Jonathan Ray reckons size matters and finds himself wrong footed by the supermarkets.
So there I was at my birthday supper. Marina, bless her, had done all the grub and I’d done the wine. We had 20 folk round the table, some keen on their wine and some keen on, well, just drinking. Indeed, the ones with the most highly polished drinking boots seemed pretty indifferent as to what it was exactly that they drank so long as they drank something.
We started with a selection of fine English fizz that I had amassed during my whistle-stop tour of the wineries of West Sussex and Surrey (see Browsing and Sluicing…) and excellent they were too. We can finally bury the notion that English sparkling wine is second to champagne. The bottles of Ambriel, Tinwood, Upperton and Denbies really did hit the spot.
We had some apricotty, quincey, peachy 2012 Foxwood Vineyards Chenin Blanc from South Africa with our first course, bought from the current Berry Bros & Rudd/Spectator Wine Club offer. It’s a deliciously honeyed and creamy wine, hand-picked and barrel-fermented and it went down a storm round the table, as much with the dedicated drinkers as with the wine lovers. ‘Oi, got any more of that whatever-it-was-white?’
With the main course we had double magnums of 2010 Château Argadens – part of the fabled Sichel stable – from fromvineyardsdirect and I’m thrilled to report that they caused just the sort of stir I was hoping for. They looked really majestic on the table and I thoroughly enjoyed swanking about and showing them off. I was also happy to wax lyrical about the fact that size does, after all, matter immensely. The two vast bottles were a noble statement of intent and there’s no question that fine Bordeaux – or almost anything for that matter – tastes better from a larger bottle (less air to more wine, slower maturation and so on).
After folk got bored of staring at the monster bottles and hearing me witter on, I decanted them into a motley selection of decanters, jugs and carafes and we all got happily stuck in.
When these ran out rather more quickly than I’d anticipated, I opened a clutch of quirky reds that I’d gathered from Quaff, Ten Green Bottles and Butlers Wine Cellar – Brighton’s leading independent wine merchants – and my old mates at Yapp Bros. We had a couple of northern Italian reds, a Rioja, a Ribera del Duero and – my favourite – a biodynamic/organic Vin de Pays de l’Hérault, the 2015 Domaine de Roquemale ‘Meli Melo’ from Yapp.
These bottles prompted me to mount my third hobby horse of the night (after the joys of English fizz and large format bottles) and I happily banged on about the importance of buying wine from the independents.
My guests’ eyes glazed over as I blathered on about how the independents are far more competitive that we sometimes imagine and that, vitally, they have time to chat to their customers and to advise. That they will explain what’s new and exciting and will tip you the wink as to unfashionable but well-priced alternatives to the better-known names. That they will have fascinating parcels of wine made in too small a quantity for the supermarkets to bother with and they will have both en primeur wines as well as older, fully mature vintages.
Yes, I know that around 90 per cent of wine bought in the UK is bought in supermarkets and that there are decent wines to be had, but simply adding a bottle or so of mass-produced vino to the weekly supermarket shop can be a bit dispiriting, I explained. I then told the few still listening that buying a £5 bottle of wine is a false economy. The combined costs of duty, VAT, glass, cork, labelling, logistics and retailer profit means that the wine itself will be worth around 11p. ‘Think on that’, I declared.
We then came to cheese and pudding and undoubtedly the wine of the night. And guess what it was that stopped everyone in their tracks – wine lovers and simple drinkers alike – as they marvelled at its honeyed, marmalade, orange sweetness; its freshness and fine acidity; its sheer luscious grapiness and utter drinkability, both with pudding and cheese and on its own?
It was a non-vintage Moscatel de Valencia from Sainsbury’s Winemaker’s Selection that I’d bought to soak some peaches in and never got round to doing. For £5. And it’s an absolute stunner. Added to which – being lightly fortified – it’s a punchy 15%vol so you get plenty of bang for your buck. Every single person round the table went ‘Oooh this is nice!’
I mean, what the heck do I know?