Richard Ehrlich's Beverage Report: Real-world drinking

Your own dining-room can be just as instructive about wonderful wines as the tasting-room

YOU might assume that people who write about drinks learn most by going on tastings and winery visits. You'd probably be right. There's just as much to learn, however, from having dinner with friends. This is Real-World Drinking, not the artificially dispassionate examinations of the tasting-room. It shows what people spend their money on, and what they think about the stuff.

For instance, most recently: dinner with my wife's old friend Debby and her husband David, with Debby's brother James and his wife as the other guests. The conversation was the star, as it should be at dinner parties, but the drinking (of which there was plenty) was fascinating for several reasons. One: James brought along a bottle of a minor 1995 St Emilion, which he bought en primeur on a tip from Tanner's (01743 234 500).

Now, we all know that Bordeaux's grotesque expense makes Burgundy look like "better value for money". I'm quoting from the Bibendum en-primeur offer document for 1997 Burgundy. But if you look through Bibendum's offer, you won't find anything selling for less than pounds 50-60 per case, and that's Bourgogne Aligote (ex-cellars). Which means a total of about pounds 6 per bottle, while this claret, a tasty little number, worked out at around pounds 4.50 per 75cl. It's all gone now, but the message I gleaned was very clear: if you want truly cheap wine of drinkable quality, intelligently guided buying in Bordeaux still has plenty of arguments in its favour.

Number two: most of what we drank was a Brouilly 1997 made by Jacques Depagneux and sold by the Wine Society for pounds 5.95 (ref no BJ1181; 01438 741 177). After a few glasses (quite a few glasses), it got me thinking how boring Beaujolais can be. Even when it's good, like this bottle, its one-dimensionality is ultimately deadening to the taste buds. My favourite descriptor is bubble-gum, and this is metaphorically correct as well: Beaujolais is, as Tom Stephenson points out, the red wine for people who don't like wine. (To be fair, it's also the wine for people who want a jolly, undemanding drink to glug without asking too much of their cerebral cortex.)

I've long blamed the Gamay grape for that simple-minded sweetness. Then I read Anthony Hanson's Burgundy (Faber, pounds 15.99) and learnt I was wrong. It's not the grape but the techniques used in making the wine: high yields, careless handling, over-chaptalisation (adding of sugar to boost alcohol) - all these play a part in the sweet insipidity of Beaujolais at its worst. Hanson speaks of "two Beaujolais cultures", one aiming for high volume and low prices and the other for low-volume quality at a suitably higher price.

It was just as well, then, that I had solicited a half-case of wares from Roger Harris, the Norfolk specialist (01603 880 171) who bangs the drum for Beaujolais with an admirably single-minded zeal. Tasting his sextet quickly restored my faith in the region, though some were a bit too young to drink. But there were no complaints about Chiroubles 1997, Cuvee Vidame de Rocsain (pounds 7.75), which overlaid the bubble-gum with cherries and raspberries and a wonderful richness. Nor about Julienas 1997, Francois Condemine (pounds 7.95), with its nice spicy notes and warm earthiness. Nor about Noel Aucur's oak-aged Morgon 1996 (pounds 8.25), in which the cherries mingle with plums and the nose is heavenly.

Beaujolais can age well - you may be surprised given the fuss that's made about Beaujolais Nouveau. But people in the trade often speak of the mystery bottle presented at a tasting which they thought was red Burgundy and turned out to be a 20-year-old Julienas. I'd wager that all these Harris offerings will taste even better in a few years. Banish thoughts of bubble-gum; give these boys a chance; buy from Mr Harris, or from independents, or see what Oddbins (sometimes a good source) has on offer. Be prepared to spend at least pounds 7. Enjoy yourself.

If you're not in the mood to try the best of Beaujolais, here's a trio of reds from other areas making indubitably grown-up wine. First: Delaire Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1997, Stellenbosch (pounds 9.99, Safeway). Fragrant on the nose, softly sweet on the palate, but abundant black-currant and plummy fruit with a gentle nip of tannin; an ornament to any dinner-party table featuring game or red meat. Second: Cotes-du-Rhone 1996, Domaine Charvin (pounds 7.64, Laytons, 0171 388 4567). This is a Grenache-dominated blend, very substantial, with a nice length of pepper and spice. Third: Navajas Rioja 1996 (pounds 4.99, Waitrose). Mostly Tempranillo, light toasty oak which isn't allowed to rough up the fruit, good depth at the price. All are enough to make the winter of our discontent glorious summer. Well, almost enough.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine