Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Sediment Christmas Wine Selection: Week Two

After last week’s set of shoddy suggestions from CJ, I can only imagine the foreboding of his friends and family, who now realise what they will have to suffer drinking on Christmas Day. As I have said to him before, things have come to a pretty pass when you spend more on your turkey than on your wine.

No, this is the time of year when you feel that you can  sweep into a wine merchant that sounds like a chartered surveyors, a wine merchant posh enough to have an ampersand in its name. A chap in a striped shirt will say “Can I help  you, sir?”, in that manner which suggests “Can I help you to find the other place you are clearly supposed to be?”

But this time, you can reply “I hope so – I’m looking for a bottle of Pol Roger…” And he will smile knowingly, and you will feel that you have earned your right to be there.

So of course, my Christmas Day will begin with Pol Roger White Foil Brut, because it was Churchill’s favourite champagne and, like him, “My tastes are simple. I am easily satisfied with the best.” Churchill supposedly had 42,000 bottles opened over his lifetime, but for my Christmas Day a few less may suffice.
If someone objects to CJ’s budget Cava, he’s got no-one to blame but himself, but if anyone disapproves of my choice, I can always lay the blame on Winston. And while I’m trying to conquer the cooking, I can come out with his quote about champagne: “In victory I deserve it, in defeat I need it”.

(Of course, you don’t have to get your Pol Roger from a posh wine merchant. You can get it from Majestic. But the chap serving you might be wearing a polyester fleece…)

Let’s not get carried away with this “traditional” business. I mean, I don’t spend Christmas prancing around in a periwig. But on the other hand, a screwcap New World red is simply not on. A screwcap wine is about as traditional as a vacuum-packed turkey.

And again, Christmas is a rare opportunity to stroll into a proper wine merchant’s, and boldly ask for a bottle of claret. Not a bottle of Bordeaux; use a proper, Olde English term for a proper Olde English occasion. I shall leave it to your better judgment as to whether or not you add “my good man”.

A wine merchant might not know what you mean if you wander in forsoothing and gadzooksing, but he’ll know what you mean by claret alright. He’ll know you’re someone who appreciates tradition. And so will your guests – which matters, because if you don’t appreciate tradition, why are you having a traditional Christmas dinner?

You’ll want a wine you can decant for the Christmas table, because I find it’s one of the rare meals for which you can put out a decanter and no-one will accuse you of being pretentious. So you also need a wine which will benefit from a bit of breathing space; unlike CJ’s rubbish, whose flavour uses the excuse of meeting the open air to disappear faster than Santa’s reindeer. You’re looking for a wine with a bit of clout. Of course this is the time for something like my treasured remaining Leoville Barton 1989, but if you’re looking at under £20, something like a Larose-Trintaudon 2007 will retain a sense of sophistication, while stunning the range of flavours in a Christmas dinner into submission.

CJ asks why on earth you would need a bottle of white for Christmas dinner. The simple fact is that while he is still wrangling with his recalcitrant oven, civilised folk are having a civilised starter, like smoked salmon for example, which cries out for a nice bottle of white. I’m not as precious about the New World when it comes to whites, and something like First Press Napa Chardonnay from Waitrose is half the price of its Burgundy equivalent, but has the richness and complexity to go with both the starter and the pud. And it will go with the cold cuts on Boxing Day if there’s any left. If…

In the interests of symmetry with his own post, I am not permitted to stray into the contentious territory of vintage port. CJ seems to object to it because, and I quote, “It is not 1908.” Well, it might as well be at my abode, given the dinner table decorum and the talk of Winston Churchill, so we’ll be finishing off properly with port. As I’ve said, this is the one day when it’s all about tradition; so woe betide anyone who passes it the wrong way.

Haven’t you spent enough on presents already? bleats CJ. Well, probably not for yourself. What better way of demonstrating the generosity and largesse of Christmas, while simultaneously treating yourself, than indulging in some splendid wines? Go on, go for it – and have a great Christmas.


Thursday, 11 December 2014

The Sediment Christmas Wine Selection: Week One

So we are where we are, with Christmas only two weeks away, and we need to start getting the drink in, because nothing is going to get us through the unmitigated horror of the Festive Season except being very lightly oiled nearly all the time. The good news? The crisis contains the seeds of its own resolution: we are necessarily talking quantity here, not quality - no-one is going to thank you for serving up the Chateau Palmer at Christmas, the whole thing is a gastric warzone from start to finish - and this gives us all the licence we need to head straight for the bargain section of the nearest supermarket/cornershop/petrol station and do the business right there.

What do we need? We need sparkling; we need red; and we need a bit of white. Thus -

Sparkling: Tesco Cordoniu Cava, for which I recently paid £7.49 a bottle, and even that seems excessive, although not as excessive as what they seem to be asking today. What am I going to do with it? Get it absolutely frozen, so cold it might as well be screenwash additive, and dispense it in a hurry, and often. Any complaints about the taste? Throw in some crème de cassis or noisette and remind the complainant that there is more than one use for a turkey baster.

Red: We need a ton of this stuff, for when everyone sits down at the table and gets stuck into the (by now) overdue Christmas Dinner. But what, exactly? After all, it's going to be paired with sprouts, stuffing, Utility gravy, congealing Pigs in Blankets, awful things in their own right, only tolerated because of the time of year. So my two top picks turn out to be

Aldi Chilean Carmenère - Gooseberry nose, nice overlay of caramel and chocolate, well-controlled acidity, not much finish, slight throb in the temples and an odd whiff of gunsmoke at the very end, but at £4.99 a bottle, this is the way forward, only challenged by

Sainsbury's Winemaker's Selection Corbières - an absolute steal on the day I paid £4.75 a bottle for it, generating a nice sensation of armpits on the nose, some good tannins, a hint of brush cleaner, perilously little finish, but on the other hand a fabulous colour, positively imperial in its depth and murky richness.

White: Why do we even need a white? I know a dessert wine quite often makes its way onto the table at the same time as the pudding/mince pies, but realistically, everything calls for one of the reds above. Except: not everyone drinks red. It's Christmas. The obscure Auntie Sis has come to town; she only likes white; you've forgotten to get any. What to do? The obvious: rush round the corner to the newsagent or petrol station (God knows what time of day this is when she reveals her preference, I'm assuming the supermarkets have shut) and get a bottle of Blossom Hill Chardonnay, priced around £5.99, + or -. I have to admit that this is weird drink, with elements of nasal spray and marshmallows, a fugitive implication of grapes, a kind of terrible brightness about it, like an American TV news network. But this does not matter, because Sis, who only drinks white, who drinks it with rare roast beef and venison flanks, doesn't care as long as she's got some to console her through the long flatulent orgy that is Christmas Day. 

And relax.

Next Week: PK's more portentous take on the same thing, but honestly, I wouldn't waste your money. I mean, haven't you spent enough on presents already?


Thursday, 4 December 2014

Sonic Decanter; Lidl Rioja

So there are times when I wonder if this isn't the moment to start up a Sediment test lab, to catalogue the various ways in which the wine drinker can improve his or her experience of the drink without spending any long-term real money or having to buy any big-ticket wines

I mean, so far, and quite without any proper co-ordination, PK and I have played around with a mug, a pichet, a Riedel Tasting Glass, a wine aerator, a Duralex tumbler, plus some variations on the DIY angle, just to see what easy, low-rent, low-cost, ameliorations can be achieved in the wine/drinker interface. At least two (Duralex tumber; Riedel Tasting Glass) have turned out to be more or less guaranteed to lift the experience of drinking - one by wrapping it in a psychologically benevolent envelope; the other, apparently, by messing with the physiology of consumption, although anyone who spends £25 on a wine glass is going to have to justify that little indulgence any way they can, physiology or not, and I remain unconvinced, but that's by the by. Anyhow, every encounter with wine is mutable: the wine itself being nothing less than an opportunity to deal in sensations.

To prove the point, it turns out that scientists have properly stormed the winerack, with the creation of the SonicDecanter - a miraculous device from, obviously, the United States, which treats wine as merely the first term in a narrative, using ultrasound to Make every wine better.

How does it work? We know this much:

- It uses patented technology
- Ultrasonic energy transforms the molecular and chemical structure of wine
- It softens tannins, esters and polyphenols
- You have to put a bit of water in the base to get it to work, stick an unopended bottle of wine in, then press a white button for whites and a red for reds
- No decanting, no aerating. It takes twenty minutes to soften up a red
- You can control it from your smartphone
- Gizmodo reviewed it, declaring that I Zapped My Wine With an Ultrasonic Decanter and It Tasted Pretty Good; while hollered Great Results in Wine Tasting and a lot of other fabulous things
- The inventors went to Kickstarter to get enough funds to start production, and in no time had hit their target of $85,000. Last time I looked, they were heading for $140,000. There is clearly a need for this device

It seems that the vast majority of wine bought in The States costs $10 a bottle or less - pretty close to the £6 watershed we observe over here. Anything, therefore, which can make $10 wine taste like $20 is evidently going to be up there with remote car unlockers and disposable razors in terms of sheer utility. Projected UK price for the Sonic Decanter is around £150, which means it will have to double the perceived value of about 25 bottles of £6 wine before it pays for itself. Which is nothing. Why, only the other day, I bought a couple of bottles of Lidl Rioja at £3.99, both of which could have done with a good two hours in the Decanter, given that my red-eyed tasting notes reveal massive tannins, road re-surfacing, some flypaper, vanilla and crisps finish before concluding on a dying fall of alcohol haze like standing under a flightpath. Of course, at £3.99 a go, I'd have to buy 37.5 bottles before the Sonic Decanter cleared its inital costs, so there may be a law of inverse pleasurability in operation, but I think we can afford to be pragmatic.

The question then becomes philosophical, rather than economic or purely technological. How much does it matter that my £12-tasting bottle was only made with the care and attention of a £6 bottle? If breaking out the Sonic Decanter is the wine equivalent of using studio magic to make a terrible singer sound like Etta James, is it fundamentally an imposture? Is it a typically American reduction of distinctive craft skills to an approximated universality, which, in time, will leave us all drinking indivisibly okay reds and whites whether we want to or not? Do we take an objective or subjective view? And what would I have to do to get my hands on a pre-production model? I have no laboratory; but I do have a very old raincoat which, if you half close your eyes, looks a bit like a lab coat. I mean, it's a very light mac.