If you are taking your first steps along the wine path, here are a few pointers …

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

Don’t kill your carefully chosen white. Another surprising discovery.

Drinking Boekenhoutskloof The Wolftrap at Portencross

As we prepared for a picnic at Portencross in Ayrshire this weekend I ran out of the house grabbing a bottle of Boekenhoutskloof, The Wolftrap 2010 made from the grapes Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Chenin, from a recently delivered wine box from, you guessed it, Swig. What this wine had going for it in my haste was a screwcap and that I had not tried it in six months. But it wasn’t chilled. I was thinking uh oh, it’s just not going to sing. Everything else was just right. The setting, the saltbeef sandwich on rye and the sun was shining. But I gave the first glass to my wife and she loved it. And then I tried it. Yes, wow, it was wonderful, giving off all its perfume of gentle orange and peach and guava. It had a gorgeous sastisfying texture too, which was perfect on a day that had a bit of a breeze, to make the wine feel more substantial and also to match the weight of the sandwich. Well I was amazed. All that for £10.
So with half a bottle left I put it in the fridge to try with our roast chicken dinner the same night. Serving a glass straight after getting it out of fridge it had completely closed down. The nose was far less interesting. It was very pleasant indeed but showing nothing like the wonderful wafts of fruit we got earlier in the day. The texture was less rich as well. So we went through the meal as was and I saved one last sip for when I was tidying up, and it was the best sip of the night, becuase it was back to room temperature, or just about. So, the point is, for a wine with plenty of character, made from grapes such as Viognier, Roussanne, Chenin Blanc and Grenache Blanc the chances our you will have much more fun if you give it just 10 minutes in the fridge, than if you serve it cold from the fridge. I must remember to do this more often. Better to start a bit warm and chill it down than the other way round, as by the time it warms up you’ll have finished the meal. – Robin

Forget fishing for snow crabs in the north Atlantic – describing wine is the hardest job in the world

Let’s all take a brief moment to sympathise with wine merchants. I suspect that was the shortest pause since J.Howard Marshall asked Anna Nicole Smith to marry him, so let’s move swiftly on. I was whining because we frequently venture out on a long linguistic limb to convey the character of a wine while nasty, bully-boy cynics stand below shaking the tree. The problem facing anyone writing about wine is the task of describing one thing in terms of another – a distinctly human practice. An animal would view a wine in terms of its wetness, temperature and potability, yet we humans demand similes, metaphors and analogies, which essentially describe something in terms of that which it is not.

It’s no wonder then that if you throw a little alcohol into the mix, you end up with some alarming prose. Jilly Goolden tends to be the fall girl for most satirists, but even the world’s most influential wine writer, Robert Parker, uses some fairly kaleidoscopic imagery, like “acacia flowers, black raspberries, creosote and crushed rocks”, when trying to describe an Australian Shiraz.

Trying to evoke taste through words can be fog-knittingly frustrating, but there’s never any need to hide behind jargon like “sappy” or “sinewy” if the words aren’t forthcoming.

One of the most overused words in wine-writing today is ‘minerality’. No self-respecting white wine dare show its face unless it has this season’s must-have accessory, ‘a strong mineral streak’, yet no one seems willing to define exactly what it means. In that sense, it’s similar to love: resistant to definition and abused by charlatans. Yes, Pouilly-Fumé can exhibit ‘flinty’ notes and Mosel Rieslings can suggest the slate of their steep vineyards, but these are the exceptions not the rule. Caveat empty promises!

‘Terroir’ is another term open to overuse by those wishing to claim integrity for a wine, but at least there’s empirical evidence to show that its influence is real and widespread. It doesn’t just refer to the soil but the interplay of all the natural elements peculiar to a region. A Mercedes Benz built in Germany will essentially be identical to one built in China, but a Pinot Noir made in Nuits-St-Georges will be noticeably different from one made just down the road in Chambolle-Musigny, assuming the winemaker allows the wine to express its origins.

Right, I really must crack on and review this bottle of Cheval Blanc 1990 sitting in front of me. Thank you for your sympathy.

- James Bloom

Don’t serve good Rose too cold. A fortunate discovery.

Drinking Domaine Coste Rose in the garden, June 20, 2012[/caption]
I arrived home later than my guest and popped a bottle of our Southern French Rose Domaine Coste in the freezer. After making the guacomole I was too embarassed to arrive in the garden without a bottle of wine as well and took the rose from the freezer, popped the cork and we were all amazed at how lovely it was. It couldn’t have been in the chiller more than ten minutes. My guest even said it tasted of strawberries. And I totallly agree. But it wouldn’t have if we had chilled it as hard as we all normally cool our roses. It was much better than when I served it at the weekend with roast chicken at a cooler temperature. Though even then our guests commented on how lovely it was. So the point is half an hour in the fridge is about right to get the maximum from this beautiful wine. Or else take it out of the fridge 15 to 30 minutes or more before you drink it (I know,I know). At the higher serving temperature you also get more of the round texture of the wine, more so than if it was too cold, and you get why it is frankly better than the ridiculously highly priced Ott and Esclans roses that sell for more like £25 and £45 respectively. Try them blind in a line up and say what you think they’re worth. The rose Coste disappeared quicker than a flash and we moved into a bottle of our best value red find of last year, Hacienda Zorita 2006, which never ceases to amaze.


Decanter’s Top Australian Riesling

Skillogallee is just the most refreshing, invigorating, zingy, lime-dry Riesling. Not only is it Decanter Magazine’s highest-scoring 5 Star wine in their 2010 Riesling tasting (see below), but it is also in Matthew Jukes’s Top 100 Australian Wines.

“Orange blossom, tropical fruit, stone fruit and floral perfume. Rich and exotic style with good weight and balance. Seamlessly integrated mineral acidity and a floral finish. Delicious, complex and multi-dimensional.” -Decanter Magazine (5 Stars/19.25 points)

Skillogallee is also rated as one of Australia’s Top Ten Riesling producers by Gourmet Traveller.