I thought, being an opinionated shopkeeper, I'd give you some of my thoughts on vinous matters, starting, appropriately, with:
There is VINOSITY and there is VINOPOLIS (meaning, I suppose, "City of Wine").
Vinopolis is a sort of wine museum in the middle of London. If you're a pedant like me, you will have also have noticed that Vinopolis is a horrible hybrid word - it should be OINOPOLIS (the Greek for wine is "oinos", not vino).
Vinosity is not a city - or even a museum. But it is also under threat. At least it is in cheap wines. Most cheap wines do not taste of wine. They lack vinosity.
I am all for cheap wine. We ourselves sell significant quantities of under Â£5 a bottle wines. The more people drink wine, the happier I am. But I am interested in selling real wine, not alcoholic fruit juice. If I want to drink fruit Juice, Ribena is a lot cheaper.
Vinosity is the quality of "wininess". All over the world now there are large wineries pumping out vast quantities of mass-produced, terrifically fruity, fruit-juicy so-called wines that are perfectly pleasant to drink, but are more easily confused with Fanta than wine. They get lots of write-ups in the wine pages of the national press. Words to watch out for (I think it's a sort of code) are: for whites - "melony" - my advice is avoid anything described as melony; for reds - "bubblegum" - similarly, avoid.
Happily, as you go further up the price ladder, this lack of vinosity disappears.
So, while we offer what we think is a good range of lower priced wines, we stock comparatively few - but they do all exhibit real VINOSITY. Yes, they taste of wine!
I am very happy with non-cork closures for wine bottles. I particularly like those flesh-coloured plastic corks - it looks as if you're pulling someone's finger out of the top of the bottle - excellent!
lt seems to be the fashion to write about corks, and who am I to ignore fashion so here goes:
It is said that one in eight bottles of wine is affected by cork taint. To coin a phrase, there are lies, damned lies and statistics. This figure means thatÂ one and a half bottles in every case of wine is corked. This is patently untrue: I challenge anybody to tell me honestly that for every two dozen bottles of wine they drink, 3 are corked. In our business we sell to just about anybody - restaurants, wholesale, retail, mail order, corporate. The highest number of returns we get is from restaurants, by a very large margin. Even for restaurants the figure is miles short of one in eight, and in the case of restaurants any rejected bottle is recorded as corked - even perfectly good ones - believe me! I should point out that there are numbers of other reasons why bottles of wine are faulty; it is unfair always to blame the cork.
Nevertheless, I completely accept that faulty wine, for whatever reason, is a Bad Thing, so let us look more closely at this cork problem. The cork industry's argument that doing away with corks would deal a tragic blow to the environment in Portugal seems to me to be codswallop. I'll explain why: there will always be a demand for corks. Experiments have been conducted into the ageing of wine, and it does seem that for serious cellaring of the very best wines corks do the best job. I will admit that I don't get to drink the world's best wines frequently, but of those that I have, not one has been corked. In addition, being a wine anorak, I enjoy reading other people's tasting notes in books, magazines, etc., where the incidence of corkiness among top wines seems (unless there is a cover-up) to be extremely low. In the case of cheaper wines the incidence of cork taint is higher. There is a reason for this: there are certain areas of bark on cork trees that produce the highest quality corks - with the lowest probability of a problem with cork taint. Cheaper bottles of wine use cheaper cork.
As more and more wine is being bottled (and drunk), so the cork problem will get worse, because more and more inferior cork bark will have to be used to keep up with demand. The solution seems to me to be simple: do away with corks for cheaper wines that do not need long ageing, but continue with them for the best.
A currently fashionable phrase among the wine-writing fraternity is "fruit-driven". I am fed up with fruit-driven. As a one-off it might be very slightly arresting, and so worth risking as a description of a wine. But when you see it trotted out relentlessly in articles everywhere it is tiresome beyond, well, words.
What does it mean? Fruit-driven? Does it mean "fruity"? If it does, why not say "fruity"? Or does the "driven" bit add something? If so, what?
I suppose we are to imagine the fruit driving the wine. A grapefruit or a banana, or maybe a bunch of fruits (possibly masked by tannins) driving a Citroen or a Fiat?
Is there an implication in this ridiculous metaphor that there are other things that drive wines? Tannin-driven wines, for instance? Or acid-driven wines (wow! - there's an idea!).
Give me a break. Cars, people and piles are driven. Not wine.
A short musing on the subject of:
WINES IN RESTAURANTS
Wines in restaurants should be different and interesting.
Let me explain.
Restaurants in this country are expensive. I am happy to pay the high prices if the experience is worth it. By that I mean I will gladly pay up if the restaurateur and his or her team are prepared to do the work - in the kitchen, with the service and in the choice of wines.
I don't see much point in going out to a restaurant to eat steak, for example. I can go to a good butcher and cook steak for myself.
Restaurateurs can buy their wines in a number of ways and from a wide range of suppliers. Some go to Oddbins. I have no time for such behaviour. Wine prices in restaurants are steep. I resent deeply having to pay 2 or 3 times the price (or more) for a bottle that I can perfectly well buy for myself in Oddbins. This is sheer idleness on the part of the restaurateur. I am not content to pay for idleness.
Conversely, if a restaurateur finds a really interesting, delicious, rarely seen wine for, say, Â£4.50 a bottle and sells it to me for Â£25, he or she has done the work and deserves to be rewarded for it. I do not resent the big mark-up.
Again, there are restaurants that go to just one supplier for all their wine. It's so much easier, less trouble. So, unless the wine list is small (and I have no quarrel with this if the wines are well chosen and go well with the food), this is a bit of a giveaway that the restaurant probably doesn't take too much trouble over its wines. Well, it should take trouble - that's what I'm paying for. It is so irritating to go to a restaurant and choose a wine that turns out to be dull, when I know (being in the trade) that for approximately the same money there are other wines that are delicious, and then, of course, in the consumer's mind there is often the worry of possible disappointment. Now, being a hardened wine bore and committed burgundy drinker, I suppose I am coming from somewhere different from many people: for me the transportingly wonderful bottle of wine (usually burgundy!) that I happen upon now and again makes up a hundredfold for all the disappointments. Sort of similar to the principle that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
However, there is no getting around the fact that if there isn't the odd well-known name on the wine list, such as a Rioja or Chablis, sales will be lost - but they don't have to be a big brand name that you can buy at Sainsburys (and they can be a lot nicer!). Making a thrilling discovery uplifts me far more than meeting a disappointment depresses me.
While I'm taking aim - and now I'm going to mix my metaphors (if Shakespeare can do it, then so can I) - I do have a bone to pick with restaurant writers: if the wine isÂ mentioned at all in a review, it is usually in passing in such a way that it is impossible to identity it, such as ".... all washed down with an excellent Gigondas ...." What use is that to anybody? Water also washes food down well. Wine for most people is an integral part of eating out. Restaurants make a large proportion of their profits from wine. It's important and it does matter, so in my opinion there is no excuse.
There are often descriptions of the food in - minute detail, so let's hear it for the wine as well - is it really so much trouble to give a vintage and a producer - and even (!!!) to attempt a short description? It seems to me that not doing so amounts to laziness. And if a restaurant has made the effort with its wine, PLEASE SAY SO.
Hats off, finally, to those restaurateurs - and happily there are a growing number - who do make an effort with their wines. Patronise their restaurants, encourage them. Explore their wine lists.
If you would like to comment on these thoughts - then please email Tom Innes: firstname.lastname@example.org