Here’s a surprise.   I have just read the blurb in a top wine merchant’s catalogue that their house brand of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc suggests among others the aroma – or perhaps the taste? – of ‘cordite’…..could this be a bit of a blockbuster?

While I am perfectly prepared to accept this finding at face value, I can’t help wondering quite how helpful this description can be to most wine-imbibers who have never encountered a whiff of that dangerously explosive stuff themselves.

This being said, it is true that wine wordsmiths sometimes have to stretch their imaginations in pursuance of accuracy and the ‘mot juste’ in describing the aromas and tastes they encounter, nonetheless I can’t help feeling that in this case, for clarity’s sake, their choice of description though arguably within the catalogue writer’s own personal experience, ought to seek to target a more widely understood domain of appreciation.

Wine merchants’ catalogues can sometimes be guilty of more generalized word-embroidery: perhaps that a specific bottle just oozes ‘real class’. A handy bait for a prospective purchaser, no doubt, but what exactly does the expression mean? How do you bottle ‘class’? What are its parameters? What, if anything, does class taste like? Is the use of the word anything more than pure ‘hype’? Quite often the wine thus described is produced by a reputable/fashionable winemaker and is from an excellent vintage of which high expectations might automatically follow, but this is not always the case.

My question arises here as a result of my having just tasted a richly dry and remarkably food-friendly Pinot Gris ‘Trois Châteaux’, 2013 from a top independent Alsace producer, Kuentz-Bas – a wine to which I reckon the word ‘classy’ certainly might apply in the sense in which I personally understand that word. So what do I imagine lies ‘between the lines’ to push it into this elevated bracket? Obviously any wine thus described must be absolutely true to type and, I’d suggest, be typical of its specific vintage conditions, but there’s even more beyond fine-tuning: there’s an almost indefinable sense conveyed by the liquid in the glass that encompasses both an immediate deliciousness coupled with hint of dignified restraint. The inherent suggestion of ‘power in hand’ – or the potential for development, informed inevitably by the fine balances detectable on the palate. The issue of a wine’s cellar potential aside, at least there’s the recognition that what it currently offers the drinker is not something placed blatantly in the forefront of its shop window, waving gaily for all to see. A deeper interest prevails in the background, and the wine tells you that it has a perspective of further secrets to reveal. An astonishing result in the glass, perhaps, when you consider that all wine starts simply as sap inside a vine-stick planted in the ground! In this particular case, however, if all you know is the ubiquitous and sunny Italian Pinot Grigio then you’ll find the beautifully textured Alsace model belongs to a different world – this one is serious stuff for grown-ups!

Country of Origin:  France (Alsace)
Name of Wine:   ‘Trois Châteaux’ Pinot Gris, 2013
Producer:   Kuentz-Bas, Colmar
Style:   Buttery rich medium-dry white
Alcohol:   13.5% Vol.
Retailer:   The Wine Society
Price:   £15.50

John Ducker – Member of the Association of Wine Writers

Random thoughts above on the usage of wine-words aside, if the Alsace Pinot Gris is my ‘white’ choice for September, the ‘red’ is in a much humbler bracket – a real surprise discovery from the hinterland of a supermarket bottom shelf!   There’s no elevated classiness here, merely good value at a bargain price, and I can’t see anything wrong in that.     One is probably right to be a bit suspicious of any wine selling in the £5 bracket– but my discovery certainly avoids any pejorative suggestion of its being ‘vicarage mouthwash’ … sorry, vicars, though I confess my own father was one.   In terms of the wording on its house label the wine ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’: Waitrose Chilean Soft & Juicy. A Merlot-led blend from that country’s Central Valley, a wine which turns out to be a dependably honest partner for simple grills of meat, lamb especially, I’d guess. The smaller percentage of Cabernet riding shotgun in the wine gives the wine an initial firmness, but the overall impression that eventually develops in the mouth is of the fleshy soft juiciness advertised, with suggestions of a chocolatey depth of fruit on the back palate. One doesn’t expect much complexity at this price point, neither does one find any, but this bargain ‘find’ has a good typicity of fruit and the wine is well assembled. Honestly made short-term drinking – generously coloured, and with a typically rounded taste that even boasts a good finish too – and all for just a fiver a bottle. Enough said.

Country of Origin:  Chile (Central Valley)
Name of Wine:   Waitrose ‘Soft & Juicy’ Chilean Red
Style:   As described above
Alcohol:   13% Vol.
Retailer:   Waitrose
Price:   £ 4.99

John Ducker – Member of the Association of Wine Writers