New World winemakers have become obsessed with ‘European elegance’, a trend that’s so boring it’s enough to make you yearn for the ripe, oaky Chardonnays of yesteryear, argues Graham Holter
IT’S ONE OF the great ironies of modern winemaking that producers who spend so much time waffling on about “a sense of place” are actually turning out wines that taste pretty much the same, wherever they’re from.
“Cool climate vineyards”, “moderating ocean breezes”, “restrained oak” and – most jarring of all – “European elegance” are phrases which routinely crop up on back labels or in other marketing bumph.
There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things. In fact they’re rather attractive ideas: just saying them aloud is enough to inspire a Pavlovian sprint to the nearest wine fridge, and a sudden impetus to write off the rest of the afternoon. But you can have too much of a good thing.
New World producers can’t wait to play the subtlety card. “Yes, our wines used to be jammy, over-oaked and unbalanced, and we apologise unreservedly,” seems to be the message. “But now we’ve seen the error of our ways and understand that we should be making wines like the French, the Spanish and the Italians.”
This overlooks the fundamental point that we already have plenty of stuff made by the French, the Spanish and the Italians. The New World is meant to offer an alternative to European wines (at least with the products it exports to the UK). Trying to ape the Old World is a pointless and self-defeating ambition.
Well, it’s only taken three months since we placed the order, but today we were officially given a new phone number on a new line.
It’s 01323 370451. We haven’t quite got used to it yet.
For several months we’ve been plagued by worsening mobile phone reception in our Sussex hide-out, and a landline that crackled and popped and occasionally just went dead. Our internet phone was a bit better, but the satellite delay led to too many awkward pauses, and people talking over each other. We weren’t being rude to you. It was the technology.
Those days are gone. Please call us if you like and hear for yourself.
When you send out a box of wine, you ought to be reasonably confident that it will arrive in the condition you sent it. But sadly life isn’t always like that.
In the new edition of The Wine Merchant, we’re conducting a poll to assess how problematic couriers can be for independent merchants. There are all kinds of horror stories about boxes that come to grief on conveyor belts, or wine that is supposedly damaged in transit – but the suspicion is it’s actually been half-inched.
We’re not just muck-raking in pursuit of salacious gossip. We are also looking for examples of best practice.
Three hundred and eighty-three wines. Fifteen independent judges. One Olly Smith and one David Williams. It all added up to a tough day of judging for the inaugural Wine Merchant Top 50, at The Worx in Fulham.
The first task was to whittle down the entries into a more manageable number, so our teams were asked to place bottles – all tasted blind – into yes, no and maybe categories. Olly and David re-tasted all the maybes, and double-checked random samples from the other tables, to ensure the 120 wines that went through to the afternoon round were the best ones.
After that, the remaining wines were retasted by the teams and given a score out of 100. Again, Olly and David were on hand to keep an eagle eye out for any inconsistencies in scoring. There were also debates that needed resolving. “Yes, this is a terrific-value Viognier, but is it really what we want to see from this varietal, or does it taste more like Torrontes?” “We love this South American red blend, but is it worth the money?”
The Wine Merchant Top 50 is a competition with several differences. First of all, it’s only open to wines that are exclusive to independents, and already in the UK. It’s judged by independents themselves. And part of their criteria has to be: would I recommend this wine, and could I actually sell it at the recommended price?
The top scoring wines are being double-checked to ensure they’re exactly what they claim to be. The winners will be announced in September and a selection will be taken on a four-date tasting roadshow so that as many independents as possible get to taste them.
Thanks again to all our judges for giving up their valuable time to work so hard. Thanks also to the 60-plus suppliers who entered. There were some stunners on display and we’re confident that the final 50 will be pretty special.
No, of course it wasn’t really a holiday. We all worked extremely hard. Do you think all those Sancerre, Menetou-Salon and Coteaux du Giennois wines tasted themselves?
This was The Wine Merchant’s trip to the Centre-Loire, a visit that really opened our eyes to the distinctive terroirs of a relatively small region. We also got to grips with the idea of tasting reds before whites, and matching the wines with Japanese cuisine.
More pictures and the retailers’ own reports on the trip will appear in issue 17 of the magazine, out on August 15.