A professional writer's view of the world of viniculture, viticulture, oenology, enology - call it what you will - it's about a series of rules that will help you understand and choose wine.
Except, as in the words of Captain Barbossa, they're "more what you'd call guidelines than actual rules."
Friday, 14 October 2011
Rugby World Cup Semi Final Wine: France vs Wales
They’ve ploughed their own furrow throughout this
Rugby World Cup, the French. Coach Marc Lievremont has baffled everybody with
his team selections then the same teams have baffled their fans with their
performances – falling short against the All-blacks – who they could meet again
in the final – scraping through after losing against Tonga, then disposing of England
They plough their own furrow in the vineyards too.
The wine shelves of my ‘local’ French supermarket tell the story, devoid as
they are of almost any external influence in the form of foreign wine.
Yes, okay, there’s the odd bottle of Rioja and
Chianti – bizarrely even a Chilean Merlot. But nothing sparkling at all. Pas une saucisse. No Prosecco nor Sekt. Rien. Pas une saucisse.
A section of shelving is dedicated solely to
the 'other' French sparkling wines, the cremant,
mousseaux, blanquette et clairette but even these are kept well away
from the Champagne.
With good reason. Because the French appellation
system ensures even cheap non-vintage Champagne comes with its own guarantee of
quality, almost every week you can find it on special offer somewhere and
everybody is your friend when you've got some.
You must've experienced that?
You offer somebody a drink, meaning alcohol, and they
say 'no thanks' and they proffer one of the usual excuses and explanations: I'm driving, I'm pregnant, I'm on
Then when you enquire of the greater gathering
whether it's Champagne all round? suddenly your teetotallers are sidling up to you
as you fill flute after flute with the French fizzy stuff:
I think it's Clive's turn to drive today
won't hurt and some research did suggest light drinking in pregnancy could in
fact be good for boys in the womb and I've got a feeling from the kicks this is
an alpha male probably
really the antibiotics per se, just doctor's orders
accompanied by a knowing and conspiratorial wink
from your dodgy uncle, or sometime 'uncle'.
Your best bet is to buy it in France of course,
typically at around the £10-a-bottle mark 'everyday' (if only) Champagne can be
found on the shelves of all French supermarkets but if that's not possible just
keep an eye on the UK supermarkets by signing up for their email offers as
they have the buying power when there's a glut. And there often is.
No need to be embarrassed either.
I have no qualms whatsoever about filling a trolley
with NV Champagne and nothing else, and nor have my erstwhile wine merchant
On one occasion when word got around of a heavily
discounted household name on offer at the local supermarket the shop manager
urgently had to introduce a limit of five cases per person such was the rush of
wine trade insiders and restaurateurs eager either to fill their boots or just
What the former knew, wine buyers, traders and
winemakers amongst them, was that even such huge volume, big brand non-vintage
Champagne has one unheralded quality that earns it its place in many a cellar.
It gets better with age.
So much so that in just a couple of years or three
it acquires qualities comparable with vintage Champagne.
Which means that when you do encounter a genuine
bargain half-price offer you can afford to indulge yourself secure in the
knowledge that you don't have to hurry to enjoy it by drinking it with every
meal, marking obscure saints days or even share it with friends.
Just keep it, open a bottle when you fancy it. Compare
it with your tasting notes from 18 months ago. Have fun with the changing
flavours and texture, the increased elegance then eventually the inevitable
drift towards maderisation through oxidation.
Of course you could drink it to celebrate a French
win in the rugby. But not against Wales.
Because the Wales team is the form team. Momentum
is with them.
And they may have a surprise, literally in store,
for us all.
Check out UK supermarkets Tesco and Waitrose online
and you stumble across something remarkable. Each of them stocks Welsh wine.
Because they also make wine, the Welsh. Oh yes they
Sadly, Tesco only offers the one, Ty-Hafod Welsh
Table Wine, a blend of Huxelrebe,
Angevine and Seyval Blanc,
from the banks of the River Monnow just outside the town of Monmouth and only
just inside the Welsh border with England.
It’s a beautiful place, the Monnow Valley, and I’ve
often cast a fly over a trout down there but I never suspected I could be
indulging another of my passions with a glass or two of locally made Welsh wine
on the riverbank.
It’s a lovely apple-y glassful too and just the
thing to cut through the earthiness of a freshly caught brown trout.
Waitrose is another story.
They offer three – yes three, count’em – Welsh
wines. The Monnow Valley Madeleine Angevine 2007, Glyndwr Red 2010 – an
oak-matured blend of Rondo, Regent and Triomphe d'Alsace grapes from vines up
to 25 years old, and a Glyndwr Sparkling Rosé Brut 2006.
These latter two originate from the some 6,000
vines that make up Wales’ oldest established vineyard grown on the traditional
double Guyot system originally developed in the late 1800s and most popular in
So if the Welsh have cause to celebrate on Saturday
night how better to do so than with a delightful pink sparkler blended from Rondo and Seyval Blanc with its typical biscuity nose and delicate
red summer fruits.