Anthony Rose: 'As with Marmite, there are some wines you either loathe or cherish'

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

The Marmite ad doesn't pretend that everyone has to like the sticky brown stuff. It's OK that some of us – such as myself, for instance – love it, while others find it loathsome. Wine tends not to divide opinions but achieve a common consensus based on reliability and quality. Indeed, products like non-vintage champagne flaunt their consistency of style to reach a broad common denominator of taste.

As with Marmite, though, there are some wines that divide opinion down the middle, wines you either loathe or cherish – wines that provoke controversial love-it ooohs or hate-it aaarrghs.

Certain wines are actually made with inbuilt "flaws". Sherry, for instance, undergoes processes that make you wonder how it can end up remotely drinkable. Manzanilla, like the dry, sea salt-tangy La Gitana from Hidalgo, £6.29 at Tesco from Monday, £7.99, Waitrose, Majestic, is attacked by oxygen in the barrel with only a thin film of yeast to protect it, resulting in yeast-derived flavours which, to the novice palate, can taste all wrong. It's wine's answer to game, whose essence, the hanging process, distorts freshness in favour of secondary "off-flavours". Traditional white riojas like Viña Tondonia and Murrieta, Lebanon's Château Musar and some of the new-wave "natural" wines, have some of the jolie laide about them, too.

Château de Beaucastel is a Rhône red that was prone in some vintages to an Old-MacDonald's-farm meatiness, loved by the Jack Spratts of this world. The Mrs Spratts wouldn't touch it, no doubt preferring a vivid, faultlessly modern spicy Rhône red such as 2007 Domaine de Cassan Tradition, Beaumes de Venise, £8.49, Waitrose. Port and similar sweet fortified wines are "unnaturally" stopped in mid-fermentation to keep in the sugar. The south of France can do the tawny style well, too, in a wine like the Croix Milhas Rivesaltes Ambré NV, Roussillon, 37.5cl, £7.99, Tesco, half price from Wednesday, rich in toffee apple and smoky coffee aromas, with a nuttiness that goes well with blue cheese. Madeira is heat-treated to mimic the effects of a trans-equatorial sea voyage.

Is it possible to find chocolate in a wine and like it? Take the Cape's Diemersfontein Pinotage with its oak-derived flavours of coffee and chocolate. Some might say this is a bonus as it masks the flavour of the pinotage grape. To me it's an aberration, but not apparently to its many fans, who lap it up as if were, er, coffee and chocolate. When I mentioned I disliked it to its offended owner, David Sonneberg, he had it analysed to confirm that there was nothing wrong with it.

Conclusion: it must be me that had the problem as thousands of cases were being sold by Waitrose at the time. To add insult to injury, I've recently come across a couple of wines piggy-backing on the success of the Diemersfontein, first the 2009 Coffee Pinotage Mochatage, Marks & Spencer, £6.99, and secondly, the mocha-flavoured 2008 Choccochino Shiraz, £7.99, £5.99 over Christmas, Tesco. I tried them both and found them as distasteful as the Diemersfontein Pinotage I so dislike. But I have no doubt that to those who like the taste of chocolate in their wine, they will be extremely popular.

All of which goes to show that however objective we try to be about taste, beauty in the long run is in the eye – and nose – of the beholder.

Comments