Martin Isark's wine column
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DRINKING red Burgundy is the equal of any other pleasure in life. Unfortunately, 99% of the ones available in our wine shops and supermarkets are a disgrace. Surely, if a retailer is not getting quality for the available price points, he should respect his customers enough to abandon classic areas and buy pinot noir from other premium wine regions - like Martinborough of New Zealand. This would be the wake-up shock Burgundy producers and merchants need.
THE 2000 vintage white Burgundy is now on the shelves. Almost perfect conditions ensured a good harvest and enabled makers to achieve very drinkable wines. The warm temperatures have caused them to mature early, with village quality and even some premier crus drinking very well now. The grand crus and the premier crus that have been fermented in new French oak will, on the whole, need more time.
THERE are powerful similarities between the wine-growing regions of WA, as the Aussies call Western Australia, and those of California. Swan Valley, WA, is a grape-growing area with high yields, and the source of most of the wine made and drunk in the state - just like Central Valley in California.
BACK in the early Nineties, a marketeer from one of Australia’s big branded wine companies was lecturing on the growing success of Aussie wines.
THE 2000 vintage has been so kind to grape growers around the world that most of them have produced excellent wines. Unfortunately, greed reigns and many Bordeaux chateaux have doubled or even trebled their prices to both cash in and frustrate the speculators’ market. The resultant and ridiculous cost of around £300 a bottle for top (but embryonic) Bordeaux has therefore spiralled out of the reach of most wine lovers and turned the wines into mere trophies for the super-rich.
WE like our beer. Latest figures from AC Nielsen reveal that, in 2000, UK consumers spent nearly £16.5bn - more than was shelled out on wine and spirits combined. And those are only the official figures. Add on to that the extra 25% calculated to be the amount of booze smuggled over the Channel and you’re nearer the real figure of £20bn. A lot of beer.
THE French have the word for it - terroir. It refers to the unique flavours imparted to a product, generally wine, from a particular plot of land. Soil, climate, aspect and sunlight all play their part in creating individuality which cannot be reproduced.
PROFESSIONAL tasters spend most of their time tasting alcoholic drinks, so it’s pleasant to foray into the non-alcoholic sector. Most households include cordials or squashes in their shopping lists and, as a father, I have informed views of my own.
IT’S certainly party-time for football fans, even though the celebrations (or wakes) may take place while we’re eating our porridge (or Cornflakes).
PULL or twist? Currently, a fierce debate rages in the wine industry about the relative merits of corks or screwcaps. Each has its advantages but whichever one the producer chooses is certain to alienate some section of the public. Tesco now feels it is time to convince its customers that screwcaps are better than corks and has made the change on a large number of its bestselling wines. The advertising message is ‘unwind’. Taste the difference is, of course, the real point.
HAVING recently spent a week tasting superb Blue Mountain Coffee in Jamaica, the idea of a morning with instant coffees seemed a bit of a come-down - but we all drink them. Indeed, while there is a growing demand for freshly ground coffee, ‘instant’ in its various forms still commands the lion’s share of the market and deserves some assessment.
UP TO the early Nineties, London was the hub of the tea world, with most of the finest teas traded there. Tea was associated with Britain, and English Breakfast and Yorkshire tea became very strong brands around the world. British companies still own many tea estates, but their best teas go anywhere other than Britain, with Japan and Germany the main players. A tea estate manager in Darjeeling told me that even Harrods does not buy the very best quality.
PINOT noir has become the ultimate challenge for every wine maker around the world.
WHEN I tasted the ’97 vintage in the spring of ’98, I wrote that it was a vintage for drinkers. The best wines, I thought, were from the right bank, especially the merlot-dominated ones. Then, in 1999, I tasted a hundred of them again, and was stunned to discover how these wines had gathered roundness and depth from the extra year in the barrel - in particular, the cabernet-dominated wines from the left bank, such as Ch‰teau Margaux and Ch‰teau Latour.
CLEVER marketing, brand-building and its own innate qualities have combined to make champagne the ultimate sparkling wine for a special celebration. Its dancing bubbles enable the alcohol to be absorbed more swiftly into the bloodstream so that the feeling of warm well-being engulfs the drinker much more quickly. Just right for a big day - and what day is bigger than a wedding?
JAMAICAN Blue Mountain is a name that brings a gleam to the eyes of any coffee lover, to whom it delivers unadulterated pleasure, just as prestige Champagne, first-growth Claret or grand cru Burgundy does to an oenophile. Many will be horrified to learn (though, perhaps, not surprised) that roughly 20 times more of this coffee is sold than is actually produced. Producers and consumers are being seriously short-changed.
ROBERT Parker, the extraordinarily powerful American critic of fine wines (over £20 a bottle), was a late 20th-century phenomenon. Can his influence continue in the 21st?
CONSERVATIVE and traditional Austria is not the first country you would think of being at the forefront of selling and making wine.