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Chardonnay & chipsSo Oz Clarke declares Bridget Jones responsible for the nation’s flight from chardonnay.  Well hardly, mate: Australian chardonnay put us off chardonnay!  Surely it’s no surprise to find the large glass in the hand of a latterday drunkorexic now filled with the oily allurements of Italian Pinot Grigio; the mouthfeel of all that oaky Australian machismo is just too gaggingly throaty to go down, man.  No wonder the guzzling nation’s going all ABC (anything but chardonnay, mes innocents) and sliding over to the easy sipping seductions of a bland European.  And it’s so much more sophisticated, no?  Who wouldn’t favour the oeno-equivalent of Andrea Bocelli over the testosterone-fuelled bellowings of Australia’s own UN-ambassador  Sir Les Patterson – most memorably on the timeless classic Chardonnay, that raucous tribute to his favourite beverage?

But I don’t consider personality-free pinot grigio much of an improvement over heavy-set chardonnay; if they were my only wine options I be on the amber nectar.  Perish that thought (quickly!), but this state of affairs set me wondering: do Aussie white wine makers feel an overbearing need to prove their manhood by getting wood, so to speak?  Could be: the boombastic swaggerings of Shiraz and kicking-sand-in-your-face Cabernet from Down-Under can be overwhelming – intimidating even – but I do wish producers of the white stuff, instead of overcompensating for their inadequacies – real or imagined – would take a look at the Italian male and realise a bit of finesse, style and subtlety – and even, dare I say it, dandiness – can really pay off when it comes to attracting girls.  Obviously you can take that too far, yet like a dismal date who’s swallowed a viagra, an “affordable” Australian white can be offensively oaky.  Spit or swallow?  I’ll have just a glass of water and an early night, thanks all the same. 

On the other hand, there are plenty of delicous whites around for those who share my aversion to the bland, the oily and the over-oaked.  You could do a lot worse than check out Victoria Moore’s recommendations in today’s Guardian – for us hicks-in-the-sticks easily obtainable high street buys are a godsend – otherwise, I’m no expert but if you’re bored of the foregoing yet desire a bit of  Jackson Pollock in your whites I’d suggest keeping an eye out for the following genres:catspee

  • viognier
  • Alsace anything
  • most from southwest France
  • sauvignon blanc/sémillon blends from Bordeaux (not trendy thus good value)
  • Picpoul de Pinet
  • all Italians – as long as they’re neither chardonnay nor pinot grigio they’re probably interesting
  • Iberians (so long as they’re not Viura!)
  • sauvignon blanc: a vexed question, for  “cats pee-on-a-gooseberry-bush” is an apt description coined by Oz Clarke (who else?) & also the not-so-ironic offering from Coopers Creek vineyard of New Zealand (available for purchase here) – on the whole I steer clear unless it’s Sancerre, or the label mentions passion fruit and I’m feeling optimistic.  Can be wonderful; should be blended with sémillon more often than it is.

Can’t think of anything else to add right now, although there are many, many more, but one thing I want to say is that for reasons practical and political I do recommend adopting the habit of drinking like a wide-ranging locavore with a wandering eye…

Oh, and wouldn’t you know – now I’ve said my two cents’ worth I see Jancis Robinson too has something to say on the topic of ABC in today’s Financial Times.  Things are looking up!

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Steak frites
Wine stocks were getting perilously low and with no trip to Nice on the horizon and a brief interlude between French workers’ strikes, time was ripe for a quick jaunt to Calais. A choppy crossing each way rendered walking about a poor idea, so on the return leg, for just under £20 I enjoyed a proper dinner with good wine, starched napery, professional waiter service and sea views in a sanctuary from the staggering hordes.  With perfect timing too: we docked at Dover just as I washed down an espresso with the last of the San Pellegrino.

Being insufficiently hungry for the £15 2-course deal I opted for the £11 pièce du boucher (unidentified steak) with 3-peppercorn sauce and chips.  It came quickly, was cooked as requested, reasonably tender and tasty;  pretty good in the circumstances.  Even better was the half bottle of Chapoutier Côtes du Rhone at £6.  All in all it made the 90 minute ferry ride sheer pleasure for once: well done, SeaFrance.

A motley assortment of Good Things to buy in (northern) France

  • Dijon mustard
  • Marseille soap
  • fruit tarts (pack carefully)
  • Guérande salt
  • an enamelled cast iron pot
  • boudin blanc
  • Belgian endive
  • tomatoes (Summer only)
  • garlic plaits
  • espadrilles (Summer only)
  • cheese
  • frozen flageolet beans
  • crates of oysters (Winter only)
  • interesting non-alcoholic apéritifs
  • pastis
  • wine, wine, wine and more wine (French only, please)

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A fine lunch en route to the Royal Academy exhibition; we tried a wine flight each and loved the experience.  I had read about such things but this was my first time – really enjoyable. Each flight comes as a carousel of 3 different wines, themed by style/grape/provenance, with a view to savouring their similarities and contrasts.

wine flight, bread
Now that’s my kind of edification – check out the March and June menus for an idea of the options.

The quality of the wines and the food was exemplary; everything was delicious and served both graciously and at optimum temperature: Mr T chose oysters and an Alsace flight, taking great glee in the unbidden yet generous bread and butter; I enjoyed a generous helping of potted shrimp with my selection of rosés.

As the wine worked its magic we sank back to enjoy the subtly beautiful decor by David Collins Studio: hand-blown glass pendants in the form of illuminated cocoons, walls wood-panelled horizontally to resemble the interior of a wine case, mosaic-tiled floor and the stunning backdrop to the square bar, an air-conditioned, glass-walled cube lined with wine bottles and LED light strips – a space-age virtual wine cellar.

Tableware too, was a delight.  I was especially taken with my water glass (possibly from the Riedel “O” range – so light! so ergonomic!) and liked the olive-wood bread board, our wine glasses, cutlery.  I suspect there was even some slate underpinning.

Service was comme il faut, even down to the slightest chill and I’d rather have that than some pup calling me “dear” any day…

Fortnum & Mason 1707 Wine Bar
181 Piccadilly London, W1A 1ER
+44 (0)20 7734 8040
nearest tube station: Piccadilly Circus, Green Park

1707 Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

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