Thursday, 23 April 2015

Wine Night on BBC4

CJ is away this week; but don't forget that to-morrow night on BBC4 is Wine Night - a celebration of all things winetastic - starting with:

7.00 pm: Last of the Summer Wine Special
A one-off return to the much-loved, long-running comedy series - with the main parts being taken by much-loved, long-running wine writers. In this special episode, 'Foggy' Dewhurst finds his taster's notes overrun by ferrets; while Compo attempts to open a case of 1986 Château Beychevelle using a combine harvester.
Norman Clegg - Hugh Johnson
'Foggy' Dewhurst - Andrew Jefford
Compo - Oz Clarke
Nora Batty - Jancis Robinson

7.30: Michael Portillo's Great Wine Journeys of the World
This week, the former Member for Enfield Southgate travels at the TV licence-payer's expense from the Central Valley Region of Chile to the Barossa Valley of Southern Australia, via the Majestic Wine store, Uttoxeter, and the Co-Op in Honiton.

8.30: Phylloxera! The Musical That Wouldn't Die
Documentary about what became known as 'Shaftesbury Avenue's Killer Infestation': the 1990s musical Phylloxera!, based on the great scourge of nineteenth-century European vineyards. The musical proved to be almost as pernicious as the original aphid-like insect, taking seventeen years to eradicate from the West End Stage. Michael Ball - who appeared in the original production - talks to performers, writers and musicians who found themselves unable not to participate in a song-filled spectacular described by The Times as 'Simply excruciating'. Also appearing: Bonnie Langford, Sir David Hare, Esther and Abi Ofarim, Ritchie Blackmore, Professor Sir Roger Penrose, Joan Armatrading.

9.30: Telly Beverage Madness! Your Thirty Greatest Wine Shows!
Count down your favourite wine, or wine-themed, TV shows from the last fifty years - and vote for your number one, the all-time greatest wine show! Among the candidates:
Late Night Wine-Up - classic wine discussion format from the 1960s
The Rockford Oenophiles - starring James Garner as the eponymous Sonoma Valley-based crime-fighting detective
Thunderbirds Are Go! - classic 1960s marionette action series, fortified by the preferred drink of bums and hobos across the generations
Top of the Papes - remember how, every Thursday night, we used to tune in to now-disgraced BBC TV presenters uncorking the latest from a famous French wine-making region?
Whose Wine Is It Anyway? - popular TV improv series (on both sides of the Atlantic) in which comedians dispute the ownership of a glass of wine
The Riojaford Files - spin-off from the American original, starring Javier Bardem as the bodega-based crime-fighting detective
Presented by Phillip Schofield.

11.00: Wine Movie Classic - My Grapes Are Unpalatable (1959)
Legendary winecentric drama starring Anthony Quinn, Sophia Loren, Gert Frobe. Quinn plays Nikos, a Greek wine-maker who sees real export potential in his particular blend of Retsina. Aided by gorgeous love interest Susanna and buffoonish UK wine importer Sir Geoffrey Stirrup, he maps out a five-year business strategy to make Retsina the most popular wine on the British dining-table. But arch-rival Gunther has other ideas... 
Little-known movie facts: Quinn was a secret teetoller in real life; and see if you can spot a very young Robert Parker, playing the part of Kostas, the peasant boy.
Nikos Kyriakou - Anthony Quinn
Susanna - Sophia Loren
Gunther Mannheim - Gert Frobe
SIr Geoffrey Stirrup - Thorley Walters
Police Chief - Thanassis Vengos
Army Officer - Ernest Borgnine
Interrogator - Telly Savalas
Chief Torturer - Martin Balsam
Director: John Ford

1.00 am: Wine News and Weather
Tonight from Puligny-Montrachet.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Top glass

All too often I visit IKEA. Or to rephrase, to visit IKEA at all is too often. But once in a while you encounter an IKEA product which is well designed, well made and, well, cheap. And here is one such: the Hederlig red wine glass.

This is a lovely, large wineglass, as you might expect in a classy restaurant. As IKEA rightly states in its description, “The glass has a large round bowl which helps the wine’s aromas and flavours to develop better, enhancing your experience of the drink.” It’s big enough to sniff and swirl to your heart’s content, it has a balanced shape, and the glass feels good in both hand and mouth. And… it’s only £1 !

Perhaps there are horrible, exploitative reasons why this glass is so cheap. Perhaps it is shaped around balls stolen from the hands of small children. I don’t think I want to know. What I do know is that I no longer need worry about the cost of breakages, when this lovely, big wineglass costs just £1.

It’s not drinking itself which seems to break wineglasses. I can count on the fingers of a hand the number of times a wineglass has actually fallen from the fingers of a hand. No, it’s the washing up afterwards which sees wineglasses knocked over on the draining board, bashed into the tap, falling into the sink or slipping, detergent-lubricated, on to the floor.

Frankly, at £1 a glass, I no longer care. This is surely the answer to all those fellow wine drinkers whose connoisseurship must be tempered with their cackhandedness.

Whatever you do, don’t confuse it with the other Hederlig red wine glass. Which has a completely different, tapered shape – but the same name. And confusion is easy, not only because it has the same name, but because despite its tapered shape, it has the same description: “a large round bowl which helps the wine’s aromas and flavours to develop better…”etc.

As indeed does the Svalka red wine glass, only half the size (with a modest 30cl bowl) and therefore half the price – yet bizarrely also described as having “a large round bowl”, despite its bowl not being very large at all.

You might even confuse it with the Rattvik red wine glass, with its steeply sloping goblet shape fundamentally different to the others, neither large nor round nor indeed even a bowl… and yet – you guessed it – still described as having “a large round bowl…”

Is that just the default IKEA description of any red wine glass? I don't imagine they similarly describe as “large round tables” items which are actually “small square tables”.

They do have cheaper wine glasses. Forsiktigt is a Paris goblet by any other name, and it’s only unfortunate that of  any other name they chose… Forsiktigt. These are £1.25 for six, just over 20p each which, given the prices of gas and washing-up liquid, means it’s probably economic simply to smash them after use. However, they are Paris goblets, favourite of the hired caterer and the student party, on which my position remains unchanged; too thick and too small to enhance a wine's flavour, too shallow and open to enhance the bouquet, and too mimsy to suggest generosity. A hideous little tennis ball of a glass,

Or at the other end of the IKEA scale, there’s the Stockholm glass. This costs a stonking (by IKEA standards) £4 per glass,  because it “is mouth blown by a skilled craftsperson” (as opposed to someone who has just graduated from bubblegum). Stockholm “has a handmade decor, making each glass unique”. Because, of course, who wants a matching set of glasses?

I’m afraid I cannot recommend many of the other IKEA wine accessories. There is the Vurm  four-bottle wine rack, for the unlikely member of our readership who keeps only four bottles of wine. There is the Vardefull combination foil cutter and corkscrew, suspiciously moderne to those of us wedded to the practicality of the Waiter's Friend. Or the Lonsam carafe which, filled with white wine, would look exactly as if it has just been withdrawn from beneath a patient’s blanket.

But I remain delighted with the Hederlig red wine glass. Which, at the risk of repeating myself, only costs £1.

I am reminded of CJ’s astute observation that in wine writing, the moment you read about something interesting it immediately becomes unobtainable.  But the IKEA website allows you to see how many glasses are in stock; my own local branch had 772, somewhat more than the number of guests I am likely to invite, let alone provide with red wine.

And you will have to visit an IKEA store in order to purchase your wineglasses, as they can’t be purchased online. But visiting IKEA has been made less challenging lately; thanks to their recent diktat that it is forbidden to play hide-and-seek in the stores.  So at least you won’t be startled to open a Pax wardrobe and find someone lurking inside.

Finally, perhaps we should consider whether, given some of the rubbish wines we encounter, we actually want “to develop their aromas and flavours” as opposed to stifling them. Is there perhaps a market for a “bargain wine glass”, which actively suppresses the aromas and flavours of shoddy wine, rendering it more drinkable? Now, that could be a market…


Thursday, 9 April 2015

Countdown to Ecstasy: Denbies Surrey Gold

So a week has passed since all the excitement, and it's back to business, here in the parched and seamy banlieue which I call home.

10.10: I read an email from PK in which he talks urgently about storytelling. I have no idea what he means. I go and make a cup of (instant) coffee.

10.25: For no good reason, I decide to get back to basics and investigate those low-level supermarket chains which I haven't already had a brush with, i.e. Costcutter, Londis, Nisa, Mace. These are the real out-of-town, abandoned A-road, padlocked light-industrial, single chiller-cabinet operations, the sort who sell you a top-up for your electricity bill and keep the liquors and spirits in a special unit behind the counter. These are places for the desperate and the feckless. Depressingly, it turns out my nearest Costcutter is less than a mile away. Londis is even nearer.

10.34: Actually, I know why I'm being drawn to Londis, Costcutter et al. I'm punishing myself for an unexpectedly bibulous few days, starting with a Dry Martini on prize night, followed by some impromptu wine-packed dinner invites on subsequent nights, in the course of which I put on four pounds and my wife lost her voice. Oh, and it involved a Costières de Nîmes which somehow took five days to finish, and was great at the start, but tragic, frankly, by the end. Still slightly dizzy with liver fatigue, I know that I must atone for this, somehow, and that somehow means drinking nothing but the least best wine money can buy.

10.52: Yes, but this is fruitless. A moment's thought (eighteen vague minutes by the clock) is enough to remind me that just because the shops are small and charmless, it doesn't mean that the drink is going to be cheaper than anywhere else. Generic reds and whites are going for a fiver plus at Costcutter, and that's on special offer. Convenience stores (for that's what they are, even allowing for the branding) are graveyards of good value. What I need to do, of course, is drag myself to the nearest Asda or Aldi, some inhuman hypermarket, and prowl the bin-ends like a ghoul, picking among shreds of cold cardboard and damaged plastic for something that costs less than two quid if you buy eighty. The thought is too sad for words.

11.14: No! Here's what I'm going to do. I'm not going to lumber myself with yet another pile of low-end grifter's slurry. I'm going to snap out of the impasse by nipping down to the inexpressible Waitrose at the end of the road, and buying the first wine I see which has no resonance for me at all. A wine about which I know nothing, in which I don't even recognise the grapes, let alone the maker's name. I'm talking about a whole new taste sensation. I'm talking about the thrill of the unknown, something to startle me back into life. It's crazy; but it might just work.

12.03: English wine. A bottle of Denbies Surrey Gold. It's made in Dorking, Surrey, an otherwise charisma-free commuter town! That's about fifteen miles from where I live! This is my local wine, practically. Yes, £7.63 seems a lot to pay for something that I could almost harvest and press myself, but there you are. I can't get beyond Waitrose, I haven't the strength. Handsome label, nice pale straw colour. A mixture of Müller-Thurgau, Ortega and Bacchus, the website informs me. Denbies do reds, as well. And organise tours round the vineyard. Some good reviews. I'm excited.

12.45: It's not without merit. I would query, though, the 'Fragrant nose of peaches' which leads to 'a well structured fruit driven palate with a flinty backbone and hints of ginger', as trumpeted on the packaging. I'm getting almost nothing at the start or finish, but a lot of posturing right in the centre of my mouth, roughly one-third of the way through the encounter - zesty, yes, slightly antiseptic, a kind of palatable rinse if you're suffering from, say, mouth ulcers or thrush, and that's good, we all respond to that. Maybe it's too cold. It does get a bit more articulate over time, and at least it's not a Pinot Grigio, which must now be cultivated on half the planet's land mass, judging by the number of Pinot Grigios filling the shelves.

13.12: And it goes very nicely with a piece of Cambozola which I find in the fridge, or nicely enough, at any rate. Am I going to argue? The day has regained its colour. There are good times ahead. Seriously, that's how they roll in Dorking.


Thursday, 2 April 2015

The (actually) award-winning Sediment

It is rare for both of us to be flabbergasted. Oh, CJ can get aerated, about the prices on the bottom shelf; while I have been left open-mouthed, at Americans calling their wine ‘claret’. But it takes an extraordinary event to flabbergast us both; an event such as that which took place this Tuesday evening.

The André Simon Awards are a legacy of the man Hugh Johnson described as "the charismatic leader of the English wine trade for almost all of the first half of the 20th century, and the grand old man of literate connoisseurship for a further 20 years". It was a delightful surprise and source of pride to us that Sediment was even shortlisted in their 2014 Drinks Books of the Year, among a clutch of serious, heavyweight wine books. But there were, as they say, two chances of us actually winning – fat, and slim.

Still, it did mean that we were invited with our wives to a reception to announce the winners, in the grand surroundings of the Goring Hotel. “Wear a jacket,” I warned CJ. “Don’t get drunk,” Mrs K warned me.

In the event, we had little time to assault the wine before the speech by the Assessor of the drinks books, Julian Barnes. Yes, that's the Booker prizewinning writer Julian Barnes.
And as he summarised the shortlist our prospects seemed to be evaporating further, if such a thing were possible. It was clear that we lacked the scholarship present in some of the other contenders; Sediment has written little and knows even less about “the infamous 1971 German wine law”.

But then Julian Barnes described Sediment as "one of the funniest wine books I have read…up there with Kingsley Amis and Jay McInerney”. It is, he said, “full of sound sense and wry, defeated wine notes”, and he summed it up as “not just laugh aloud funny, but snortingly, choke on your cornflakes funny”.

And finally, he announced that the John Avery Award, in honour of the late, great Bristol wine merchant, went to… Sediment. And we were both duly flabbergasted.

We chatted for some time after the announcement to Julian (as I think we can now call him). He had noted down (noted down!) his favourite passages from Sediment and, despite the fact that the majority seemed to be CJ’s, we were both equally flattered that such a respected writer enjoyed our book.

And we talked a little about maintaining a cellar. “We don’t have a cellar,” interjected Mrs K. “We have a basement. It just happens to be full of wine.”

André Simon himself believed that "a man dies too young if he leaves any wine in his cellar". No, no, said Julian. “You must buy more than you can possibly drink”. It was particularly helpful that this comment was made in earshot of our wives.

We are still reeling a bit from having won this award. And from celebrating having won this award. Even if w
e are no longer able to describe ourselves as "nearly award-winning". We’re enormously grateful to the judges, to our editor, and our extraordinarily tolerant spouses.  And we hope in the circumstances you will forgive this slightly self-indulgent report of our success.


Thursday, 26 March 2015

On The Cheap: Rawson's Retreat

So the Brother-in-Law has gone to France for a day and come back with a whole year's worth (he says) of wine. Since I can't even imagine what a year's worth of wine would look like, let alone buy that amount and bring it home in a VW Golf and save hundreds of pounds into the bargain - yes, allowing for travel expenses - all I can do is whistle reverently while swivelling my eyeballs up and down while he tells me what he's achieved.

More than that, though: I have to thank him for rising to the challenge ofbuying me something sight unseen and hoping that I'll like what he's chosen. The result being six bottles of Rawson's Retreat 2013 Shiraz Cabernet - a New World crowd-pleaser, not my usual tipple, but let's spurn convention for once, and indulge in, yes, a firm and fruity, supple yet structured, big Australian red. And just a whisker under £5 a bottle! Life is good, as if it's unexpectedly passed its MOT.

Next thing, of course, is to look this apparent gift horse in the mouth. A fiver a bottle from the Calais Wine Superstore is only good if it's so markedly less than the price of the same wine in the UK that even the most wretched UK-based tightwad will find something to cheer. Blanched with apprehension, I check out the offers. Thank God, it's on sale for anything between £6.48 and £7.99 a bottle. This chimes in fairly nicely with an Argentinian Malbec the Bro-in-Law produced (with a flourish) at supper, noting that Tesco were asking a tenner a bottle for it; whereas he got it on a superspecial deal at £3.

Is it reasonable to infer, then, that the price the Calais Wine Superstore charges for a wine is closer to its real value (whatever that is)? That Calais prices reflect some kind of Platonic ideal, denied us in the UK? Duty on a bottle of still wine in the UK is seriously over £2; in France, it's a few pence. At the bargain-to-mid-range-industrial end, this is all the justification you need to gas up the car and go south. But what if we strip out the difference in duty - which is, after all, not Tesco's or Asda's or Waitrose's to determine - and see how the supermarkets rate? Can we use Calais as a baseline from which to determine UK value or lack of it?

Well, a Chilean Casillero Del Diablo Chardonnay currently goes for £4.49 in Calais; £7.99 at Tesco. Take away the £2+ duty, and you still find a price difference of over a quid. A Wolf Blass Yellow Label Cabernet Sauvignon is £9.99 at Tesco; £5.99 in Calais. Discrepancy: £2. A Prestige de Calvet Merlot blend, on the other hand, is currently £5.99 in Tesco, down from £8.99; and £3.99 in Calais. At this point, the price discrepancy disappears - but only for as long as Tesco favours the wine with a special offer. Once the £5.99 Tesco deal ends, the adjusted price gap zooms up to £3.

Tesco, of course, aren't the only ones. The Wolf Blass, for instance, is going for £10 a bottle at Sainsbury's - effectively the same price as Tesco. Morrisons want £7.99 - same as Tesco - for the Casillero Del Diablo Chardonnay. Ocado are asking a whopping £8.99 for the Prestige de Calvet - although now I look at it, the Calais version appears to be a 2009, while Ocado's is a 2011. Is the 2011 seriously that much better than the 2009? That aside, how do we account for these two and three pound per bottle price differences that keep cropping up? Additional UK distribution costs? Warehousing? Point of sale materials? Swankier online presence?

You can go on in this vein for as long as your sanity holds out, sizing up the domestic pricings against the Calais Wine Superstore's notionally ideal price points. A Beaujolais-Villages in Calais goes for £6.99; Waitrose, £10.99 (both on offer). A Heidsieck Champagne in Calais? £11.99. Asda? £18. And so on. If a theme emerges, it is either that the Calais Wine Superstore has the shrewdest and most tenacious buyers in the whole of the Pas de Calais, possibly in the whole of Northern Europe; or that British wine buyers are routinely being stiffed by those very supermarket chains who promise us the lowest of low prices.

Or have I missed something in my initial assumptions? Is my arithmetic basically, crap (always a possibility)? Or does it just re-emphasise (and indeed, re-re-emphasise) the maxim that the only time to buy wine from a supermarket is when it's being touted as a special deal? Only then - allowing for the duty gap - do you start to achieve parity. Straight off the internet: a Spanish Merlot is going for £6 at Sainsbury's; same thing in Calais, at £3.99. A New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, £7.99 at Morrisons (down from £10.99); Calais? £5.99. So it can be done. I mean, by to-morrow, all these deals will have vanished, to be replaced by other deals buried somewhere else in a succession of indistinguishable websites, requiring only patience, supreme cunning, and a remorseless fixity of purpose on the part of the buyer, in order to secure a drink at a fair price. But the rule still holds, for those with the time and energy to put it into practice.

The alternative, evidently, is to be like my Brother-in-Law, work out your annual drink requirements, and get on a ferry. But no, I have no plans to head across the Channel and sort it out properly for myself. Why not? Well, it's not so much that I can't do it; I'm just too damn lazy, if you must know.


Thursday, 19 March 2015

Wipe away those cares and woes...

There’s always another worry for me in this wine-drinking malarkey. “Anxiety irradiating every word” was how CJ described one of my recent offerings. And now I’ve got something else to be anxious about. Have I got “a filthy wine stain”? On my teeth?

Worse; perhaps I have not been looking closely enough at my guests’  teeth after dinner. Has my wine given them  filthy stains? Along with the mints and coffee, should one be politely offering a convenient Wine Wipe?

As soon as I saw these in New York, I began to wonder how London society could possibly have drunk red wine for a couple of centuries without them. Wine Wipes are “The agreeable concoction to remove that filthy red wine stain on your teeth without interfering with taste.”

Now, the only time I have observed a significant purpling of teeth is at wine tastings; but then, the participants have been virtually rinsing their mouth with wines for hours. And doing so in the exuberant manner of a dental mouthwash, which even common etiquette would proclaim inappropriate at a dinner table – let alone finally spitting the mouthful out. For wine tasters, staining is surely a professional hazard; wine teeth are like tennis elbow, housemaid’s knee or that pain you get in your wrist.

So perhaps purple teeth are actually a mark of pride, a display of indulgence, the sign of a serious wine drinker? It wouldn’t be the first physical side-effect to gain a social status. I’m old enough to remember when nicotine stains on the fingers were a teenage badge of honour, to show you were a serious smoker, and not just some namby-pamby behind-the-CCF-hut puffer. A stout belly was once an indication of wealth and status. And I’m always a little suspicious myself of people limping around the City on crutches in Autumn and Spring, with a somewhat wry expression that says to everyone “Yeah, ski-ing…”

But then there are those who indulge in absurd teeth-whitening processes, resulting in a mouth like a tiled shower. Perhaps they are paranoid afterwards about the staining effects of functions their mouth was actually designed to pursue, viz  eating and drinking, as opposed to grinning at cameras?

A brief online search found one website which warns that “there can be some long-term dulling effects from a chronic diet of dark, acidic wines.” I assume this refers to teeth, and not brain.

“I have a patient who loves red wine and actually drinks it with a straw to avoid tooth contact,” writes A Dentist. Clearly, they must love their teeth more than their wine.

(One useful tip I did pick up was to brush teeth before  drinking, which removes the plaque that stains more easily than teeth themselves.)

Anyway, I need not worry, because I now have my Wine Wipes. They resemble small make-up removal pads or, in that slightly disturbing contemporary description, a moist towelette. Indeed, in the fingers they feel exactly like a baby wipe, which has immediate negative flashbacks for those of us who have actually used one to wipe a baby.

On the label they are described as 'Orange Blossom Flavored', in itself bizarre as while many of us eat oranges, few of us I suspect eat their blossom. But the wipes smell distinctly medicinal, and of course they carry the usual warnings; do not swallow etc. Oh, and keep out of the reach of children. Whose teeth should be left wine-stained, for the authorities to see.

Anyway, after a large glassful of cabernet sauvignon, including even a couple of good dental swillings (while Mrs K was out of the room, of course) I repaired to the hall mirror to assess the damage. No “filthy stain” to speak of, but there was a certain minor purpling of the gums and teeth, for which I think I can blame the wine and not some appalling carious disease.

The box, in cheerful manner, says they can “wipe that wine off your smile” – or, presumably, off my awkward gurning into the mirror. I smeared, swiped and eventually scrubbed at my teeth with a Wine Wipe. It tasted of…nothing, actually. And I can honestly say that I saw no difference whatsoever. Although the wipe gained a slight pinkish hue, indicating the absorption of something I can only hope was wine.

“Remove that filthy red wine stain on your teeth without interfering with taste.” The ambiguous grammar employed surely highlights another issue; is it in good taste to wipe your teeth? It’s obviously okay to wipe your mouth with a napkin, but many people baulk at using a toothpick in company. Is this Wiping something you should do in the privacy of a bathroom? Where, of course, there might be other means of cleaning your teeth?

And my final worry; what happens when you have to return to your host, and explain why you have wiped away all vestiges of the lovely wine they have served?

Ah, this age of anxiety…


Thursday, 12 March 2015


So another week goes by, and what have I drunk? A bottle of Waitrose's bargain own-brand gutbucket rosé, which looked the part and was great for about five seconds; and after that was like windscreen washer additive, and yes, I have drunk windscreen washer additive, lots of it. Then, a bottle of low-end CDR, in an attempt to put the horrorshow of a couple of years ago truly behind me. This was so-so, therefore an improvement on the rosé, but still tasted of sucked pennies and coal gas. Finally a Riesling which crept in from somewhere, again okay, but not really what I wanted, unless what I wanted was flat Appletiser from a bottle the shape of a hoover attachment.

I look yearningly at my bottle of Sipsmith and contempate a zesty G & T, but the great gin project has stalled, on account of the fact that the Sipsmith is so expensive and precious, I can't bring myself to drink any. It just sits there in its bottle, like ambergris. And the whisky we nowadays acquire in catering-sized carboys leaves me a bit cold, so nothing doing there.

Then, a chance of redemption. What do I see written up in one of the freesheets which litters the morning train? Orange wine. Orange wine, as in leaving the white grape skins to macerate with the juice, creating a salmon blush, rather than wine made from oranges; which I could go for, too. Apparently, 'This trend has translated into the mainstream', causing 'mass-market retailers' to stock 'more than one variety of the amber nectar'. Well, if there's one thing I love, it's a trend which translates into the mainstream. These translating-into-the-mainstream orange wines are 'grippy', 'soft', 'approachable', 'earthy', 'honeyed' and 'completely different'. They look fantastic in the pictures, tainted and unnatural and oddly Victorian. They come from Georgia. Or Croatia. Almost the first thing I do, several days later, is try and buy some.

I check out a nearby M&S - the retailer mentioned in the newspaper piece as stocking this stupendous drink - and they have scores of presentable-looking wines, but nothing orange, and, now I think about it, why would they? I look around helplessly, as if I've lost something that matters to me. I may even be talking aloud. Who, actually, wants orange wine? Only someone utterly craven with boredom would give it more than ten seconds' thought. But I have not only given it valuable headroom, I have failed to observe one of the most basic rules of wine-buying: that anything publicised in a newspaper will be unobtainable the moment you take an interest in it. I know that. If I could kick myself without flattening a nearby stack of modularised M&S crostini I would.

How many times, I say to myself, aloud or under my breath, do I need to be reminded that wine writing inhabits a parallel universe: one in which cars are road-tested by magazines, but can never be ordered from the manufacturers; non-existent programmes are earmarked as essential by the TV guides; completely inaccessible holiday destinations are routinely endorsed; must-have smartphone apps can only be downloaded from the planet Neptune. It all comes back to that pitiful convention, almost universally observed, which asserts that much of the appeal of wine lies in its otherness, its refusal to be bound by the normal laws of supply and demand - part foodstuff, part artwork, part myth, wholly conoisseurial, real and abstract at the same time. Obviously, if I thought anyone was reading Sediment, I would try and do the same, and give them some preposterous fictitious hot tips just for the sheer heartless irony of it, but that's not going to happen any time soon. So I am the mug punter, and I remain the mug punter.

Only good thing: when I get home from the orange futility, I find that my Bro-in-Law is set to do another of his booze runs. Yes, it's horrorshow time again, only this time I am going to get him to pick the booze, because he is level-headed guy who knows his way round a discount wine mart, and this time we are going to get through it unscathed. Orange wine! I can laugh at the idea now!


Next week - Cane toad wines: get ready for the great taste of summer