Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, October 12, 2008: Shocking following for The Wine Gang

What do you really want to know about wine? I know it might seem late to ask, but I have discovered from a website I’ve started with four colleagues that it may not always be what I thought. We set it up because we each taste hundreds of wines a week at tastings that are not open to the public. We recommend a handful of the best or best value and, having done that, we file our notes and move on. What a waste.

So, now we publish an online monthly report, with reviews and scores out of 100, for 200 wines on sale in all kinds of retailers from supermarkets to posh merchants. And we don’t just cover the good and glorious, which is where one of the revelations comes in: there is an almost indecent following for our monthly shockers - the five wines that have most appalled us. We’ve also found that advice on food matching and how long wines can be aged is much appreciated. I’ll be bearing all this in mind here. Meanwhile, there’s a free trial to www.thewinegang.com until the end of October.

2005 Montsant Finca l’Argata, Joan d’ Anguera, £12.95
Powerful, but polished Spanish red. Ideal with roasts, game, casseroles, anytime until 2015 (Tanners, 01743 234500).

2006 Bourgogne Blanc Les Setilles, O Leflaive, £11.79
Nutty, lemony, rounded. Drink with fish and creamy dishes in the next three years (Corney & Barrow, 020 7265 2470).

2007 Grenache Noir, £5.99
Spicy, ripe fruit, full and savoury. Try with spicy sausages, steak or red peppers. Drink in the next three years (Marks & Spencer).

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, October 5, 2008: Aldi and the supermarkets

If Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and his wife are now buying their wine as well as their groceries at Sainsbury’s, instead of getting Waitrose wines via Ocado, they will notice the change. Waitrose range vies with Marks & Spencer’s for quality, whereas Sainsbury’s seems to have lost its way.

Most of Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference wines are good, several are very good and across-the-board they are more consistent than Tesco’s Finest selection, but too many of the other wines are run-of-the-mill. In a world awash with new producers, why stick with tired old names? As for the 27 wines at under £4, shown at a recent tasting “to reflect the current financial climate”, I despair.

Perhaps the Cleggs would feel it was a step too far, but for cheap wine they would do better to go to the discounter Aldi (the nearest branch to Putney, Nick, is Old Kent Road). There are only 65 wines, compared with several hundred in the big supermarkets, and there’s nothing adventurous, but the quality-value ratio is impressive. Oh and, Nick, all the £4.99 wines will be £3.99 before Christmas; that should help.

2007 Vignes de St Pierre Sauvignon Blanc, £3.99
Crisp, bright sauvignon with juicy, grassy fruit (Aldi).

2003 Rioja Reserva, Ramon Lopez Murillo, £4.99
Soft and nutty with sweet red fruit and spicy oak (Aldi).

2007 Mâcon-Villages, Henri de Lorgères, £4.99
Nutty, fresh, delicately buttery and well-rounded (Aldi).

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, September 28, 2008: Real Men Drink Pink

If anyone still thinks rosé is only for the girls, think again. Real men not only drink pink, they’re getting into bed with it (loosely speaking). The new recreation of retiring sports stars, especially those with French blood, is to produce their own rosé.

David Ginola, former Newcastle United footballer, has launched Coste Brulade, a rosé from his native Provence. It’s not yet on the shelves in the UK but, unless it’s a silly price (curiously, nobody would even give me a guide-price), a supermarket seems sure to snap it up. The 2007, which won a silver medal in this year’s International Wine Challenge, is the prettiest of pale pinks with lovely, fresh, strawberry-scented fruit.

Another example is French Flair, a rosé from Fronton, north of Toulouse, which bears the signature and picture of recently retired French rugby international Thomas Castaignède. So far, it only seems to be on sale in France, but with Castaignède a familiar face on British television it may only be a matter of time before it comes here.

While we’re waiting, the drinks below should satisfy any male still wary of being seen drinking pink.

Stinger Organic Ale, £1.89-£1.99, 500ml
Developed with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and brewed with organic nettles. Fresh, soft with a hint of gingery spice; delicious (selected Budgen; Thresher; badgerdirect.com)

2007 Monty’s French Red, £7.99
Meaty, herby, berry-flavoured red, biodynamically grown by wine writer turned vigneron and TV star Monty Waldin (Adnams, 01502 727222).

2005 Steak House Cabernet Sauvignon, £6.49
Butch-looking, but elegant, savoury, blueberry-flavoured Washington State red (on offer at the Co-op; reverts to £7.99 on October 5).

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, September 21, 2008: Sauvignon Gris - the New Blanc

Sauvignon gris sounds like a grape variety dreamed up in a marketing department to cash in on the fashions, especially among women, for both sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio (aka pinot gris). But no creativity has been necessary. The only thing new about sauvignon gris is the interest producers are taking in it, including making it as a wine in its own right (instead of merely blending it), and putting the name on labels. Previously it wasn’t thought worthy of a mention.

Not that we should exaggerate. Only a handful of wines labelled sauvignon gris (meaning they contain at least 85% of the variety) have reached UK shelves so far, but the trend has been set, so we shall see more – especially from Chile, but also from the Loire, Bordeaux and areas where growers are planting it for the first time.

Technically, it’s a pink-skinned variant of sauvignon blanc and the wines have an obvious family resemblance, but there are differences. Sauvignon gris is less aromatic, which means less pungent ‘green’ flavours (grass, gooseberries et al), and it tends to be fuller-bodied. There are two from Chile to try below.

2007 Secano Estate Sauvignon Gris, £6.99
Full and dry with spice, citrus and green fruit flavours (Marks & Spencer).

2007 Vina Leyda Sauvignon Gris, £9.49
Full-bodied, smoky and spicy with tangy green fruit (Oddbins).

2007 Calvet Sauvignon Blanc Reserve, £4.99
Light, grassy, grapefruity Bordeaux with 15% sauvignon gris, although the label doesn’t say so (Waitrose).