Bit of a rehash of an old post, but it has a slightly festive theme since most folks will be at the juice of the grape over Christmas.
Wine’s very personal, so I’ll give only one piece of advice. Do not buy retsina. The origins of this oenological abomination are largely anecdotal, but however it came about, the idea of adding pine resin to wine is not one of the world’s most inspired. You can use it to revarnish your fence if someone turns up at your house with a bottle, and it gets left at the end of a long night. If you do find yourself desperate and drinking it, expect a nuclear hangover next day. Bear in mind that retsina was implicated in the deaths of Eric I of Denmark, and Sigurd I of Norway. Those Nordic lads could stick it away, and if they could survive a night on mead or heather beer, then succumb to the toxic effects of retsina… Draw your own conclusions.
Personally, I avoid any bottle with any of the following words – Blue Nun, Black Tower, Riesling, Piesporter, Niersteiner. They all taste of elderflowers marinaded in diluted, sweetened nitric acid . Gewurztraminer does what it says on the bottle; it’s descriptive of the diabolical after-effects on your digestive tract. Why don’t they call it ‘katzenjammer’ and have done with it?
My view is to buy what you like. This has the added advantage of you having to try lots, since there are so many out there.
Where to buy wine
It is really very hard to buy a bad bottle of wine these days. You may find the odd bottle of Latvian sauternes in your corner shop, but any decent supermarket has a bewildering range of good wines. Even the shop at my local garage does a very decent shiraz for under a fiver.
Where not to buy wine
There are some places that may make you think twice.
Desperate Dan’s Discounter Drink
You’ll find these sorts of places in small trading estates on the outskirts of most towns. These are not the big wine warehouses, such as Majestic (if they still exist); they operate out of a glorified lockup. The sign may well be neon, and there’s an additional red flag if all four of the alliterative words radiate off a single oversized initial D.
Desperate Dan discounts his stock for a very good reason; nobody would buy it at full price.
For VAT purposes, Dan runs a spinoff operation, Wild Willy’s Wine Wonderland. You’ll find this in a railway arch between a pine furniture outlet and a panel beaters/sprayshop. When you find it, walk away again.
Any shop that has a sign declaring ‘Newsagent Tobacconist Confectionery Stamps Top up cards Mobile phones unlocked Wire money home from here Cheapest International Phone Rates! Fax Photcopy Internet Access Off Licence’
His heart isn’t in it.
Some wine merchants
This is odd but true. A visit to a wine merchant can be an edifying experience, but you’ll tend to come out having spent a bit more than you intended to. However, there are two types of men who own wine merchants. One is slightly chubby, ruddy of face, has a nose like a strawberry, and smells strongly of his stock by about 11 in the morning. You can trust him.
The other is a tall, cadaverously thin, stooped, deathly pale individual of ascetic mien. Do not trust him.
Also do not trust a wine merchant where the owner is out on a tasting and has left his Goth or Emo son in charge. You won’t get much good advice. Nor from a biker who’ll suggest that a bottle of Thunderbird and a couple of black bombers will sort you out, my son.
An off licence that’s in the middle of a deserted inner city shopping mall built in the sixties
It will be the only going concern, all the other shops being burnt out or sporting graffiti-tagged riot shutters. There’ll be a couple of teens hanging round on BMX bikes, ready to drop off drugs for the local Mr Big, who may well own the off licence as a front for his pimping activities.
Inside, the stock is all behind the counter, which has a security grille running up to the ceiling. Transactions are carried out via one of those vertical V-shaped trapdoors such as you find on clothing banks. Fortunately the decision processes are kept to a minimum. Do I want the Lambrini, the pink Pomagne, or the Kestrel Super? Maybe I’ll splurge and have the Buckfast Abbey. Though the three litre bottles of White Lightning cider look good, don’t they?
Then you’ll get mugged on the way out by a couple of crackheads.