Guigal Côte-Rôtie: How much is that bottle in the UK?

IMG_20140928_153439Last week my sister was visiting the UK for the first time and I felt duty-bound to introduce her to all that these shores have to offer. And so I took her to Paris rather than expose her to the crumbling mess that is the British railway system.

Apart from the permanent cloud of second-hand smoke wafting through the air, the aloofness of the average waiter, the erratic opening hours, the stench of urine in the streets and the frankly homicidal drivers, Paris is a fairly ideal holiday destination.

No gourmand can be taken seriously if he or she has not made the pilgrimage to France to see what all the fuss is about. It’s why we use the French term ‘sous-vide’ for the cooking method rather than the simpler but much less elegant English translation of ‘under vacuum’. Similarly, no romantic can live life without having travelled to the top of the Eiffel Tower or walked over the Pont des Arts, which is heaving with so many padlocks that its railings are beginning to collapse.

For both of us, it was a journey of discovery. For my sister, it was a first visit to France and the European continent. For me, it was all about wine – and noticing just how much less the Parisians pay for it than we do.

IMG-20140923-WA0000Case in point: E Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde 2006.

Now, Côte-Rôtie does not come cheap. Today it is one of the most famous wines of the Rhône, but this was mostly the work of Guigal in the 1980s. For years, Hermitage was the leading appellation in the northern Rhône and Côte-Rôtie, thanks to devastation caused by phylloxera in the 1800s and dwindling vineyard area following the war, barely presented itself as a serious competitor. But revival came in the 1970s and this led to praise from critics (Mr Parker arguably being the main catalyst) along with greater attention from wine drinkers.

And so, if you want a bottle of E Guigal’s Côte-Rôtie in the UK, it will run you around £40 or more. That’s about four times more expensive than Guigal’s basic Rhône wines, such as their Crozes Hermitage or Côtes du Rhône bottlings.

Things are little bit different en France. While not everything is a bargain in France – you won’t find a discounted bottle of Haut-Brion at the LeClerc, for example – I can’t help but wince each time I visit a wine merchant.

Last week was no different. An initial trip to Monoprix, the upscale retailer whose apostrophe-shaped logo I constantly confuse with Vodafone’s served as a constant reminder that the Parisians pay a lot less for their wines than we do. I took little solace in knowing they are being fleeced every time they order a coffee.

I am not talking about an insignificant savings either. That E Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde 2006 at Monoprix? €32.35 or a little more than £25 at today’s exchange rate.

How about Miraval Rosé Côtes de Provence 2013? €14.90 at Julhe’s on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, while here in the UK it runs nearer £20.

And then there were the bottles of water. During one trip to a Montpellier outlet of Lidl back in August, my girlfriend came back with a 1.5-litre bottle of spring water for which she paid just €0.09.

It appears no matter what they are drinking, the French are always getting a bargain. Well, except when it comes to the coffee. The price for the average cup is obscenely expensive.

Gruner veltliner: I still don’t get it

DSC_0189It used to be the height of fashion, but these days you’d be hard pressed to overhear anyone who doesn’t work in the wine trade ordering it at a bar or restaurant.

In fact, there was a time, not too long ago, when it was the sommelier’s darling, a grape few people outside of Austria understood that offered up refreshing wines and something different from the monotony of sauvignon blanc and chardonnay.

Then, as quickly as it ascended to popularity, the sommeliers of the world moved on to the next big thing (Assyrtiko? Torrontes? Albarino?). And so gruner veltliner fell to the wayside.

But why?

Maybe it was the name that did it. Gruner veltliner. Can anyone pronounce it? Is it ‘grooner velt-linger’, ‘grunner velt linner’ or ‘grooner velt linner’?

Then again, I can’t pronounce gewürztraminer properly either, but that doesn’t stop me buying it.

Whatever the case, the more I read about gruner veltliner, the more I feel obliged to love it. The only problem with this is that I simply don’t.

A while back I droned on about how I didn’t understand Chilean wine. What we have here is a grape-specific discussion in the same vein, a confession of my confusion when it comes to this particular example of vitis vinifera.

I drink gruner veltliner infrequently, but not by design. For instance, when I’m at a bar or restaurant and the other options by the glass consist of water sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, an over-oaked Californian chardonnay or something that was clearly incinerated by the heat of the Languedoc’s midday sun, my eye diverts to the gruner veltliner in a hopeful attempt to drink something that won’t sear my epiglottis.

Rarely does this extend to buying an entire bottle, either at a restaurant or from a shop. For the most part, it’s because gruner veltliner simply leaves me bored.

Yet there is plenty of evidence to suggest that I am missing out on something. If it was good enough to become the sommelier’s choice once upon a time, surely this is a grape worth noticing?

Jancis Robinson has described the grape as being “capable of producing very fine, full-bodied wines well capable of ageing”  that “produces very refreshing, tangy wines with a certain white pepper, dill, even gherkin character.”

The wines are spicy and interesting and in general this is because of the grape’s own intrinsic qualities because the great majority of them, unlike chardonnays, see no new oak. — Jancis Robinson

Similarly, Jamie Goode has described it as being food friendly, versatile and able to gain complexity as it ages.

So what have I been missing? Well, it seems that I haven’t exactly been on the wrong track all along. Even Jancis Robinson used to consider gruner veltliner to be a “poor second” to riesling that can lack character when it is over-cropped.

The example of gruner veltliner that I’ve been drinking is Josef Ehmoser Grüner Veltliner Hohenberg 2012. At £16.50 a bottle from Berry Bros & Rudd, this isn’t a weekday wine for the average consumer, but this bottle came to me as a sample bottle in a mixed case.

Now, this is a good gruner veltliner. Who could say it better than Berry Bros themselves?

Finely detailed with delicate, floral and white pepper/stone aromas, there’s a broad, soft, pulpy undercarriage, with salty/sweet, white peach stone flavours that echo those of Sarotto’s Bric Sassi Gavi di Gavi. Very pure, generous, with a distinctly sapid finish; one that cries out for a sea fish platter. — David Berry Green – Wine Buyer

My overly simple way of describing it is that it is floral, has some peach and apricot aromas, tastes of stone fruits (again, peaches) while also being fairly delicate, and finishes quite surprisingly dry despite giving the impression that it might be off-dry. This is definitely a seafood wine, which is to say that it almost tastes salty at times.

It’s good. Very good. And yet it hasn’t exactly made me a gruner convert just yet. In fact, it’s just made me even thirstier for a glass of sauvignon blanc or maybe a Chablis. What am I missing?