with Ted Sandbach - October 2014
Does anyone ever remember the names of Australian Prime Ministers? The Australian Prime Minister - think it might be a chap called Tony Abbott - has been ridiculed for the contents of his wine cellar which apparently holds an unbalanced range of below average wines many of which should have been drunk some time ago. A little harsh I feel especially as that criticism could probably be applied to most of our own cellars!! Australia is not the only country to come under scrutiny regarding its official cellar as taxpayers there expect a delicate balance between national pride and extravagance. The UK government's cellar has been reduced by about 15% and is apparently now self funding in complete contrast to the deposed Ukrainian President whose cellar, when raided by protesters, revealed a penchant for Cristal Champagne, Vintage Port and exclusive Cognac - mostly drunk by his cronies and certainly not kept for investment purposes!!
I have long been a Pinot Noir lover having once experienced a 1953 Domaine de la Romanee Conti La Tache serious red Burgundy in the company of the late Auberon Waugh. There were only four of us and I was a very young member of the trade, somewhat naive and rather overawed by the occasion. Nevertheless this particular wine (we also drank Ducru Beaucaillou and d'Yquem) was responsible for my lifelong passion for this grape. There is a certain age group who seem to think that Burgundy is a heavy wine. The number of times I hear words such as "I am having a steak so I need a good Burgundy." No you don't!! Burgundy is a soft gentle delicate wine although sometimes with a backbone and structure which is more complex. In the old days the tankers from North Africa used to roll into Burgundy in the dead of night and tip their rich powerful alcoholic juice into the tanks to give the wine some weight and power. Not so now which might explain why I am becoming a little disappointed with the amount of poor quality Burgundy on the market. With Burgundy you have to know your growers as one wine from the same village or commune will rarely taste the same as another and if you see a cheap offer (this being relative when it comes to Burgundy) I suggest you stay well clear!
So if Burgundy is not offering the quality at the entry level end (that is £13 - £25) where do you turn? For pure value then the south of France can deliver as can Romania - the latter recognised by Jancis Robinson as an area with outstanding potential. Up the scale a little comes Chile which is really beginning to excite me, especially around the coastal areas such as the Maule Valley and in other cool climate regions like Casablanca. For immediate impact on the taste buds Chile has much to offer and some of their wines are now very complex and offer outstanding value. New Zealand produces many good and some outstanding Pinots from Marlborough, Martinborough and Otago as does the Mornington Peninsular and Tasmania in Australia. With a few exceptions South Africa has a bit of a way to go yet whilst California and Oregon examples can be superb but pricey. However an area not often considered is southern Germany where Pinot Noir is known as Spatburgunder and some of the wines I have had from here have been really exciting. As usual with German wines it is more about how the wines are marketed as there is still a tendency for drinkers to avoid complex labels as well as there being a suspicion that Germany is cheap and nasty - a misguided hangover from the days of Blue Nun and Black Tower.