RSS Feed

Worrying times?

Posted on

We read about the decline of the wine industry a lot these days.

Usually, if it’s food or drink related, it’s because the big nasty supermarkets are squeezing the little guy. I don’t buy this – well not entirely anyway.

Retailers play in a world where volume and price are key. They know, as this article says, that most customers don’t want to spend more than £6. Supermarket shoppers are not there to read about varieties and swoon over wine packaging. They are there with screaming babies and a ‘get in, get out’ mentality.

So supermarkets aren’t selling wines from the little guy really are they? The little guy has a healthy route to market through the independent off-trade, and independents are holding their own on the high street which is great news (reminds me of the renaissance in beer-making and the renewed love of real ales).

A blogger I follow now runs Park & Bridge in Acton. Down in Cornwall where we spend many holidays binTwo has been ever reliable. In our old neighbourhood, Highbury Vintners continues to prosper and round the corner from where we are living now, Planet of the Grapes sells some sensational stuff.

Still, it is depressing when you think of all that cheap crap that people are knocking back.

Back and in full effect

Posted on

Sozzl’d returns after a two year stint in Malaysia and a full-on lay off. In the meantime we have been joined by a mini-Sozzler, who already has a keen eye for booze.

I am relishing being back in London. KL’s gastronomy may special, but doesn’t compare to London, and much has changed in 2 years.

We’ve already got stuck into some tasty treats in only a few weeks;

- Gavi Montiero 2013, Rocca

- El Cometa del Sur Blanco 2013, Terra Alta

- Cote du Rhone 2010, E. Guigal

- Chateau La Vielle Croix 2009, Fronsac

- Salice Salentino Rosso 2010, Casa D’Aragona, Puglia

But now looking to get stuck in to full effect with visits and purchases ahoy.

Happy sozzling!

Keep it simple. Please.

Posted on

Wow, time flies when you aren’t drinking wine and have a wine blog.

I feel sad for not having kept the creative juices flowing but, hey, it’s like being sent to Gibraltar to write about top quality football.

Indeed, my creative juices have been replaced by frustration at my own industry; sustainability. I am becoming exasperated at the increasingly pompous, insular and pie-in-the-sky beliefs of some of my peers. The main reason I am frustrated is the disconnect between rhetoric and  tangible, practical output. But I am also frustrated at the cooing over the actions of certain companies and the language commonly used by people in this industry.

Last week, M&S gave the annual update of their Plan A sustainability plan. Plan A (‘because there is no Plan B’) – whilst well-known by those of us in the industry – is virtually unknown by most consumers. I don’t mean to belittle M&S. What they have achieved is important and impressive (as a beacon of leading practice and thinking) particularly over a sustained period since 2007. My frustration is at the fawning and ass-kissing our industry displays whenever M&S is mentioned. It’s just a bit embarrassing and, frankly, boring. Of course the media has its darlings but, really, guys, can we move on a bit?

On the same day as the M&S update, Richard Branson & Jochen Zeitz (he’s the former CEO of Puma) launched ‘The B Team’ – whose mission is “to deliver a Plan B that puts people and planet alongside profit. Plan A – where companies have been driven by profit motive alone – is no longer acceptable”. Not only was this an amazing bit of poor PR coincidence given M&S’s comms, but it’s exactly the kind of talking-shop that winds me up and is sure to turn people off. It’s not entirely clear what the B team will actually do – practically I mean – to change businesses for the better. Perhaps I should give them the benefit of the doubt…

Then there is the language used by many in the industry; a kind of code for new ways of working, schemes and fandangled ideas for business or societal change. Humour me, if you will; I know that ‘sustainability’ is considered by many to be the worst offender of all. Here are some other examples:

- ‘Net positive‘, ‘Net Zero’ or ‘Net Good’

- The ‘Water-Energy nexus

- The circular economy

- ‘Gamification

The language seems to be an unnecessary and pompous way to add credence to the industry’s fundamental aims; getting businesses to act responsibly and ethically by treating people properly, reducing pollution, conserving resources and minimising corruption. I came across this article by Eric Rosten at Bloomberg which sums this up nicely.

P1050582

Back to wine, then, where the industry has evolved evermore complex and seemingly mad ways of differentiating their product. In-jokes, jargon and stories that are aimed at, and understood by, an inward-looking industry are commonplace. You could argue that, unlike sustainability, wine is an agricultural product where sometimes flouncy language is deployed because smell and taste conjure up memories and associations. In sustainability, a business construct that relates to the physical world, we have to find a way to communicate in a simple, compelling manner – one that doesn’t turn off even industry people like me.

The most recent bottle of wine we drank was a Sottano Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 from Mendoza in Argentina – a celebratory tipple for the 20th week of my wife’s pregnancy. My wife’s iron levels were a little lower than desirable, so we loaded up on spinach and red meat. Big, bold but a bit young still, the Sottano was all about dark berries, rubber, green pepper and a hint of oak.  It went nicely with our chili con carne, and on a week when I was raging, this simple wine helped me to calm down a bit.

Hopefully I kept my wine language simple enough…

Selamat malam

@jk_cunningham

Tree-hugging? Computer says no

Posted on

I started the week on social media talking about petitions and tokenism.

I don’t normally ‘do’ petitions but for the first time in a long time I got really very wound up about what has recently like a systematic attack on the environment. So I felt compelled to ask people to sign not one, but two petitions.

The first related to Michael Gove’s ridiculous decision to shunt climate change from the geography curriculum to chemistry. The second to bring to wider attention the disgusting corruption of one of Malaysia’s ministers – Taib, the Chief Minister for Sarawak.

There seems to have been a lot of environment-bashing in the news recently. Tokenistic care for the environment is rife – it’s all too easy to say you care, without really thinking about what that means and how you are changing your life accordingly.

Among the Guardian articles about the environment I have read recently, here are a couple of choice examples:

1. Global food production going haywire; in Chile where prawns are washing up on the shore and in China where thousands of pigs have been dumped in a river

2. Stinking rich caviar-eaters, not content with bringing about the collapse of the Beluga are driving the illicit demand for paddlefish eggs from the US

3. Poachers slaughtered 86 elephants  whilst the CITES summit was agreeing to new sanctions for trading in endangered animals

4. More subsidies for fossil fuels as the UK Government releases a budget that supports fracking

5. Another story about Chinese hunger for commodities and the sell off of forests in South America.

So, while I’ve got a (small) audience and seeing as I’m up on my soap box about environmental tokenism… it was WWF’s Earth Hour this week. As Nan, from the Catherine Tate show would say…..

In case you don’t know about Earth Hour, it’s a global campaign whereby major celebrities, businesses and everyday individuals ‘commit to saving the planet’ by switching off all their lights for one hour. This really is like rearranging the chairs on the Titanic (an expression favoured by some environmentalists to deride token actions).

No-one, not even the WWF, can say whether Earth Hour has over the years, and after all those millions of pounds in marketing spend, actually resulted in less consumption of electricity or genuinely created more sustainable consumers through increased awareness. Much needed at a time when concern for the environment is at its lowest in 22 years.

In Malaysia, trying to live with ethical consumerism in mind is hard; recycled, chemical-free, organic (organic usually means ‘village’ as opposed to farmed), fairtrade – sorry, ‘computer says no’.

P1050376

Ethical wine consumption? Here – forget about it. Luckily, one of my team kindly bought me some on a recent trip to Perth. This Cullen Vineyards 2011 Sauvignon-Semillon is both biodynamic and carbon neutral (10 points for those of you playing sustainability bingo).  And what a tree-hugging delight it is too. I had been planning on saving this li’l beauty, but instead cracked it open at a BYO Japanese restaurant with friends.

I absolutely adore Western Australian wines – the idea and image of surf salt-spray drifting over vineyards in Margaret River makes me go a bit gooey – especially Sauv-Semillon blends, the fruit and minerality of Sauvignon counter-balanced by the oily and floral characteristics of Semillon. I had high hopes for this…

…and it was everything I had wished for – a hint of oak and tropical fruit flavours followed by a whiff of cap-gun sulphur on the nose, and in the mouth it was clean, citrusy, slick and slightly saline, perfectly complementing the oily tempura and exquisitely fresh sashimi. Fantastic!

A carbon neutral and biodynamic wine would normally scream ‘tokenistic’ to me. Computer says no? Actually computer says yes!

Selamat malam

@jk_cunningham

Bin man

Posted on

I haven’t drunk wine for ages so there’s not much to say other than I liked this one very much!

Finally getting round to eating the stew I made a month or so ago, we decided to honour it with a decent bottle of red from Penfolds – a brand I have always shunned for some reason. I haven’t seen many Penfolds in my local deli – this one was brought back from Australia by one of my team after a visit to their winery, so it was a real treat to open something of quality.

Penfolds 2011 Bin 8 is big and youthful Cabernet-Shiraz blend. On the nose it was fruity and perfumed, with cardamon in the background. Heavy in the mouth, it was busting with sweet and sour red-berry fruit and a slightly peppery finish. The tannins and oak were very well integrated, but acid was quite high and so it needed food. There was a definite bite and a certain meatiness which I loved, complementing the tangy beef, aubergine and parmesan stew perfectly.

P1050374

One for the bin? definitely not.

Selamat malam

@jk_cunningham

The Pope is still Catholic

Posted on

Really crap wine alert!!

With my parents visiting for a few days before they embarked on a 3-week trip to Cambodia and Laos we found our weekend plans scuppered somewhat by the Chinese New Year holidays.

Going about one’s business in KL when the roads are so empty is a joy but if you want to get a bite to eat out you need to think carefully as most places are shut. So it was that we acted on my mum’s suggestion to buy a cheap BBQ to put on the balcony, get some nice meats and have a pleasant meal at home.  Our original intention was to go to Skybar or Luna Bar, enjoy the night-time cityscape and then eat at Acme Bar & Coffee. As far as a DIY alternative, then, my mum’s idea was a pretty decent one – after all, the sky-line view from our balcony is better than anything you can get downtown.

Having picked up some mean-looking striploins and merguez sausages I was a little nervous about the integrity of the BBQ owing to the cheap metal. But it managed to stay alive and not melt everywhere, which was a victory of sorts.  My paranoia about smoke and neighbourliness led me to read all the condo’s rules & regulations about a gazillion times, but no-one complained and no jobsworth guards came up, so I assumed we were not contravening regulation 4.5 b) sub-section iii).

The wine we had available for everyday drinking was this pitiful Wolf Blass Eagle Hawk Merlot 2011 – a party donation. I have a certain fondness for Wolf Blass. A bit like my student fondness for Banrock Station Shiraz. Wolf Blass was a brand that my wife and I used to drink a lot of, way back in the day, before we could afford to be pickier. With my mother-in-law being a Waitrose wine-deal fiend and friends bringing it round for dinners, we’d sink gallons of  the Yellow Label cabernet-sauvignon, getting riotously drunk whilst playing board games.

So, Wolf Blass was the cause of many hangovers and plenty of happy memories (though I hated the American-oak vanilla explosion). But times change and palates get choosier, and what served a purpose then certainly does not now.

I was pleased with the steaks and our BBQ meal but the wine was a f*cking abomination – from its pallid, pathetic hue to the almost indistinguishable, limp flavours, it was like drinking a slightly fermented ribena with all the fun taken out. I know that Merlot is soft, fruity, jammy and used most often in Bordeaux blends to soften harsher more tannic grapes, but I would hesitate to even call this wine. I suppose I must remember that you are limited to what you can do with rubbish like this; chuck it in a stew (which brings up the stew/wine conundrum, see previous post) or decant it down the plug-hole.

Drinking it is not a good idea.

P1050347

Just like the Pope’s being Catholic, this ‘everyday drinking’ wine was designed to be crap.

Having been pleasantly surprised by better-than-expected wines in the past, I should’ve trusted my gut instinct and prior knowledge of the producer to know this would be an as-bad-as-expected experience.

More fool me.

Selamat malam

@jk_cunningham

Juno a good red for a stew?

Posted on

Not a drop of wine has passed my lips since New Year, but in order to keep the blog fed and watered, I decided to cook with red wine as a legitimate excuse to open a bottle.

Choosing red wine for a stew is a tricky business. Do you go cheap because, after all, it’s only going in the food and you ‘don’t want to open the special stuff‘ or go expensive because all the celeb chefs insist you only use good ingredients? Since you are feeding the stew liquid nourishment (much as I try with Sozzl’d) of wine and stock, surely you want to go with a decent choice, right?

To be honest, the decision was pretty much made for me. We have wine at both ends of the spectrum sitting in the cooler, from the really expensive (Domaine de Chevalier rouge 2008) to the really quite cheap…. I couldn’t face opening a bottle of Penfolds Bin 8, which would ordinarily retail for about £16 in the UK (but more like £50 out here), so I settled for the cheap stuff and kept my fingers crossed that it would add something of substance.

Juno – daughter of Saturn, sister (and, ooh errr, wife) of Jupiter, mother to Mars and Vulcan – bustily adorns the bottle I used to make a hearty Italian beef stew; the kind that my wife and I would’ve killed for during the UK’s wintry snap. Given to us by our landlady, this bottle was one automatically consigned to the scrap-heap of my mind; my opinion of it was certainly prejudiced by the label whose hideous pastel shades made me instantly fearful of the contents.

But, as is the way out here with crap labels, it turned out to be OK.

Juno Wine’s 2007 Shiraz was cinnamon spice and chocolate on the nose and in the mouth it was firm and quite tannic which was counter-balanced by a thick blackberry jam. Not long enough to occupy my thought processes for more than a minute or so – it was nonetheless fine and as such added some grip and steel to the stew.

P1050345

My search will obviously go on for a definitive answer to the stew-wine question. In fact I’d be particularly interested to know if there are particular kinds of red that fare better in stew than others.  How does grape variety, oak or terroir affect a stew, I wonder? If you have the answer, let me know.

Whilst I can’t say I’ll be rushing to buy another bottle of Juno, I’ll remember her for the dodgy label, as a protector of women and the goddess of marriage and conception (we’ll ignore her own dodgy relationships for the moment…).  Hopefully Juno will feed my wife and me with some good marital vibes in 2013…!

Selamat malam

@jk_cunningham

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 635 other followers

%d bloggers like this: