Thursday, 7 December 2017

The SEDIMENT Xmas Wine Gift Marketplace

Here they are, the ideal Xmas gifts for wine lovers! 

Of course, our entertaining book is the best possible present for anyone who drinks wine – or, indeed, doesn’t. But whatever you do, don’t just buy wine lovers a bottle of wine, however much they might like it, oh no – not when there are these super Xmas wine-related gifts out there!






Wine Monkey
This sock-like, monkey-like woolly wine bottle cover will bring laughter and merriment to any dinner party. Just look at the happy faces of these dinner guests as Wine Monkey arrives at their table! They’re not arguing about Brexit any more! Conveniently disguises any embarrassingly cheap supermarket wine*. Keeps red wine tepid and white wine…tepid. *Not suitable for Mateus Rosé.




Upside down wine glass
Bored with drinking out of normal wine glasses? Well, “bottoms up!” This looks as if it’s a regular wine glass – but upside down! Endlessly amusing! It’s all fun and games – just wait until someone stands it the other way up, and accidentally pours wine on to the sealed end, whence it cascades across tablecloth, guests’ laps etc! 






Wine Markers
Just as you’ve always wanted, your guests can now write on your wine glasses! Avoids those heated dining-table arguments over whose glass is whose. Will definitely not come off on to guests’ hands, napkins, shirt-cuffs etc.









Wonky wine glasses
Bored with drinking out of normal wine glasses? Enjoy the distortion of a second bottle from your very first glass, with these wonky wine glasses! Tipsy – or what?? It’s all fun and games – just wait until you try and put them in the dishwasher!







Wine-scented candles
Save your friends the trouble of spilling their wine all over their carpet in order to scent their room! These candles not only “evoke the scent” of wines like Pinot Noir or, er, Mimosa – they smell like a specific vintage! And as a remarkable liver-relieving bonus, they evoke wine’s “soothing effect” too! Not included: matches, respirator.




Moustache corkscrew
For that brief moment of amusement as you hold it to your upper lip, and possibly go “haw-hee-haw”, followed by many happy years in a kitchen drawer. Guaranteed to last until the plastic moustache bit detaches itself from the thread. Not suitable for removing corks.







Winestein
Bored with drinking out of normal wine glasses? If your oafish friends all drink beer, enjoy your wine in this clever wineglass/beer mug, and feel like one of the loutish crowd! It’s all fun and games, until you get beaten up.







Santa’s stocking flask
Don’t you wish you were at this party? Wine in plastic cups from a plastic bladder-like contraption, vaguely reminiscent of a Christmas stocking. Comes with an accompanying freshers guide to a non-Russell Group university. Warning: not a pinata








Wine storage box
Yes! Now you can store four bottles of wine, upright, in an old wooden box! Fit for any table! This genuinely French authentic Bordeaux storage box has travelled straight “from cave to table”, pausing only to translate the words on the side into English. Bottles sold separately.



Guzzler wine glass
Bored with drinking out of normal wine glasses? This glass jams into the neck and allows you to drink straight from the bottle, in a way that’s amusing rather than socially unacceptable! Laugh? You’ll wet yourself. Indeed, it’s all fun and games – just wait until the wine rushes into the glass, over your mouth and nose and down over your clothes! Choking hazard.




 
Cork shadow box
This is so much more than just a picture frame box with a hole through which you can poke your old corks. This is the ideal way of displaying your excessive consumption to visitors with a jumble of partially stained old corks. Relive those special occasions, when the corkscrew thread went just through the side of the cork! Comes with one (1) partially stained cork to start your collection. Not suitable for screwcaps




 PK


Thursday, 30 November 2017

Another Day, Another App

So I'm starting to think we must have reached a new phase in man's progress from the primordial slime to the stars when, still boggling over wotwine, I'm told about this: An Augmented Reality App which Will Bring Your Wine Bottle To Life. Actually, just writing it down makes me partly lose the will to live, but no, this is where the world is going, this is the kind of thing the millenials dig, so I mustn't be off-trend about it, I must embrace the now.

Which is? Look, it's easier if you just watch the video: this more or less explains how, if you buy a bottle of 19 Crimes Australian red - marketed by the all-conquering Treasury Wine Estates, a company that also handles Blossom Hill, Penfolds, Wolf Blass - then download the 19 Crimes app onto your phone and point that phone at the label of the bottle, the grizzled face depicted on the label will come to life on your phone and start bending your ear about the real-life crime he or she committed, or at least was convicted of, in the nineteenth century and which led to her or his transportation from England to Australia. For the sake of my children, I begged for mercy, says one; Forgive me for caring more about myself than the cause, announces another, with a sneer. Little faces! Talking at you!

A bit weird for the dinner-table? Well, yes, except that, as the website (that old thing) explains, 'For the rough-hewn prisoners who made it to shore, a new world awaited.
As pioneers in a frontier penal colony, they forged a new country and new lives, brick by brick. This wine celebrates the rules they broke and the culture they built.' In other words, it's all positive. You can even Connect with the gang and Join the banished if you're so absolutely parched for stimulation that joining a virtual society of deceased ex-cons who exist only to gimmick up an extremely small range of reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Blend and something called Dark Red) seems like a good idea. Why not? It's that or wasting the evening on a re-run of Celebrity Antiques Road Trip, so you might as well.

And of course it's not so much the product itself, the 19 Crimes, which is significant, but what it represents. You can see it coming, like bad weather across a sound, a new dispensation in which wines of all sorts will talk to us, or play music, or host an impromptu quiz when they sense that the chit-chat round the table has got onto Donald Trump again, and what do you know? John XXII is looming out of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape bottle and asking us, in guttural Mediaeval French, how late the trains run because he has to get back to town? Or the bay on the front of your Oyster Bay starts making soothing lapping sounds, broken only by the bleating of sheep and foul-mouthed bucolic New Zealand banter from unseen shepherds and winemakers? Or raised voices are heard coming from the villa on the Chianti label and after a while you realise that it's you they're shouting about, and not in a friendly way either, particularly unnerving as you're drinking on your own and already regretting it? Or the cockerel on your Le Réveil starts crowing and will not shut up, not even when you stuff it in the recycling bin and heap empty soup cartons and bleach bottles on it?

And the wine? Wine is such a twentieth century thing. Do we really need to think about the wine? How does wine even fit into a world of constant intermediations from ongoing digital reference points? How do we find the time to drink a glassful before we have to share the experience with one or more digital platforms while the AI is toiling away in the background, cloudbasing our subjectivities into a worldpermeable interface which then allows someone from Abilene, Texas, to address us, mid-drink, live from the label on the wine bottle and suggest that maybe the tannins are a bit overdone? See, this is augmented reality and if anyone says that wine in and of itself is quite capable of augmenting reality, they haven't experienced either enough or the right kind of augmentation.

Next week, another reality, augmented to the point of no return: Neon Meate Dream of a Octafish

CJ







Thursday, 23 November 2017

It's dark…Christmas must be coming

An e-mail arrives from a PR, announcing ‘Last-minute gifts with a difference’. ‘Last-minute’? It’s November! Perhaps we are supposed to wait until lunchtime on Christmas Eve, just to raise the tension, and then open the e-mail to see what it is they’re offering.

But Christmas is clearly coming. The geese are getting fat etcetera, and the ads are beginning to appear for Christmas wine. Because this, of course, is the one time of the year when everyone suddenly becomes aware of wine, and gets themselves into a right old paddy about which one to buy for Christmas dinner. So the advertisers want to get in early, because, like the manufacturers of nutcrackers and turkey basters, this is their one chance in twelve months to flog most people their wares.

It may be hard for aficionados of the grape to accept but, for many people, wine is a one-off, annual event, like Christmas itself. It’s simply part of the tradition, a little once-a-year indulgence. Christmas wine is like Christmas pudding, deemed an essential part of the proceedings – but, again like Christmas pudding, most people have no real idea of what it is, what’s in it, or how to discern one version from another except by its price.

This presents something of a dilemma for those of us who do actually love wine. Is Christmas the excuse to bring out a much-loved, long-awaited bottle which has been kept for a “special occasion”? Or will that result in a tedious educational session over the turkey? “Well yes, Burgundy is Pinot Noir, but…” Just when you want to enjoy your bottle, you find yourself having to explain it. Whereas you don’t have to “explain” the roast potatoes.

And is your much-treasured wine going to disappear down the neck of that guest who would be perfectly happy with a glass of Ribena? Because even if they actively dislike wine, like brussel sprouts, this is the one day of the year on which people feel duty bound to consume it.

Or for which, of course, if they’re hosting the event, they feel duty bound to purchase it. So out roll the ads, aimed at the majority of the population who will not enjoy my largesse, but will have to go out and buy their own sodding bottle.

And the key, it seems, to making a bottle of wine look suitable for Christmas is to shroud it in darkness.

From
Majestic to the Wine Society, Christmas wine photography is clearly inspired by

Caravaggio. The bottles invariably stand in a darkened room, glowing in reflected candlelight, or with out-of-focus lights in the background suggesting Yuletide decorations. Never mind the problems of serving it; Berry Bros present their bottles in such stygian gloom you would need a torch to find it.

In candlelight, any red looks dark and inviting, any white a fool’s gold. (Very few of these images contain rosé; you probably wouldn’t drink rosé at Christmas but, given that 90% of its appeal is its colour, you certainly wouldn’t drink rosé in the dark.)

And when you think about it, this is absurd. Because most people in this country, prior to slumping in front of the Queen’s Speech, actually have their Christmas meal in daylight.

But there’s clearly some suggestion that the posh people, the real claret-drinkers, who spend a teensy bit more than £5.99, dine in the evening; and so if a wine’s going to make your Christmas meal a special occasion, it must be shown as suitable for evening consumption. Even if you’ll be drinking it during the day. And even if it does only cost £5.99.

Just as the panic sets in, a clearly illuminated mixed case offer appears from Avery’s.

12 delicious wines hand-picked for Christmas. Well, that should set some minds at rest.

Its three reds are a Gran Reserva that you should “set aside for a Sunday roast”; a French Syrah Grenache that’s “great with casseroles”; and a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo to be enjoyed “with Italian favourites like lasagne”.

That’s the Christmas dinner sorted, then. Casserole? Or lasagne?

PK

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Idiot Meets App. Result? Carménère Shiraz




So I have a new phone and what better than to start downloading onto it some time-wasting and irrelevant new apps? And of all those, what better app than this wotwine thing which people have been talking about for the last few years? Yes, the comments have not been uniformly favourable and yes, the wotwine webpage actually redirects you to its users' less-than-fantastic experiences ('frustratingly unstable'...'Ok but a bit hopeless at times'), possibly in an attempt to forestall complaints, possibly as the result of an administrative error, but anyway. Since the experts' panel on wotwine boasts five Masters of Wine and one Master Sommelier, how bad can it be, really? It even claims full man-of-the-people credentials by allowing you to search for wines costing as little as £1 - there aren't any, but that's scarcely the point. There's nothing to stop you.

Down I load it: Your Supermarket Sommelier. Okay, it gets stuck updating its database but clears after a while and it's only asked for my email address once, a masterpiece of reticence in this day and age. I check my phone for 4G and location and head for the dreamland of mendacity which is my local Waitrose. This, I tell myself, will be a proper test: Waitrose's bottom shelf, quintessential garbage, and so I let wotwine loose.

Fact: it crashes each time I try to use it and needs a re-start on every occasion. On the other hand: when I finally point it at the barcode of a 2015 Storm Tree Shiraz, it comes right back at me with with Mass-produced, dilute wine with synthetic fruit and astringent acidity and reckons that £4.50 a bottle ought to be top price, rather than the £5.69 being asked. In other words, it instantly has a ring of authority once it's stopped bailing out on me. Ditto when I run Le Reveil Cabernet Sauvignon past it, a wine I drink more often than I should on account of the heartwarming cockerel on the label: Simple, light wine with chalky tannins, light body and some red cherry and blackcurrant character, it declares, which is exactly what the stuff tastes like. The app also argues that I should only pay £5 a bottle, not Waitrose's preferred £5.99 and once again, their judgement seems to me incontestable. The fact that they've even got these awful, meaningless, wines covered is a miracle; but bull's-eye assessments on top - what a world we live in.

So now I am completely in thrall to my phone and wotwine, to the extent that after a minute's use, I am letting it choose the wine for me, more or less wholesale. What comes up? A 2012 Luis Felipe Edwards Carménère Shiraz, which it thumbnails as a Spicy wine, with reasonable character, a bit thin, but sound, while, to my astonishment, concurring with the £5.99 price tag Waitrose have slapped on it. Helplessly won over, I have completely lost all power of self-determination, and instead grab the bottle with robot fingers and take it to the checkout.

The actual booze? When drunk? Just like wotwine said. I'm not entirely sure, now I think about it, that I would subscribe to the bit thin line, given that most of my red wine tastes like cold tea and this Luis Felipe stuff doesn't, but that may be a purely personal issue. Which means that, allowing for the fact that the app crashes all the time - the Android version, anyway - I can see that I will never again need to exercise any sort of discrimination when faced with the great Waitrose Wall of Disappointments. All the choosing, all the heartbreak, will be taken out of my hands. I feel a fleeting pang, yes, at yet another loss of human agency - counterbalanced by the certainty that this is just one of many things over which I now have no control and anyway, at my time of life what do I expect? I also take Fiona Beckett's point about the apparent reductiveness of wotwine, which brings almost everything down to a price point - real or ideal - leaving her to complain, 'Isn't wine a little bit more complicated - and rewarding - than that?' To which the answer, for many of us, is no, although I respect an individual's right to squander cash for drink if they really
want to.

Oh, yes, there's also a canard to the effect that supermarkets, which can read wotwine just like anyone else, will up the prices of wines which are trending on the app, thus defeating the object of the exercise. Could be. But, look, we're nit-picking here, we're just making unnecessary trouble. One the basis of one hasty experiment, I can confirm that if you can get it to work, it works. And so does the rest of my new phone, so it's a big day all round.

CJ





Thursday, 9 November 2017

25% off any six bottles – or not…

There’s one Italian red which has become something of a dinner party favourite at Casa K. It’s delicious, it’s dependable… but it has a drawback. Which is that it costs £16 a bottle.

But there’s a posh supermarket which stocks it – and, every so often, they offer 25% off any six bottles of wine. The last couple of times they were out of stock of our favourite during the offer period; I am not a suspicious man by nature, but this after all is a supermarket which admitted to The Guardian some years back that, during these offers, certain wines are “de-emphasised”. You might very well say “hidden”; I couldn’t possibly comment.

This time, however, Mrs K alerts me to the upcoming offer. I dive online faster than a Harry Styles fan after tour tickets, and mirabile dictu, they have our favourite on discount. So it’s the required six bottles in my online basket, thank you, proceed to checkout, and on to Delivery Options. Where the whole thing falls apart – and Mrs K, hearing what I am writing about this week, says “This is going to be a grumpy one, isn’t it?”

The Standard Delivery is £5.95. (That’s Standard as in surly driver, parking problems, they didn’t say you lived down a one-way street, mate, sign this impossible touch-screen thing could you, and can I use your toilet?) And that is going to cost me effectively £1 a bottle.

So my £4 discount, my 25% discount on six bottles of £16 wine, has suddenly become just a £3 discount. An 18.76% discount.

It could be worse. I could opt for Next day/Named day delivery. That would cost me a swingeing £8.95, or £1.50 a bottle – reducing my discount to just £2.50 a bottle. That’s 15.6%. Name the day? How about Never?

In order to get free delivery, and hence my full 25% off, I would have to order £150 of wine, to get free standard delivery, or £250 to get it free next/named day. £250! That’s 21 bottles of this wine arriving in our hall, like something out of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Never mind the cost of the wine, think of the marriage guidance bills.

Oh, but wait for it. The cheapest option, at £3.95, is Click and Collect. Or, as I prefer to call it, Leg it and Lug it.

And that’s 66p a bottle. To leg it myself down the High Road, and lug six bottles back. The cheapest possible way of ordering my six bottles is, basically, self-delivery. For which privilege I still have to pay £4, and be left with a 20.83% discount. Not 25%.

Some people would just have gone ahead and ordered it. Still a discount, still saving money. But that is not the point. The point is that I cannot in any way order my six bottles, and get a 25% discount. That is the point. And I am the one here with the pointer.

If you want to order six bottles and actually get 25% discount, you have to buy six bottles with a full price of at least £22.20 each. Then they will graciously let you pick it up, from them, for nothing.

(And no, I can’t imagine a wine merchant saying, “Are you coming in to collect it? That’ll be £4.”)

I am honestly not some kind of skinflint. It’s just that I had foolishly got it into my head, as I saw the ads, as I began this process, that I would be getting 25% off my six bottles of wine. And then, as with so much in life, disillusionment arrived, in this case in the guise of delivery options.

But, there was one other way of getting an actual 25% off. I took a chance.

I walked down to my nearest branch, and hoped. And what do you know – they did actually have six bottles, the last six bottles, of my wine on their shelves. Which I could buy at a 25% discount, put into my handy (Majestic) six bottle carrier, and lug back home. Without any extra charge for picking it up. So there.

I shall put down my pointing stick now, before I have someone’s eye out.

PK

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Lowest: Pol Rémy


So our pals with the fabulously chi-chi place in the South of France turn up at our house in London, waving a bottle of what looks like champagne: right shape, quality label, tinselly foil on the top. Yes, the name, Pol Rémy, apparently rich in comic deceptions, arouses a bit of a laugh, but that's the French for you.

'How much?' they say. 'How much do you think it cost?'

I scuffle around offering prices starting at €15.00, because I haven't had a chance to get a proper look it; but I also understand that this is some kind of Dutch auction towards an unfeasibly low figure, gasps of astonishment, all-round disbelief. What I don't know is that the unfeasibly low figure is actually €1.99 or possibly €2.99 - there's a moment of crisis here, before we settle for €1.99 - at which point I have to assume that the wine itself is actually in negative price territory, given that the bottling packaging and distribution must have cost €1.99 and surely more. Which makes it, in all probability, the cheapest grog I have drunk this century.

'Scary,' I say, and what we explicitly don't do is show any interest in drinking the stuff there and then.

Which means that it disappears into the Death Row which is my wine rack, only resurfacing when some other people are round, people who like a laugh. Out the stuff comes again and what do you know - it's just a vin mousseux after all? Not only that but it has a plastic bung instead of a cork, which is depressing. And it's only 11% alcohol. But there's no turning back and I serve it up superchilled, as cold as Murmansk, and await results.

Mixed: three out of four of us find the stuff undrinkable - so much so that we actually have to tip it away. It tastes like nasal decongestant. The fourth person in the party, on the other hand, savours the bouquet, holds his glass up to the light, smacks his lips with little pattering sounds.

'Maybe it's the drugs I'm having to take at the moment,' he says, 'but I quite like this. Very pleasant.'

The rest of us shout at him, drugs or no drugs: it's not possible to enjoy Pol Rémy, not even in these terrible times. We make entreating gestures involving our arms and hands, but he carries on quite equably. We give up. He finishes his glass and wonders if there's more. There you go.

Which would have been it for Pol Rémy, except for the fact that I later go to the trouble of looking it up to see if there's any mention of it, anywhere. A nagging desire for reassurance makes me do it: I want any references I come across, to be abusive or derogatory; I want to believe wholeheartedly that this was one of the worst - certainly one of the cheapest - wines I have ever drunk; I also want to be told, implicitly, that it was okay to throw away half a glass of the stuff, something which even in the face of the worst wines, seems somehow immoral.

But no: this place adores it, calling it 'A lovely, clean, zesty wine' and much more, as well as suggesting that you might want to pay $8.99 (New Zealand) a bottle. The next site along is less sanguine, but still manages a 'Good dryness' followed by 'Easy and sweet', which makes me wonder; but even the one after that manages a cautious thumbs-up - although the bottle illustration seems to have changed, plus the price, so perhaps Pol Rémy is more chimerical than I at first thought - a Keyser Söze kind of wine, a wine which means as much or as little as the drinker wants it to and looks different each time. Also the quoted price now ranges from £1.23, which sounds right, to £5 excluding tax, which sounds limitlessly wrong.

So: we end up with a variously-tasting, variously-labelled, variously-priced wine, known generically as Pol Rémy - but appearing all over the place in different styles and at different levels of drinkability, encountered by numerous baffled drinkers, none of whose stories tally. Which, now I think about it, is what wine is, anyway. So I suppose it all works out. And €1.99! You'd have to be mad both to do it and not to.

CJ









Thursday, 26 October 2017

A numbers game


I think I’ve found a new favourite red. It’s a lovely 2012 Cotes du Bourg, it’s full and delicious, it’s got heft, it’s £8.50 a bottle, and it’s got a label which doesn’t look like a breakfast cereal. And no, I’m not going to tell you what it is yet, because I want to buy some more while I still can. I just can’t decide whether to get six bottles or twelve.

I’ll get six. I might actually get bored with it if I get twelve. I’ll get six, and then if I’m still enjoying it after that, I’ll get another six.

No, I’ll get twelve. They’re bound to sell out once people discover it, and start appending those crude little online reviews. “Fill your boots!” indeed – what kind of place is that to put your wine??

Ah, but if I get twelve, who’s to say the wine will last? It’s drinking beautifully now, but does that mean it’s at its peak? I might not get through twelve bottles before it starts to fade. Why not get six, and if the last one’s still still drinking well, then get another six?

Because it’s just as much trouble to get twelve! You still have to go through the same delivery rigmarole for twice as much wine! There’s the text: Your wine will be delivered between 10am and 4pm tomorrow. And then there’s the subtext: Between those hours, do not leave the house. Do not take any phone call you will not mind being interrupted. Do not go into the garden where you can’t hear the doorbell. Do not take a bath. Do not go to the toilet.

Whereas, if I order six, I can get them ‘click and collect’ from the supermarket, and I know from experience that I can lug six bottles back by hand the next time Mrs K is out. That will avoid another one of those awkward conversations in the hall. And let’s face it, the cost of twelve is a lot of money to shell out all at once. No, get six; they'll still come in a nice box, even if it is the half-dozen which posh wine merchants call a Pauper's Case.

Oh don’t be silly. Order twelve with a credit card, and you’ll already be enjoying them before you have to pay!

No, don’t go there. Why do they advertise sofas on credit with ‘nothing to pay for the first year’? So after twelve months, when someone’s dropped some food on it, and the arms are starting to look a bit shiny, just as you’re looking at it and removing some more cat hair and thinking how the initial gloss has worn off and you don’t love it quite as much as when they first delivered it… then you start paying for it?

Look, six bottles is nothing. Six bottles won’t fill the yawning gaps in my cellar.

Which, according to Mrs K, don’t exist.

What if it’s about to go on offer? Those discount offers are constant nowadays. If I get 6, the price might drop, and I can get the next 6 cheaper.

But the price might go up! Christmas is coming, nothing’s going to be reduced now until the New Year at least. Inflation’s going up, and when people find out about this wine, the importers will want to cash in. Get it now!

Oh no, I’ve remembered Christmas. I shouldn’t be spending at all with Christmas coming up. I should only get six.

But… Christmas is coming up! People will be drinking, we’ll want bottles to take round to people, bottles for people who come round to us, wine for the wassailers… No, alright, I can’t honestly remember any wassailers in our bit of West London, but we’d better be prepared.

Look, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, so six bottles in the cellar must be worth twelve bottles in the… or I could have twelve in the cellar… Oh for goodness’ sake, just click and do it.

Oh. They’ve sold out.

PK

Thursday, 19 October 2017

China Again: Two Guys In A TV Studio




So, three weeks later, I'm still brooding on modern China because, let's be candid, the place is as persistent as cheap aftershave in its capacity to keep claiming one's attention. What thought in particular tends to recur? Well, it's an image from a Chinese version of The Shopping Channel or QVC, one of those punishment zones on the TV dial where people scream at you from the corner of a dazzling white studio, urging you to buy things. In this case I was sitting in my hotel room, stupefied after a hard day of cultural encounters, while two hyperactive Chinese guys bounced back and forth across the screen in front of a triptych of bearded faces, nineteenth-century portraits from the look of them, Europeans at that, and shouted tirelessly at the camera that what we, the viewers, most needed right now was a discount case of red wine.

Not having any Chinese beyond Nĭ hăo and Xièxiè, how could I be sure that that was what they were doing? Because it was bleeding obvious: they kept gesturing at ziggurats of wine bottles while numbers and ¥ signs chased across the screen, staggering bargains of only ¥500 for twelve, probably Spanish, hence the beards, accompanied by the sales twins actually crashing deliberately into each other for sheer graphic effect. For a moment I thought they were a Chinese Sediment (Chéndiàn) with a lot of stock to clear; but then, a second later, I found myself asking, Do the Chinese really like wine anyway?

Silly question, surely. Every supermarket and liquor store keeps at least few bottles of red (Merlot, often as not) among the beers, baijius and presentation whiskies; hotels aiming for an international vibe like to put a few wine bottles out on show (full or tragically empty, depends on your budget); the Chinese themselves have taken to wine production with a typical emphasis on scale, coming in as the world's sixth largest wine producer in 2016, building mock châteaux (Changyu winery near Beijing) and Italianate castles (Changyu again, this time near Xi'an) while at the same time buying up French vineyards and vintages as if they were toys. Wine has currency right now.

Except, I don't quite believe it. I'm sure in the faubourgs of Shanghai and the penthouses of Hangzhou (where the Aston Martin dealership abuts a Porsche dealer three times its size and the Ferrari showroom is no more than two hundred metres down the same street) they drink fine wines all the time. Elsewhere, though? Chinese urban society, despite its burgeoning middle class, still has a respectably proletarian feel to it. Most people live in small appartments where they tend not to cook at home - instead eating out at one of their many basic neighbourhood eateries (and some of them are really basic, just a hole in the wall with a middle-aged lady and a two-burner stove), no frills, probably not even a drink: you bring your own bottle of tea or water and simply scarf up the grub, checking the WeChat account on your mobile as you go. Bigger eateries, yes, give you more in the way of tables, chairs and ceiling fans and, yes, whole families will be in there, three generations of Chinese all shouting their heads off as they wrestle with the Lazy Susan in the middle of the table, and, yes, the food can be surprisingly delicious and, no, you don't have to be in Sichuan to get internally broiled by devil spices: we were reliably scorched from Hebei Province all the way down and for that, you, or at least I, need beer and lots of it. So, from the look of it, does everyone else.

Which is as much as to say that neither the cuisine nor the eating culture seems that wine-friendly. You just don't see the stuff being drunk. So why all the fuss about China and wine? I like to think that the very high-end purchases (wines and vineyards) are being made as a bet, a classic investors' bubble, the sort of thing the Chinese love; and that everything else, the hectares of fresh domestic vines (some of which have already been grubbed up in favour of more dependable crops) and the gee-whiz fake châteaux that go with them are part of the greater Chinese experimentation with Western style and taste, a tiny moment in three and a half thousand years of unbroken civilisation, but not much more than that.

Perhaps President Xi Jinping will address the issue at this week's Communist  Party Congress in Beijing; although it may tie in with the larger question, Can a society make genuine progress without liberal democracy? Either way, I think we need guidance from the top on this one.

CJ





Thursday, 12 October 2017

Whatever…it's rosé

“Do you fancy some rosé with that fish?”

“Ooh! Yes! Where did you buy that from?”

“Ah… I didn’t. Someone must have brought it.”

“One of our visitors, you mean?”

“I assume so. There are a few odd bottles in the cellar…


"Basement…"

"… which people have brought round, and I have just stuck down there. And there just happens to be this rosé.”

“Is it any good?”

“How do I know? I didn’t buy it! I mean, it’s not Domaine Templier or anything, that’s for sure. It’s…Whatever…it’s rosé.”

“You could look it up, couldn’t you?”

“I could, yes, but really, what’s the point? I mean, that fish is nearly cooked. And I don’t have another bottle of rosé. How was I to know there was a sunny weekend coming?”

“Well, I got the fish…”

“Yes, but you got that today, from the posh fishmongers, and if I’d suggested today that we got a bottle of rosé, you’d have given me that look.”

“What look?”

“The one which says ‘All you ever think about is wine, can’t you be excited about the fish?’”

“I thought the whole idea of you having a wine cellar was that you had different wines to suit different meals and so on?”

“To an extent, yes. But that extent sort of stops before rosé.”

“Why?”

“Because people don’t really keep rosé.”

“How long have you kept this one, then?”

“I don’t know. That’s not the point. The point is that if I’d bought it while we were out today, it would have been part of a plan, whereas I have come upstairs with this bottle of rosé, and it’s an unexpected treat. Ta da!

“And it is going to be a treat, is it?”

I don’t know! Look, it’s rosé. And this is probably the last time this year we’re going to drink any, and it’s really not worth keeping until next year. So I’m going to open it anyway. Oh.”

“What’s that face for?”

“It’s got a plastic cork. That’s not good.”

“Worse than a screwcap?”

“Probably. It means it’s got ideas above its station. Like a cartridge pen; it’s neither a proper traditional fountain pen, nor an efficient modern Biro. Whatever…it’s rosé”

“Nice colour…”

“That doesn’t mean anything, really. They’re making them paler and paler nowadays. Having said that, you know you’re in trouble when it’s the colour of bubblegum.”

“And what’s it like, then?”

“Could be colder. Rosé could always be colder. Oh. Oh… Still… it’s rosé.”

“Is it really horrible, then?”

“You try it.”

“It’s pretty horrible”

“Yes. Whatever… it’s rosé.”

PK

Thursday, 5 October 2017

China: Harder Than It Looks


So back we come after a month in China and we are shattered, dirty and overwhelmed by massive colds. We have infected an entire 777 on the return flight from Beijing to London and can now barely talk. All we want to do is die in the quiet of our own home. And it is only at this point that I yearn for my bottle of Three Gorges Wine Company 52% liquor, reasoning that not even the Three Gorges liquor can be worse than the way I currently feel and maybe a shot would actually help. Then I remember that I left it in a fridge somewhere in China and anyway, it's truly undrinkable, dead or alive.

I acquired this awful liquid, this Three Gorges baijiu (I think it's known as) at a place called Yichang on the Yangzi River. I paid too much for it (£1.60 for 125 ml); but then again, Three Gorges Wine Company liquor is so bad that a little goes a really long way. I only bought it in the first place because I'd seen other people (blokes, invariably) tucking into variations of the stuff in eateries and restaurants and reasoned That must be just the thing, taken in small quantities, to round off a hard day's sightseeing.

Could not have been more wrong, of course. I don't think I've ever drunk anything so alarming, not even when I was a teenager experimenting with bucket homebrew and amateur wine and White Shield. The one and only time I consumed Three Gorges Wine Company 52% liquor (Lake North Famous Brand Goods it also said in English in small print as a come-on) I was almost blinded. It started off nice and cold from the fridge before exploding into a horrible stale grappa kind of nose after which all I remember is choking helplessly while tears coursed down my cheeks. I was on fire and I was crying and having convulsions. It was authentically frightening. What was in the bottle? Various ingredients had been suggested to me by people along the way, including wheat, rye, rice, grapes, sorghum and barley, but the colourless, slightly viscous end product wasn't really intelligible on account of the coughing and blinding; and even when I wasn't blind I couldn't read the Chinese writing on the label to get a better idea.

Was it just a terrifying one-off? Hard to say. Higher-end variants are heavily advertised on roadside billboards as well as sold in relatively smart liquor shops, so there's nothing unfamiliar about the basic concept. In fact I watched a bunch of local lads in the great city of Tianjin start off their evening meal with a large bottle of baijiu split four ways, followed by three bottles apiece of dependably excellent Tsingtao beer - and still manage to cope with chopsticks and a cauldron of boiling hot bouillon. So, no, my Three Gorges wasn't entirely freakish. Baijiu is apparently the most widely-drunk hard liquor in the world and I just picked a terrible example.

Would I have been better off with one of the local regular wines? A Cabernet Sauvignon from the Great Wall winemakers? A camel-themed rosé whose label I could not construe, but which the translation app on my phone rendered as Drunk Piece? A Chilean red called Legend of Chilephant with an elephant on the label? Yes, of course: they wouldn't have made me cry. On the other hand, I did drink some Changyu sparkling white which looked like wine but tasted just like the Sprite in a neighbouring glass, so maybe it's not as simple as that.

Either way, the experience was pretty emblematic. I mean, China is an astonishing, hugely impressive work in progress, crammed with energies and achievements and modernities barely forty years after the end of the Cultural Revolution; but it's also relentless, fairly bonkers, extremely hard to decode, hugely unrelaxing for the Western tourist. A modest bottle of bathtub hooch turns out to be not a way of unwinding, but an incredibly challenging thing, a threat, an affront to the sensibilities which this traveller did not even begin to anticipate. That and stewed chicken feet for breakfast: we still have so much to learn.


CJ

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Take it away…

Let’s just start with this name, shall we? The Takeout. In this country, our food is takeaway. We do not take out meals, except from a fridge. We take away food – we take out rubbish.

So right from the outset, I am prejudiced against a wine which is based on a marketing premise – let’s flog a wine to people ordering food from restaurants to eat at home – and then gets it so simply, linguistically, wrong.

And then they do it again! “Made to take away” it says on the label – well, it’s not, is it? Call me a pedant (and please, while you’re at it, undo that bottom waistcoat button), but if anything, it’s made not to, but for take away, surely? Unless you’re going to nick it from the supermarket.

Actually if, as it suggests elsewhere, you “Enjoy fine dining from the comfort of your couch”, then the wine is emphatically staying in. It’s another matter entirely whether the dining that comes on the back of a moped can conceivably be described as “fine”.

“There’s nothing like a night in,” it says, a reminder which makes me immediately want to go out. Personally I hate ordering a takeaway. I can’t stand the nervous waiting. How long will they be? Have they lost the order? Is that them? Shall I warm the plates up yet? Is that them? I’ll go and have a look through the window. Perhaps they can’t find the house? Is that them? IT’S THEM!

But takeaways are clearly popular. And the most popular in this country are Chinese and Indian. Possibly because both of them are really difficult, and time-consuming, and “pinch of a herb or spice you haven’t got” demanding, to cook upon a whim. Who’s going to order something any fule can cook? Who’s going to stand in the Dragon’s Den and propose a fish finger delivery service?

Unfortunately, in a hitch somehow unforeseen by The Takeout’s marketing department, neither Chinese nor Indian cuisine really pair with Sangiovese, immediately losing them 59% of the UK takeaway market.

The label – indeed, the front label – tells us the dishes with which it does pair. But it regains little ground, since they include fettucine alfredo, a dish patently unsuited to delivery, as its simple ingredients of pasta, melted butter and melted cheese would coagulate on the back of a moped into a sort of yellowish breeze block.  

However, at least we are told the wine does pair well with pizza, our nation’s third favourite takeaway, and a dish with which you can’t really go wrong. Unless someone wants pineapple on it.

And the Takeout has a screwcap, thoughtful when you’re panicking about your delivery getting cold. But beneath it is a pugilistic wine with an acidic edge, lacking not only body or depth, but also the liveliness which Sangiovese can display. Hardly a suitable partner for that “fine dining” they mentioned.

There are so many flaws in this whole concept. In one scenario, you are buying this wine to keep until you have a takeaway delivered at some point in the future, on the evidently false assumption that it will go with whatever you order.

Or, you are actually picking up your takeaway, so you pop into the supermarket to get a bottle of wine to go with it – and bereft of any idea what to get, you buy this because it says it will go with a “takeout”. Although it probably won’t go with yours.

There are many questions around takeaways – such as why does our Indian restaurant always put a little plastic bag of salad in with the dishes they deliver? (You never get salad in the restaurant…)

But there is only one question around The Takeout. Why?

PK