Opinion: A somm’s eye view

Chris Losh

Chris Losh

22 April 2016

Social media gives you a warped sense of reality.

According to my Facebook universe, most of Britain has spent much of the last six weeks photographing food, laughing at Donald Trump and counting down the days to the start of Game of Thrones.

This may, of course, be what is actually happening in the real world, but I wouldn’t know. I’ve spent most of March and April immersed in The World of the Sommelier. Or, strictly speaking, in analysing the feedback of the 150 or so judges who took part in this year’s Sommelier Wine Awards.

This, for those of you who don’t know, is our big on-trade wine competition. All the wines are on-trade wines, and all the judges are responsible for buying and selling wine in restaurants, hotels, gastropubs etc.

As the judging takes place we interview them for their thoughts on the wines they’ve tried. What we’re left with is over a thousand quotes on everything from what food works best with Pinot Gris to the must-list status (or not) of claret.

And for the last month or so, I’ve been wading through them all to pick out the best ones for use in the competition’s Gold Book of results.

I’m not going to go over the whole lot here, because the book itself is out in six weeks, and a bit of patience never did anyone any harm.

But I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to pick out three of the big wine trends that we saw this year.

Firstly, France is back. The country has been a bit underwhelming for the last few years in SWA, as its struggled with a run of truly rotten vintages (2011-2013). But 2014 was serviceable, and 2015 looks impressive. This year’s results were good, but I’d expect next year’s to be even better.

Secondly, Malbec is (ahem) staking a claim to be the red version of Pinot Grigio. Taster after taster described it as a must-list; as their biggest seller; as the most reliably good red on their list. Chile has some – and is belatedly waking up to the variety’s potential. But how long, I wonder, before we start to see Malbecs from Australia or South Africa?

Finally, The Closure Issue. When we started the Sommelier Wine Awards ten years ago, screwcaps were still – if not exactly a curiosity, then still at least something of a minority. Now, for whites and cheaper reds (as well as almost everything from  New Zealand and lots of Pinot Noirs) they’re the closure of choice.

Sommeliers' objections to them are no longer that customers don’t like them, or that they are lacking in ceremony when it comes to opening a bottle (customers, it’s clear, mostly don’t give a monkey’s about the lack of corkscrew action, but do care about the lack of TCA).

But as screwcaps have grown in popularity, another issue has reared its head: reduction. The Kiwis – who have more experience with the closure than anyone else - seem to be better at controlling it than others, but for Chilean and European winemakers it is clearly a problem.

We had entire flights in this year’s competition where our judges were frustrated at finding clearly good fruit hidden behind a slightly sour struck-match character.

It’s something that the winemaking fraternity need to be looking at more closely. Once they've finished photographing their food, laughing at Donald Trump and watching Game of Thrones, that is…

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