Thursday, 22 June 2017

Berry Bros. & Rudd: My Secret Shame

So PK has been on at me for ages, years, even, about Berry Bros. & Rudd, legendary wine sellers of Piccadilly, established in the seventeenth century, impossibly period retail premises, outrageous client list (Lord Byron, the Aga Khan, Napoleon III, the British Royal Family past and present), superlative knowledge of high-end wines (eight Masters of Wine working for them), history issuing from their eighteenth-century headquarters like an invisible gas, a surprising number of drinkable wines listed online for under a tenner, I mean, he says, why wouldn't anyone get down to 3 St. James's Street, SW1, and have themselves the heritage time of their lives and come away laden with drink? 'Go on' he concludes, 'you know you want to', the phrase he invariably uses for anything I really don't want to do.

How do I know I don't want to? Because I've been past the place plenty of times and everything about it puts me off, apart from the facade and a beetling covered alleyway next door which bears a plaque set on the jamb of its entrance arch: In this building was the legation from the Republic of Texas to the Court of St. James 1842 - 1845. Everything else makes my blood run cold. And yet, just to shut PK up, I will give it a go.

Give it a go is of course a relatively nuanced term. What it means in practice is that I stand at the windows (like the poop of a Napoleonic ship of the line, gnarled and lacquered with centuries of paint), peer inside and see nothing that appears to be a shop. In one part of the building there seems to be a sitting room, recently vacated by Beau Brummel or Queen Mary; in another part there is a Georgian office or counting house, a handful of scriveners seated at desks towards the rear of the space. The window displays contain a handful of sullenly impressive wine bottles, each poised on a single metal stand like a museum exhibit. There are no prices. Apart from the enigmatic bottles in the windows and the legend Wine Merchants in quiet gold lettering, there is nothing to make the uncommitted pedestrian believe that he is in fact passing a wine store. It might as well be an antiques dealer. And although this particular pedestrian knows that he is passing a wine store, he does not stop and go in; he just keeps moving. That's what the place is saying: nothing for you here, nothing you could make sense of.

What makes it worse is the fact that Berry Bros. & Rudd are not alone in this act of deadly hauteur. Next door is a shop owned by Dunhill, for the pleasure of extremely serious cigar enthusiasts. When I peer, hobo-like, through its window, all I see are three expensively-dressed men propping up a counter, talking; in the window it says Cigar Lounge; there is a humidor; I move away.

And on the other side of Berry Bros. are two even greater villains: Lock, the hatters (oldest hatmakers in the world, clients include Lord Nelson, Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Kennedy, Winston Churchill) and Lobb the bootmaker (Queen Victoria, Frank Sinatra, Churchill again). Lobb scarcely announce themselves at all, their shopfront bare except for a couple of By Appointments over the doorway and a dusty shelf in the window bearing an assortment of single shoes, apparently dropped there by chance, and an old cardboard box. In other words, I am faced, overall, with about a hundred feet of pure retailing disdain. Why, exactly, am I meant to feel good about this?

Yes, I know that high-end shops like to make themselves inaccessible and I understand that Berry Bros. aren't going to have a chalkboard outside shouting about a supremely chuggable pinot grigio, just to get me in. But there is a limit to the amount of patrician indifference I can put up with, not least because in the modern, disintermediated, world, Amazon (bless them) will supersubtly know what I want almost before I know it myself and silently and efficiently get it to me without my having to do anything more than caress my phone. Just the idea of an antiquated Piccadilly snob shop playing hard to get makes me mad. And a wine shop at that! Where the whole transaction is already rank with elitism, even in a high street outlet! What the hell kind of world are we living in? What the hell kind of world is PK living in? Not for the first time, I tell myself that I must never, ever, act on one of his suggestions again. Only this time I really, really, really mean it.


Thursday, 15 June 2017

Thursday, 8 June 2017

2014 Chinon: Cold

This week's style icon: James Joyce

CJ turned mulishly aside from his glass. Aversion to the smell of proofing. Messrs Wait & Rose, stockists. Indifferent cellarage, make a pretty profit of it, though.

- Tastes of rubber. Is there something the matter with it?

Outside the late sun freed itself from the clouds, shining dully on Victorian brickwork, London Stock, corporeal entity of Lud's Town.

PK cleared his throat.

- Sure, now, and there's a trick for that fellow. Chinon, it's a bloody mongrel unless you give it a spell in the cooler first. Give it a chance to reflect on its wrongdoings.
- Is that so?

CJ eyed him narrowly, twisting his glassstem by degrees across the deal tabletop: churchchurchchurchchur. Wonder does he drink all he says he does? Old was his mutton and his claret good. Toper's complexion, broadveined map of dissipation, d.t.'s in the fullness of time. She keeps him in line, though. Distaff's duty. Insurance policy. Which reminds me: did I renew? Hell to pay if not. Whole house burned to rubble, conflagration of London Stock, sea of glass mingled with fire, Oh Japes! There'd be some explaining.

- Take it from me, he said, half a day in the boreal, you wouldn't recognise it. In like a lion, out like a lamb. What is it they say about those wines? A thousand miles from the rock of Gibraltar to the Loire? No, that's not it.

Mantling, PK recrossed his legs and plucked from the warp of his workingman's jeans a diminutive trace of lint; after which he folded his hands before him prelatewise. Claretfaced omniscience. A bearded panjandrum, his utterances never cease to amaze. One night only. Finest English wool.

- But you accept my point.
- It's a thing to take into consideration, CJ said. Why don't they advertise it?
- They do. On the bottle.
- Oh, blazes they do. Arp.
- There on the side.

Yes. He fingered the bottle, womanly shoulders, a white elipse, Domaine du Colombier. Refreshing if served lightly chilled. With stilted movements he spoke mutely of his disappointment, a sigh, lethargic. Birds descanted as the evening drew on, the garden outside slowly blackening in the windowpanes. Tremulous birdsong, nightjar, thrush, nightingale. Jug jug to dirty ears. Your heart you sing of. Skeins of nightfall, windingsheet of dark winding the dark world in.

- You have me.
- Like a Beaujolias.
- We could open another bottle. That. Behind you.

Eternal neophyte.

- What? This one? God, a Malbec: γνῶθι σεαυτόν! Did I ever tell you of the time we got lost in Bordeaux trying to find the football game? That was a shennanigan. The looks we got on account of having drink taken. Johnny Frenchman didn't know what to make of us.

PK shook, panting with soft laughter, his greying poll starting up behind. Terrible business! That Frenchie with his eyes like hatpegs at two in the morning. Forth, beste, out of thy stal! And they say we're finished! Three ruffians. No wonder he looked surprised.

- But the food was tip-top. No mistakes there.

Served lightly chilled: a motto for your escutcheon. How, in Latin? Vix gelidus. No, too cold. Like a Cava, icicles forming in the neck. Heat of Iberia. Great admirer of all that, he is. Wouldn't think it to look. Wears a hat on sunny days, aversion to ultraviolet rays is it? Attraction of opposites. German physicist, not Röntgen, X-rays they were, see the skull beneath the skin.

PK wrested the cap clear of the bottle and sentiently admitted half a gill of red wine to his glass, motioning thereafter in convivial dumbshow to CJ, abstracted at the furthest reach of the table. CJ, still frowning, pushed his own glass back across the soiled woodgrain. Tschink. Imperial purple.

- This'll bring tears to your eyes.
- So, in the refridgerator, then?
- It's your only chance. Unless you honestly prefer Caoutchouc de Chinon, that inveterate Gallic prank.
- There's no telling what they won't try, CJ said with forebearance. Mortification, did I pay good money for this?

From the street a motorcar sounded mockingly its horn.

- Confirmation! said PK. The divine afflatus! Oh, that's a good one.


Thursday, 1 June 2017

No value in novelty

Last week, CJ and I were foolish enough to taste some wine from Azerbaijan. As you do. It was absolutely, extraordinarily horrible, with a strange, nasty flavour followed by a huge clout of alcohol. But it had to be tasted – if only for the novelty.

What is this thing about novelty in wine? When a product works, you generally don’t muck about with it. You only get one or two varieties of petrol. We know pretty much what to expect when we buy something called butter. There are a few places in the world which grow superb lemons, and from which we buy them. And in each case, we look no further.

But we suddenly get offered wines from countries like Azerbaijan, and Armenia, and China and for all I know Bangla Desh and Alaska. If each of us try a bottle once, maybe they’ve got a short-lived business. And out of sheer curiosity, we do try it, on the Dr Johnson principle of a dog walking on his hind legs; it is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all.

Surely novelty goes hand-in-hand with restless dissatisfaction? We’re wary of people who seek novelty in things which are perfectly good as they are, like omelettes, or masonry nails, or indeed wine. And yet in the name of novelty, we’re presented with aberrations like blue wine, fruit wine and chocolate wine, none of which is remotely as enjoyable as wine wine.

There’s novelty packaging; wine in boxes, and bags, and tins, and individual sealed plastic goblets. Can’t we be content, like the traditional spade or the traditional saucepan, with the traditional wine bottle? No, it seems. Here’s the latest alternative; it’s “a deconstructed bottle”, the very definition to my mind of a heap of broken glass.

Novelty glassware itself extends, of course, into various ridiculous wine glasses, with novelty
sizes, shapes, fatuous slogans and jokey measures. I was given one which flashes. In seven colours! We seem to do without such amusement in our steak knives.  Oh, and here’s a decanter which fills with red wine and resembles a diagram of the aorta.

And then there are the novelty names, the Fat Bastard, the Arrogant Frog, the Chat en oeuf, the Bored Doe claret and Aldi’s Men Are From Mars Minervois. No-one seems to feel a need to give, say, vegetables a punning novelty name, do they? Couch Potatoes, anyone? Full Of Beans? Or, from Aldi probably, Cor, Jets!

When someone does come up with a product, and calls it Utterly Butterly, something within me thinks that it may well have lots of other Utterly wonderful attributes, but it’s just not going to be as nice as… butter.

(And perhaps the Azerbaijan producers should call their product, I Can’t Believe It’s Called Wine.)

There’s a difference between variety and novelty. Variety is the spice of life. Novelty is not a spice; it’s a hot sauce, called Professor Phartpounders Colon Cleaner.

It’s as if we’re all sitting in judgment on a wine-related episode of Dragon’s Den, in which no-one pitches a wine which is actually better than what’s already out there. Instead, there’s an endless parade of novelties, doomed to failure. Green wine! Wine from the Tundra! Wine in a bucket!

I’m sorry, but I’m out.


Thursday, 25 May 2017

Great Wine Moments In Movie History X: Noble Rot

First things first: Noble Rot was never actually made. Had it seen the light of day, it would have appeared some time around the end of 1983 and its principal star would have been John Belushi, of Saturday Night Live, Animal House and The Blues Brothers fame. Yes, the Noble Rot of the title does indeed refer to botrytis cinerea and, yes, wine is central to the premise of the film. Only two things in fact stood between Noble Rot and worldwide acclaim: the first was that Belushi died of a drug overdose in March, 1982; the second was the uncomfortable truth that Noble Rot was, according to Mike Ovitz, the Hollywood agent, 'Terrible'; adding, just to be clear, 'No-one will ever make this picture'.

This hasn't stopped it from acquring a curious, speculative life-in-death on the internet. There's more than one website dedicated to picking over the chimerical possibilities embodied in the script of Noble Rot - all that now remains of the project - and guessing how it might have provided Belushi with both a new career direction and a more impressive cultural legacy. Which, in turn, is a mystery in itself - the reverence which still haloes his name, twenty-five years after his death. After all, in this country at least, he was pretty good in Animal House, pretty tiresome in The Blues Brothers, and the bits of SNL that have floated up on YouTube are not without interest, but they don't make him look like a comic genius - more like someone whose edgy physical presence and gift for a certain kind of reckless deadpan made him the pet of his generation, but not much more than that, not after all this time.

At the start of the Eighties, though, he was so huge that plenty of people made it their business to find material that would enlarge the opportunities for his talents; and Noble Rot was the script in which he invested his last, best, most drug-addled hopes. The premise of the movie? Johnny Glorioso (played by Belushi), the undependable, gifted, scion of a tiny-but-perfect Sonoma winemaking family, has to take four bottles of the estate's finest produce (touched by botrytis, naturally) to a wine contest in New York, beat the pants off the opposition (which includes Blue Nun and Mateus, seriously) and thereby establish Glorioso Vineyards as a true contender. On the flight over, he falls into the hands of the duplicitous Christine (played by God knows who) at which point it turns into a diamonds-and-fraud caper, the sort that might once have starred Cary Grant or, at a pinch, William Powell.

Belushi himself - according to Bob Woodward's determinedly monotonous Wired: The Short Life And Fast Times Of John Belishi - had a hand in the script, and you can glimpse him and his co-writer Don Novello struggling to escape the burden of Animal House/Bluto Blutarsky ('Beneath that cold, beautiful exterior is a condescending person as vulnerable as any of us') without ever managing anything authentically clever ('The wine business isn't all popsicles and roses either.'). The idea canvassed at the time was that Belushi's genius for physical expression - plus the goodwill of his core audience - would be enough to bring the film to life. 'It needs a lot of work, John,' Belushi's manager told him; 'I'll make it work,' Belushi replied.

But the fact is that wherever you look, the storyline is so inert and the dialogue so pasteboard ('Somebody in your company must be in on it'; 'They may think he really is a vintner from California'; 'I'm glad I decided to fly commercially'), that no-one, not even Orson Welles (who gets his own freakish cameo in the second half) could have made much of it. Worse, no-one seems to have noticed that wine is, in itself, a quintessentially boring subject to base a movie on. Belushi must have assumed that wine would somehow lend classiness, sauvity, to his muddled character, something different from his usual screen persona. But wine is no more inherently interesting than potatoes; in fact its mere presence further deadens what is already straining to become a so-so jewellery heist romcom. Sideways (2004) at least addresses the boringness of wine and its devotees; Sideways is very slightly the film Noble Rot wanted to be. But even Sideways is a bit boring.

Anyway, Noble Rot didn't stay the course. It was in the process of being edged out by, of all things, a movie version of The Joy Of Sex when Belushi overdosed. But the script persists; and will go on persisting, a monument to a special kind of credulity. Until, possibly, they get Eddie Murphy to come out of retirement.


NB: I am indebted to David Secombe - cultural contrarian, cineaste and curator of The London Column - for the original tip-off about this doomed, depressing and truly futile project.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Bling, bling – it's luxury wine calling

Let us wander into the bling side of the wine market. The side which appears to be aimed at Stan Herbert, the Harry Enfield character who boasted of being “considerably richer than yow”.

Once upon a time, bling was effectively confined to champagne. Absurd brands like the gold-bottled, Jay Z-backed Ace of Spades, served in nightclubs accompanied with fireworks, giving new meaning to the term “sparkling wine”.

Then the attention of some nouveau riche turned to rosé wine. The award-winning Henry Jeffreys recently asked whether we should be drinking ‘yacht rosé’, a category in which producers seemingly compete to produce rosé wine with the least taste for the most money. These pale, “sippable” rosés are then sold in colossal, yacht-scale bottles, like 300cl. Sediment’s answer to Henry’s question is obviously no; partly because the wines are pointless exercises in anaemia, and partly because one cannot elegantly serve wine from a bottle the size of a fire extinguisher. In both senses, tasteless.

Presumably such yacht people buy their wine from Hedonism, the aptly-named Mayfair establishment. Not a wine merchant, you understand, but a wine boutique. Its most expensive item is just above the price of an average house in the UK. Although somehow I don’t think their customers live in average houses.

Hedonism has possibly the only wine website which not only allows you to choose red, white etc, but actually offers a pull-down for “100 points RP”   But they provide few notes – so for the novice with £5000 to spend, there is nothing to help him choose between the Petrus 2009  and the Petrus 1990. Except that one is £4,279.80, and the other £4,998.70. Per bottle.

Is it possible to have a more bling wine website? Well, try visiting Clos19,

This is a website that has just been launched by the luxury group LVMH, who own a number of wines like Cheval Blanc and d’Yquem, and want to market them through a package of luxury lifestyle and “experiences”.

I am lured in by the fact that they have an entire section dedicated to the Art of Hosting. However, their’s is a strange world, in which it seems that both dates and business dinners are conducted in black tie.  Where your soulmate serves you spaghetti bolognese, with white wine. And where, if you're entertaining high-flyers, you naturally choose a wine with "lofty altitude".

(That must be where I’ve been going wrong, serving those lowly wines from sea-level…)

Clos19 also provides the least instructive video I have ever seen on how to clean a glass, without employing any cleaning products, but incorporating a flamboyant little flourish to announce completion. I urge you to watch this video, which lasts less time than it would take me to break a glass let alone clean it.

And then they get down to the nitty-gritty of selling their wines.

On Clos19, Cheval Blanc 2009 is £1,105  But you can get Cheval Blanc 2009 for £750 – at Laithwaite’s. Yes, Laithwaite’s! That’s £355, or more than 30%, cheaper. And when you’re ordering online, no-one can see you save.

That Petrus 2009 at Hedonism? Go to Corney & Barrow, and you can pick it up for £3,202.59. Not exactly cheap, but it’s not £4,279.80, is it? Over £1000 cheaper. A 25% discount; and unlike Sainsbury’s, you don’t even have to buy six bottles to get it.

(And unlike Hedonism, Corney & Barrow actually sounds like a wine merchant, and not a moral failing.)

And for peasants like us, on Clos19, Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc is £24. Yes, LVMH own that ubiquitous Cloudy Bay, which they must be embarrassed to see being sold at Tesco and Sainsbury. And at only £21 – that’s 12.5% cheaper. Buy half a dozen and you’ll get another £1 off. And it can’t be long before they knock 25% off six bottles, and you’ll get it for 16 quid or thereabouts.

Of course I realise it would be difficult to go to a supermarket. You know, it’s one of those big buildings on the outskirts? Before the airport? You’d have to wear the gardener’s clothes and, unless you want to discover what the bodywork’s like underneath the paint, go in the nanny’s car rather than take the Ferrari.

But you would get more than 30% off! Don’t these kind of percentages mean anything to the wealthy, unless they’re linked to an equity report? What it must be to have more money than sense.

I wonder for how long, if they continue to shop like this, these customers can remain considerably richer than yow. Remind me; who is it again, who is soon parted from his money?


Thursday, 11 May 2017

DIY Rosé: A Futile Distraction

So the idea of mixing my own rosé from pre-existing reds and whites has taken hold of my imagination to such an extent that nothing will stop me brooding on its possibilities but a serious trial by wine, a spell at the kitchen table with a notepad and a misleading sense of purposeful enquiry. As it happens, I have to hand a bottle of the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc my Bro-in-Law brought back from France, plus a South African Shiraz/Mourvèdre/Viognier mix which I bought on offer, reckoning that it might give me that Rhône Valley sensation, only more reliably and a tiny bit cheaper. Which I suppose it does, and with a full neck-straining 14.5% alcoholic content, so that's good. 

I have also done ten minutes' research into the question of mixing red + white to generate a rosé and find, to my slight chagrin, that it's not necessarily the barbarous mish-mash I took it for but a recognised - not by everybody, naturally - technique for achieving a rosé, if macerating grape skins isn't your thing. The key to a satisfactory rosé blend being to pick the right, harmonious, ingredients before you start, rather than grabbing the nearest two bottles and hoping for the best. Chardonnay and Grenache are tipped as likely candidates, neither of which I currently have. Which then reminds me of some sagacious observations made by LondonPerson a few weeks back on the best way to secure drinkable wine for not much and that maybe I should take his advice before starting; only to reflect that LondonPerson sounds a good deal more organised than I shall ever be, with the result that in the space of three minutes I have come back to my original, uncoordinated white + red and there the matter rests.

So I start with a sip of the white, still holding up very nicely, just to remind myself of what I'm adulterating. Then a seductively transgressive moment in which I replace the white I've just sipped with a splash of red, not more than a ten-to-one ratio, and wait for the ghostly swirls of colour to settle down. Taste-wise? Not much different from the initial white - partly because I have the stuff down at a polar chill, partly because the white is such a fruity take on Sauvignon Blanc that nothing is really going to impact on it - but then, right at the end, maybe, there's a kind of persistent terminal rustiness that wasn't there before?

Only option is to up the red. The drink in the glass now looks like a really bad shaving cut, but on I go. Initially it tastes much as before, only after half a minute the tannins seem to run riot, with the result that at the end of a flavoursome swig my lips are stitched together and my cheeks are hollow enough to mix plaster in. This cannot be right.

It is then and only then that I stop to ask myself, Do I even like rosé enough to want to create an ersatz version? This is clearly a question I should have dealt with some days or even years ago, but it's out in the open now and there is, frankly, no clear answer. Of course I like a nice rosé from time to time, but nice is such an undependable quality in this context that I hesitate to use it, especially since my kind of rosés are, as often as not, not nice at all, but determinedly crappy. In other words, just because something seems like a good idea, doesn't make it a good idea. How many times?

So I take out an as-yet unopened bottle of the stuff to check what rosé is meant to taste like and to remind myself of why I might want to drink it in the first place. Actually, it's a chi-chi Cinsault/Syrah blend which I've been ogling for a week or so in the scurf and neglect of the wine rack and it's not bad in the slightly disappointing rosé way, some air freshener notes, quite well integrated, bit of acidity. Also, it bears no relationship to my DIY stuff, apart from the colour. It is a nice, underwhelming, drink, whereas the home-made stuff is now terrible, there's no getting away from it. It's lousy. In other words, I have just spent half an hour making a bad version of something I only half-like anyway. I also have three open, very slightly-consumed bottles of wine sitting on the kitchen table, which is an authentic waste of space.

Still. Someone's coming over to our place for a meal this evening. He might turn out to be a fan of bad fake upsetting rosé wine and there's my evening's entertainment in one.


Thursday, 4 May 2017

Tesco Champagne v Mouthwash – Go Compare!

What?? Tesco has been selling a Champagne at a lower price than mouthwash, according to the calculations of The Drinks Business. What on earth are they suggesting? Surely Champagne and mouthwash can hardly be mentioned in the same breath, bad or otherwise?

There must be issues here which go beyond mere price alone. And so it falls to Sediment to properly compare the two: Tesco’s £9 a bottle (on offer) Louis Delaunay Champagne; and Listerine, the most famous of mouthwashes. Each with their history and tradition. Each similarly chilled and served.

(NB: if you try this yourself at home, and your wife is anything like Mrs K, you may have to explain why there is a bottle of mouthwash in the fridge. Or champagne in the bathroom.)

In terms of appearance, the Tesco Champagne wins hands down. Louis Delaunay presents all the classic elements of Champagne, from the green glass bottle, the foil and the wire cage, to the traditional typeface and parchment-coloured label. Although, the back label speaks in surprisingly modern colloquial language, of “a lemony fresh wine with white peach flavours and citrus zing”. “Zing”? A common Champenois term, is it, “zing”?

Shrewdly, perhaps, Listerine’s label says nothing of its flavour. But it does convey a lot of information and guidance which might be useful for first-time Champagne drinkers too, such as how much to put in one’s mouth. Indeed, for the £9 Champagne audience, perhaps Tesco might consider something similar to Listerine’s warning, not to “swig from the bottle”?

However convenient for guests, it is hard to imagine putting out a bottle of Listerine, without suggesting that your meal presented some kind of oral hygiene hazard. Whereas the bottle of Louis Delaunay Champagne would grace any dining table. Particularly given the judicious absence from its labels of the word “Tesco”.

The Listerine label carries very precise instructions about how to open the bottle; the Champagne, despite being much more difficult to open, does not. I wonder which closure is actually more child-proof?

The Listerine also conveys instructions about how to close the bottle again, an act I imagine unlikely to be troubling customers of £9 Champagne.

In the glass, it is easy to distinguish between the two. The one exhibiting a kind of cloudy malevolence is, I was relieved to see, the mouthwash. And the Listerine has no mousse. The only way to achieve mousse in the mouthwash would be to eat one before you swill.

The Champagne requires you to get your nose right into the glass to pick up its very light, citrussy bouquet. That is a bad idea when it comes to the Listerine. It launches a sinus-pursing assault, with an antiseptic aroma redolent of surgical procedures.

And flavour-wise, in a traditional sniff, sip and spit tasting, the Champagne definitely comes out on top. It’s a bit bland, with a slightly bitter aftertaste, but it’s genuinely dry, faintly appley and perfectly drinkable. Whereas the Listerine is like an immensely strong eucalyptus cough lozenge. I mean, my palate has suffered some pretty dreadful stuff while writing Sediment, but this Listerine has been the worst. No wonder it hasn’t got an IWSC medal.

But… the mouthwash has merits of its own. It has to be said that chilled Champagne is very unsuited to swilling. I tried it, with a dose of Champagne measured in the handy Listerine cap, its flavour only marginally tainted by the plastic. The chill and the effervescence combine in a kind of oral explosion, like setting off a fire extinguisher in your mouth. It makes the insides of your cheeks crackle. After a second or two it has become a mouthful of froth, threatening to exit via your nose  – and after the full Listerine-recommended 30 seconds it has all but evaporated, leaving a sort of residue coating your teeth and gums.

And have you ever tried gargling with Champagne? May I recommend that you don’t? It took a warm cup of tea before I could speak properly again. It’s like having a small spiny creature wriggling in your oesophagus, as the cold needles of effervescence stab into the lining of your throat.

So you spends your money, and you takes your choice. Yes, Louis Delaunay also comes in a rosé, but then Listerine also comes in attractive shades of blue, green and purple. Yes, there is more drama in opening a Champagne bottle, but the Listerine screwcap doubles as its own shot glass, a marketing trick which Champagne seems to have missed.

And yet it’s clear that even Tesco, despite selling the two at comparable prices, accords one a greater ostensible value than the other. Read into this what you will: the Champagne on their shelves carries a security tag. The mouthwash does not.


Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Week In Wine: Small, Cheap, Discoveries A Cause For Celebration? You Be The Jury

So the Brother-in-Law gets back from his dash to Calais in search of bargain grog and, true to his word, brings round three bottles of Kina Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc at £2.99 a bottle and three of Waipara Hills Pinot Noir from Central Otago - each of these coming in a troubling £6.99, a sum I justified to myself several weeks earlier using a rationale I can now no longer access. Still: it averages out at about a fiver a bottle - only this time with the promise of better, less tearful, drinking than I am normally used to.

And what do you know? The Sauvignon Blanc is really not bad - actually very good, especially at £2.99: nice floral notes, pleasingly balanced acidity, grown-up finish, the whole experience utterly removed from my usual Sauvignon Blanc bile juice. Why didn't I ask for half a case? Especially since the Pinot Noir is nice without being arrestingly so, not the show-stopper I reckoned £6.99 should easily command. But anyway, I am marginally ahead of the game at this point and my vacuous sense of assurance increases very slightly the next day when this piece of inflammatory nonsense is pointed my way - champagne now being cheaper than mouthwash - and I start to wonder if maybe, just maybe, the world is at last coming round to my way of thinking. This train of thought only persists for a moment, as I know that the world never really comes round to my way of thinking not least because to all intents and purposes I have no way of thinking, only a way of reacting.

But then: the wife and I find ourselves at a dinner party, one of those things that PK habitually uses as a way of mediating his understanding of reality, an event where there are more than four people round the table and we all get a (delicious) starter and a very fancy main course and it is all as civilised as it could possibly be. So civilised, in fact, that I find myself seated opposite a fantasticaly distinguished medical type (penetrating gaze, quiet conviction of his own rightness) who leans across and says to me, in all sincerity:

'We've got a friend who's a Master of Wine. And he said to us the other day, The wine business, it's all a lot of bullshit!'

Well, I'm not going to dispute this, not least because I am already slightly awash with a toothsome Crozes Hermitage which seems to be freely available and I sense that anything I say stands a good chance of being unintelligible. Only then my new friend goes on:

'What's more, this Master of Wine was serving us a rosé and he ran out, so he said, I'll mix some up with a red and a white. And he did! He just mixed the two until he got the effect he wanted! It was very good!'

I slur something predictable about grapeskins, but my head is reeling, not just from the Crozes Hermitage but from the vista of possibilities that this information, however anecdotal, has revealed. Of course it's long been a plan of mine to see how realistically red + white = rosé - so long, that I'd forgotten about it until this moment. Now though, it comes rushing back with real kinetic force, not least because I have also been nurturing a quiet detestation of a wine page I found in the local glossy free mag - a wine page giving itself over (here's a surprise) to the delights of drinking rosé wines in the summertime.

As I write this, this blossoms gently bob in the breeze, the rosé roundup (Think Pink) begins, so you can see at once where this particular cavalcade of cliché is tending: in other words, lovely summer fruits, plenty of fruit, citrus in the fruity mix, just as much fruit and tastes of summer and sunshine. The clincher, though, the thing that really hurts, is not just the banality of the prose or its smugness but the fact that the very cheapest wine on offer is from Waitrose, at £8.99, while the priciest (Sainsbury's) comes in at £19.50. This latter - what do you know? - May be a step too far for many, but is also, consolingly enough, a glass of Mediterranean sunshine at its best.

Very well. A man I have never met before assures me that Masters of Wine cobble together a pink wine beverage using leftover red and white; a magazine-based wine selection sends me into a tizzy of rage with its complacent rosé lipservice; champagne and mouthwash cost the same; the stars align - and I understand that now is the moment to start experimenting with some of my crappiest whites and most implacable reds to create a true homebrewed rosé, still and sparkling. The summer is indeed starting to take shape.


Thursday, 20 April 2017

Can we pardon Aldi's French?

I once imagined that I might arrive at a station in life and be quietly alerted to attention-worthy wine arrivals. “Just thought you might like to know, old chap, there’s a couple of cases of rather well-priced claret coming in next week which might interest you…” 

Well, thanks to Sediment, people do now tell me about wines. “This is right up your aisle,” tweets @Simonnread. Unfortunately, it turns out he is referring to a new range of wines from Aldi.

But off I trot to my nearest branch, unerringly guided by following the descent of planes on the Heathrow flight path. Perhaps the station in life for which I am destined is indeed Hounslow Central.

Aldi's new Pardon My French range presents four French wines, each “cheekily” labelled with a kind of phonetic interpretation of their appelation. It’s what they call an “accessible” range, either because it only costs £4.99 a bottle, or because it clearly targets idiots. In fact it’s hard to decide who it insults more, the French and their language or the Aldi shopper and their intelligence.

For example, the Minervois is called Men Are From Mars. Why? Have we really sunk to the level at which we make fun of the way words in other languages sound? And even if you say menarefromMars very very quickly, it hardly sounds like Minervois. In fact, it is actually harder to say.

Ironically, as I struggle through the overcrowded aisles, I see that Aldi customers are already a linguistically sophisticated bunch. They must be, to distinguish between Shredded Wheat and, adjacent to it, Wheat Shreds. Between Nutella and the cheaper Nutoka. There is a range of instant stuffing called Quixo, which rings some kind of phonetic bell.

Or is it only the French language with which the customers are supposed to be challenged? Because I see gnocchi, and chorizo Ibérico, and a pizza with schiacciata salami. If they can manage those, surely they can manage Fitou?

But no; in the Pardon My French range, Fitou becomes Fit You. Of course, I think immediately of TS Eliot’s use in The Waste Land of the line from Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, “Why then Ile fit you”. Like many Aldi customers, I’m sure.

Does calling a wine Fit You make it in any way more appealing, more “accessible”, than calling it Fitou? Or does it just sound like a sneeze?

Their Ventoux is renamed Want To, an absurdity of a phrase. If you’re going down that route, why not call it Want Two, which at least makes some kind of sense, and suggests people might like it and desire more? But no; it’s Want To. It doesn’t even begin with a V, a sound widely and easily pronounced in this country, as in the now-common phrase, “Gregg Wallace no longer feels the need to wear a shirt on Masterchef, and instead appears in his vest."

And their Cotes de Gascogne is called Gastronomy. I suppose we should be grateful they didn’t simply rename it after Gazza.

Having driven to Hounslow Aldi to get them, I felt some kind of duty to taste all four of these aberrations. That Cotes de Gascogne has an initial elderflower taste which evaporates immediately, leaving only a faint lemony tang and a claggy feel as it warms up. The Ventoux is acrid, cheek-puckering and bitter. After an initial aggressive blast, the Minervois is flabby and flavourless, like a diluted cordial. And the Fitou is oily, flat and feeble, and labouring under a bouquet of Elastoplast. They are all, as Aldi might say, Mayored.

A spokesman from Aldi told the Mirror: “There’s no doubt that France produces some of the best wines in the world”.Well, if this was all the French wine I had tasted, there would be doubt in my mind  

He went on to say that “we really believe these wines have a certain ‘je ne sais quoi.'" Which he presumably doesn’t expect his customers to understand. Or did he mean to say ‘Juno say choir’?

Pardon My French? Sorry, no.


Thursday, 13 April 2017

Horrible Cheap Wines: A User's Half-Guide

So having got through my gutbucket Tesco indulgence (least worst turned out to be the generic Chardonnay, worst by a mile the Spanish red) and not yet having claimed my Brother-in-Law's booze run offerings (this weekend, I'm hoping) I am drifting a bit and therefore naturally prey to the first piece of cheapskate news that comes my way. Which turns out, equally naturally, to come from PK, who draws my attention to this from Majestic Wine: a bid to get properly stuck into the Cadbury's Creme Egg sector of the wine trade, with a choice of price-pointed, fun-loving, cartoon-driven generics, including, worryingly, a Spanish red and a Chardonnay with a picture of two cartoon men wearing comedy fruit headpieces.

Normally, I'd say yes to all this, because, after all, cheap'n'cheerful is exactly what I live for and will, in all probability, die of. There's something melancholy, though, about Majestic being reduced to cartoons of men in fruit costumes or their underpants in order to cop a piece of Tesco's business - because, back in their prime, the point of Majestic was that they found you entertaining, affordable grog which was every bit as entertaining and affordable as I'm sure their new Majestic Loves range will turn out to be; but which looked, and sometimes tasted, as if it had come from somewhere other than a huge industrial zone outside Valencia. I suppose you could say it had, or appeared to have, charm, once.

But this is where we are and I'm sure next time I'm in Majestic I will be drawn ineluctably towards the brightly-coloured junk at one end of the store with a view to wasting £5.99 multiplied by x, where x is > 1 but < 6. But then it occurs to me, not just that Majestic are being forced to try and out-supermarket the supermarkets, but that horrible cheap brazen wine is now so ubiquitous, especially in my world, that I must have evolved some kind of mechanism for choosing between these various rubbishes, something other than the point where cheapjack marketing meets blind chance.

So, after some head-scratching, I come up with three cardinal considerations: colour, bottling, provenance. When going downscale, red is always the first choice. Miraculously, a red can be both disgusting and yet just this side of drinkable. Yes, I've applied this rule too many times not to be caught out by it, but that's where I stand: especially if the alternative is white, which can be okay if you freeze it to the point at which it hurts your hand but which otherwise is nothing more than dirty alcoholic rainwater. Moreso with sparkling whites - something about the bubbles increases the toxicity, hard to escape even if you chill the stuff to a near-solid. And on no account should anyone touch a crap rosé. I don't know what it is about that drink: I've drunk some appalling rosés for which I've paid £7 or more, and the cheap ones are every bit as awful, only with an extra tramp-like hogo coming off them. And don't even mention Zinfandel Blush, the party squeaker of still wines.

Bottling? A nice label is what it's all about. Too spartan and/or gimmicky and it galls you every time you look at it. Too fastidious - drypoint Provençal mas, hand-turned lettering, date - and it acts as a tart reminder of how much distance there is between it and the thing it's a gutter variant of. But (depending on taste) a bit of playfulness can really lift your spirits even as your mouth tells you another story. That Le Réveil Cabernet Sauvignon which goes for around the magic £5.99 is pretty rough, but the label's so cute you can forgive it almost anything.

And the provenance? Lidl, Tesco, Sainsbury's, Aldi, they all do perfectly okay trash wines if you stick to £5.99 and not allow yourself to be tempted much lower. Asda and M & S Food, I'm not sure; the Co-op is usually somewhere out in the sticks and therefore too small to have a range. Waitrose, on the other hand, is emphatically a bad place for your garbage drinking needs because they aim their produce at an imaginary clientele which entertains lifestyle choices and confidently splashes £8 + on its everyday wines, with the result that anything off the bottom shelf is beneath its contempt, literally. It is, however, my nearest full-sized supermarket - a two-minute walk from the front door. And it sells Le Réveil. The upshot? I have spent hundreds and hundreds of pounds on my cheap drinking habits in there, over the years: a contradiction which, alone, may account for my current dismal state. I think The Guide may need more work.