The work of two of my favourite psychologists, DanielKahneman (alive and thriving) and Amos Tversky (1937-1996) was featured on Horizon this week. The programme explored their Nobel prize winning work which showed that we have two decision making systems; one is fast and intuitive whilst the other is slow and logical. We mostly rely on the former and it is very unreliable. For example, people can be primed with information (a ‘meaningless number’) to pay more or less for a bottle of Champagne. This is because we make our way through our complex world using heuristics (rules of thumb) and these are riddled with biases. Heuristics are necessary because our ability to process information is limited and our world would be overwhelming if we didn’t have some quick ways to deal with events and choices (such as selecting a wine from hundreds in a supermarket). Watch the programme to see how they created behavioural economics which is redefining how our financial and intelligence systems are designed. Perhaps also reflect on wine purchases which tend to be about risk management, familiarity, labels and emotional states rather than laboured logical decision making.
Lovely grower champagne from Marguet (made by Benoit Bonnerave 5th generation maker based in Ambonnay) care of the Wine Society. Its an elegant Blanc de Noirs (78% pinot noir and 22% pinot meunier). Unsurprisingly, given the black grape content, it’s slightly austere and less floral than most fizz. It does have some really subtle russet apple flavours underneath its initially quite ‘manly’ (sic) style.
This is a pleasure on its own but magical with a hard cheese. It’s seriously good stuff that knocks the spots of some equivalent price big brands. The Wine Society keep rooting out gems like this and I am gradually working my way through their range of grower champagnes because the quality is consistently high and there is wonderful variety amongst the range. This would be a great place to start;
Champagne Marguet Blanc de Noirs The Wine Society £22
I have been very George Clooney towards social media in 2014; neglecting my blog, twitter etc. etc. ad nauseum and ‘doing stuff’ instead. However, the latest issue of the Journal of Wine Economics here has a few papers that might be of interest.
One telling contribution, a paper from Orley Ashenfelter and Gregory V. Jones, suggests that the demand for ‘expert opinion’ on wines from Bordeaux is not just about a thirst for accurate information. The abstract is below;
In this paper, we use unique data from the market for Bordeaux wine to test the hypothesis that consumers are willing to pay for expert opinion because it is accurate. Using proprietary indicators of the quality of the vintage, which are based on both publicly and privately available information, we find that additional publicly available information on the weather improves the expert’s predictions of subsequent prices. This establishes that the expert opinions are not efficient, in the sense that they can be easily improved, and that these opinions must be demanded, at least in part, for some purpose other than their accuracy.
Yet more evidence of the prevalence of pundits wearing ‘Emperor’s new clothes’ and charging punters for the pleasure of admiring them.
I love Albariño (and the Portuguese version Alavarino) so did not want to miss this ‘Mini Fair’ held at Glaziers Hall. I also didn’t want to fail to write it up as it definitely deserves a bit of time and energy. Firstly, because the wines were really enjoyable. There was quality across the range as well as more than a few outstanding tipples. There was also real coherence, despite a variety of styles from the aromatic and peachy to the salty and austere.
Secondly, the Masterclass led by Peter McCombie was excellent. He is knowledgeable and enthusiastic without being gushing. He also shows a bit of humility and reminded the audience that ‘taste is individual’. When he got the year of a wine wrong he put his hands up rather than try and blag it as some experts do. He facilitated rather than lectured which is what people need from a tasting like this. The wines shown were;
Adegas Condes de Albarei Pazo Baion 2012 £20
Adegas Morgaido Morgaido 2012 £14
Bodegas Agro De Bazan Contrapunto 2012 £13
Bodegas del Palcio de Fefinanes Albarino 2012 £18
Bodegas Marques de Vizhoja Senor de Folla Verde 2012 £20
Bodegas Terras Gauda Terras Gauda O Rosal 2012 £17
Eulogio Zarate Zarate 2012 £23
Grupo Vincola Marques de Vargas Pazo san Mauro 2012 £14
Hermanos Vazquez Abal Sete Cepas 2012 £12.50
Bodegas Maior de Mandoza 3 Crianzas £14
Pazo Barrantes 2012 £18.50
Bodega Pazo de Senorans 2012 £17
Bodegas Coto Redondo Senorio de Rubios 2012 £10.75
My benchmark for Albariño is Fefinanes from the Salnes appellation (orange on the map above) which showed well. It combined lightness with complexity. Lots of green herbaceous notes and a bit of consensus around ‘baked apple’. They also make an aged version but I am not convinced by aging beyond a year or two or by the addition of oak (although there are exceptions to every rule and the ambitious 2010 Comtesse from Pazo Barrantes at £40 is impressive).
Another consistent producer from Salnes, Zarate, had trademark salinity as did the Pazo Baion. I loved the Mendoza example which would wash down Pate Negra really well. I am a fan of the saltier less fruity style but if you like more weight of fruit go for the wines from Condado do Tea (blue on the map above). The blend from Vizhoja had a slight cannabis aroma some might enjoy and the Coto Redondo didn’t taste like the cheapest wine being shown but was (at £10.50).
The prices are retail guides and the lack of accents because it is a pain to put them all in!
These are superb food wines and the table of tapas from Iberica was just what the doctored ordered. Standout was a Pulpo Empanada with a bit of a chili kick. I could happily eat a plateful with a bottle of any of the above.
I led a tasting and wine quiz in Sussex at the weekend in aid of the Children’s Respite Trust and Sussex Air Ambulance. Apart from being fun and raising a few quid for both charities it meant that I had to prep by setting quiz questions that would challenge the geeks in the audience but also be accessible and entertain those with a bit less knowledge. So there were ‘guess the price of a magnum of 1971 DRC’ type questions as well as Champagne quotes which most people know were care of Winston Churchill.
Local supplier Noble Wines provided a selection from the Lapostolle Altitudes range. Founded in 1994 by the Marnier-Lapostolle family who own Grand Marnier and Chateau de Sancerre. They are “French in essence, Chilean by birth” according to the blurb. They have some decent Green credentials with lighter bottles made from recycled glass and sustainable paper sources.
The four Altitudes wines tasted were all technically sound if nothing to write home about. All 100% varietals, the Chardonnay was easygoing with a slight petillance. Lacking complexity and, to my mind, inoffensive, it would be an easy food match. I was surprised how the crowd of 60 had such diverse responses to it. I was less surprised the Cabernet Sauvignon was equally divisive, with the ‘big red brigade’ satisfied by the tannins but those less into ‘puckering’ damming it mercilessly.
The Carmenere was more successful. A pleasing crimson colour, not really the deep purple they suggest on the bottle. Good fruit and spicy notes. I gave a bit of spiel about the history of the grape and the relationship to Merlot (having made the effort to prep some notes). What confused me was the tasting note on the bottle citing ‘white chocolate’ which none of us could detect (even when suggested!). I think this may be a clever(?) bit of marketing…
The best of the range was the Sauvignon blanc. It had surprising body and as one astute granny commented ‘there’s nothing thin about it’. Fresh rain on grass and some intriguing asparagus and nettle notes. Almost too complex to function as an easy aperitif it needs goats cheese and a hunk of bread. A very good alternative to overpriced NZ SB. They all retail at about £7.50 and come in at 13.5% alcohol.
Click here if you want to make a donation to support respite care for disabled children, or to keep the Sussex Air Ambulance flying click here.
People often ask me what my picks from supermarket shelves are. As a Psychologist I am generally opposed to giving advice because it is often a poisoned chalice. I also don’t particularly like helping supermarkets shift wine and generally prefer supporting smaller independent outfits. However, there are some really decent wines available on the shelves and some of them are made by thoughtful and skilled producers. So, here are some I think of as good value for money (i.e. technically sound, relatively cheap and probably enjoyable for most drinkers). They can often be found in more than one supermarket and prices vary depending on offers etc.
For fizz Cremant de Jura Chardonnay 2010 £6.99 from Aldi is hard to beat. If you want the real stuff Blanc de Noirs Brut Champage £22 Sainsbury’s ticks my boxes (especially when discounted).
For whites I really like M and S. Their Palataia Pinot Grigio (with a bit of Pinot Bianco), a refreshing, tangy and easy-drinking example from Pfalz £8.49. M and S also stock a great alternative to NZ Sauvignon Blanc; Secano Sauvignon Gris £9. It’s made from an ‘interesting’ and under utilised grape and is very consistent across vintages. However, the outstanding supermarket white has to be Hatzadakis Assyrtiko Waitrose £12. Whenever they discount by 25% for 6 bottles (as they are at the moment) I buy this wine because it is ‘great’ in every sense of the word. A really fine wine with a wonderful heritage, it slips down as an aperitif, goes with food and can spend a bit of time in the cellar doing interesting things. All for £10 a bottle.
I don’t think there is an equivalent ‘great’ red but there are some really pleasing gluggers out there. I often wax lyrical about various Chilean Pinots inc. pretty much all the Cono Sur range which Burgundy simply can’t compete with under £10. France can do it in other areas though and there are lots of decent reds from the Languedoc and Rhone. Villages Seguret Cotes du Rhone 2011 Morrisons £5.99 is a crowd pleaser. I often recommend Vina Mayu Sangiovese Asda £5.50 but it seems to be getting a bit oakier which I don’t really like (but lots of people do). I could mention a few Malbecs but am finding the bog standard supermarket versions a increasingly tedious. However, there is no doubting Argentina, like Chile offers value. If anyone knows a decent Italian red outside Italy for under a tenner do let me know.
My number one supermarket tip at the moment would be… Sherry! Asda Fino at £5.50 is a steal and the rest of the range is worth trying to find the one you like (you will like one!). Sherry is deeply unpopular with most people and a hard product to shift despite its high quality. Supermarket buyers seem to like it though and take it seriously. The new wave of sherry bars opening in London and the consistent whispering of the cognoscenti are yet to impact on popularity (and prices) though so fill your boots whilst you can.
‘The Wine Gang’ (pictured) contacted me to announce an offer for winepsych readers on tickets to their forthcoming wine events. These are being held in November in Bath (2nd), London (9th) and Edinburgh (30th). There are lots of exhibitors, masterclasses and a pop-up shop to buy some of the 600 wines available for tasting. The Gang are an engaging and knowledgeable bunch who will be on hand to advise during the fairs. If you want to attend at a discounted price (£12 instead of £20 entry as well as 10% off masterclass tickets) then simply pay a visit to www.wineganglive.com and use the code BLOG40 when booking.
I revisited the Squid Ink restaurant in Looe last weekend (previous review here) and, although it has changed hands, it is still pretty good. It also has a decent wine list. We were eating various fishy bits and meat so went for a rose’ from Andre Dezat et Fils who have some great holdings around Sancerre. The restaurant had it listed as 2011/12 and I would usually go for the more recent vintage but the 11 turned up and was fine . It is a proper food wine and stood up/complemented pretty much everything from mussels to steak. We asked for the second bottle to be a 12 (to do a bit of a geeky compare and contrast) but it wasn’t available.
Taking the dog to Victoria Park a couple of days later I popped into the Bottle Apostle and lo and behold the 2012 was sitting there. They also stock the white and red so I got a bottle of the former (but not the latter as I am on a pinot noir moratorium because I have plenty in the cellar drinking really well and am also a bit skint). It was predictably fresher than the 11, showed a bit more acidity and fruit forward flavours. However, the 11 seemed a bit more complex so maybe this is a rose’ that can evolve in the bottle. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend cellaring loads though.
The white was equally impressive and a reminder why sauvignon blanc does not always have to be NZ grapefruit juice. Their Menetou Salon and Pouilly Fume’ are also good (according to a couple of my tasting notes from 07 and 09) but the red perhaps a bit less consistent. Wines from Dezat aren’t cheap and are stocked by quite a few top end retailers including Berry Bros, Fortnum and Mason and Harvey Nichols. However there seems to be quality across their range and it is worth paying the £15 or so for these wines.
The UEL Research blog has highlighted an ESRC call for research on alcohol misuse with around a million pounds available for the right projects;
A family holiday in the Mani was a great reminder of what everyday wine is all about. On the first night we joined our hosts and 20 or so of their Greek friends under vine awnings for a long and leisurely meal. Every so often a plastic bottle or jug would appear. Without exception they were full of Greek (Assyrtiko, Moschofilero, Xinomavro and Agiorghitiko) food friendly, low alcohol country wines. They were all perfect for washing down the spread in front of us which must have taken Helene a couple of days to prepare. Because we took hand luggage, and our hosts were wine fanatics, we didn’t take any wine with us. I always tend to take a bottle to dinner parties but was glad I didn’t have one as it probably would have stood out like a sore thumb. So much of what we drink in ‘the West’, not just ‘fine wine’, is overworked; made to shout out in tastings, ‘varietally amplified’, over-oaked or alcohol soaked.
I am acutely aware of the power of context and have no illusions that the setting, company and food all contributed to the enjoyment. Some of the wines might taste watery and uninspiring in a tasting hall in London but are exactly what our market needs for a number of reasons. Firstly, the low alcohol; we drank copious amounts but were fresh as daisies in the morning. If we had been drinking 14% wines we would have suffered on the beach the next day. Secondly, food compatibility; these wines do not dominate the taste of foods, they refresh your palate, help to wash down the salt and oil and seem to aid digestion. Thirdly, they have low environmental impact due to limited packaging and transport costs. Fourthly, they are indigenous, varied and interesting in cultural terms. Without drifting into vague metaphysics and moral philosophy they are somehow ‘more honest’. Fifth, they are cheap (also due to the aforementioned low production and transport costs). Sixth, and this could be challenged as overly romantic, they seem to be made with love, or at least respect.
So, within our sophisticated and highly segmented market I hope there will be room for wines like this. Not glamourous or lucrative, just nice and humble enough to accompany rather than dominate food.