Monday, 31 August 2009

Who let Champagne get away with it?


It's all your fault. You buy the bloody stuff, get royally (and enjoyably) trashed on it at special occasions, yet you never asked any questions of it, did you? It didn't matter, as long as you could buy a brand.

And so what situation do we have now in the light of the economic crisis? Well, simple: Champagne houses have to cut down yields.

'But,' I hear you say, 'that's just supply and demand. It's the way things are.'

But you haven't read the article properly. Because it's bloody obvious where the problem is.

the region's winegrowers, who last year managed to produce 13,000kg a hectare

Yes, that. Thirteen tons a hectare. Stop and think about what you've done. Champagne is supposed to be a great wine, right? Well, not at 13 tons a hectare it's not. And that's all because you don't mind what happened behind the label or the brand, you're just interested in bubbly. So you don't care about harvest levels or quality.

And Champagne didn't care. It just went on and on, milking the vines for everything they could produce. At 13 tons a hectare (yes, I'll keep repeating it) I wouldn't be surprised if they were harvesting the second fruit set.

To paraphrase Nietzsche, I can forgive Champagne for what it did to me, but I can't forgive it for what it did to itself. All because you couldn't stop drinking it.

When I told a friend they were proposing to drop yields to 7,500kg a hectare, the flippant response was: 'you mean, what they should have always been'. Indeed.

There can be real craft in making Champagne, but why is that what it's least about?

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Friday, 28 August 2009

What your wine choice says about you


August is a traditionally quiet time for the wine industry. Everyone, from chateau owner to lowly grape-picker is off on holiday. And wine news is no different.

Bearing this in mind, thus comes the wine report of the month, courtesy of Food Quality and Preference, in which a bunch of scientists say that "drinkers who preferred a sweet taste in wine were more likely to be impulsive". Your wine choice reveals your personality, it said. And after they had tested 45 people, they reckon that those who chose dry wines were more 'open'.

Which is useful if you're going on a date.

Using 45 people to base a report on is perhaps a little tenuous but the researchers may have latched onto something.

Therefore, in the spirit of the thing, I thought I'd add my observations and suggestions:

  • Choosing Sauvignon Blanc shows you are independent. It's passé but what the hell. Invite Sauvignon drinkers to your party, but serve them something else.

  • Drinking Australian Shiraz has similar connotations. Being given a bottle at a barbeque, however, could also indicate an ingrained desire to go for what's safe and/or uphold the status quo.

  • The novice wine drinker who choses South African Chenin Blanc likes adventure, but not too much, and does so because it's the only rival to Pinot Grigio at the cheaper end of the drinks list.

  • A penchant for Gewurtztraminer shows a hankering for the 1970s, or in younger drinkers a love of all that is frivolous. Might also reveal high levels of overindulgence on sugary snacks at a younger age.

  • The lover of Riesling is truly great and should be your friend.

  • The lover of Madeira is always right but is likely to have better after-dinner stories than you.

  • A desire to drink Cabernet Sauvignon shows an adherence to the old order of things and is likely to tease out hidden, right-wing beliefs.

  • The Pinot Noir drinker should be avoided at all costs - they have nothing good to say and are rarely useful in company.

  • Beware also the fan of Pinotage - he or she is likely to cause embarrassment and will argue with your guests. Ensure a taxi is ordered.

  • A lover of red Rhône is midway between a religious hermit and a fork-wielding peasant. May be useful in company, but only as a conversation-starter.

  • Merlot is not bad. Its aficionados are likely to favour potato-based dishes.

  • The Champagne drinker is a good, genial person who doesn't let details get in the way of a good time. If they hand you a glass, however, beware. They are trying to get into your pants.

  • People drink Cava to keep Champagne drinkers from handing them a glass.

  • Chardonnay fans should only ever pick top Burgundy. If they do not, ensure you are well-stocked on tissues.

  • Barolo is the stock in trade of the gentle uncle. Drinking it shows an addiction to guilty pleasures and confused feelings at prep school.

  • Lovers of Tuscan wines are dreamers. Similar to the Champagne drinker, they are little concerned with what is in their glass, and are pleasant enough company. They are apt to be a little touchy. It is not advisable to talk about relationships in their vicinity.

  • Rioja drinkers buy portraits of old men and hang them in the toilet. They are sociable enough but don't press them too hard on any subject.

  • Lovers of Sauternes are notoriously fickle. They will either arrive very early or very late. They will have owned a Sade album.

  • The Port drinker is a great asset to any dinner party but will physically hurt you if given the chance.


  • Remember this is only a guide. Do not let your friends know you have read this.

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    Thursday, 20 August 2009

    Cheap wine for everyone


    You're all cynics. Oscar Wilde said cynics 'know the price of everything and the value of nothing'. A lot of wine collectors seem to fall into this category.

    So it's a little bit refreshing when Fred Franzia says there's no wine worth $50.

    He's right really, isn't he? Even La Revue de Vin de France estimated that the actual cost of production of a bottle of Château Latour was about €24. So where does all this 'added value' come from?

    I don't mind people adding a bit of profit to their wines - that's fine, and normal. And you can't stop people adding value at auctions, and so on. But if a cap was put on prices at the start, estates would have to find out different ways to deal with the demand - reward loyalty, or visitors.

    Because aside from the prestige of having a £1,000 price tag, the only other aspect influencing price is demand.

    So lets go skiing. Back in the '90s when skiing was all the rage, top resorts found the influx was too much to handle. They needed to reduce numbers. What was the best way? Increase the price of the lift pass. A lot.

    And it worked. Less people came because they were priced out, but people with more money came. Win-win right? Well what about all those kids that could be enjoying the experience but couldn't because families couldn't afford to go? They'll never learn to love skiing because they're a drain on resources. And I'll tell you another thing for free: the skiing experience is not enhanced by having a greater propensity of rich people on the slopes. Not one bit.

    And if good wine (and I'll admit Two Buck Chuck isn't my idea of good wine) is such a wonderful, cultural product that is best enjoyed in the company of those we love, why is this enjoyment only for the rich?

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    Wednesday, 12 August 2009

    Climate change and wine


    There's a problem with affluent men above the age of 35. They don't believe in climate change. Utter the words 'climate change', 'global warming', 'total destruction' to them and they plug their fingers in their ears and start humming the tune to the Dambusters.

    It's odd, isn't it, that such conservative views (right-wing, king-of-industry, protect my right to pollute) should have absolutely nothing to do with the conservation of their world. Or the wines they love. Perhaps, of the hippy generation, they only care about the now, about themselves, about the wines they love to drink now. They love their world so much, they are intent on destroying it. Blindly.

    I was a climate change sceptic until I phoned the Met Office in the UK a couple of years ago - the place that looked after our weather reports (not that that lends them any basis in fact, but they know more about the weather than most of us). I asked. They replied. It's quite simple people: climate change is a fact. No matter how much you trot out your dodgy arguments, or say 'we'll it's been colder than usual this year', the people that look at the weather are agreed.

    Now, just how dangerous we are making our planet for ourselves I guess is up for discussion. But can we please get to this stage and start talking about what the hell we are going to do about it.

    Because otherwise, my fat, rich, Merc-driving friends, Burgundy, Napa, Bordeaux, Barolo, Rioja, the Mosel and Champagne will not be making the wines you so love to gobble up.

    Not that you have will have to drink the soupy Shiraz that Bordeaux will be making in 100 years' time. You couldn't care less about your sons and daughters right?

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    Wednesday, 5 August 2009

    Alien wine..?

    A couple of years ago I was at a lunch with some of the top names in the UK wine trade, including Steven Spurrier and Michael Broadbent, at which the former produced an bottle of ‘60s generic Burgundy.

    ‘So it’s 50% Rhone Syrah,’ one of the party said.

    To a man, we laughed.

    But those days are gone, aren’t they? I mean no self-respecting producer these days would use grapes from outside their appellation, not when they keep banging on about how great their terroir is. No producer of Brunello would bring in grapes from somewhere else in Italy, would they? Because those grapes aren’t on the hallowed turf of Brunello and therefore aren’t good enough to start with.

    And you wouldn’t have vineyards full of different grape varieties would you, because only Sangiovese truly brings out the best of the terroir doesn’t it?

    And the police wouldn’t impound millions of litres of Brunello and test it if there wasn’t something fishy about all that wine, would they? And why haven’t they released any sensitive information?

    So can someone from Brunello, or from the police, please tell me what on earth is going on...or the old joke is going to stick to somewhere else.

    I’ll leave you with a line from the 1979 film Alien (geddit?):

    Ripley, for God's sake, this is the first time that we've encountered a species like this. It has to go back. All sorts of tests have to be made.

    In Brunello, no-one can hear you scream...

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    Monday, 3 August 2009

    Here's to your health, Fleming and Hassan

    ‘If penicillin can cure those that are ill, Spanish sherry can bring the dead back to life.'

    So said Sir Alexander Fleming, who obviously watched too many zombie films with a bottle of Oloroso by his side.

    But he’s got a point. While medicine can cure us of our ailments, science can tell us how to avoid getting ill, and doctors can strive hard to keep us going while we fall apart, we insist on attempting to adapt the functioning of our mortal coil. Some of us inhale smoke, some of us go vegan, some of us shove silicone under our mammary glands, some of us want biceps like Arnie, some of us pump a gram of class I opiates into our bloodstream.

    The thing is: we’re a social and metaphysical beast. Our interaction with other humans causes us to be unhappy with our condition, or to want to alter it slightly/greatly. Imagine if we were to ignore our desires and do what the doctors say.

    In the Ridley Scott film Black Hawk Down, Abdullah Hassan, a Somali militiaman, talks to downed helicopter pilot Michael Durant and offers him a cigarette. Durant declines and Hassan says this:

    ‘You Americans don't smoke anymore. You live long, dull and uninteresting lives.'

    Now, I understand that science has told us to disinfect our wounds, boil water before drinking it, told us wine is both good and bad for us, depending on the wind, and it’s told us that we can’t fly, and we’ll hurt ourselves if we try to.

    Sometimes, though, we want to fly.

    And can we please stop all these bloody ridiculous wine and health stories. Let’s all drink wine moderately, enjoy it, and leave it at that. Even the wine industry banging on about how good wine is for you, latching onto every single positive story and ignoring the rest, is getting on my (unaltered) tits. We’ve got far more pressing concerns. Like zombies.

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