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1. "Music doesnt have to be loud to be good"


Paolo de Marchi, who runs the estate of Isole e Olena in Tuscany, makes the finest, most wonderful Chianti I have tasted. It has a facinating array of nuances, with beauty, harmony and elegance. Signor de Marchi was explaining how a wine doesn’t have to be a big rich blockbuster to be delicious when he opined that “music doesn’t have to be loud to be good”.


Of course, Australian Shirazes and Californian Chardonnays are undoubtedly pleasing, glorious wines – the enormous lush symphonies and huge choral works of the wine world. But there are also string quartets, Chopin Nocturnes, subtle, brilliant, endlessly fascinating, quieter wines; they do not shout their appeal; they will reveal their charm to those who are prepared to listen to them.


Two grape varieties that produce string quartets rather than symphonies are Pinot Noir and Riesling. Pinot Noir is often dismissed as being “thin”, Riesling as being too “sweet”. “Thin” is not a complimentary word when applied to wine – it suggests meanness, lack of generosity; the word I would use instead is “light”; a very pale burgundy may be light in body, but explosive in flavour (like a whippet), with lots of subtle, intricate aromas on the nose, and volume, though not weight, of flavour; it may also have wonderful texture, with a thrilling balance between the tannin, acdity and fruit – on the other hand, it won’t be noisy, and if you’re not listening to it, you may swallow it without noticing. Sweetness in wine is also not so straightforward: many New World Chardonnays are deliberately made with appreciable levels of residual sweetness, because the producers are aware that many people have a sweet tooth, but it’s rather out of fashion to drink sweet wine – it’s uncool; so those Chardonnays are labelled “dry”. Riesling, however, after years of the British public knocking back oceans of dull sugar-water with names like Liebfraumilch on the label, has fallen out of fashion; but such wines are low in acidity, making them dull, flabby and unbalanced – if there is sufficient balancing acidity, the wine tastes much less sweet, resulting in a balanced, delicious wine. In fact, just recently, a vivid example of this happened in the case of a Chenin Blanc (another string quartet variety) that was reviewed by a journalist: I was showing a medium-dry Chenin Blanc (though it doesn’t say so on the label) at a tasting; it also has high acidity; the journalist in the article called the wine a “dry white”!


It may be a more reflective experience, but spare a thought for less noisy wines.