Sunday, 7 January 2007

President's agenda 2007

Repeat after me: "Every day and in every way I am getting better and better". The copyright in that famous line belongs to Dr. Emil Coue of Nancy, circa 1922. The funny thing is that it applies to the wines of our time with no autosuggestion at all. Wine is not the only thing that is on a roll - but hey, it makes all the rest feel better, too. We are all emphatically in luck - especially with the 2005 vintage clinking its way into our wine-racks. Wine this good makes you wonder whether growers are all getting better at their job, or their job is getting easier.

It's a bit of both. Global Warming (or let's call it Climate Change) is getting a lot of the credit for a string of good vintages. (Logically it will have to take the blame for bad ones too). But sheer know-how in the vineyard and the cellar is at least keeping pace. I would give the Internet as much credit as the climate. Growers are just a Google away from solutions they might have taken years to find on their own.

It's happening everywhere. Our problem is to allot priorities. How exciting is it to be first with a Shiraz from India, or are you into new developments in Southern Burgundy? Priority one, of course, is always to deliver a wine with character at a good price.

So we juggle the hottest new numbers with wines that may have ceased to be news (nobody keeps the headlines for more than a few vintages these days). Often that's when they settle down and really get the gist. Take the Midi, for example, or parts of Australia we were excited to discover only a year or two ago. They have serious quantities of good wine now, and have to be what's known as 'ealistic' about their prices. Better wine and lower prices? It's music to our ears.

If only we understood how fashions work. What is it about, let's say, Pinot Grigio that makes it an unstoppable bestseller? Simplicity is part of it: an uncomplicated grape mercifully uncluttered by the limitations of geography. A new one from Hungary? From New Zealand? Why not: let's give it a go.

The more varieties that reach that threshold the better. Quite a few are getting there. Viognier is still a bit exotic, perhaps; you either like it or you don't. But Vermentino, Verdelho, Greco di Tufo.... Plenty of the Mediterranean staples now have their fan clubs. As for Chablis, if the Channel Tunnel were a pipeline it could hardly handle the quantities you folk out there seem to get through. It must be Chardonnay's revenge on the New World notion that it needed oak chips and sticky quantities of residual sugar to make it worth drinking.

Often, though, it's a New World producer that brings an Old World variety back into focus. Take Pinot Noir. Since New Zealand began making its super-juicy version, crisp, sweet and perfumey, more people see the point of red burgundy. Take Riesling: since Australia gave it a new spin, with wines more dry and beefy than the German or Alsace version, drinkers have started to trickle back to these European classics. Trickle, not pour, so far - still leaving the Moselles of an unprecedented string of great vintages as the greatest bargains of our time.

Do Chile-drinkers also drink Italian? Do burgundy-lovers also love Bordeaux? Half of you, if my experience is anything to go by, know just what you want: familiarity with a touch of novelty is the ticket. The other half asks the question 'What next?' There has never been a better time to be in either camp.

Hugh Johnson,
Club President