Yesterday I was reminded of two things. First was just how good the Louis Latour Macon-Lugny “Les Genievres” 2018 really is. Proper white burgundy for £16.99 per bottle. The wine has an attractive bright yellow-gold hue. It is largely characterised by its subtle, inviting aromas, of lemon curd, Devonshire cream, honey, and nectarines. On the palate the wine is silky, coating the mouth. The flavours are intense, mirroring the aromas. Then, there`s the scrumptious aftertaste, of almonds, which lingers on. This is a wine which punches above its weight, subtly rich, while simultaneously refreshing. It was produced in the south of Burgundy`s Mâconnais region, around the village of Lugny, in mostly limestone and clay soils. The grape? Well, Chardonnay of course – a fine, elegant, and pure expression of the Chardonnay grape, from thirty-year vines, produced in a minimalist way with no oak whatsoever. Instead of using wooden barrels, Louis Latour chooses to undergo alcoholic fermentation in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, which is followed by secondary, malolactic fermentation, whereupon malic (apple) acid is converted to lactic (milk) acid. The wine derives much of its creamy texture through the process, while retaining its freshness. While being a cool climate wine, it has a sunny complexion, and I love it! And while I was reminded of just how good this wine really is, I was reminded also of another thing: of the last time I smelled and tasted oak in Chardonnay, when I really did not like it. I was judging a wine competition, during the early days of Covid, and too many oaked white burgundies smelled and tasted dull to me. It wasn`t the flavour components of oak in wine which bothered me, the vanilla, or the coconut. I can sometimes quite like these, though more so when they are integrated with the components of the wine. No, it was the lack of balance and freshness I did not like, the sense they had been dulled and made stale by use of oak. Perhaps Louis Latour are on to something. I wonder if oak in Chardonnay has had its day.
I can`t believe how much Rosé we are selling. Mostly of a pale salmon pink colour and a dry, fruity taste, with moderately low alcohol. It`s the perfect weather for it, warm and humid, thankfully a light breeze. Most of us could do without the blessed humidity which leaves you sticky and feeling sluggish, but on the plus side, it`s fabulous for drinking these fresh, dry, aromatic pale pink wines. The wine refreshes the palate, and the effect of the alcohol is vaguely stimulating and lifting. Moreover, they make wonderful aperitif wines, with something salty, and they match summer salads and seafoods superbly. Our Pasquiers Grenache-Cinsault Rosé Pays d`Oc (£7.99) is a fine example, from France`s Languedoc region. At just 12% ABV it is light, slightly tangy and extremely drinkable. Another French Rosé, of a similar composition, is Estandon Diamarine Coteaux Varois en Provence Rosé (£11.99), from “the land of lavender and sunshine”. It has an elegance, a balance, which simply oozes sophistication; at just 12.5% ABV., it also has a light touch. If you like to drink Pasquiers, folks, you will love to drink Diamarine. And then there`s Chateau d`Esclans Whispering Angel Rosé (£19.99), a wine by enigmatic winemaker, Sacha Lichine, who once said of his own wine: “In the Esclans Valley angels whisper, if you drink this wine, you might hear them.” Well I keep trying. But even if it has not invoked angels for me yet, I do recommend it. Produced in the Côtes de Provence region itself, the holy grail for rosé wine, it is super refreshing with notes of minerals, herbs, raspberries, and stone fruits. At 13.5% ABV it packs quite a punch, but it is nonetheless beautifully balanced. My last pale Rosé recommendation, and my wine of the week, is England`s refreshingly crisp Giffords Hall Rosé (£14.99), produced near Long Melford in Suffolk on an ancient glacial riverbed. Produced from Madeleine Angevine and Pinot Noir grapes, the aroma combines wild strawberries, white peaches, and roses. Weighing in at an all low 11% ABV., it is truly a quaffing gem.
Covid has been many things to many different people. I know of some businesses for whom this has been devastating. Others, The Wine Centre included, have done extremely well. What divides failure from success can simply be the nature of the business. Wine shops selling directly to consumers have generally done well; however, wine wholesale selling to restaurants have faltered. Internet companies have generally done better than shops, shops better than hospitality. One thing in common with all businesses during Covid, however, is we are reacting according to our own circumstance, as best we possibly can. We change, because, we are obliged to change. This appears, of itself, to have had an invigorating and stimulating effect. Covid forced a great many employees to work from home, and many companies found this to be not only more productive, but cost saving. Big bosses are re-evaluating their business models, considering vacating their expensive city offices; while their employees are considering extensions to their houses for bigger home offices, embracing the idea of a stay-at-home life, cutting down on commuting. Others, living in tiny city flats with stamp-size gardens, are looking to move out to the country, renting or buying twice the house they had in city life. Our own boy James, now 32, is doing just that, opting for a life change with his girlfriend. Still others are looking to change jobs, either forced, due to redundancy, or because they too have been caught up in these shifting sands. Many having been furloughed for months are now feeling energized, often with an appetite for change. The status quo is unravelling. And yes, we, also, have been affected. We have decided it`s time to flirt with retirement. With immediate effect The Wine Centre is up for sale (Christie & Co). They say it takes an average three years to sell a business, so it`s business as usual for the foreseeable future; but we have started the process, and that`s the point. Covid, the catalyst for change.
Did you know in the UK the fixed average cost of a bottle of wine excluding the wine itself is £4.75-£5.00 per bottle? This cost includes all associated costs, tax on wine, shipping and distribution, and the cost of the glass and the labelling. So, a bottle of wine you pick up for £5.00 gives you just 25p worth of wine, at most. At this level, the producer is losing money, clearly desperate to shift stock. It`s not sustainable. The cheapest bottle on our shelves nowadays is £6.99, a little above break even for many of the volume producers, though barely. And quite frankly, we struggle not to dip into mediocrity. We are obliged to travel to poor Moldova to buy our Pinot Grigio, which, to be fair, is pleasantly crisp and refreshing; and there are parts of Spain where the inexpensive Pardina grape grows plentifully, which blends nicely with a little Chardonnay to produce an easy-going rounded white wine with an attractive tropical fruit character. It can be done, but there`s limited scope and variety. At retail £7.99 per bottle it`s easier, a wider range of flavours. It`s inevitably still high-volume produce, but the category is what I call “commerce friendly”, and quaffable to boot. Our best-selling Pasquiers Rosé at this price point is brilliant, a great summer party wine. But it`s by a rigorous deselecting process I have been able to find so many decent wines at this price, because all too many are still poor, I`m afraid, either short on flavour, or worse, confected, like bubble-gum. At £8.99 and £9.99 per bottle we enter territory which can be altogether more joyful, though still in need of sieving through, truthfully. I`m delighted with my ranges, currently, not least because the wines are sustainable. It`s where, as a shop, we start to really excel. As for the over £10 per bottle category: well, the world`s your oyster. This is where life, and wine, becomes fascinating; and it`s where wine is enjoyed for more than just a drink. Cheers everyone!
Have you ever noticed how a wine`s taste and mouthfeel changes with food? And not always for the better? When deliberately matching wine with food it is par for the course: you choose a wine which will, hopefully, complement the taste, and the texture, of the food; you might also consider the level of spice, and acidity, in the dish, and even its weight and richness. A good match should brighten the wine noticeably. The wine`s flavours will intensify. A red wine with grainy or chalky tannins, set against roasted meat, will smoothen. The tannins so evident in the wine earlier immediately disappear, like magic. The well-chosen wine flatters the dish too, without overpowering it. However, the opposite is also true with the poor choice of wine, and when drinking is interrupted. So, if I am quietly enjoying a crafty glass after work, perhaps from a bottle left unfinished a day or so before, a drink for its sake or to see how it has evolved, it comes as an interruption to suddenly be affronted with the wrong food. Now I don`t wish to seem ungrateful because clearly my beloved wife has gone to some trouble in the deliverance of said food, but I know right away I`m in dangerous territory. It`s Chilli Con Carne, a favourite on any other day. But I`m not sure the five-year (two-days open) Casablanca Valley Pinot Noir is going to cope with the spiciness of it. It`s a fragile thing, my red, delicate and beguiling. Yet it might just work. Whatever happens, I know for sure the taste of the wine, for me, will be changed, the moment quite possibly shattered. Of course, I could simply drown the glass and tuck into my food. In that way another couple of generous mouthfuls are guaranteed. Instead curiosity gets the better of me and I take a bite, my large glass still one-third full. The food, steaming, is delicious. Alas, the wine afterwards is sharp, and dull; my palate ruined for this wine on this night, a gamble lost. Drinking interrupted.
Wine consumers broadly fall into two camps. The supermarket shopper who pays around £5-6 per bottle, and the hobbyist, the wine lover, who is happy to pay upward of £10. The latter are more inclined to shop with us, for we share their passion, and this is expressed in the wines we stock, many of them small-scale producers, family businesses, who place quality and authenticity above price. We still seek to offer value, but we recognise you generally get what you pay for, in wine and in life. And we abhor the supermarket discount culture, the marking up to discount back strategy to sell wine, which drives consumer love for “a deal”. Rather, we believe in paying, and fetching, a fair price. By comparison, it`s the nature of a supermarket chain to be price and discount led, requiring high volume producers to fill their shelves to their specifications at the required discounted prices. Indeed, many of the big-name mail order companies adopt the same approach. The necessary pressure is applied, and the deal is struck, a `win, win` you might think, with consumers benefitting as well from the favourable retail price. Except, it`s not sustainable. And if the wine is not compromised, to hit the price point, then it almost certainly will be the following year, the wine diluted with higher yields in an effort by the producer to make a profit. But also, it`s the wrong way round. It`s no longer so authentic, being produced to a fake specification and low price point. It`s a race-to-the-bottom. The consumer may well be attracted by a half-price supermarket Fleurie, but it won`t taste anything like the Dominque Morel Fleurie we stock. I would go so far as to suggest they risk harming the name Fleurie itself. Driving prices down promotes mediocrity not quality. Moreover, the average consumer looking at our prices will, unless they know the difference, conclude we are expensive. They would be wrong, comparing apples with oranges, but we may never get the chance to demonstrate this.
How is everyone? How`s the wine drinking going? I know some people have been drinking and eating more than they should during lockdown, putting on the pounds. Others have used their isolation to lose weight and get fit, so abstinence has been their choice. In my house we have been drinking and eating no more and no less, I`d say. I am weighing in exactly what I was back then, about a stone too heavy. And my wife remains the slender figure she always was, naturally. True, we have been working all this time (essential workers, you know), but we have also been walking a lot, and my wife does whatever she does on her yoga mat. What we have also been doing is enjoying our treats, and if anything, we have been drinking better quality wines. And we justify these small extravagances because we are spending less elsewhere: no dining out, no cinema, no theatre, no travel, no holiday, and so on. One favourite treat is ordering in takeaways and opening the appropriate wine, or wines, to go with them. We`ve done this on zoom, with friends, as well as privately, for our own indulgence. The last time, for our anniversary, was very special indeed. We booked our meals from The Food Station (in normal times chef Dominic Carter does our wine-tasting dinners, now he is offering gourmet meals delivered to your door). We had his amazing venison mustard pie, followed by the lemon tart. The “pie and veg” was accompanied by J. Lohr `Seven Oaks` Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 from Paso Robles in California, deliciously expressive, velvet-smooth, airy and fragrant; and with the tart we chose a half-bottle of NZ`s Tinpot Hut Late Harvest Riesling 2013, an unctuous sweet wine with marmalade zest, matching the twang of the lemon. Oh joy! Restaurant dining, at home – this could catch on! Check them out www.thefoodstation.co.uk ; for our part, we would be happy to recommend a wine, or wines, to your budget. www.thewinecentre.co.uk Tel 01206 271 236 during opening hours 10am-6.30pm Monday to Saturday.
Are you all still enjoying the garden? It`s not quite the same when the sun`s not shining, is it? And with the wind and rain I expect you are all quite glad to hunker down inside. Time to light the fire and reach for the red. The darker shades of red suit this sort of weather; the full-bodied Autumnal reds; perhaps a Swan Song opportunity to drink serious claret and beefy Shiraz reds, before the Spring sun re-emerges and we return to the light and airy! The wonderful thing about our changeable weather is it makes for a great and diverse wine diet for those who choose to empathise in this way. We partner wine with food, after all, why not the weather? If fish & chips is on the menu, you think of opening a chilled white wine like Sauvignon Blanc, for example, and somehow it tastes best in Aldeburgh with sunshine on your face. Ever tried fish & chips on a freezing day on Aldeburgh`s stony beach? I have – and it`s not the same. Same chilled white wine on any cold, rainy day, anywhere, is the same folly as eating ice cream all year round. Who does that? Same with beer: dark, luxurious Adnams Broadside with the Sunday Roast Beef on a cold day is perfect; while their light, hoppy, Southwold lager is better suited to a lighter dish in the sunshine. Anyway, you get my drift. Of course, it helps to have a wine shop so I can pick and choose according to the menu, the elements and on a whim, but have you ever thought about investing in a wine rack? My nephew, Tom, has just done so, his pride and joy, a twelve-bottle rack which he keeps in his brick shed. He loves it – but as I have said to him: if you have a wine-rack you must keep it filled. There`s nothing so sad as an empty wine rack.
Great news: Our shop in Gt Horkesley has returned to normal opening hours, 10am-6.30pm Monday-Saturday www.thewinecentre.co.uk
Hello everyone! Another couple of weeks passed. Captain Tom, honorary Colonel, is soon to be Sir Tom. We all have a little more freedom, though what exactly those freedoms are, is of hot debate. We are enjoying more social contact, which is great; though the worry is we will all over-step, and there will be a second spike. And the weather continues to be kind to us, as though soothing our worries; though the farmers would have something to say about that! But the other big source of smoking hot chat around here is The Wine Centre, which is open again!! True, for the time being we are only open Wednesday to Saturday 10am-4pm, while we build up our trade again, but instead of working behind closed doors, our blinds are up, the sun is flooding in, and everyone around here seems to be smiling. Why even The Gift Room is open with its new range of summer clothes and jewellery. But to the crux of today`s message is what`s closest to my heart, “wine and food”. What is it you get when the two are brought together, wrapped and ribboned? That`s right: a hamper. Everyone appears to be buying hampers. We are mailing them all over the UK, to loved ones, to the children stuck in tiny flats with gardens the size of stamps, for birthdays, anniversaries, one yesterday for an eighty year old in isolation “to cheer her up”. It strikes me it is another small parallel with post-war Britain, and Europe, when the rations were lifted. The idea of gifting a bar of chocolate. Today, it`s hampers brimming with goodies. So, in the coming weeks we are going to be making up all sorts of hampers. If anyone would like a bespoke hamper made up for someone, give us a shout on 271 236, or email firstname.lastname@example.org . Or better still, if you are not self-isolating, why not pop in to see us!
The Wine Centre
Hello everyone. How are you remembering 75 years since the end of the Second World War? Our way of recognising the occasion will be just a bit different from five years ago 70th anniversary. Some of you will remember our “wine-and-deli tasting party in the garden”. Our boy James produced an emotional video commemorating the fallen which we watched on a big screen, before finishing the evening with a bonfire. Today, during Lockdown Britain, a time in our lives which some of us imagine (rightly or wrongly) must bear certain resemblances to post-war Britain, if not wartime, we will start with two-minutes silence at 11am. We can together reflect on the lives lost back then, the devastation of war, in the cause of defending our nations against a deadly enemy, and the parallel I am suggesting with the enemy we face now, the unseen deadly disease of our time, coronavirus. We can perhaps draw strength from their actions – the wartime heroism and the sacrifices – and go forward from here, against this silent enemy, more resilient, brave and kinder to others. Then tonight, at 9pm, we will join the nation on television for Vera Lynne`s wartime singalong “We`ll Meet Again”. The unspoken poignancy of this moment will not, I am sure, be missed, as we all look forward to the times we can once again hug and kiss our friends and family. We salute Captain Tom, now honorary Colonel, we salute everyone he represents, and we salute the NHS and all the brave folk of our times who are doing their utmost to keep us watered, fed, heathy and safe. And we grieve together for the fallen, of wartime Britain, the then, and the now. Perhaps, if I may suggest it, as the song comes to an end, we can all of us raise a glass, of something, and toast family and friends, past and present.