Tag Archives: The Wine Society

Italian Wines

Mona LisaAS SOMEONE WHO values ‘character’ in a wine above some arbitrary score of ‘excellence’, I really ought to love Italian wine. The country is so geographically varied it has more distinct ‘terroirs’ than anywhere else. And they have, and use, more different grape varieties than the rest of the world put together. But there is an Italian style of wine making that hasn’t so far appealed to me – at its extreme, the red wines are light in colour, acid in the mouth and the flavours tend towards unripe cherry. But I’ve always known I’m missing something, so I went recently to a wine tasting of 38 Italian wines organised by The Wine Society. On the train to London I put together the prejudices I carried with me. Let’s see how they fared. Continue reading Italian Wines

Is Bordeaux Really that Special?

The ‘Miroir d’Eau’ in Bordeaux city
The ‘Miroir d’Eau’ in Bordeaux city

I’m treading on hallowed ground here. I’m going to write about some good and some great Bordeaux châteaux. Some of them are names I’ve known with awe for 50 years. I’ve not tasted many of them till now but I know the orthodox ideas: that Bordeaux wine has a distinctive style which no other wine growing area can successfully imitate; and that the complex hierarchy of names (appellations) within Bordeaux reflects genuine differences of terroir; meaning that a great wine cannot be made in an estate with a low-ranking appellation. For instance, a wine from the Côtes de Bourg can never reach the standard of a Margaux despite the one being just across the river from the other. Continue reading Is Bordeaux Really that Special?

Blind Tasting

Andrew Polmear writes for the love of wine…

There’s a saying in the wine trade: “a glimpse of the label is worth 20 years of tasting experience”. That’s true if you are trying to impress. But for those of us who just want to enjoy wine I think the opposite is more true: “blind tasting will show you what you really like and save you money”.Label

This was brought home to me recently at a tasting organised by The Wine Society in Lewes. Two hundred members gathered in the Assembly Rooms, where we found ten tables, each with two bottles, whose labels were masked. We were given a booklet of questions in which to write our answers. For instance, the first table had two bottles of bubbly and the question was: which one of these is champagne and which is a New World sparkling wine at less than half the price? Not all the pairs were wines of different price. Table 9 had a Pauillac (Bordeaux’s ‘best’ village) matched against a New Zealand Cabernet-Merlot at the same price. At the end of the session the organiser asked us to vote for the alternatives before revealing the answers. Continue reading Blind Tasting

Sublime Sherry

Philip Reddaway, The Whistler’s wine columnist…

How do you picture the typical sherry drinker? Is it your mum-in-law sipping a small glass of Harvey’s Bristol Cream at Christmas – a bottle bought five years ago that hangs around at the back of the cupboard, oxidising nicely, awaiting its annual outing? It’s true that no ‘fine wine’ suffered such a calamitous fall in fashionability as sherry through the very same decades that the UK public were discovering wine drinking. Is it on the way back? Not really, global sales have slumped over 20% since the early 90s and in 2008 UK sales continued their long-term decline with a 3% downturn. With over 40% of sherry drinkers over 65 the producer Gonzalez recently commented “we need to recruit six new consumers for every Sherry drinker that dies”. A bit of a stretch for even the most resourceful marketeer!

All the more surprising then, that in Decanter magazine’s recent feature on “What’s your desert island wine”, two of the twelve world wine experts quizzed opted to take an Amontillado sherry.

The truth is the cognoscenti of the wine world have never turned their backs on sherry. The reason: if you invest just a pound or two above the most basic supermarket generics it’s usually delicious; it’s a drink that covers a broad gamut of styles for every drinking occasion from aperitif, via food accompaniment, to sublime pudding wine; and, most importantly in these straightened times, it’s the best value fine wine in the world, no question. Compared to the £100 + La Tâche Burgundy and the vintage Krug selected by some of those Decanter article wine experts, sherry is outrageously cheap – you would be hard pressed to spend £20 on a bottle and the great sherry brands are available at £7-£10. What’s more, if you’re concerned about the alcoholic strength, well consider this: in these global warmed times a fino sherry has no more alcohol (15%) than most of the Cotes du Rhone I drink here every evening.

My personal favourite style is bone dry Manzanilla from the town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, light and fresh, with just a touch more flavour than a fino, very tangy, clean and crisp with just a hint of saltiness. I’m also very partial to a very different style of sherry, dark as molasses and unctuously sweet – Pedro Ximenez – made from the grape of the same name – goes brilliantly with home-made vanilla ice cream. My top buys would include: The Wine Society’s Maribel amontillado at just £7.50, or buy a selection from Waitrose, surely Britain’s top sherry retailer. I’d go for their La Gitana Manzanilla at only £5.69, if you buy a case, or the classic fino Tio Pepe at £9.01 for case buyers, or best of all – my desert island sherry – the top bodega Hidalgo’s Pasada Pastrana single vineyard manzanilla, superb complexity for just £10.21 per bottle. Enjoy! And if you’re ever our way, in Provence, please do bring me a bottle, it’s impossible to buy here, the French don’t get it at all.

If you are interested in one of our Provence based wine holidays please visit www.rhonewineholidays.com, or if you just want a fabulous place to stay as you drive through France we now do bed and breakfast – see www.bighouseinprovence.com.