Monthly Archives: April 2011

A test & a rest for the teeth

My teeth are happy. Today they’re having a little break from judging at this year’s International Wine Challenge, which yesterday ended with a line-up of blockbuster Australian Shirazes after flights of Rioja Reservas, Chilean Carmenères and Cabernet Francs, and even some Turkish Öküzgözü thrown into the mix.

While these judging stints are tough on the teeth (especially for those who are doing the full 2 weeks) and attention spans are tested to the max, judging days like this fly by because they’re fun and well run but also because they’re a great chance to catch up with the rest of the wine trade, to benchmark your palate against others and to test your palate in general, especially if you taste without knowing any detail about the wine at all, which is what happened on Monday when winemaker John Worontschak was my panel chair.

John, whose garden happens to back onto that of David Cameron’s house (no, not Number 10, before he moved to Westminster), is a consultant winemaker all over the world, from Russia to England’s very own Denbies Estate.

He was great fun as a judge, but serious when he needed to be too. And his preferred tasting system – that of identifying the grape/region/country at the end of each flight – really encouraged us all to focus, which I guess I must have done, having correctly spotted a flight of Valpolicellas and then a flight of Chiantis. Maybe I can justify that trip to Vinitaly 2 weeks ago after all….

Back into the fray tomorrow for the last day’s judging, the results of which will be revealed the London International Wine Fair in May, where (shameless plug alert), The Wine Gang area will show its stonking Top 100 selection from the past year, see’s-on/the-top-100 and each of us will be hosting a seminar for the South West of France too, see

So come and say hi if you’re there! You’ll see great wines and a huge smile, although if my teeth are as black as last night, I’ll understand if you don’t want to see the latter!

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House of glass & the BBC


A story saying us wine drinkers couldn’t tell expensive wine from plonk hit the papers yesterday.

I hope I don’t sound like some highfalutin wine snob but I really, really, really can’t buy into this.

Hopefully I proved as much when I went into the BBC World Service studios last night to record a piece for The World Today. I sat next to a self-confessed “wine heathen”, AKA David Lewis who works on the BBC news desk.

We tasted three wines on air with the presenter and were all asked to put them in order of price and then guess the price in dollars. David and I were at odds with each wine, so the pressure was seriously on, but thankfully my reputation came out in tact as the wines were revealed. Phew.

I didn’t want to go on the show and rant my head off, but there were a few points I made, and even more that I wanted to make, but we ran out of time. These points included:

  • For the survey – the ‘expensive’ samples used were in some cases thought to be from wines that are artificially-high in price (so they can be discounted quite readily). So no wonder the difference was difficult to make.
  • Expensive wines are, very often built for their complexity and subtlety, and so won’t necessarily jump out of the glass straight away like a cheaper wine on the supermarket shelf that’s been made/bought for immediate consumption.

Revisit the wines an hour after they’ve been in the glass, and I suspect the more expensive wine will have opened out and show its supremacy. I imagine this didn’t happen in the survey which produced the questionable conclusions.

Frustratingly, stories like this only fuel scepticism that expensive wine is a rip-off.

I’m a massive advocate of the approach that it doesn’t matter what you pay for a wine as long as you enjoy it, but I also find it massively ignorant and narrow-minded to say all expensive wine isn’t worth the money. Whether it’s the use of expensive barrels or the rarity of the raw material (grapes), there’s a huge number of factors that can ramp up the cost of a wine, and in many cases, it is worth the extra cost. Rant over.


My kiddie-in-a-sweet-shop moment usually happens when I’m in a wine shop with an interesting and exciting range. Today it happened in a different type of shop – glassware.

I visited Around Wine today, a shop with a treasure trove of wine accessories, and only 3 weeks in its new Marylebone location in London, on Chiltern Street (

It has a spoiling choice of wine glasses and decanters from some of the most popular and revered manufacturers including Riedel and Schott Zweisel.  

However, it was another Austrian range that very quickly caught my eye, Zalto by Denk’art and the incredibly light weight of the Universal glass in this range has to be held to be believed.

As I was in wine-geek heaven air-swirling the glass as though I was tasting, wine glass supremo Daniel Primack flicked the corner of one of the display glasses to demonstrate its durability. And it worked. After falling over, there wasn’t a mark or a scratch to be seen, which to me, seems like nothing short of pure magic.

They were too good to resist, and now there’s a Gruner in my fridge patiently waiting to road-test my new purchase. Happy weekend!

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The Italian mob

While I’ve been catching up and catching breath with life back in London after 3 months in Oz, I’m becoming increasingly excited about the variety, quality and downright gorgeousness of Italian wines in the UK these days.

I realise this may be all-the-more obvious after my Shiraz-fest Down Under, but two tastings have really highlighted this to me in the last week or so.

Firstly, a tasting from mail-order merchant The Wine Society, which showed new wines from its April-June list. And, even though the merchant’s new Sherry listings also come very high up on the must-buy list, as a group of wines, the Italians stole the show for me.

From the refreshing and brilliantly priced Campanian wine – Grecco Sannio, Janare 2010 from La Guardiense (£6.75) to the more exotic Sicilian wine, a blend of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Capuccio in Romeo del Castello’s Vigo Etna Rosso 2008 (£22). Or even the nearly-extinct variety of Susummaniello in the delicious Puglian wine Torre Guaceto Sum 2007 (£9.95).

The next week, my bubbling Italian theory was proved even further, following a tasting by London merchant Lea & Sandeman. This was a bit of a spoiling tasting, perhaps, but from the brilliantly fresh and fruity Umbrian wine such as Caprai’s Grecante Grechetto Colli Martani 2010 (£12.50) to the hugely impressive meaty red of Sottimano’s Barbaresco Curra 2007 (£37.25). Then an insanely-perfumed Chianti thanks to the Poggerino Chianti Classico Riserva Bugialla 2007 (£23.95), and staying in Tuscany, Le Macchiole’s Paleo Bolgheri Rosso 2005 (£43.75) also more than hit the mark.

There are so, so, many more, which, before I make it sound like I’m writing a very early Christmas wish-list (friends: take note), I think I’d better just recommend logging onto the to see more about these wines. 

I gave my tastebuds an Italian break yesterday when I had lunch at St John’s Bread & Wine in the City, and instead I discovered a new little French gem - a fabulous Provençal white blend of Marsanne, Clairette, Ugni Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc. The 2008 Cassis Blanc from Domaine de Bagnol was a rich but refreshing wine that was a perfect foil for the disgustingly decadent feast of potted pork, beetroot and Ticklemore, lemon sole and garlic soup, less of a match with the rice pudding and freshly-baked Madeleines you’ll not be surprised to hear. I’m still amazed I fit into my jeans this morning.

Then again, I’m off to Italy on Wednesday so to be perfectly honest there’s just no room, or time, for jean-fitting concerns right now.

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