Archive for the ‘9 A Love of Wine & Cheese’ Category

I have a friend who says he won’t pay more than £6 for a bottle of wine. I tell him he’s barmy. Wine making is a slow, difficult, and expensive business. It’s true that wine does come cheaper than £6 but it’s an industrial product, without individuality or character. If you do find one with flavour it’s probably come from oak chippings suspended in the wine like teabags. But, my friend persists, what’s so expensive about making wine? (more…)


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What sort of an answer do you expect when you taste an interesting wine and you ask where it’s from? Do you hope to be told it’s from a little village nestling in the foothills of the Cevennes, just an hour’s drive from the Med? Or would it be more useful to be told, “Waitrose”? The best answer would include both pieces of information, but supermarkets can make that difficult. Some of their best value wines are their own brands, but it can be hard to find out where the wine is actually from. (more…)

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Will be all be drinking Australian wine? 

While we remain in the EU customs union, European wine is sold in the UK without paying import duty. If we leave the customs union, duty will be payable; how much depends on the deal agreed between the EU and the UK. At the present rate of progress, there seems a good chance that no such a deal will be agreed, so if we leave the customs union we would revert to World Trade Organisation tariffs, currently 32%. Combine that with the predicted fall in the value of the pound and we may find ourselves paying half as much again for European wines as we do now. (more…)

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I don’t know how it got there, but two weeks ago I found a bottle of port at the back of my drinks cupboard. It was labelled Cockburn’s Vintage Port 1983. I took it round to share with friends. It was a job to open. The cork was sealed with wax that I had to prise off with a knife; the cork broke as I pulled and the bottom end (port corks are longer than those of any other wine) went into the bottle. But filtering it through some kitchen paper into a decanter revealed the port to be a rich brown colour. It filled the kitchen with its smell. It tasted divine – old leathery fruit of incredible power. We drank it with the cheese, we drank it with the desert, we finished it off after the coffee. (more…)

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It’s not something a winemaker can put on a label. The word Bordeaux can only be used for wine made in a certain way, to a certain standard, from grapes grown in Bordeaux, France (as opposed to Bordeaux, Wyoming). But wine writers and wine sellers use the term all the time. It’s not just Bordeaux, of course, they talk about Burgundy-style, Beaujolais-style, even New Zealand Sauvignon-style. The French, of course, say it’s nonsense, that the wines of Bordeaux are unique and that a wine is either a Bordeaux or not, and any wine from elsewhere, even if made with the same grape varieties using the same methods of viniculture, will taste so different that it should be called something different. I have a lot of sympathy with the French view. (more…)

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As I write these columns and delve into the intricacies of what makes a wine taste as it does, I am sometimes hit by the thought that I am not answering the reader’s most pressing question; which is, often, where can I find a good wine with character for under (say) £7? I can’t give that sort of recommendation, because I write too far ahead of publication for there to be much chance that the wine will still be on the shelves when The Whistler reaches you. What I can do is use a recent discovery of my own to point to certain principles. (more…)

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In my last article I wrote about the difference between the in-your-face gooseberry and elderflower flavour of New Zealand Sauvignon, compared to the subtle and hard-to-describe French Sauvignons of the Loire and Bordeaux. Different terroirs produce different wines, I suggested. But what if it’s not the terroir at all but the yeast?

Yeast is what converts the sugars in grape juice to alcohol. But that’s not all they do, or wine would taste like alcoholic grape juice. They also convert chemicals in the juice to the flavours that make it into wine. Traditionally, the yeasts used were those that occurred naturally on the skin of the grape or in the cellar. But now most winemakers use cultured yeast. These are still natural yeasts (not genetically modified) that have been selected because they produce a specific effect that the winemaker wants.

As an example, let’s stick with New Zealand Sauvignon. The most commonly used yeast strain is Zymaflore VL3,X5. It increases the concentration of thiol compounds, which are what give NZ Sauvignon that incredible flavour. And if the winemaker doesn’t want her wine to be too tart, she might add Uvaferm SVG, which will reduce the malic acid content of the wine. And it’s not just Sauvignon. CY3079 will bring out the ‘hazelnut and brioche’ flavour of Chardonnay. Rhone 4600 will increase the apricot-like flavour of Viognier. And so on. And it’s not just about flavour. Enoferm Syrah will increase the amount of glycerol in Syrah, giving the wine more body in the mouth.

What do we think about all this? Winemakers who use cultured yeasts are extraordinarily reticent on this issue, as though they fear they will be accused of manufacturing flavours that wouldn’t be there naturally. Some traditionalists rely on naturally occurring yeast, at least to start the fermentation process, claiming that this yeast is part of the terroir that makes their wine unique. However, science does not support this idea. The strains of yeast found in a cellar or vineyard one year will not necessarily be there the next. Relying on indigenous yeasts that just happen to be there leaves a lot to chance.

The thing to understand is that you can’t take Sauvignon grape juice from the Loire, ferment it with Zymoflore VL3,X5 and make NZ Sauvignon. Cultivated yeasts can only work on the chemicals that are already in the grape juice. They enhance the real flavour that is naturally there. They reveal what might otherwise just be potential. I’m all for it.

I am indebted to Benjamin Lewin MW for the technical detail contained in his article ‘Do you know what’s flavouring your wine?’ in ‘Decanter’ July 2014.

Andrew Polmear

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