“It’s a disgrace! It shouldn’t be allowed!”
So what had so offended the French wine producer I met at the Hong Kong Vinexpo this week?
The answer, as I was to discover was red wines with 15 percent alcohol and evident new oak. Witnessing what the very thought of big red wines appeared to have done to his blood pressure, I decided against asking what this gentlemen thought of the growing range of red wines aged in oak casks, previously used for bourbon or some other whisky. I didn’t want to be responsible for any kind of heart attack. In any case, he probably wasn’t aware of their existence, let alone the number of cases of these products giant firms like Pernod Ricard, Constellation and Concha y Toro are currently selling.
Now, to be absolutely clear, I’m not particularly keen on high octane wines, or ones that have been Scotched or peated or bourboned – or, for that matter, weedy, unripe Bordeaux, or bretty, mousey ‘natural’ wines like the one I drank last night, but if other people want to drink any of these and the producer can make a profit out of making them, I have no more problem with it than I do about some of the choices consumers might make when it comes to books, movies or clothes.
This doesn’t mean to say that I think that, just because something is popular, every wine producer in the world should shed their personal misgivings and standards to deliver it. Or that anyone who has a negative opinion should refrain from expressing it. Let the critic criticise, and let the biographers write biographies and authors of romantic fiction pen their bodice-rippers. But let’s not sit on our pedestals and say that anything that harmlessly gives pleasure to some and employment to others should not exist, simply because it fails to meet our criteria.
Where I agree with that dyspeptic Frenchman is over the wine industry’s tendency to blur the lines between the styles it offers. I had to look very carefully to find the 15% reference on the label of the last Californian red I tasted. It was tucked away in tiny print, and in any case, was probably a lie. Given the leeway allowed in the US, the wine might easily have legally weighed in at 16.4%. And it probably did.
But last night’s French, bretty-mousey wine came with just as little warning of the experience it was about to deliver – apart from the fact that it was in a magnum, carried the words ‘Vin de France’ , and was on offer in a trendy Hong Kong wine bar.
My point is that, of all these wines, the ones that are least likely to confuse anyone, are the ‘whisky-finished’ efforts. They wear their heart – if that’s what one might call it – very clearly on their sleeves. And, if they don’t taste like ‘traditional’ wine, nor do some of the examples interesting
And yes, they might be a fad, but one might say the same of the current popularity of Picpoul de Pinet as a dry white alternative to Pinot Grigio. Except that the supporters of the latter – a ‘real’ wine – would probably hate to accept that the kind of wine they enjoy is in any way associated with fashion.