Gift Bottle Conundrum

We’ve all been there. We ponder the host and what they’re cooking and stare at the wine rack, wondering aloud as we grab bottle after bottle by the neck and pull them out, only to slide them back in and continue the search. Eventually, you find ‘the one’. You hold that one for a little longer, remembering the last time you had it or anticipating trying it for the first time, hoping it will be just perfect with the meal. Hoping everyone else realises just what a tremendous job you’ve done in picking the perfect bottle for the perfect meal, thereby being the perfect guest.

But that’s not how it goes. Of course it isn’t. You arrive at your friend’s for dinner and nonchalantly hand over the bottle – something for the meal you say, as though you hadn’t spent an hour deciding on it. They take it, study the label for a moment, and instead of placing it on the sideboard or on the dinner table, they open the closet door and slip it into their wine rack. They close the door and mutter some gibberish about a “special occasion”.

You respond saying that tonight’s pretty special, and your host chuckles to humour you but they don’t get it. You didn’t bring that wine as a gift for some stupid future special occasion. Some stupid future special occasion that you probably won’t be invited to. You brought that wine to drink tonight. You brought that wine to drink tonight because you wanted to drink that wine tonight, with the meal whose aromas are currently making your mouth water as the smell of it cooking wafts throughout the house. You want to explain as politely as possible that it was not a gift to be taken, but a gift to be shared. A gift for the now. In fact, it wasn’t really a gift at all. It was just something you wanted to drink and deemed the assorted company worthy enough to join you. The idea that your carefully chosen cuvee might be forgotten about, might not even be enjoyed in your company, is deeply irksome.

But you grin. You grin and bear it and wince as you sip whatever undoubtedly deeply inferior drop is served to you. It doesn’t matter if it’s Dom Perignon or Chateau Margaux – even if it’s a better wine, it’s not a better wine, because it isn’t your wine.

Like I said at the beginning, we’ve all been there. The question is, how do we avoid it ever happening again? Well, we here at the Swig blog have some considerable experience with these situations, and have come up with a handy list of tried and tested methods to make sure that your stupendous contribution to the evening’s meal is appreciated.

  1. Open the bottle at home beforehand, under the pretence of making sure that it isn’t corked. This will not only seem exceptionally courteous, but also you can genuinely check the bottle isn’t corked. It also means they can’t hide it away for another time. It demands to be drunk that evening. This plan seems a little flimsy, however, when it comes to screwcaps.
  2. Bring terrible wine. Of course, if the hoarder breaks from tradition and cracks it open then and there, you may look like a tasteless fool.
  3. Drink the bottle before you go. This will not only allow you to enjoy the wine you like, but it will also allow you to skip any social awkwardness and mean that your chat over the meal will be utterly brilliant (in your own mind). This could, of course, backfire terribly, but there’s a good chance that you won’t remember it.
  4. Show your cards early. Phone your host before leaving your house and tell them straight up: “I’m bringing a bottle and you’re going to open it with the meal this evening” – they might be so offended that they rescind your invitation, in which case you can drown your outcast sorrows with your favourite bottle anyway.

like a cool drink of water

The chorus of complaints about the weather have rung throughout Britain over the last few weeks, as those who only two months ago were complaining about the lack of sun are now cursing its existence. Out here at sunny Swig HQ, we’ve had the fans blowing full blast and the occasional ice lolly after lunch, so powerful has been the heat. At one point we debated emptying the wine fridges and crawling in ourselves.

Of course, we didn’t do that. It’s far more important to regulate the temperature of our wines than our bodies.  We have, however, shifted almost entirely to a regime of chilled whites and pinks during our famous Swig lunches.  And in spite of our love of a bit of judicious oak-use, we’re steering more towards the fresh and vibrant at the moment. Wines with proper juiciness, that tug on the saliva glands and dance across the tongue.

Often it’s wines from quite hot places that do the trick, like the Aphros Loureiro, or the Clos Bagatelle St Chinian Blanc. Both have a touch of the exotic balanced by juicy acidity, giving a cooling refreshment. They’re perfect with salads or fresh seafood or to sip a glass of whilst flipping food on the barbecue.

So embrace the heat and grab some good white from the fridge, because in absolutely no time at all it will be blowing a gale and bucketing down with rain.

The Lost Valley of Forgotten Wine Trends…

The wine trade can be plagued by the peaks and troughs of frantic excitement for new regions and grape varieties followed by bitter cynicism as those begin to gather dust on the shelves and the NEXT new region and grape variety is announced. It’s inevitable, really. Wine writers and merchants alike become bored with the same old thing, week in and week out, and look for something new to take their fancy.

Of course, what’s new is rarely new. Most likely it’s been around for years, it’s just that no one’s paying any attention to it. They’re all too busy with Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. Some of those new trends have staying power – Kiwi Sauvignon, Australian Shiraz and Prosecco – but most fall back into obscurity, like Lagrein, wines from Bierzo and Sparkling Shiraz. And then, maybe ten years later, there will be another fuss and we’ll go through the whole thing again.

The shame of it is, those trendy wines have done nothing wrong. Mencia from Bierzo doesn’t lose its lovely, juicy dustiness. Txacoli from Basque country still ignites into a gentle spritz when poured from great height into a beaker, and still pairs sublimely with seafood tapas. Whilst a tree falling in the woods may make no sound, great wine that has fallen out of the public eye still tastes bloody brilliant.

So consider this blog post a rallying cry. Dust off those old bottles of something interesting. A Malvasia grown in California, a bottle of sherry, a Scheurube or a Moscato. Lay down some Godello instead of a Puligny. Decant something from the Lebanon to go with your lamb, or chill a Saumur Blanc to accompany scallops. None of these things have lost their lustre, they’ve simply lost your attention. These are great wines.

Except for Sparkling Shiraz. That’s just a silly wine.

Posted by Richard

Watch out! There’s a wine pervert in your neighbourhood

I’m a wine pervert. As I walk to work in the morning, while you may still be in your dressing-gown, I like to peer into your recycling bins and peek at your bottles. I get my kicks when I see something daring, a titillating glimpse of tipple to stir the imagination and satisfy my fantasy that, behind closed doors, you are all having the wine of your lives. But what do I see? The vinous equivalent of granny’s bloomers hanging on the washing line. At best, I would describe what I see as ‘safe’. Brand after famous brand poking their shiny capsule above the newspapers and cereal packets. And if it isn’t a well-known brand, it’s the generic equivalent, like a supermarket Rioja or a ‘Taste the Similarity’ Bordeaux Supérieur.

You will argue that an independent wine merchant is bound to rail against brand names, because they are our adversaries in business, but it is not for commercial reasons that they sadden me. I think that one of the great joys of wine is that it can capture a liquid snapshot of the time and place in which it was made. Mass-produced brands never do this, they are blended to achieve consistency from year to year, so that while they may be palatable, they lack the idiosyncrasies that give a wine its personality, or, to use a more contentious word, soul.

A few simple ideas to enhance your wine drinking experience

Wine is a performer and it merits a little respect. Violinists tend not to play in mittens and ballerinas don’t perform in hob-nailed boots, yet everyday I see wines being handicapped by simple blunders that prevent them showing their best.

If I could change one thing about the way people experience wine, it would be to ensure that everyone owned suitable glasses. My soul sinks when I see wine poured rim-high into those miserable Paris goblets, which are to wine appreciation as trees are to rally-driving. You don’t have to splash out on expensive glasses, just find something with a wide enough bowl for swirling, tapered towards the rim to capture the aromas, and of reasonably thin, clear glass so that the wine alters the temperature of the glass not the other way round. As long as you fill it no further than half-way, I believe that a decent glass improves the quality of a wine by about fifty percent.

The idea of decanting wine seems to petrify the inexperienced, as if it were a ritual only to be performed by sardonic butlers, but a quick splash and dash can unclench an immature wine and bring it out of its shell. Pour the wine into an inert container and give it a good shake to force some air between its tight molecules – advice which applies to whites as well as reds. Decanting to remove sediment from an old bottle, however, is an entirely different affair and must only be attempted by members of the aristocracy.

Another important issue is temperature. Refreshing, aromatic white wines and rosés should be served at around 8º C, whereas fuller, more contemplative whites should be served at about 12º C. Powerful, tannic reds show their true colours just below room temperature at about 18 º C, whereas more delicate reds, including mature clarets and Burgundies, are more expressive at a lower temperature, around 16º C. Beaujolais and Loire reds can be enjoyed as low as 10º C as a refreshing lunchtime reviver and Champagne must be served ice cold, unless it’s vintage, in which case it deserves a slightly higher temperature that allows its subtleties to shine.

However, the most significant external factor affecting wine is you. My advice is always to drink wine in a good mood. The chemical balance in our mouth is affected by mood, which is the primary reason for the familiar claim: “Well it tasted better in Greece!”

- James Bloom