A sharp intake of breath is advised to negotiate the opening sentence of The Great Wine Swindle. ‘The world of wine is populated by liars, scroungers and cheats. It is administered by mountebanks. It runs on misrepresentation and ritualised fraud. Wine drinkers are duped by wine producers, wine merchants, wine waiters and wine writers’. There you have it then. Or are the Stevenson’s Rocket levels of indignant steam exiting the writer’s ears an attention-seeking ploy?
Javier Hidalgo is said to be on a watermelon diet. Actually, he’d like to be because he loves watermelon but it’s off limits because it’s bad for his digestion so he’s not really eating anything very much at all. You have to wonder if he ever does. Dressed in flat cap, short-sleeved shirt, high trousers and slip-on plimsolls, his wiry frame and cheeky Robbie Williams-like grin make him look more a jockey than the director of Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana, Sherry-producer extraordinaire since 1792.
Having read that she was a pioneering winemaker in Chile, I was still unprepared for the bundle of energy, enthusiasm and determination that greeted me when I arrived at Casa Marin in Chile’s San Antonio Valley. Maria Luz Marin gravitated back to San Antonio having first spent time there with her father as a child. Not that she had any inkling at the time that a chilly hillside plot four kilometres from the Pacific Ocean with its cooling ocean breezes would be the basis for the foundation of a winery in the millennium year.
Australia likes to make a fuss of its women winemakers and if you’ve got it, why not flaunt the talents of women like Vanya Cullen, Luisa Rose and Susana Fernandez in the pages of the Adelaide Advertiser and the Melbourne Age. Yet despite the fact that she has as much of a claim to column inches as any, one woman whose face is less commonly seen is that of Sue Hodder. Is it because Sue is a bit out of the way in Coonawarra? Or because Wynns, the company she’s been chief winemaker for since 1998, is one of those rare icons that doesn’t jump up and down in a bid to draw attention to itself?
I have a special affection for Chateau Cos d’Estournel and its former owner Bruno Prats as my father used to go round our local branches of Cullens hoovering up Cos (pronounced as in the lettuce) for his mini-cellar when Cullens was virtually giving it away in the 1960s. One day, my father opened a bottle and kapow! It was perfection. Later on, when I first case dipped a toe into en primeur, it was to buy a case of the 1982 Cos, then £120 a case, now a bottle.
‘I am in Canada on a trip to Vancouver and Calgary’ José Manuel Ortega emails. I reply: ‘I’m in Spain at Alimentaria’ (the Spanish wine trade fair in Barcelona). He responds ‘I am at Alimentaria too!!!! Just arrived from Chile’. How can this man be in so many places at once? I’m not sure. I think of Kagemusha the Kurosawa film in which the emperor employs a double to confuse the enemy. Is this the ploy? When I arrive at Mr. Ubiquitous’ stand at Alimentaria, he not only wants me to taste the wines he makes in Ribera del Duero, but of course his Argentinian wines and his new Chilean wines.
At 41, though he could be 10 years younger, Marcelo Papa runs one of the world’s biggest and arguably one of its best value brands, Concha y Toro’s three million case Casillero del Diablo. Marcelo is one of the new generation of Chilean winemakers whose enthusiasm, drive and experience of the wine world beyond the Andes has provided Chile with an invaluable human resource to add to its unique natural conditions for wine production. Success hasn’t gone to his head, far from it.
Wow! At lunch in Wellington, John Comerford, chair of the Air New Zealand Wine Awards, brought along a palate-blowing, expansively, butterscotch-filled mouthful of sheer yum. It was 1991, my first trip to New Zealand. I needed to know more. This delight turned out to be turned out a 1988 Neudorf Chardonnay made by Tim and Judy Finn of Neudorf in Nelson. Sorry, where? I knew about Marlborough and Hawkes Bay, even Canterbury and Central Otago were starting to make a name for themselves. But Nelson?