We human beings are often creatures of habit. And that can be especially true when we’re buying our wines. We’ve enjoyed a bottle in the past, so let’s buy it again. Why take the chance of trying something different, which might not be as good? I understand that although, if I’d taken that view, I’d probably still be drinking the Black Tower Liebfraumilch and Mateus Rosé that I first tasted more years ago than I care to admit!
But the world of wine is changing and perhaps, more importantly, our own tastes may be changing (see the Liebfraumilch comment above!). Maybe it’s time to look again at a wine that we didn’t like previously?
Happily, someone on a recent course of mine did just that. She’d hated Australian whites in the past because they were too alcoholic and oaky but booked in on ‘Wines of Australia’ anyway. The result? She discovered how much has changed. Indeed, of the list of wines she noted to buy again, four were white. Being open-minded and prepared to experiment has opened up a whole new area of enjoyment for her.
Interestingly, one of her new white likes was a Riesling – a grape variety that would benefit from a re-think by many wine drinkers. For too long wrongly associated with low quality sweetish German wines, there are now some delicious dry examples around. And not just from Germany.
Peter Lehmann’s Wigan Riesling from Australia’s Eden Valley (Wine Society, £12.50) is delightfully dry, crisp and zesty with lovely lime-peel aromas and a delicious honeyed palate. And, with only 11% alcohol and no oaking, it’s just the sort of Australian white that more of us should be discovering.
You just need an open mind.
Next Sunday, 18th November, the famous Hospice de Beaune wine auction will take place. It’s an event that has happened annually since 1859 with the funds raised mainly supporting the running and upkeep of the magnificent Hôtel Dieu, pictured above. The building was formerly a medieval hospital, founded in 1443 in the Burgundy town of Beaune, and is now a museum.
The wine auctioned comes from vineyards donated by benefactors over the centuries, the first of which dates back to 1457. Today, the area owned by the Hospice totals around 60 hectares (150 acres), mostly planted with Pinot Noir, although there is some Chardonnay, too. 85% of the production of these vineyards is rated Premier Cru or Grand Cru.
These days, the auction is organised by Christies and wines are sold by the barrel – traditional Burgundy-sized ‘pièces’, each holding 228 litres, just over 300 bottles (a fraction larger than a Bordeaux barrique). Not surprisingly for such a prestigious event, hammer prices are usually well above normal commercial levels. For example, last year’s top lot sold for 420000 euros and the entire auction of almost 800 barrels raised some 13.5 million euros (£12m, $16m).
If your budget won’t stretch to bidding for one of these lots but you have a strong stomach, the weekend is still worth a visit as it is also the occasion of ‘Les Trois Glorieuses’ – 3 great feasts held in and around the town on the Saturday evening before, on the Sunday night and on the Monday lunchtime. It’s quite an occasion!
“You never say anything bad about a wine on your blog” commented a friend recently. “Does that mean you never open a bottle that was truly awful?”
It’s a good question but, thinking about it, I can’t recall the last really poor wine I tasted. I have, of course, opened faulty bottles, which isn’t the same thing at all: bottles can be corked or oxidised or display some other characteristic that means that the wine doesn’t taste how the winemaker intended it to taste. Faulty bottles can occur in any number of ways – bad batches of corks or poor storage, for example – but that doesn’t mean it’s a poor wine; another bottle of the same bought at a different time might be delicious and so it would be unfair to blog about the bad one.
But, back to the question about truly awful wines. This is a bit more subjective but, taking the standard as one that was so badly made or unpleasant tasting as to be almost undrinkable, I really can’t remember the last time I met a wine like that. Admittedly, I’ve opened some that had very little character (and so didn’t blog about them as there wasn’t anything interesting to say!), but even those, in the main, were correctly made and not unpleasant to drink, simply rather bland. Incidentally, some that fall into this category are among the best-selling brands on the UK supermarkets’ shelves!
Things weren’t always as good as this; turn the clock back to when I first started appreciating the wine I was drinking and I often found bottles that were only fit for pouring down the sink. Maybe such wines are still made but the fact that they almost never reach our shelves is down to the skill of the professional wine buyers who visit growers on behalf of the major supermarkets, high street wine chains or wholesalers. They are the people who weed out the rubbish and ensure that, although there may be the odd faulty bottle or wine that isn’t to our taste, we rarely open one that is truly awful.