Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Dirty Dozen

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Dirty Dozen

Article excerpt

Though I loathe both the relentless branding of chardonnay as gluggable plonk and its consequences - terrible, loud, oaky wines - I now begin to feel some sympathy for the maligned little grape whose selling point has been consistency. How it must sigh as it swells on the vine, fated for the most part to meet palates educated only by fashion's fickle finger- first the reconnaissance party of trendy Londoners and now, as the army of followers marches on to overcome merlot, the straggling metropolitan rearguard.

With chardonnay-hating the new black, now might be the time to spread a little discord by seeing whether it is possible to be a discerning chardonnay drinker. The grape, after all, is revered for such burgundies as pouilly-fuisse. But it is the cheaper versions I seek to test, so we are drinking [pounds]5 chardonnay only this evening. Twelve different bottles of it, all courtesy of Oddbins.

In some circles spittoons are used at wine tastings. My friends would laugh in derision if I suggested such a thing and I know how rising levels of alcohol in the blood tend to affect sensory perception. So I have opened all the bottles at once. I am nothing if not fair.

And, to give it a fighting start, I have consulted the wine expert Hugh Johnson on how to enjoy wine. Chardonnay is, he says, an assertive, full-bodied wine whose aim and purpose is to accompany food and it is fatiguing to drink it without eating. So we are having dinner. Delicious little herb-roasted tomatoes with olives and home-made fish pie with green beans in mustard vinaigrette.

The first thing that becomes clear is who is best at emptying their glass. My friend Kay and I win hands down. We have summarily dismissed four wines on the trot (Koonunga Hill; James Herrick Vin de Pays d'Oc; Lindeman's Cawarra - unoaked - and Carmen), sometimes for no greater crime than tasting like the vanilla monster we expected. …

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