Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Wine that Tastes of Nothing

In May 2011 Nielsen reported that Italian wine sales had overtaken both French and American wines sales by value in Britain for the first time. Many of the national papers, including the Telegraph, reported this fact as the triumph of Pinot Grigio as it's sales represented 40% of all Italian wine sales and that in Britain Pinot Grigio is now third in volume behind Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Quite staggering really given that it is grown in one quite small area of northern Italy and also 20 years ago virtually no-one out side of the wine trade had even heard of it.

Pinot Grigio - The Wine that Tastes of Nothing
But I have a theory about Pinot Grigio. People (especially women) like it because it tastes of nothing. And there is it's appeal, it's neutral, inoffensive and easy to drink with almost any kind of food you like. Don't get me wrong, if there is nothing else available I can happily glug back a glass or two but essentially it feels like drinking water. My wife loves it, and indeed drinks little else. Sauvignon blanc, "no thanks", Chardonnay "don't like it, it tastes of stuff", and Gewurztraminer, well no point in even asking.

Peter Stringfellow - Pinot Grigio Lover
I tested my theory out on my staff during a wine tasting a few weeks ago and most of them agreed with my thoughts. Actually my ambivalence towards PG is longstanding. Perhaps 10 years ago I saw a television program where Peter Stringfellow (if you don't know, think Britain's poor imitation of Hugh Heffner but without the mansion) said he was famous for drinking Pinot Grigio. Now I don't know Peter well, or indeed at all but I thought he was most famous for dating girls young enough to be his daughter. I wondered if I had dreamed this up and thought I better check this out whilst writing this blog and yes it is true. I thought at the time that it gave PG an air of naffness. I still do.

Returning to the original report I said that 40% of Italian wine sold is Pinot Grigio but that means that 60% of it isn't. Italy has some of the most fantastic wine in the world, much of which is little understood or drunk in Britain. I was lucky enough to be in Carluccio's in Birmingham only last night and the range of Italian wines available is great.

So by all means have a glass or two of Pinot Grigio but also give something different a try. You might just like it.

Next Time:
Brazilian wine, yes really. Oh, and my friend David.

Enjoy your wine. Cheers!

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Tuesday, 20 November 2012


I love wine, there I said it. Love talking about wine, love reading about wine, love others talking about wine, love tv programs about wine but most of all love drinking wine. Now you may think I'm some kind of near alcoholic whose tipple of choice is fermented grape juice but that is far from the truth. I love lots of other intoxicating beverages too!! However I hope to use this blog to share my passion for wine and why I think it is the greatest beverage in the world (okay, after a well made cup of  PG Tips with one sugar).

California 1989
Ward Family Dinner
The truth is my love of wine is relatively new and I did not take wine seriously until I was well into my 20s. The photo was taken in 1989 whilst my family and I (aged 17) were on holiday in California and shows my parents and sister eating dinner in our apartment with a bottle of what I think is Robert Mondavi white (not sure what although probably someone could magnify the image and tell me). What is clear though is that I am not drinking wine, instead I have orange juice to enjoy with my meal and that would have been my choice. I think my sister, who was 12 at the time, was drinking wine mixed with lemonade.

Actually the whole notion of us drinking wine at all was quite unusual even then. The only time wine really made an appearance in our house was during a roast Sunday lunch where a bottle of Piesporter or possibly Niersteiner that had been purchased from our local Gateway (remember them!) supermarket.

In 1990 I got my first job in hospitality as a barman at a hotel. Wine over the bar in those days consisted of red or white (never rosé) served from giant optics hanging up in an 'ever so slightly' chilled cabinet hanging on the wall. My lack of knowledge, or even training, meant that I even filled a fridge with red wine once thinking I was doing the right thing (and before anyone says I am aware that some wines (Beaujolais, anyone) do benefit from a little refrigeration).

By 1997 I had left and returned to said hotel and was now in a junior management position with responsibility for banqueting operations. And better still, I was sent on my very first course to learn about wine. And what a revelation it was. I may blog about my liking of the WSET (Wines and Spirits Educational Trust) at a later date but the course for the first time got me to try red wine seriously and I realised that not all wine tastes the same. I still have my original notes from that course somewhere about, and ocassionally when I come across them they make me smile. But that was an opening for me into the wonderful world of wine and I've loved it ever since. Subsequently I completed two further courses in wine and proudly wear my green Advanced WSET pin badge on my suit every day at work. And once in a while, customers sometimes even ask me what it is and that gives me a real thrill!

Next time:
The rise and fall of Pinot Grigio. Oh, and Peter Stringfellow!

Enjoy your wine. Cheers!