WINE STYLE: On the Grapevine; Clive Platman Raises a Question of Taste
Byline: Clive Platman
We live in an instant age. We see it, we want it and we must have it -now! There is no waiting and no patience. Food is convenient and pre-prepared, either brought from a takeaway or heated in a microwave. It's the same with wine, too.
Statistically, most purchases are consumed with a matter of hours. The bottle on the supermarket shelf essentially reflects the lifestyle. It needs to be consistent, like a tin of baked beans, and give immediate satisfaction. Vintages are no longer important but, in any case, who has the time to allow it to mature? Besides, our modern, centrally-heated homes with the absence of cellars, are less than suitable for longterm wine storage. For the average Englishmen, the culture of wine is a relatively recent phenomenon. Hitherto, the preserve of the upper and middle classes, there has been an explosion in its popularity since the late 1970s. The value now exceeds beer in take-home sales, so it's been quite a revolution.
Across the Channel, the tradition of wine is long-established. To the French, the concepts of wine and food are inextricably bound, and the idea of having wine without food is entirely alien. Their ideal lifestyle is to sit round a table with family or friends, enjoying good food with a glass of white or red and sharing the 'bonhomie'. The wine is made to enhance the food and the cuisine responds in kind. In general terms, for a wine to work with a savoury dish, it needs to be dry and possess a degree of acidity and, in the case of reds, should incorporate tannin. These key ingredients allow the wine to cut through the oils and fats of fish, meats or cheeses, causing the harsher elements to melt away, bringing out the fruit flavours of the wine and enriching the food. It provides the balance which is needed for an enjoyable meal. The style of wine need not be too heavy or alcoholic. The meal is about conviviality, not leaving the table in a drunken state, nor waking up the next day with a sore head.
French wines are therefore made to suit both culture and cuisine. That tradition is not shared by the beer drinking British. Wine is seen as a stand-alone alcoholic drink which may be enjoyed with friends in a bar, or possibly at home after a hard day's work. It can also be enjoyed with food, but it's not a requirement. This approach to wine-drinking necessitates a different style of wine. It needs to be forward, easydrinking and fruity. Acidity can be low, and tannins should be soft or non-existent. The wines should be full flavoured and rounded off with a little residual sweetness. Is it any coincidence that I could be describing an Australian Chardonnay or Chilean Merlot. To the average consumer, the French generic labelling system can be confusing. Based on hidebound Appellation Controllee rules and regulations, the laws merely give a guarantee of authenticity. …