Wine + Crime of le Week

(by peter & susie)

We’ve decided that, along with our regular wine of the week feature, we’ll also occasionally be showcasing a wine crime of the week – in other words, a wine that sums up everything that is bad about the wine trade.

Wine writers often get accused of focusing on the good to the exclusion of the bad. That’s largely because there are far too many bad wines, and far too many good wines, to waste too much time on the dark side of wine.

But it’s also true that it’s a journalist’s duty to flag up shortcomings and expose cynical practice, so that’s what we also want to incorporate in these regular little features.

We won’t be pulling our punches, either.

On which note, our wine crime of the week is Sacred Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Marlborough, 12.5% (£9.18 Sainsbury’s, £9.29 Morrisons).

This wine sums up everything that New Zealand shouldn’t be doing, and the cynical practices of the supermarkets.

First up, the wine: it smells vaguely of Kiwi Savvy (sweaty peas, cut grass, citrus fruit) but as soon as you taste it you realise it’s a sham. A cardboard-wild-west-town film set of a wine: touch it and it collapses into dust. There’s absolutely nothing there. It’s dilute, thin and watery.

The wine is clearly made from vineyards that have been over-cropped. It’s also clearly – to our mind, at least – made to a price point. And that price point is most decidedly not anywhere near £9 and over. It’s the kind of wine you suspect has been bought in to be sold at a discounted price, or a multi-buy offer.

But the result of this is that anyone buying it at full price is being ripped off. And even those buying it at the discounted price are being ripped off too, frankly, because even at £2.99 this wine is a shocker.

Anyone who buys it risks being turned off Kiwi Savvy for the rest of their life. And that’s exactly the kind of thing New Zealand cannot risk doing: dumping cheap wine on UK shelves, turning consumers off their country’s wines, because they now have too much fruit (the 2008 vintage was a turning point in this regard – see our previous blog from New Zealand by clicking here).

Cynical is the word we both used about this wine. It’s bad for New Zealand, bad for the retailers, bad for UK wine drinkers.

The bitter aftertaste of this wine made our real wine of the week much more palatable: Domaine Combes Saint-Chinian Syrah-Grenache 2008, 13.5% (Waitrose, £5.31 down from £6.99 in the Mediterranean showcase, until 11th May, when you buy a case of wine).

We tried this the morning after a very heavy night – a fantastic wedding, as it happens – but even with thick heads on a mizzly, chilly spring morning, this wine shone out for its expressive character, engaging flavours and wonderfully food-friendly nature.

It is characterful and faithful in the same way that the Sacred Hill is bland and cynical.

It has aromas of creamy berries with a hint of strawberry jam and black pepper. Classic Languedoc: it evokes a scene of bright sunshine on Mediterranean scrubland. It’s juicy, refreshing and moreish, with slightly rustic tannin and engagingly bittersweet finish which really needs food – classic Gastropub fare like venison sausages and mash or lamb and rosemary casserole. Ideal Sunday lunch territory – even on a hot day, slightly chilled, served with a BBQ.

Now that’s what we call proper wine.