22 Dec 2010

A Salty German and a Tasty Argentinean

Argentinian, or Argentinean? Who knows. Not Argentine though I don't think, somehow has a bit of a jolly hockey sticks, British Empire, Major-from-Fawlty Towers ring to it. But I'd happily be corrected - answers on a postcard. Anyway a couple of very nice - and affordable - wines this week, both worthy of mention.

 First of all, The Naked Grape Riesling 2009, from Pfalz in Germany. Really clean and fresh, slightly salty like a cool sea breeze. I had it with a simple bowl of pasta, stirred through with flakes of smoked trout, a sliced fat clove of garlic, some fresh chilli and a good glug of olive oil. It went together nicely, although I reckon it'd be even better for washing down some really good fish and chips at the seaside, somewhere like Whitby. The zingy saltiness of the slightly off-dry wine mingling with the seaside tastes and smells. Maybe not in this weather though.

Whitby © bbc.co.uk

The riesling was earlier in the week. Tonight fancied a red, and we'd stuck a pizza in the oven, so I reached for this Santa Julia Bonarda Sangiovese 2009, from Mendoza in Argentina. Bonarda and Sangiovese are originally Italian grape varieties, so there's a good fresh acidity to it that you often get in Italian reds, with notes of lighter fruits like strawberries and cherries, but complemented by a little bit of South American oomph and a slight pepperiness to the aroma. A good bridge between Old World and New. Not overly complex, but a really moreish wine, and with a relatively low 13.5%abv (for a New World red) and it's very food-friendly too. Recommended.

I bought both of these wines from Waitrose: the Naked Grape is currently on offer for a bargain £5.69 and I think the Santa Julia is also a very good buy at the slightly random price of £7.11.

21 Dec 2010

Oz Clarke on Robert Parker: "I do basically like the bloke"

© ozclarke.com
I couldn't resist asking Oz Clarke for his thoughts on Robert Parker, the American wine writer often referred to as the most powerful critic in the world. Parker is famous for his 100-point rating system, with a high Parker rating worth millions in sales to Bordeaux winemakers. A number of British wine writers, even those who deploy their own rating systems, have criticised Parker for the way he operates, in particular for apparently favouring a certain style of wine (big and full-flavoured), leading to the so-called Parkerisation of wines. Some have also questioned how he goes about tasting the wines and decides on his scores, with the suggestion that tasting some in the company of winemakers at their wineries is not necessarily conducive to objectivity. But then again – to play devil's advocate – all wine journalists go on press trips to wineries, and who knows how much those trips influence their judgments, either consciously or subconsciously?

I put it to Oz Clarke that Parker comes in for a lot of criticism from British wine critics. "Yes he does, but he asks for it, that's the trouble," Oz said. "Because he's so bloody rude to Brits all the time… and I can't understand… I've known Robert for donkeys' years, you know, we were quite good mates in the old days and we still would be if we ever saw each other, but he's too busy marking wines. You know we used to go out drinking and go to jazz clubs and drink beer, and I don't know whether we chased women together, perhaps not, but I certainly felt as though I did.

© erobertparker.com
"And you know, we had a really good time together. And I used to taste with him on his panels. And I just think poor old Robert's got, you know... when you're so powerful and so successful sometimes you lose slight touch with reality - or you don't, but all the people around you do. And I think he's got an awful lot of people… you know, some of the people around him are very good - people like Neal who's the English guy who works with him, but some of the people around him, you think, did you really want those people saying 'I'm the voice of Robert Parker'? Because I like Neal and Neal's a good taster and he does a good job in Robert's name as well as in his own name - he's not in any way a sort of sycophant for Robert Parker - he went out on his own and said this is what I think, completely different to Parker some of the time. But… basically I just think Parker… he's more powerful than anyone should be, but I do basically like the bloke and I do basically... I enjoy his tasting because I understand it, so I know what he's tasting, I know the stuff he likes, I know why he likes these kind of wines."

By "these kind of wines", does Oz mean Parker does favour the full-flavoured, what you might call fruit bomb style? "Well yeah, yes he does. But on the other hand I can interpret that now. Even now if I had to choose somebody and say, let's see what another critic says, I would probably think let's see what Parker says. Not because I'd necessarily agree with him, but because I know how Parker thinks and for me that's important to know how the guy thinks."

14 Dec 2010

Oz Clarke: "If you're in a bad mood, it's really tough to taste red wine"

I got to interview Oz Clarke recently because he was coming up to Yorkshire for the Love Cooking food festival. It was absolutely brilliant having the chance to talk to him about wine - and he clearly still has so much passion for the stuff. I got his views on a number of interesting subjects: the best cheap wines; Robert Parker; his Christmas wine recommendations; his views on rating wines out of 100. We chatted about so many interesting subjects that I'm going to split this up into a couple of blog posts, otherwise this one would end up being ridiculously long.

What absolutely shone through is his passion, and without any hint of snobbery. That's partly why he's become such a successful wine writer and TV personality, I think - as wine writers develop their expertise, it must be very easy to lose sight of the fact that their job is to speak to consumers, not to each other. Oz very much speaks to consumers - he obviously gets to taste the very best wines in the world, and yet he is still able to enjoy a good supermarket wine. He appreciates there's a time and a place for both.

One thing that also came through quite strongly as we chatted was his love of a good drink that's packed full of flavour. I think sauvignon blanc was the grape he happened to mention more often than any other, and he also spoke with great passion about the bold crunchy fruit of Spanish garnacha, especially in the context of Christmas. As Oz himself put it: "The kind of stuff you slap into a glass and say 'here fellas let's have a glass of this' as against sitting around quietly and pouring out the Bordeaux and thinking, hey, let's talk about this. The garnacha you don't talk about, you just say bloody hell that's good, basically, let's have some more!"

Having said that, he did say red Bordeaux probably provides his greatest pleasure in the world of wine, when the mood takes him: "If I was rather more contemplative, quiet, you know mellow, wintry kind of mood actually; in December I'll be in a red Bordeaux mood."

I couldn't resist asking Oz about the scoring of wines - be it on a 20-point or 100-point scale, say - because it's one aspect of wine criticism that I sometimes find a bit daft. As much as I have great respect for professional wine writers' knowledge, giving an experience as romantic and subjective as a glass of wine a rating out of 100 seems both unwanted and misleading. Can you really be so specific? What does Oz think about critics publicly rating wines? "If that's how they wanna do it, let them, I mean, I just think it's all… it's not bollocks, because… I can mark a wine 89 or 90 or 91, I just don't wanna publish it. I might do that to help me over a range of 50 wines, thinking is that one just a bit better than that one, but I don't wanna put that down in black and white for the audience, I wanna sort of try and tell them why I like the stuff. Engage them."
And surely context affects the rating given to a wine? "Yes. Absolutely right. The idea of the context - a couple of points up, a couple of points down, with context. You can taste differently. Are you happy, are you sad, are you in love, are you out of love, you know, have you had an argument with your girlfriend, did you get out of bed the wrong side, is your mum playing up? All of these things change, you know. Especially with red wine - if you're in a bad mood it's really tough to taste red wine. You know, your mouth can taste bitter and dry and the wine tastes bitter and dry."

So is it better to opt for a fresh white wine in that case? "Yeah... or basically give up for the day and go to the pub, have a beer. That'll calm you down and you can go and do some red wine tasting." 

The original Leeds Guide piece can be read here.