I do not like to write about wine nowadays. I’m just an ordinary punter again.
When I had written masses of articles and 14 books, mainly on wine and vines, and was tasting some 2,000 wines a year, I knew, more or less, what I was about – especially with lower cost wines.
When I did write on the subject, I hope that I made it well known that you can learn almost as much about a wine from the bottle corks as from the labels stuck to the outside. That is still true.
A lot of wine is bottled with nondescript cork brands so that the bottles can be labelled and sold as wines that dealers think will sell. This not only applies to “plonk” but to wines in the highest bracket – as I learned once at an upper class white Burgundy tasting.
This cork business was brought to my notice of late when wines from Italy, Spain and France, bought in a supermarket that exists here and elsewhere in Europe, bore the same marked plastic corks.
These wines tasted of their origin, so must have been shipped in bulk to Germany and bottled there with “etiquettes” (labels, etc.) stuck on that may have been shipped along with the wine.
At this same supermarket I bought a test bottle of a wine made near Barcelona that was so “original” and delicious that Margreet and I rushed back to buy more. But I was fooled. It, too, had gone from Spain to Germany to be bottled and labelled there – though it was none the worse for this treatment. The plastic cork, though, was different, being longer and unmarked. The bottling must have been a special one for a better wine. “Corks can speak”.
I am not in favour of plastic corks in any form, and, because of them, conscious of the decline of cork forests and those who work in the cork industry. So I would like to see real corks back in the place of plastic. However, screw-top bottle closures for minor wines, or even major ones, make sense. They are convenient, easy to open and close, and save time.
When I started to write on wine in the early 1980s, wine writers were recommending wine in the top price bracket. So I had the jump on them by writing on supermarket wine – then at under £2 a bottle.
Now I notice that newspaper-recommended wines are, once more, in the upper bracket price range – often astronomically so. You do not have to buy expensive wine to enjoy good wine.
Judicious selection when visiting France is still an excellent way of buying wine – but beware the offloading of unsuccessful wine at Channel ports.
It is now an especially good time to buy in France, with 2009 and 2010 examples on the shelves.
But if tasting a bottle of wine before buying more – look at the cork. It will tell you so much.