back casually, but such a beautiful object is surely worth keeping as a reminder of your romantic largesse (no sniggering at the back), so it shouldn’t be consigned to the recycling bin within days either. What it says: “I’m a hopeless (and now skint) romantic.”

Pink fizz
Drinking pink for Valentine’s Day may not count as startlingly original. But then Valentine’s Day itself is nothing if not a cliché, so now is not the time to worry about making a well-worn wine choice. Just go with the flow.

Rosé Champagne, by any objective measure, cannot justify its premium price tag, as it is in most cases just the regular cuvée with a little red wine blended into it. However, objectivity be damned, Champagne says special occasion, ergo pink Champagne says it, with knobs on.

I’m a fan of Bollinger Grande Année Rosé – 2004 is the current vintage and you can expect to pay in excess of £85 for a bottle, but check out for the best deals. What it says: “Purrrrr.”

Jacquart Brut Mosaïque Rosé NV, usually £30 from Sainsbury’s but down to £25 for Valentine’s, is a canny choice: a pretty pink and good quality fizz made by a switched-on co-operative with a dynamic winemaker. What it says: “I know a good thing when I see it.”

Nyetimber Rosé NV, £45 from Waitrose and elsewhere, is one of English wine’s brightest stars. Any self-respecting English rose or red-blooded Englishman would be charmed by it. What it says: “Ding dong!” (in best Leslie Phillips voice).

San Leo Rosato NV, on offer at £6.99 at Waitrose, is a fun and frothy Italian that puts a smile on the face of the cash-strapped and lovestruck. What it says: “I’m cheap but cheerful.”

Dry January - dry statistics?

You will no doubt be thrilled to know that I’m going to focus on global wine statistics this week. Resist the urge to turn the page! Come on, it might be enlightening – at the very least you’ll have some gems to lob into a lull in the conversation at your next dinner party. And if you’re doing dry January (and not long to go now) you can be sure I’m not going to torment you by singing the praises of what is still forbidden fruit.

There’s nothing like seeing facts and figures in stark black and white for disabusing you (well me at any rate) of long-held assumptions about what’s really happening in the world of wine. Here’s an example: which country do you think consumes more sparkling wine than any other? I mean total volume of sparkling wine drunk – not per head. Well it’s Germany.

The national stereotype of corpulent men downing pilsner in steins while an oom pah band plays in the background is crumbling to dust in my mind’s eye. Instead the Germans are busy popping corks like nobody’s business, getting through more fizz than Russia and the USA, who have far higher populations than they do – 141 million and 319 million respectively to Germany’s 81 million.

In case you’re interested, the UK is not too shabby in terms of sparkling wine drinking, coming in at number 5 behind Germany, France, Russia and the USA – but with a population of just 64 million, we’re not doing too badly. And the UK retains its position as the number 1 export market for Champagne, which is pretty impressive when you think about it.

Do you imagine that, overall, world wine consumption is growing? It might surprise you to find that it isn’t, but the reason why it isn’t might come as even more of a shock. Global wine consumption over the years 2009-2013 is down slightly, by 0.8% and the driver of the drop is…China.

China, with its huge population, rapid industrial and technological progress and small but burgeoning middle class has been a massive engine of growth in wine consumption in recent years. Chinese economic growth seems set to continue, albeit at lower rates than before, but the government’s anti-corruption initiatives are making extravagance and conspicuous consumption less acceptable. When China moves, it seems, the whole world notices.

The importance of China is an indicator of another global trend – the move from west to east. Europe was traditionally the epicentre of wine production and consumption; more recently the US has become the biggest (and still growing) consumer of wine in the world. But eastern countries like China, India and Russia are beginning to become players. And the fact that the US and China are outside even the top 20 countries in terms of wine consumption shows that these markets still have huge potential for growth.

Moving to more parochial matters, something that may not register at the global level, and it hasn’t made news headlines here, but consumption of wine in the UK has been falling in recent years, down by 7.9% from 2009-2013 in volume terms. This is probably partly due to the economic downturn, and consumption is forecast to grow by 5.5% from 2014-2018 – but the overall trend is still downward.

Consumption of wine per head is following the same trend and is due to fall by 8.1% from 2009 to 2018. In an overall shrinking market, what growth there is here is being driven by sparkling wines – all that Champagne, but now increasingly joined by Cava and flavour of the month (or decade), Prosecco. We are also now drinking (slightly) more white wine than red, and rosé continues to become ever more popular. Without wishing to appear sexist, this would seem to signal the growth in female wine drinkers, who tend to favour lighter, fruitier and lower alcohol styles of wine.

The irresistible rise of Prosecco is also reflected in the upward trend in imports from Italy to the UK. Australia and France are still ahead of Italy in first and second place in terms of total imports, but they are both on a seriously downward trend. Spain, in 5th place, however, is showing very strong growth from 2009-2013, up over 24% - this must be good news for a struggling economy. Just think, every time you pick up a bottle of Cava, you’re helping Spain’s balance of payments. Salut!

Statistics quoted are taken from research undertaken by IWSR (International Wine and Spirit Research), commissioned by Vinexpo.