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Saturday, 4 July 2020

A Tale of Two Wine Labels

Two distinctive wine labels assessed

Let's start with a bit of marketing background; branding works by making your product slightly more memorable so that consumers are slightly more likely to buy it in preference to other, competing products.

A clear, distinctive brand message is more effective in making your product memorable than a bland or incoherent message. Single messages are better recalled that multiple messages.

A Coke looks different from a Pepsi and, faced with a binary choice, you may decide to pick one over the other. This may be because you perceive a difference; that difference may be intrinsic (you may prefer the taste) or extrinsic (you may prefer the look & feel or the statement the product makes).

If your product looks and feels like every other product in its category, then it will be inherently forgettable - regardless of its intrinsic quality.

Most bottles of wine look pretty similar and there is no real way of knowing what a bottle on the shelf is like before you try it.

The label, then, gives us certain clues as to what the wine will be like - or rather we, consciously or sub-consciously, infer certain attributes about the wine from the packaging. It suggests to us something about the values of the person who made the wine and therefore we expect the wine to live up to the implied promise of the packaging, be it traditional, expressive, conformist, classy or whatever.

On the back of a discussion about a wine label started by Dan Kirby, I was sent a bottle to try; it is La Pelerine Bordeaux Blanc, albeit you have to look pretty hard at the label to find the appellation details.

I will review the wine separately, at this stage, I will just say I liked it a lot.

Here I want to assess the packaging.

The artwork is neat and classy, visually distinctive; to me it suggests a clean, modern and well-made wine, somewhat understated and elegant. It evokes a gastropub colour scheme.

I'm less convinced by the copy - the font size is small and I struggle to read the mass of words swirling before my eyes. Gradually, I make out a few place names, but I have not yet taken the time to read them all or work out the pattern (if there is one).

There is an aphorism in French at the bottom which I find rather pointless and which #1 child (who takes no prisoners on these matters) derides as clichéd.

The back label - again I can't read it, I really need to get some glasses - is where the discussion started. Endless technical details that even the nerdiest of wine-writers would likely find excessive. Is it knowingly ironic like a Haynes manual t-shirt? Or is it signalling the level of thought and care that has gone into the wine-making?

Overall, for me this wine keeps the promise made by the label - as a thought experiment, I decided to make a mental note in advance of opening the bottle of what I thought the wine would taste like and it was spot on.

I imagined restrained and elegant, not hugely aromatic and expressive but clean and modern with flavours of stone fruits and melon with lively acidity and good underpinnings. And that's exactly what I got.

Of course, there is a risk of being distinctive for distinctiveness' sake; elsewhere in the social media forest, Nayan Gowda asked for opinions on a garish label for a a Gevrey-Chambertin that was originally posted by Christer Byklum.

Most, but not all, wine twitter (a self-selective, utterly unrepresentative group, of course) did not like it.

My view is that it is meaninglessly distinctive which is a good start. It is also provocative (as evidenced by the strong reactions). And memorable. So far, so good.

But is there a coherent strategy behind this approach - or is it just someone goofing around with 80s retro-futuristic kitsch?

For me, this sort of in-yer-face style is more suited to a new challenger brand that needs to make a big impact rather than an established classic like Burgundy.

Whereas the Bordeaux label wears its heritage lightly, here the Burgundy seems to be trying too hard and not quite succeeding. Like a dog going after a car, it chases your attention but does not then know what to do with it once it has got it.

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Frapin Millésime 26 Year Old 1992

A vintage Frapin Cognac from 1992 with a limited release of just 3,000 bottles,

Frapin Millésime 26 Year Old 1992

1992 was quite a year for those of us old enough to remember it; from Bosnia to the Rodney King / LA riots via Black Wednesday and the ERM, a quick glance at the bands of the time tells you everything you need to know about how the world was feeling: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Manic Street Preachers.

It was also the year that this Frapin Cognac was born, having been distilled with its lees and some pulp, taste-tested for aging potential then sealed in 350 litre Limousin oak casks under the watchful eye of the BNIC and left to mature in Frapin's dry cellars.

In the intervening quarter century, the fiery, raw, angry young Cognac has mellowed into something that Frapin's cellar master Patrice Piveteau describes as "rich but also fresh and fruity". Those of us who stood on the cusp of adult life in the early 1990s might feel we can say something similar of ourselves. I'm not so sure that it is equally true of the world in general, however.

Frapin Millésime 26 Year Old 1992 (around £150, Master of Malt, The Whisky Exchange) complex nose of stone fruits, prunes, florality, tobacco and toffee; vibrant and fresh with pepper, dried orange peel and savouriness. Supple, mellow and harmonious, very elegant and adept.

Very Good.

Drink as a digestif or match with a tarte tatin.

There's a fuller review from Henry Jeffries here.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Arestel Cava Brut - Lidl

A controversially inexpensive fizz from Lidl - you should not buy it

Arestel Cava Brut, Lidl

Cava is Spain's Champagne, a traditional-method fizz made from local grapes. When well made, it is a fresh, elegant and linear aperitif.

It is often one of the cheapest fizzes you will find, despite being inherently more expensive to make than, say, Prosecco.

And there's the rub: this is a lovely, inexpensive, widely-available sparkler and you should not buy it.

Why not? Well, the argument goes that discounted to £3.49 as it was the other week, it is simply not sustainable. This picture was tweeted by Susy Atkins with the observation: Spotted in Lidl just now...! Cannot be good for Cava.

At this price, the retailer is probably making no profit, maybe even a loss. How much of this loss is shared between producer and retailer will be commercially sensitive but it is unlikely the producer is seeing much of a return on the cost of making this wine.

Cava has got itself into something of a downward spiral - it's now so cheap that people assume it can't be any good, so there is no incentive to improve quality and the temptation is to sell on price alone. But, now in the "suspiciously cheap" range, further price reductions are more likely to increase suspicion rather than stimulate demand.

So quality will have to be cut in order to manage costs, which further reinforces the perception of Cava as a bad wine.

There are two possible ways out of this conundrum:

- let things continue until the complete destruction of the Cava brand

- repositioning the brand now to stimulate demand at a sustainable price (something closer to the prices commanded by Champagne)

As for you, the consumer, your choices are:

- buy this inexpensive, easily available and very pleasant fizz whilst you can

- seek out a higher-priced Cava that is commercially sustainable for the long-term good of the Spanish fizz industry

As with so many things, there are no easy solutions here, just difficult choices.

I rather liked the wine and, don't judge me but I bought several bottles at the discounted price.

Arestel Cava Brut (£5.29, Lidl) fresh, linear and mineral with sherbetty citrus, florality and a touch of waxed jacket. Elegant, adept and poised.

Thoroughly pleasant.

Drink as an aperitif or match with mixed pintxos.

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Mouton Cadet - White Bordeaux with Cheese

A white Bordeaux with cheese - from Vinatis

Mouton Cadet Bordeaux 2018

If you were to think of a Bordeaux to match with cheese, chances are you might first think of something red, possibly with a bit of age.

I have long found that white wine matches better with cheese than red; the reason is tannins and flavour. Tannins in a wine don't work with cheesy saltiness and the fruit profile of a red often clashes with cheesey flavours.

By contrast, whites are cheese are a great match; no tannins, high acidity and mostly complimentary flavours.

This Mouton Cadet (from the owners of first growth Château Mouton Rothschild, but not the same wine - sadly) is recommended to match with stinking bishop, a washed-rind cow's cheese.

The vagaries of partial lockdown meant that I tasted this with a range of cheeses, none of which were stinking bishop.

Mouton Cadet, 2018, Bordeaux (£10.50, Vinatis) clean, modern and aromatic in a kiwi style; floral, herbaceous and peppery with zippy lime, fresh green apple; fresh, saline and mineral. Pure, elegant and poised.

Drinking nicely now; improves with aeration.


Matches well with younger, creamier cheeses, such as herby roulé, medium cheddar and pie d'angloys.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Zoom tasting: Chardonnay vs Pinot Noir

A zoom tasting of two Burgundian grapes from The Co-op and Cambridge Wine Merchants

Robert Oatley Margaret River Chardonnay 2017
Thomas Bouley Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2013

Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are two of the greatest grapes in the world – both are originally from Burgundy, but have had different international success.

Chardonnay is one of the world's most popular white grapes and possibly its most versatile; you will find it in Champagne and other fizzes, steely Chablis and big oaky Aussie / Californian / South African / South American whites.

By contrast, Pinot Noir is a finnicky cool-climate grape, prone to mutation, difficult to grow and, until recently, rarely seen outside Burgundy or as a blending component in Champagne. Nowadays, you can find examples from Germany, cooler parts of Chile, Australia, New Zealand and the US Pacific Northwest; there is also an increasing number of Pinot rosés as well.

Robert Oatley Margaret River Chardonnay 2017 (£12, Co-op and CWM) stone fruit, citrus and passionfruit with elderflower and honeysuckle; fine acidity and gentle oak with creamy, buttery nuttiness; balanced, harmonious and elegant.

Improves with aeration and will age


A versatile wine, match with starters or white meats.

Thomas Bouley Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2013 (£17, Cambridge Wine Merchants) blackcurrant and morello cherry fruit with evolved, mushroomy undergrowth and savoury, peppery spice; lively acidity and fine tannins.

At a peak now.


Match with red meat, especially darker game.

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Intermarché "Expert Club" St Nicolas de Bourgueil, 2018

A juicy, herbaceous red Loire from Intermarché 

Intermarché "Expert Club" St Nicolas de Bourgueil, 2018

The main grape in the Loire's Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil sub-region is Cabernet Franc; it finds a home in most areas of Atlantic France and this far north, tends towards freshness and leafiness.

Intermarché "Expert Club" St Nicolas de Bourgueil, 2018 (around €5) red and black fruits, earthy beetroot, herbaceous rubbed sage and pencil shavings; fresh acidity and harmonious, supple texture with fine, gentle tannins. Light, juicy and elegant.

Thoroughly pleasant.

Light enough to sip in the garden on a summer's eve, match with picnic foods, herby sausages or lamb with rosemary.

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Domaine de Fontbonau Cotes-du-Rhone 2012 - Cambridge Wine Merchants

A mature Fontbonau Rhône from Cambridge Wine Merchants

Domaine de Fontbonau Cotes-du-Rhone 2012

I don't get to drink mature Rhônes that often; they are not so much of A Thing as mature Bordeaux and do not need the effects of time in the same way as Bordeaux.

This Fontbonau is a from a limited stock of wines intended for the restaurant trade; something of a fire-sale item, it represents a significant bargain for a wine that punches above its weight even at full price.

The estate has various links to Chateau Latour in Bordeaux and this shows in the quality of the winemaking. Mature now, at this price you should buy as many as you can physically get hold of and marvel at how something so good cost you so little.

Domaine de Fontbonau Cotes-du-Rhone 2012 (£12.99, Cambridge Wine Merchants) leather, mushrooms and sous bois with ripe berries, cool mint and complex, well-integrated, oaky vanilla spice; ripe yet savoury, intense and supple with very fine tannins.

Very Good.

Match with darker game or roast lamb.