18 Feb 2014

Novelty versus classic wine: the Eastern Med range from M&S

It was funny timing, buying these interesting looking wines on Valentine's Day with some M&S vouchers.

Not really funny as in hilarious.

We all fell ill with a nasty sickness bug the same day. This wasn't much more than the "24-hour thing" all sickness bugs are required to be by popular demand - but it was fairly extreme and a sickness bug does not go nicely with an M&S chicken jalfrezi and a Turkish red. When you're in and out of the bathroom with the shivers, followed by a fever and thumping headache, the mere idea of a chicken jalfrezi seems comically wrong.

Classic wine versus unusual wine

Our selection included a wine from Greece called Red on Black; Chateau Ksara from Lebanon; and Sevilen Okuzogu from Turkey, along with Italian red Lacrima di Morro d'Alba and a couple of bottles of Argentinian malbec, the reliable Vinalta on offer at two for £12.

As well as the sickness, it was also funny timing because almost as soon as we'd got the bottles home, wine writers were debating the merits of classic wines versus lesser known varieties. Just as we were looking to try some wines off the beaten track, Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson were saying "ignore the classics at your peril" (they mean regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy; grapes like cabernet, merlot and pinot noir, as opposed to wines from other areas that may have existed for even longer but earned less repute). Parker in particular was arguing that hipster sommeliers are going for novelty over quality. Others like Jamie Goode, on the other hand, disagreed saying variety is the spice of life and unusual wines offer better value in restaurants.

To those of us outside the south-eastern England wine bubble, they might as well have been arguing over an old Rolls-Royce and a new Ferrari. Don't bother with the overpriced old prestige car, they're old hat! You want to get yourself a flash new sports car instead - it's more interesting and cheaper! You know - don't bother with the £100 a bottle Bordeaux, get some of this delicious natural Serbian stuff for a mere £75!

In other words, all properly good wine whether it's new or old is so bloody expensive, in restaurants especially, that for most of us it's usually of interest only - excruciatingly - in an academic sense. This debate is a reminder of why, sadly, proper wine and wine analysis remains stuck in an echo chamber, the critics' slurps bouncing back in off the glass walls like a big spittoon. In short, really good wine tends to be so bloody expensive!

What does better wine mean?

I'm exaggerating, a bit. I actually think the unusual-wine-versus-classic-wine debate was of some interest, the protection of "unknown" and indigenous wine regions and styles being both exciting and really important. Also, to counter the 100-pointers and their classic wines, surely the better wine is only ever the one you personally find most compelling. The music of a given band or composer might be the product of a great talent, it might be objectively adept, but if you don't like it, you don't like it. Because let's not forget scoring wines out of 100 is just as daft as it would be to rate a film or a book or a cheese out of 100. Stuff tends to be amazing, good, decent and not good - as a combination of quality and your personal preference at that given time - and that about covers it.

Faulty wines and a nightmare bed

The wines from M&S's eastern Mediterranean range were not eyewateringly expensive but not bargain basement either at around the £10 mark. But at least with wine you do have the reassuring thing that the retailer should swap it for another if it's faulty; often they even pledge to do so if you simply don't like it.

This is reassuring, as we recently had a nightmare bed buying experience ('scuse the pun) with, yes, M&S. To cut a long and boring story short, the bed isn't level, it is uncomfortable and it is objectively not the same as the one we tried in the shop. We have bad backs. M&S sent out an "independent" inspector from FIRA to take a look. FIRA is an organisation funded by bed retailers to keep their returns to an absolute minimum efficiently deal with their customer returns, and their inspector acknowledged our mattress was not level. But this, it turned out, did not qualify us for a refund.

I'm not sure what the moral of this convoluted tale is. Apart from to spend your money on wine and not on beds. Classic or adventurous, cheap or expensive, either way you should at least be guaranteed a good night's sleep.

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