Monday, November 10, 2008

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, November 9, 2008: The Rise of Pinot Gris Down Under

Most Italian pinot grigio tastes of next to nothing – LDN (light, dry, neutral) in wine writers’ shorthand. Presumably that’s its virtue for the huge numbers of people who buy it week in week out in Britain. The surprising thing (apart from its popularity) is that, inherently, pinot grigio is not short on flavour and body. You only have to look at wines made from pinot gris - same grape - in Alsace. They’re honeyed and fruity with a nutty, spicy richness. They can also be sweet and labelled Vendange Tardive accordingly.

The difference between the two styles is partly geography, but a lot is down to choice: the number of grape bunches growers allow their vines to bear and when they decide to pick them. Big crops and early harvests give the timid-tasting big-sellers. Small yields and late harvests give full-on flavour, but a more niche market.

This has made it tricky for producers in the new world. They want to cash in on the fashion for Italian pinot grigio, but neutral-tasting wine goes against the grain. In the end, most stick to what they do best: flavour. Lots of it.

2008 The Ned Pinot Grigio, £9.99
Pink-tinged, medium-weight, with apple, peach, spice and a hint of sweetness; from New Zealand (Majestic, £7.99 when you buy 2; Waitrose).

2007 Tinja Pinot Gris, £9.75
Crisp, zesty pear, peach and orange flavours, from Orange, Australia (Lowe Wines,01389 830643, Vin du Van, 01233 758727, L'Art du Vin, 0131 555 6009, Provender Brown, 01738 587300).

2006 The Lane Single Vineyard Pinot Gris, £9.99
Rich, nutty, peachy with fine acidity; from the Adelaide Hills (Waitrose).

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, November 2, 2008: A Cure in Sight for Cape Reds?

There’s a flavour in South African red wines that I can’t stand; not in all of them, but in enough to make me approach Cape reds warily. It’s a flavour like burnt rubber or tar, often combined with leathery baked fruit and hard green notes, as if the grapes were over- and under-ripe at the same time. It’s no respecter of price or reputation – it goes from top to bottom – nor of grape variety .

If this was a personal fad, the problem would be mine. But others feel the same, although, puzzlingly, British wine writers appear to be more sensitive to it than commentators elsewhere. And many Cape wine producers don’t get it at all, which is one reason it remains a problem.

The other reason is that no one knows the cause. Ten leading winemakers, assembled in London by importer Richards Walford recently, came down on the side of faulty winemaking, but others think a vine virus is the culprit. Either way, the end could be in sight. For the first time serious research to identify it is underway at Stellenbosch University. Fingers crossed. Three Cape reds I highy recommend below.

2005 Rustenberg John X Merriman, £9.99-£11.99
Cabernet-merlot blend with succulent fruit and a fresh coffee note (Majestic, £9.99 when you buy 2; Waitrose; Stone, Vine & Sun, 01962 712351; Harrogate Fine Wine, 01423 522270).

2005 Ken Forrester 3 Halves, £10.99
Rich, spicy, Rhône-like blend of shiraz, grenache and mourvèdre (Waitrose).

2004 The Foundry Syrah, £11.99-£20
Top-notch, powerful but polished, peppery syrah (The VineKing, 01737 248833; Harrogate Fine Wine; Planet of the Grapes, 020 7405 4912; Hanging Ditch, 0161 832 8222).

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, October 26, 2008: Cheap Wine: the hidden and not so hidden costs

There are two theories about how wine drinkers react to a recession. One is that they buy more because they share a bottle at home instead of going out. The other – no prizes for guessing - is that they cut back on the grounds that wine is a luxury.

If you’d tasted some of the wines I’ve encountered at recent supermarket tastings, you might question the definition of luxury, but all the same it’s looking as if, currently, the former theory is more a case of wishful thinking on the part of wine sellers. The reality, for now, is that consumers are cutting down – buying cheaper or buying less.

The trouble with buying at the bottom end is that the cost of getting any wine on the shelves has risen sharply this year. Duty has jumped 14p a bottle to £1.46, the euro is punishingly strong, and packaging and transport costs have soared. There is also 17.5% vat to factor in, together with margins for the producer (if he’s lucky), retailer and perhaps middleman. We’re fortunate if, at under £4, the wine accounts for 50p. Even more fortunate if it’s drinkable.

2007 Asda Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, £2.98
Simple, soft and fresh with blackcurrant pastille flavours (Asda).

2007 Cuvée Pecheur, Vin de Pays du Comté Tolosan, £3.69
Crisp, light, grapy, grassy, off-dry white (Waitrose)

2007 Sainsbury’s Old Vines Tempranillo, £3.79
Medium-bodied Spanish red with spicy, plummy fruit and a clean dry finish.