Monday, February 28, 2011

The blind leading the blind

Blind tasting is great. When we decide on a new wine to import, we try to make sure it goes through a fairly rigorous blind test whereby the prospective wine is tasted blind against its peers in the market. It needs to outperform in terms of quality/price/drinkability in order for us to proceed with it. With this exercise have we avoided many pitfalls in the past.

The good thing about blind tasting is that it forces you to leave your prejudices outside the room and you just focus on what is in the bottle.

We had some friends round for dinner on Saturday night and one of them brough a bottle with all the labels steamed off and the cork removed so that all hints as to what the wine might be were removed. He even hinted that the bottle the wine was in might not be the original bottle. All with a view to catching me out...I know, I have some devious and cunning friends.

So we tasted the wine. It was a white wine, I got that much right. The nose wasn't giving too much away, but on the palate there were some muddled "white wine" flavours, muted citrus fruits, nothing too obvious. There was also a good deal of residual sugar. It reminded me of Black Tower, the semi-notorious German wine from the 80s which my family consumed with gusto on Christmas Day when I was a teenager - the only day we drank wine with our dinner.

I thought it was a cheap German Riesling, drinkable if not very pleasant. Turns out it was German alright, but not Riesling - it was a Pfalz Pinot Grigio from Lidl which he bought on promotion at €3.39!

We have done the maths before too many times, but out of this €3.39, appprox €2.59 is going to the government, about 75% of the cost of the wine. It is probably below cost, apparently this wine costs normally €5.99. From the consumer's point of view, wine has never been cheaper - unpleasant, but drinkable wine at this price is pretty amazing.


As a wine lover, this is still bad value. The bottom line is that this is industrial wine. There is no soul, no love, no care and attention. It doesn't taste of Pinot Grigio, it does nothing for that fine wine region of Germany, Pfalz. It is alcoholic, sweet and it is cheap. There is a large number of people for whom that is enough, I know, but I am not one of them. I like wines that taste great, have a bit of character, are made by people who are passionate about what they do and, yes, offer great value for money.

I would rather pay a tenner for a bottle that I really enjoy than pay a fiver for something I can barely stomach. Wine is like any other food and you should think about what you are putting into your body.

As it happens, I had been having a Twitter conversation, a slight divergence of opinion on this very wine with Martin Moran, who had been recommending it. My point was that this wine will sell as part of the great race to the bottom anyway, so is he not better off to recommend something a little more interesting?

Martin's point was that he thought it was better than most cheap Italian Pinot Grigios and was a good option for people looking for a cheap wine.

I suppose we are both right, but I would rather have the argument with him over a glass of (preferably decent) wine in Ely rather than within the confines of 140 characters in public.

Martin is on @winerepublic and I am on @dalkeywine if any of you are on Twitter and would like to follow our occasional twitterings...


Anonymous said...

I agree with you, Gabriel.

I half-followed some of that conversation on Twitter and I think Martin said something about that €4 wine being a good option for really skint, possibly unemployed, people. No doubt he's correct but let it sell on price. Not sure if a product like that warrants much discussion.

Gabriel Cooney said...

That was my feeling - tell us about the interesting stuff. I was on slightly dodgy ground as I hadn't tried it at that stage. Now that I have, it's still not of any interest, and I think if the trade/journos aren't educating people, how will the market ever evolve?