My chum, Mike, works at The Bank of England and is helping to write the official version of British economic policy since the 1980’s. He knows the truth about which slippery politician(s) did which dirty deal(s) with which greasy banker(s) but can’t ‘spill the beans’ as he’s signed the Official Secrets Act. Not fair! His office overlooks the inner courtyard at Threadneedle Street so he spends far too much time leaning out of the window, watching gold bullion being dumped into the vaults by armed goons aka an elite regiment of the British Army. Mike can, allegedly, deduce which country mined the gold, just by the colour of the ingots.
Anyway, whilst on recent jury service, he was asked to be the foreman of the jury in a case of identity fraud. The prosecution case was ‘watertight’ but the defendant, who was perhaps not in tip-top psychiatric health, nailed his colours to the mast before being holed amidships for 3½ years. As the defendant claimed ignorance about how old he was, where he was born, where he lived and also claimed that his mother was in fact his sister (from an anonymous English county starting with the letter N, eh?), it’s fair to say that he had a few ‘personality’ issues that will need to be addressed whilst he is vacationing at Her Majesty’s Expense.
Now, does the above story flash up an image of a glass of over-oaked, flabby Chardonnay? “Oh no, he’s banging on about bloody Chardonnay again”, I hear you scream but I just can’t help myself. Every time I try this putrid cesspit overflow, I have to gargle with Chernobyl mouthwash in order to kill the ‘taste’. I’m not, repeat not, an ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) head-banger as I adore vibrantly fresh, clean and assertive Chardonnay, wherever it comes from. Unfortunately, it is about as rare as hen’s teeth at under £ 10 so I can rarely afford to buy it!
Call me a wine snob (please note, though, that I’ll track you down and rub wasabi in your eyes and other sensitive areas of your body) but that’s not so. It’s all about balance, poise, elegance, acidity, fruit and some “snap, crackle and pop” on the palate. It’s the difference between riding a moped or a Triumph 675, the difference between a carousel and Kingda Ka, the difference between a water pistol and a Glock 17, the difference between…enough already!
Firstly, what about the colour? As sickly yellow as a chronic case of profound jaundice and often appearing to ‘glow’ like the nastiest sort of alien ooze in a horror movie. I’ve made lemon drizzle cakes with more subtlety of shade and tinting! It’s the wine equivalent of eating too much beetroot and then running in panic for a doctor 36 hours later when it ‘re-appears’ at the other end.
Cheap Chardonnay is…well, cheap! New oak barrels are expensive (€650+ ?) and second-hand ones not much less but they do produce a nuanced, ‘toasty’, spicy vanilla flavour that works with the fruit. The supermarkets and ‘high volume’ wine producers are working to incredibly tight margins. Every bit of oak increases your costs …cutting corners makes you extra profit. You do the maths.
A big dollop of ‘sweet’ oak flavouring, either from acetovanillone (wood pulp) or guaiacol (from fractional distillation of creosote – honestly!), covers up a multitude of flaws in the wine, the main one being that it tastes crap. The over-powering effect of this artificial flavour fools the tastebuds into thinking that the wine is better than it naturally is. There’s no problem with that as such (the food processing, pharmaceutical and perfume industries would be up s**t creek without a paddle without this sort of camouflage) but I just want it to be clearly stated on the bottles so the consumer can make up his/her mind in a properly informed choice.
Due to the time lag between increased demand and getting any new vineyards producing the extra grapes to meet it (a minimum of 4 years), there is often a lengthy period, which drives prices up and, unfortunately, encourages people to get ‘creative’ about what they are actually supplying. We’ve heard the many unsubstantiated and obviously totally untrue stories about Chilean tankers of wine heading to California and Crimean red floating off to Oz. Anyway, putting that to one side, the result is usually vast acreages of crap wine all going ‘on line’ at the same time, slamming prices back down as fast as they have increased. Then, the surplus wine gets dumped on the world market, usually on the ‘grey’ market, causing total chaos in its wake. F**k me, it’s the crystal meth of the wine world!
Oh, and before you blame me for being biased against New World wines, I know that there’s some appalling Bourgogne Blanc and other white Burgundies, even up at 1er Cru level. I recently tasted some Petit Chablis that was only fit for topping up a leaking VW combivan radiator. That was the equivalent of GBH on my tastebuds and I’m still angry…and looking for revenge!
Anyway, I’m off to the doctor to get my blood pressure checked (I can feel a big subarachnoid haemorrhage getting ready to pop) so I’m going to wind down this unbalanced rant. Please, please, just stop and think before you hand over your precious wonga for a bottle of luminescent, steroid filled Chardonnay that’s ‘on offer’ at a suspiciously low price. That’s all you have to do. If you still want to buy it, that’s fine …it’s your money and your choice, so no problem. However, just taking a few seconds to look for something lovely and creamy and fruity and pleasurable and tasty may be well worth your time, effort and just a little bit more money.
Yes, nurse, I’m ready for a little rest now. Don’t pull the curtains all the way closed as I still get scared of the dark.