My Round: Grape expectations

If you have no idea how a wine is 'supposed to taste', even lesser vintages can become memorable treats
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

Drinkers with a longish memory may recall Majestic's Norwegian coup. When the Norwegian state liquor monopoly was shaking itself up a few years ago, Majestic Wine Warehouses made a deal with the company to buy up large portions of its stocks of fine wine, including mature clarets, which it then sold at prices far lower than any other UK retailer could have proposed. The company followed this coup with a smaller acquisition of surplus from Sweden's national monopoly.

Drinkers with a longish memory may recall Majestic's Norwegian coup. When the Norwegian state liquor monopoly was shaking itself up a few years ago, Majestic Wine Warehouses made a deal with the company to buy up large portions of its stocks of fine wine, including mature clarets, which it then sold at prices far lower than any other UK retailer could have proposed. The company followed this coup with a smaller acquisition of surplus from Sweden's national monopoly.

And now it's done it again, but this time from a different type of source: a large wine merchant in Switzerland from whom it has bought a moderately sizeable stock of largely mature-ish clarets. Don't dawdle: stocks of some wines are as small as a few hundred bottles. But the wines are once again numerous and the prices keen, especially if you're willing to take a chance on lesser vintages such as 1997 and 1998.

The subject of lesser vintages is a troubling one, best summarised by the axiom that "there are no bad vintages, only bad wines". Of course, all this really means is that in some vintages it is easier to make bad wines than to make good ones. Just to make things more complicated: in these vintages, it is very easy to make wines that fall short of the expectations for a property but which are still good enough to be enjoyed on their own merits.

Where this kind of wine is concerned, the drinker's greatest ally is an open mind. Or, as I prefer to put it: complete ignorance. If you don't know how the wine is "supposed to taste", you are more receptive to whatever qualities it possesses. Instead of thinking about what isn't there, you think about what is. This kind of preconception-free approach is the great argument in favour of blind tasting.

Open minds are also in order for an idea from Tom Cannavan, proprietor and chief glass-washer of www.wine-pages.com. Wine-pages, a favourite website of this column, is inviting its regulars to take part in a "palate calibration exercise", a mass tasting of a particular wine with each taster posting his or her comments and marks on the site. The last calibration extravaganza took place in 2001, focusing on an Australian Shiraz. You can see the results at www.wine-pages.com/forum/pce.htm.

For my money, this year's wine - Louis Jadot's Beaujolais Villages Combe Aux Jacques 2003 - is far more interesting. The price is around £6.50, and stockists are flung far and wide: Tesco, Waitrose, Safeway, Asda, everywine.co.uk and independent merchants. The form is now on the site and will stay there until the middle of September, so you and the wine-pagers have nearly a month to locate a bottle, do your tasting, and write it up. It's not rocket science: just taste the wine, comment on it, give a score out of 20 and answer three questions (Would you buy it again? Was it good value for money? Did you also drink it with food? If so, any comments?). There's also space for further comments. To find out what it's all about, go to www.wine-pages.com/forum/pce.htm. Take part, if only to show that IoS readers are devoted, forthright and eager. And taste before you read other people's comments.

This mass-tasting has a special relevance to the subject of vintage variations. As you may remember from an earlier Beaujolais report in these pages, 2003, according to Gillaume de Castelnau of the Château des Jacques, was a meteorological nightmare: freak weather at different times of the year left them with a liquid production around a quarter of the normal size. Reduced production doesn't usually mean reduced quality - often, quite the opposite - but it will be interesting to see what the Jadotians have made in their annus horribilis. Join the tasters and have your say.

Top Corks: Three tangy Booths

Skillogalee Riesling 2003 £9.99, Booths supermarkets Lucky Booths' customers! Such interesting wines. This cutie is typical of the Clare Valley, mineral, lime tang, and a hint of sweetness.

Curious Grape Schönburger 2002 £6.99 Another slightly sweet, home-grown, strange basket of fruit flavours. A primo example of one of the few table-wine styles at which England really excels.

Domaine Biblia Chora 2003 £8.49 A real find from Kevala, Greece. Equal parts of Sauvignon Blanc and the indigenous Assyrtiko, yielding complex fruit flavours and fresh acidity. Semi-spectacular.

Comments