Britain is the largest per capita wine market in the world, and it is British tastes that drive production.  Predicting what people will be drinking in Dulwich, not the Dordogne, it turns out is what makes a wine producer successful. 

Having attended a brief introduction to wine/food matching at a county fare yesterday, I pass on the basic hints, so you can all at least enjoy what you are drinking. (after the fold)

1) Surely – £10 bottle of wine better than £6 bottle of wine? 
Not necessarily.

Wine drinkers are seen by marketers identify 3 broad ranges of wine drinker. Every day, who spend £3-6 a bottle.  Week end drinkers, who like a ‘better’ bottle to enjoy, in the £6-£10 range, and ‘Entertainers’, who buy the most expensive wines to present at dinner parties.

Wine producers will bottle a range of bottles from the same vats.  Take a 10,000 bottle vin-yard.  The first 5,000 bottles (say) will be bottled for the big suppliers- Tesco, ASDA (Walmart in the US), Sainsbury’s etc.  These are the bottles that say “Australian Merlot, bottled for Tesco”. These are the ones around the £5 mark.

Next up, the next 3,000 bottles (from the same vats remember) are the ones with the producer’s  own label on.  “[Producer’s name] Merlot”.   These will be sold for a few quid more – in this example maybe £7.  BUT IT’S THE SAME WINE.

Finally, the last couple of thousand bottles will include some sediment from the vats.  These are the £12 a bottle ones called things like [Producer’s name] Special Reserve, or Bin 51, etc.

If you hold a bottle upside down and there are no sediment deposits at the bottom, then don’t worry about it being an heirloom – drink it now. No sediment means nothing is happening in the bottle.  This is the kind I am writing about here – the stuff you want to put on the dinner table now, not serve at your eldest daughters wedding (actually, go for the cheap stuff there too – no one will care!)

2) White with fish, red with meat.
Old hat.  May be true that certain wines go with robust or delicate flavours, but don’t be a slave to it.

3) But the label on the front…
See point one.

So, what are you looking for?

The information you need is one the BACK label.  Everything else is just packaging and advertising.  The back label is controlled around the world by law.  The presentation may change so the £7 bottle looks nicer than the £5, be laid out differently, be in swirly letters, but it must present certain information.

What you are looking for at the most basic level is a description of it’s taste. Whites are decribed as ‘fruity’ or ‘citrus’, reds as ‘fruity’ or ‘spicy’.  Think about the food you will serve it with, and pick the ‘opposite’ wine.  Fish in a lemon sauce? Pick a fruity white – do not pick a citrus tasting one.  A redcurrent sauce on your roast turkey – then that’s a spicy red, not a fruity one. (The sauce may be the biggest determiner of the wine – we add sauces to give strong flavours, so that will be the dominant taste.)

Taste is subjective, but research has shown you can lose 85% of the flavour of the wine by having a fruity wine with a fruit based food.  The guy giving the talk demostrated this by having us sip a white, eat some raisins (which are dried grapes – the opposite of wine!) and then taste the same wine – you get a poorer taste.  Some food stuffs can make wine taste ‘corked’.  Maybe you can try this when you have wine open – look at the back and eat some of the ‘wrong’ stuff.

Eating a slice of apple cleanses the palate for drinking wine – apparently no is sure why, but it ‘resets’ the taste buds.

OK so this won’t make you Oz Clarke – I never intended that.  However it should help when trying to make sure you get the best taste from your wine for a night out or a Sunday roast.