Pottery fragments unearthed in China show that winemaking was practiced in the 7th century BC, so one might think that in the ensuing nine thousand years, we humans might have reached some sort of consensus on how best to enjoy a glass of fermented grape juice. Not so. Choice, the great paralyser, presents us with an interminable range of options and opens the way for the invisible hand that guides so many of our decisions: fashion.
Keeping track of what’s in vogue is vital now that wine has become a lifestyle supplement. Wine appreciation is integral to the dinner party circuit and guests arriving with a bottle of Chateau Faux Pas will be welcomed as if there were something untoward on their shoe.
So, what’s ‘in’ at the moment? For red wine, you will rarely embarrass yourself if you choose a bottle of Pinot Noir. It’s the little black dress of the wine world, perennially fashionable and always alluring, thanks to its unique fragrance and subtle, delicate qualities. Burgundy is its birthplace, but you can impress your peers by selecting one from any of the latest buzz regions, such as New Zealand’s Central Otago, Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Australia’s Mornington Peninsula or Chile’s Leyda Valley.
Merlot has taken an unjust beating ever since the film ‘Sideways’ offered audiences the line: “If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving! I am NOT drinking any f*****g Merlot! ”, but those in the know still consider it to be one of the world’s most noble varieties – particularly those shelling out £24,000 for a case of Petrus 1982, a wine made exclusively from Merlot. Keep an eye out for some fine examples emanating from Stellenbosch in South Africa.
Supposedly, Merlot’s early popularity had a lot to do with the fact that it was easy to pronounce, so surely the time is right for Malbec to follow in its footsteps. Like Merlot, its origins are in Bordeaux, but this deeply-coloured, rich and spicy variety has found an affinity with Argentina’s terroir and there are many great examples emerging in Mendoza. Look out for names like Pascual Toso, Bianchi and Cielo y Tierra for great value.
As for white wine, Pinot Grigio is like one of those songs that stays in the singles charts for years. You wonder who is still buying it and why, yet it survives by virtue of its lack of virtues; its persistent inability to offend is its unique selling point.
Chardonnay goes in and out of fashion quicker than you can pour it. It is the blank canvas whose quality depends upon the skill of the artist, so you might end up with a Caravaggio from someone like Domaine Leflaive or you might equally find yourself drinking something from the Rolf Harris school of winemaking.
You won’t win a rosette for originality if you choose Sauvignon Blanc, so why not try some equally refreshing whites made from lesser known varieties. Try an aromatic Albarino from Rias Baixas in Spain, a zesty Austrian Grüner Veltliner or a minerally Bical from Portugal’s Bairrada region.
Whatever you choose, just remember that this year’s essential accessory is an open mind.
- James Bloom