Saturday, January 17, 2009

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, January 11, 2009: Lower alcohol - naturally

Late spring frosts, too much rain, abnormally low temperatures, sudden heat spikes, devastating hailstorms. The 2008 growing season was one to remember for all the wrong reasons in much of Europe. Even in regions where the weather finally came good in September and October, there wouldn’t be many takers for a repeat performance. And yet there is a positive side to the cool, damp summer: lower alcohol from the less ripe, less sugar-rich grapes.

A few years ago, that wouldn’t have been welcomed by wine drinkers or by producers, but in the last couple of years the tide has begun to turn against hefty alcohol: not indiscriminately - we still want some big, full-bodied wines, but we don’t want wines at 13.5-14.5 per cent abv to dominate the shelves.

Whether the main catalyst was a desire for fresher, more balanced tasting wines or consumer health concerns, producers around the world had already started to look at ways of reducing alcohol by managing their vineyards differently, trying alternative yeasts and using special techniques in the cellars. Nature just happened to come along with a helping hand in 2008.

2006 Salwey Oberrotweiler Käsleberg Spätburgunder, £11.60
Fine, plummy, spicy German pinot noir; 12% abv (Tanners, 01743 234500).

2006 Ferngrove Riesling, Western Australia, £7.49
Zesty, dry, lime and apple-flavoured riesling; 12% abv (Oddbins).

2007 Frédéric Mabileau Les Rouillères, Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil, £9.79
Supple red Loire with gravelly raspberry perfume; 12% abv (Waitrose)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, January 4, 2009: What to expect in 2009

It maybe clutching at straws, but, looking for some good news for wine drinkers, this is what I’ve come with: if you were spending more than £6.07 per bottle before December 1, your wine should now be cheaper. £6.07 is the point where the lowering of vat to 15 per cent and the increase in duty to £1.57 cancel each other out. Below that, you can expect to see price increases, although some supermarkets have been pressing suppliers to take the pain instead.
Above £6.07, you ought to be paying less. Ought to. Don’t hold your breath: the wine trade is in a bad way and savings won’t necessarily be passed on.

The one area where you can see big reductions is right at the top. The fine wine market has slumped; so, if you’re still in the money, 2009 could be the time to buy those grands crus you’ve always dreamed of.

At less rarified levels, sweet spots to look for this year include 2007 wines from the Rhône, Languedoc, Loire, Germany, South Africa and Chile; 2006 and 2004 Italian reds; and 2005 and 2004 Riojas.

“Cabernet sauvignon is the second most widely planted grape variety”

AF: It’s beaten to the top spot by airen, a dreary white Spanish variety; chardonnay comes sixth.

2005 El Circulo Rioja Crianza, £6.99/£13.99
Dark, intensely-flavoured, oaky, modern Rioja (Wine Rack, half-price offer ends on January 7)

2006 Poggiotondo Cerro del Masso Chianti, £7.99
Nutty and spicy with cherry and tobacco flavours (Waitrose)

2007 La Tour de Marrenon, Côtes du Ventoux, £7.40
Succulent, peppery red from the southeast Rhône (Tesco).

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, December 28, 2008: Cava for new year celebrations

I’m old enough to remember the last recession, or maybe it was officially only a downturn. Either way, I wouldn’t have been suggesting with any great enthusiasm that you to turn to cava on new year’s eve. I’m not saying now that you should swap champagne for cheap Spanish fizz if you can afford the £16 or so needed for the cheapest good champagne. What I am saying is that the quality of cava has improved enormously and it makes a cheering glass of fizz, as long as you don’t expect it to taste like champagne.

Cava doesn’t taste the same because it’s produced in a different country and, with few exceptions, from different grape varieties. There is now some chardonnay and pinot noir used to good effect, but most cava is made from macabeo, parellada, and xarel-lo, a trio of grape varieties that sound like mafiosi and which I wouldn’t bother you with if I didn’t think you might need them for new year’s day trivia quizzes.

As a rule, the younger the cava the better, so vintage isn’t necessarily worth the premium. With non-vintage, you get roughly what you pay for.

Albet I Noya Cava Reserva, £9.95
Showpiece cava: contains chardonnay and it shows (Vintage Roots, 0800 980 4992; reverts to full price, £10.95, on January 11)

Gran Campo Viejo Cava Reserva, £6.33-£6.99
Soft, fresh, fruity, medium-dry; a crowd pleaser (Thresher and Wine Rack, £6.33 when you buy 3; Sainsbury’s).

Prestige Cava, £6.99/£5
Crisp, sweet apple and herb flavours (Marks & Spencer, £5 when you buy two until January 3).

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, December 21, 2008: WIne Wand: I wonder why?

I have been lent a Philip Stein Wine Wand – not to turn water into wine (alas), but to ‘let red wine breathe in minutes instead of hours’. I have the 15cm travel size, a glass tube containing five ’encapsulated crystals’ which are said to ‘use natural frequencies to perfectly aerate and decant wine’. No, I don’t know what it means either. I asked the neighbourhood scientists and they were sniffy. Mind you, I think they saw red when they spotted the words, ‘Philip Stein is the leader in mind-body wellness through frequency-based technology”.

Anyway, I put the wand in a glass of good, but young red and waited, sceptically, for three minutes. Guess what? The wine did seem to have developed. But why bother? You can aerate wine, bringing out its aromas and flavours, simply by taking your time over it and swirling it round in the glass, or by decanting the bottle (aka pouring it gently) into another bottle. And it will be much cheaper. The travel wand is £195; the large wand, for a bottle, is £325 (, 020 7873 2036). I’d rather have £195 worth of the reds below.

2005 Tesco Finest Gigondas, £7.99
Full-bodied, ripe and spicy; a great alternative to Chateauneuf (Tesco; reverts to full price of £10.99, January 6).

2002 Château Sénéjac, Haut-Médoc, £14.99
Supple, cedary, mature claret (Majestic, £12.99 when you buy two).

2006 Cosme Palacio Rioja, £5.49-£8.49
Medium-bodied, freshly fruity, soft, silky Rioja (Waitrose, at £5.49 until December 30; Tesco; Oddbins).