Talking Wine – February 2012

Seeing that the Alpha Crucis Shiraz from Australia won the World’s Best Label Award reminded me of how difficult label design has become. I was once under the impression that I was rather good at this but after a succession of design disasters my skills have become the butt of jokes at work. The problem is that designers cost a small fortune and so there is always the temptation to ‘do it yourself.’ What looks good on paper however rarely seems to transfer onto the label. There is a lot to consider such as bottle shapes, capsules and mandatory information and often when all is put together it just doesn’t look right. I suppose the answer is that less is more and I note that the Alpha Crucis Shiraz label, referred to earlier, has a very simple, clean and crisp design. I think I could learn from this!!

A leading Californian winemaker believes that rising taxes mean that there is little future for wine in the UK and that many small US producers will turn away from the UK. John McLaren of Ravenswood Winery says “You punish the beverage of temperance at the same time as you punish the beverage of success.” The multiple grocers here will continue to trade in California wine but only when dealing with the largest US wineries in the world, thus almost certainly guaranteeing a rather dull and predictable range. Small boutique producers may well move into China as UK sales slip although there are some who thankfully still see the benefit and importance of the market over here.

The latest shock is that at a tasting undertaken by many top chefs, sommeliers and wine critics it was decided that white Burgundy (Chardonnay) was the best accompaniment to turkey and not the traditional red Burgundy (Pinot Noir). By the time you read this Christmas will be no more than a distant memory but the conclusions are interesting nevertheless and may trigger a change in your attitude to buying in the future. The panel chose some classics (7 red and only 1 white) such as Châteauneuf du Pape, Branaire Ducru from Bordeaux, New Zealand Pinot Noir, St Émilion, Volnay and Zinfandel and expected these to be the perfect match. However the Volnay proved too overwhelming for the food, the New Zealand Pinot Noir too sweet and the St Émilion was overpowered by the stuffing and gravy. The winner turned out to be the Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru with its fine minerality which apparently bought a refreshing lift to what is always a heavy meal. So now you know – at least offer one white as well as the traditional red!

I often get asked to guess the wine at dinner parties (a bit harsh as I have usually been on the beer first!) Nevertheless I rise to the challenge with mixed levels of success but being asked to identify the wine in the gravy recently was taking it a touch too far, especially as the answer was Marsala. This is ridiculous but I think the host was serious!! Maybe we should include a gravy tasting section in our Oxford Wine School course which starts in March – details from Lee Isaacs at our Oxford Shop (01865 249500)