Talking Wine – April 2010

Over the years the French have pushed up wine prices but often failed to match this with an improvement in quality. For years they got away with it but their arrogance has come back to haunt them. With the exchange rate against them as well, the sales figures have plummeted or perhaps they are just being found out! This is a huge generalization as there are some excellent value wines available but too many producers have, in the past produced bland, fruitless wines with no personality which have sold for well beyond their worth. Research suggests that many of us are finding better value in Italy, Spain and Portugal and this is certainly something that we can substantiate.

European wine prices are at last relatively stable as they fight to maintain market share. So when you see wine prices rise in the spring you can firmly blame the Chancellor and the increase in transport costs.

The nanny state is insisting that we put so many warnings on a wine label that it will soon become difficult to determine the name of the wine. By all means keep the public well informed via the media of the dangers of alcohol, but for heaven’s sake give us some credibility in making our own judgements. It a bit like skiing in America when the purchase of a lunchtime Becks at a mountain restaurant is accompanied by vicious verbal and written warnings – and the sad thing is they are serious!!

I went to the SITT tasting recently which is held in London and Manchester each year specifically for the independent wine trade. Here the producers and their agents only want to deal with small companies who have the real passion and dedication to sell their wines. These wines will not necessarily be cheap but they have character and personality and are often great value for money. They are deliberately being kept well away from supermarkets and the big chains whose bullying tactics and fickle approach to wine buying are all too well known. As one supplier told me recently “I can no longer cut the corners being demanded of me. I have a passion for wine making that is being compromised and I have been persuaded that the independent route will lead to stability in sales. This will allow me to make the best possible wine and get exposure to the most sophisticated buyers.”

Is it sacrilege to mix two wines? Of course it happens all the time as most wine is blended to a style before bottling. A Cabernet and a Merlot from Bordeaux are not grown together but fermented separately and blended later. On this basis was I wrong to throw together three half drunk bottles into a decanter and stir? This was thought out – we had a young brooding French country Syrah, an older Rhone Villages that was on the cusp and a rich vibrant Carignan. The result – a stunning Rhone style blend drunk and enjoyed by all my guests. Did I tell them? You’ll never know!!