Chilean wine and other things I don’t understand

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I was listening to the radio while still in bed last weekend and they were talking about how, in the year 775, gamma rays blasted the earth with a heavy dose of radiation.

How did they figure this out, the interviewer asked? It wasn’t from eye-witness accounts, because people wouldn’t have even noticed it.

It also wasn’t from catastrophic damage caused by the radiation, because it didn’t plunge the world into a nuclear winter, nor did it blow away the ozone layer or cause people to grow extra limbs, so there was little evidence of it even happening.

Turns out the scientists found clues by looking at tree rings. And then, in order to find an answer to this, they determined it was caused by two black holes that had collided with each other.

Er, what?

Despite these explanations, I still don’t understand how they figured out that this happened at all. Or how two colliding black holes would have done it. Even more mind-blowing was the fact the entire Earth would have been fried to a crisp had it happened less than 3,000 light years away.

But, then again, I can’t even figure out why bread from Sainsbury’s toasts faster than bread from Waitrose. You can understand, then, why my brain nearly imploded when I heard this cosmic revelation.

Another thing I’ve never really been able to understand is Chilean wine. Or maybe I just don’t get along with it. Whatever it is, I’ve always felt most of the wine from the South American country has tasted vaguely of what I might want to drink, but not actually having enough character to be memorable or worth my time.

So, with those concerns in mind, this past weekend I opened a sample bottle I had been sent. It was a Montes Outer Limits Sauvignon Blanc 2011.

When it comes to typical sauvignon blanc, most of the time I expect one of two things to happen. On the one hand, it will be pungent and grassy with plenty of acidity like those from New Zealand. On the other hand, if it’s from, say, the Loire, it will be a little more restrained and offer up citrus aromas with a drier, more mineral and flinty mouthfeel, hitting the back of my throat with its dryness and acidity. I particularly enjoy that.

And then there is Chilean sauvignon blanc. In this particular case, that bottle of Montes Outer Limits. Its faux-weathered label featuring scrawled text and a figure that looks like a drifter certainly lived up to this wine’s ‘do-anything’ new world attitude.

But its contents confused me. It was a lot like the first time I walked into a French public toilet and, rather than find a familiar porcelain toilet, I found the flush equivalent of a hole in the floor staring back at me. This wasn’t what I was after.

To be fair to this wine, and a lot of Chilean wine in general, the problem is probably more with me and not the wine. I expect a certain type of wine when it comes to sauv blanc that isn’t always going to be met.

So, as expected, this one had that gooseberry/cat urine smell, much like Kiwi sauv blanc. It also seemed to have a spritz or a fizz to it, but then it mellowed down into tropical fruits (pineapple, passion fruit, etc) and a fairly round finish. It seemed full and fruity, but it didn’t whack the back of my throat with acidity or minerality, which disappointed me slightly.

It was good, sure, but it wasn’t a wine I’d seek out again. Something was missing. It just seemed a bit too easy. And I am not someone who likes easy. If I liked easy, I would take the train or the bus to work each day. Or even ride my bike. Instead I choose to walk, which takes an hour, because it’s less easy than the other options. I would crawl on my hands and knees, but I don’t have all day.

When it comes to sauv blanc, I want a wine with a real character, not something that tries to taste a little like New Zealand and a little like France, which is what so much Chilean wine seems to be about. And I’m a bit tired of the cat wee smell the Kiwi stuff gives off. My housemate’s cats already do their bit to fill my world with the hum of feline pee, so its presence in my wine is overkill.

Mostly, I like my sauvignon blanc in the spirit of something like, say, Domaine Michel Thomas Sancerre. Call me old school. Call me boring. Call me set in my ways.

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By The Bottle – Fresh, free and interactive

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I don’t normally use this space to promote any specific product or company other than the wines I think are either good or bad, but today I’m going do a little bit of cheerleading.

This week we launched the new interactive magazine By The Bottle on the iPad. By we I mean me, Vim from 12×75 and everyone who contributed to the magazine, ranging from our great designer, those who wrote articles for us, gave us advice and feedback, attended one of the #7WordWineReview dinners or simply supported us on Twitter.

Some of you might wonder what this is all about. In a recent post on the Talking New Media blog, Douglas Hebbard reviewed the magazine and described it as being a bit of a mystery.

That is understandable. Anyone who searches for the magazine online will find we don’t have a dedicated website at the moment. That is still in the works. But those who follow me and Vim (@12×75) on Twitter will know this is no mystery.

Hebbard also pointed out that I made a rather embarrassing spelling mistake that made my heart sink – sadly, typos happen.

By The Bottle is a completely independent magazine written by wine lovers for wine lovers. I come from a pure journalism background, but our writers come from all walks of life and professions. Yet we all share one interest: wine.

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We have advertisements in the magazine for the simple fact we’re giving it away free and it has to pay for itself. We hope more advertisers will come on board once they see what we’re offering and the audience we reach.

Ultimately, our objective was to create something that was unique in the wine market.

We knew we couldn’t replicate the Decanters and Wine Spectators of the world. They are specialist at wine news and reviews, so beating them at their game would have been extremely difficult. And we didn’t want to do that anyway.

Instead, we felt there was something missing in the wine magazine market. We wanted to produce something that was fun, informative, diverse and eye-catching. Our writers are not all experts in wine, but they all have an interest in it.

We wanted to write about everything related to wine, but we also had a desire to make the topic as accessible as possible, so the articles are often lighthearted and easy to read. In addition, we felt it was important to look beyond wine, which is why we have articles about fashion, food, leisure and anything else our readers might appreciate.

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That’s why our first edition includes a how-to article on poker, a recipe for muffins and an article dedicated to power suits.

But we never forgot to have fun, either. Rather than review cars in the usual fashion, our writer, Steph Knipe, imagined the best three cars for driving to France to buy wine. She wouldn’t have concluded the Mini was the best car if humour and fun were not front of mind when she wrote it.

Our aim is to publish many more issues of By The Bottle in the future and make it available across all devices, not just the iPad, as soon as possible. So if you don’t have an iPad but some other device instead, rest assured you’ll be able to read our magazine soon. Remember, it’s completely free.

I’ll make sure to keep the typos to a minimum next time.

Eulogy for a family friend and wine-lover: 1948-2012

ID-10055189He might have been one of the most relaxed people in the world, more often than not spotted sitting back with a crossword puzzle, his mind in a moment of concentration not even a boiling kettle’s whistle could easily interrupt.

When he spoke, it was often after a short pause to reflect what the other person had said, then followed by a mellow “Yeah…” in his baritone voice before the rest of his words came out.

But the most enduring memory I have of this family friend – who died suddenly  just days before the end of 2012 and for years I only knew as Art – was when he spilled nearly an entire bottle of red wine onto himself in front of his family and friends.

That event happened at his home 16 years ago at the memorial party he held for his wife shortly after she died of cancer.

It was less of a wake and more of a celebration, the sadness tempered by happy memories and a seemingly endless supply of wine that people drank as though their lives depended on it.

It was also a night he would impart what my sister would describe as the best advice she’s ever received in life. When she asked what mattered most in life, he turned to her and said, “The most important thing in life is simple, it’s love.”

If Art’s death came too soon, his wife’s was tragically even more so, but unfortunately not unexpected.

They were a couple who were clearly in love, but pulled apart by the most heartbreaking of circumstances. No possibility was left unexplored as they sought to send her cancer into remission. Hope was never lost. But in the end she ran out of time.

Art carried on. He worked for the electrical utility, earned a very good living and continued to live both in his home in the city and at his cabin on a small island of Canada’s west coast. He was a kind and generous man, a mentor and a confidant to some, but most of all he was simply adored by those around him.

He was also an animal lover and at one time had two cats called Briggs and Stratton, named after the lawnmower engine manufacturer Briggs & Stratton.

There was also little doubt he loved wine. Few dinners at his house were ever a dry affair. White, red, dry, sweet or sparkling; it didn’t matter. When dinner was happening, we would bring bottles, other people would bring bottles and he, too, would have a few of his own bottles to contribute.

What was drunk, whether from a prestigious estate, a bag-in-box or the local U-brew, never really mattered. If it was good, it was discussed; if it was paint thinner, it was forgotten.

His cabin was just down the road from my mother’s house and it was a place where we drank lashings of wine. Some of it was good, some of it was bad, and none of it that I can remember by name.

He also loved a good cigar. He didn’t smoke them every day; they only came out when it mattered. He brought out his best stogies on special occasions; he loved nothing more than to start a bonfire on New Year’s Eve, sit in a lawn chair and puff a Cuban.

Art was a man who loved life but was haunted by the worries many people have when retirement is looming. He didn’t know what to do with himself, so he kept on working because he thought he had nothing better to do with his life.

His death was a tragedy not only because he was taken from us far too soon, but also because he never had a chance to retire. He will never know what it is like not to have to go to work each day, to have all the time in the world to do what he wants.

If there is anything to hope for, it is that Art has now been reunited with his wife and with his cats, Briggs and Stratton.

Art, a man who loved the finer things in life: 1948-2012.

Vinni: ‘Wine-based refreshment’, or what not to drink on New Year’s Eve

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My friends and I often joke that much of the wine lining supermarket shelves is not actually wine, but instead a wine-like drink of industrial-chemical origins, not unlike that aerosol cheese sold in America.

All joking aside, “wine-like drink” is an often useful descriptor for blasphemies like Echo Falls, Yellowtail and Blossom Hill, much as their makers might argue otherwise.

I didn’t think the Australians would go out and up the ante by actually launching a product that boasts this very fact. But then again the Aussies have never really be known for their subtlety, so perhaps they should be applauded for being brash enough to come up with something called Vinni.

With the phrase “wine based  refreshment” printed in large letters across its label, there is no doubting that this is a) not trying to fool anyone into believing it is a proper wine and b) going to taste awful.

It first appeared in shops in October 2012 and has been positioned to compete with beer and cider and, they say, attract a younger audience to wine drinks.

I’m not so sure they’ll achieve this. First, think for a moment what this ‘younger audience’ is actually like when it comes to their preferred alcoholic drinks. On any UK high street on any given Friday night and you will see Vinni’s target market in action; for the most part their preferences are based on the ease with which the drink goes down their gullet and how cheaply this can be achieved.

The people who conjured up this concoction were likely hoping to capture that young, festival-going crowd that relaxes in the park on a sunny day with a few drinks in hand, but the actual group that might find Vinni appealing are the types who drink abominations like WKD because it is sweet and laden with booze.

Except there is a problem. Vinni is not only awful (more on this later) but also fairly expensive for what it is. It costs £3.66 a bottle from Tesco.

So while Vinni might have been born out of good intentions – of drawing more people to wine and away from alcopops and cheap beer – in order for it to be successful it ought to at least taste like it might be made from wine and be good value for money.

Except it doesn’t. There I was on New Years’ Eve, getting ready to head to a house party when the idea popped into my head that I should try this drink. After several sniffs and a few sips, I couldn’t pick up any hint of wine except for a vaguely sweet and faint grape aroma, although it did give me an unsettled stomach.

This doesn’t surprise me. A few years ago it became fashionable to drink cider over ice in a pint glass – think Magners or Bulmers – because it was refreshing and easy to guzzle at times when all you wanted was something cold, wet and full of alcohol. Unlike more serious ciders, it was light and fruity. Perfect, then, for people who like the idea of drinking cider but don’t actually like the way it tastes.

Vinni achieves the same thing, it seems, by promising to be, as the label says, “fresh & fruity”.

It was because of those two words I felt a swell of embarrassment consume when I bought this drink from my local Tesco outlet. In order to avoid looking silly in the event I bumped into someone I knew, I didn’t put it in my basket until the moment before I made a dash for the cashier. I was safe from that point on, but I’m convinced the security guard gave me a knowing smirk.

And why wouldn’t ge? Here was a 30-something man buying a drink that no adult should ever drink, one that tastes sweet and only vaguely grapey, bearing almost no resemblance to wine or any other serious alcoholic beverage.

There are many things I’d rather have experienced than drink Vinni. If fact I’d rather have had  a bottle of Mateus Rosé my throat slit and my mouth concreted in, as my friend Trev recommended.

To put the price of Vinni into perspective, it’s possible to pay £2 or less for a bottle of good real ale that is bound to offer infinitely more enjoyment. But, then again, no one who drinks real ale is likely to buy something like Vinni unless they a) picked up the wrong bottle by accident or b) thought it might be worth blogging about.