Sunday, December 1, 2013

It's the thought that counts when you are drunk at Christmas

HOW MUCH do you need to drink to feel the life and soul of the party? Ig Noble Prize-winning psychology researchers from Grenoble University recruited subjects to compare levels of intoxication with reports of how seductive, intelligent, original and funny subjects felt. Intoxication is not a simple consequence of consuming alcohol, they say; it results (more importantly) from the psychological effect of believing alcohol has been drunk. Subjects who believed they had drunk alcohol - even those that had not - gave themselves the most positive evaluations. A sobering thought: designated drivers could be getting 'drunk' on alcohol-free booze.

Full article first published in The Connexion (December, 2013)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Rumpole's wine case reveals price mystery

IN RUMPOLE and The Blind Tasting, Horace Rumpole attends a blind tasting at a fine wine shop as a guest of his colleague Claude Erskine-Brown. Rumpole becomes curious about the cost of wine when several dozen cases of the shop's expensive St. Emilion from top estate Chateau Cheval Blanc turn up in his client's garage. As his wine knowledge goes only as far as Pommeroy's wine bar's Chateau Fleet Street, he asks an expert for help. He learns that wine is not very expensive to make and that price and quality, like law and justice, are not always as closely related as they should be. The relation in some cases is stretched beyond belief.

Full article first published in The Connexion (November, 2013)

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Is wine journalism a load of nonsense?

A SPAT on Twitter between wine journalists and wine merchants exposed the journalists to accusation of lazily filling their columns with lame reviews of favourite wines from The Wine Society. "To do otherwise would be perverse," one writer tweeted in defense of the 'what to drink and where to find it' dumbed-down approach to wine journalism. But if sensible wine writing resembles an internal memo for members of The Wine Society, what would "perverse" wine writing look like instead? Hugh Johnson wrote about wine with sensuous prose; Kermit Lynch wrote about the pleasures of wine and never engaged in contrived tasting notes.

Full article first published in The Connexion (October, 2013)

Photograph of Kermit Lynch by Peter DaSilva

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Historic vintage for French appellations?

AS FRANCE casts off its 78-year old appellation system in favour of an EU-approved scheme, should wines lovers mourn its passing? No, they should not. With AOCs proliferating and industrial production widespread, France's leading consumer magazine says 40% of French appellation wines are unworthy of their discredited labels and 65% communicate nothing about terroir. Inspection will go beyond sniffing the odd vat sample under new EU rules. The new labels are changing buying habits. But never buy a wine that showcases its appellation - the producer is selling it based on the appellation's perceived quality, not his/her skill.

Full article first published in The Connexion (September, 2013)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

This summer's crazy rosé craze

WE WERE out of rosé. I squeezed red and white wine into a pichet from two bag-in-boxes until a rosé colour was achieved. The shame made me want to string the bags around my neck as a penance like the ancient mariner's albatross. My crime is matched by the grapefruit-flavoured disrespect heaped on rosé by Loire producers of Rosé-Pamp. In a risible attempt to give their flavoured wine a veneer of sophistication, marketers trace its origin to a Kir Vendômois (unknown to Google). The supermarket space dedicated to Rosé-Pamp has almost eclipsed the good news coming out of the Loire Valley: sales of Cabernet d’Anjou are up 10%. 

Full article first published in The Connexion (August, 2013)

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Johnny's 'tipple' leaves sour taste

FRANCE'S hard-living geezer of American rock 'n' roll Johnny Hallyday has “discovered” wine. Actually, the man who has made a career out of singing other people’s songs is lending his name to another person’s wine (blended from various sources). "We regret its lack of character," sniffs Le Parisien. Bad reviews won't count because if you’re prepared to tattoo his image on your body, you’ll pay €8.60 to have him over for dinner. With American-style fast-food outlets outnumbering real restaurants in France, and top French chefs now awarding labels to restaurants that actually use ingredients, is it time for a label recognising authentic wine? 

Full article first published in The Connexion (July, 2013)

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The grapes of climate’s wrath

TWO years ago the Spanish winemaker Miguel Torres told me he had abandoned plans to make wine in China as the country had no terroir suitable for viticulture. His analysis appeared to be supported by the fact that Chinese billionaires were then buying up Bordeaux estates. But climate researchers say rising temperatures will transform the viticultural landscape as we know it by 2050 and that Torres may have spoken too soon. Potential future wine regions include mountainous central China where giant pandas live. Torres’ vineyards in Catalonia will soon be inhospitable to viticulture. Winemaking is, however, accustomed to climate change.

Full article first published in The Connexion (June, 2013)

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

French are clueless about buying wine

THE average French shopper takes one minute and 26 seconds to choose a bottle of wine from a supermarket shelf. Is this ability to take swift decisions about wine an example of French savoir-vivre? No, it isn’t. The average French supermarket shopper knows nothing about wine and feels lost in the wine aisle. Why do shoppers learn nothing about wine when supermarkets stock about 1,200 different bottles to choose from? Shoppers keep buying such forgettable wines because nothing is learned from drinking them. Choosing wine by the marketing mix (price, packaging, promotion) is no substitute for using wine knowledge to inform choices.

Full article first published in The Connexion (May, 2013)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Gold medals have lost their glitter

HOW can a gold medal-winning wine from one competition end up without any award in another competition? Astonishingly, the likelihood of receiving a gold medal in a wine competition can be statistically explained by chance alone. A wine’s performance in one competition is also not correlated with its performance in another, say researchers. Wine judges' inconsistency and lack of peer concordance devalue medals. However, competitions are a 'win/no lose' proposition for winemakers because nobody comments on wines that do not win. Consumers appropriately remain unimpressed by the medals tombola.

Full article first published in The Connexion (April, 2013)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sniffing out the buffs from bluffers

IS the wine expert's “cigars, truffles and boysenberries” just a dazzling party trick? Do such words convey anything useful about a wine's flavour? The ability to match tasting notes with wines appears to be random, even among experienced drinkers, even when consutling their own notes! What is going on when someone descants about "rose petals on the nose" or even "violent tits"? Wine words say more about the price of a wine than its flavour. "Cigar" sounds expensive; "fruity" sounds cheap. Beyond showing appreciation, wInespeak is also a sign of logorrhoea, say experts. Ultimately, Bordeaux tastes more like Bordeaux than "truffles".

Full article first published in The Connexion (March, 2013)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

It's always the season for spicy vin chaud

AMONG the misguided traditions that can limit your enjoyment of wine, few are more absurd than the tradition of drinking mulled wine at Christmas markets only. Mulled wine is easy to make and personalise with your own secret ingredient to complement the usual cinnamon, star anise, nutmeg, vanilla and cloves. The Nordic version glögg contains vodka or aquavit. In Germany, glühwien (literally “glow wine”, from the hot irons used for mulling) is sometimes laced with rum. Keith Floyd was a fan. He laced his version with illegal poitin, aka “Irish moonshine”. Vin chaud is a mid-winter treat not to be reserved for Christmas markets only. 

Full article first published in The Connexion (February, 2013)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Make red wine part of a Happy New Year

OF ALL the well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions, pledging to reduce your red wine consumption may be one of the most misguided. Red wine naturally contains probiotics, micro-organisms that increase beneficial gut bacteria. Red wine also contains Resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant in red grape skins. Probiotics and resveratrol may be the keys to degestive health, weight control, improved mobility and endurance, reduced muscle and bone degeneration, mental health and longevity. Despite resveratrol's capacity to ward off dementia, though, elderly inhabitants on the red wine-loving Greek island of Ikaria appear to forget to die.

Full article first published in The Connexion (January, 2013)