a hideously partial review of… finca allende by Joe Fattorini

Apparently the most common search term on the Direct Wines website is “Rioja”. But among wine writers, popularity doesn’t necessarily breed content. You don’t see a lot about Rioja. The VW Golf of red wine. Reliable. Steady-as-she-goes. “Take-a-bottle-round-to-the-new-neighbours-for-Sunday-lunch-can’t-go-wrong-with-a-nice-Rioja”-Rioja. For a lot of writers a wine review of Rioja is like a TV review of Songs of Praise.


But maybe it can be popular AND reliable. AND interesting. Or at least something worth writing home about. Well in this postcard from the tasting room on Skegness Pier we wish you were here drinking the Riojas of Finca Allende. Here’s my chum Sophie trying to make them Instagram ready. And Sophie’s bang on trend and a legit influencer, so they must be exciting.


From right (your right, that’s Sophie’s left) are Rioja Blanco, and Tinto, then two single vineyard Tintos but you can’t see their name and then a really good one and an old vintage of white that we pulled out do the cupboard at the last minute. It’s possibly best if I show you them the right way round.


Allende Blanco 2015 (your left now) is grown-up, grapefuit-citrus and oak. Serve this instead of white Burgundy to general applause and the plaudits of friends. Allende Tinto 2012 is supple with roast-lamb-friendly fruit and what Victorians called “supernacular”. Gaminde 2015 gets more serious - concentrated and focussed with glossy, darker fruit. Calvario 2009 is sultry, sexy, exotic and naughty. Aurus 2007 is properly serious, inky, savoury and lasts an age. There isn’t much of the Martires (and now even less of this 2012) but any you have wants to be left for 5-8 years to become something extraordinary.

In the background you can see Natalie LeBeouf. She’s the one telling us about the wines, as that is her job. And telling us these are NOT “modern Riojas”. Just because they don’t say “crianza”, “reserva” and “gran reserva” on them doesn’t make them the cutting edge of Spanish winemaking. These are how Rioja was made in the 1950’s through to the 1970’s. A golden era. An era to be remembered. A time for Rioja and indeed all of us to look back in with fondness and pride. Or at least some of it.


The big thing here - and bear with me - is the barrels. When the USA got seriously into Rioja at the tail end of the 70’s they started to use a lot of sweet, vanilla-scented, American oak. Whereas these wines are all matured in French barrels. Which makes them a little more serious, haughty and superior. I am in no way suggesting that oak barrels have some ability to impart national characteristics in wine*.

*although they do.

A wine barrel. Nationality unknown.

A wine barrel. Nationality unknown.

Why does this matter? Well, there’s an odd theory about oak and the enduring, widespread appeal of Rioja. The dominant aroma of American oak is vanilla. Which is also the world’s most popular added aroma and flavouring. Psychologists have a theory why. It’s also the dominant aroma in breast milk. Suggesting that all those men demanding “a nice smooth Rioja” in their Directors’ boxes at football stadiums are expressing what we could think of as “Freudian” wine preferences.

The oak here is altogether more restrained. Less vanilla, more spice. More about integrated structure, not flavour. Dried herbs, church pews, the aromas of Mother Earth. Not mother.

[This is an “hideously partial review” because I sell the wines of Finca Allende. So you may take the Mandy Rice-Davis approach that I would say this wouldn’t I? Which I suppose I would. But then I would say it if I believed it too. Anyway, even I’m a bit confused now. And you know the score. I’m off out to get my hair done like Christine Keeler.]

When Joe met Piers and Susanna on GMB by Joe Fattorini

What makes a wine worth £424,000? Hard to say, but here’s me discussing the matter with Piers Morgan (mostly) and Susanna Reid on Good Morning Britain in my parents’ kitchen.

Three curious trivialities for you while you watch. The kitchen is in “Celia’s” house in the film Calendar Girls. Although the interior scenes were filmed in a re-creation of this kitchen in the film’s studio. It was an odd day, as I moved there as a child in about 1986. And this was the last time I was ever in the house. It was being sold while we made this clip. And finally - I sold Piers Morgan his wedding Champagne.

Six unusual things for wine tourists to do in Sydney. Mostly beginning with B by Joe Fattorini

Day one of the #GreatAustralianWineAdventure. You’ve just arrived on the 5.00am flight from London, how do you fill your first day? Visit the most exclusive wine bars? Eat at the best restaurants? Buy the worst souvenirs? Absolutely not. Here are six much more interesting but much more unusual things to do. Mostly beginning with the letter B.


1. Buy Boots.  Specifically, buy Red Back boots. It may be an urban (well, I suppose “rural”) myth, but I’m sure a winemaker told me they won’t let you in Australian vineyards without high-sided boots. “Snakes and spiders” was the explanation, although I may have made that up. Either way, it’s an excellent excuse to buy a practical and comfortable Aussie classic.

Boots named after a nasty spider to stop  you being bitten by a nasty spider

Boots named after a nasty spider to stop

you being bitten by a nasty spider

Why Redbacks, and not Blundstones? Well this I do remember. They’re 100% Australian owned and made. Unlike Blundstones which come from China, India, Vietnam and Mexico. Australians love homegrown things. Your clumpy footwear will attract admiring glances from the winemakers you meet once you head out of town.  

Where to buy them? Lots of places. But I particularly recommend workwear shops. Especially this one if only for the name.  

Kikarse kicks arse

Kikarse kicks arse

2.  Bob along from Brontë to Bondi Beach. It’s a bracing seafront walk and will keep you awake. Watch the surfers, marvel at the sunbathers (I’m here in winter and they’re still at it) and meander through the ornate graves at the huge cemetery overlooking Brontë Bay.

Someone on Twitter said this photo of me looking cool “makes me uncomfortable” 

Someone on Twitter said this photo of me looking cool “makes me uncomfortable” 

When you arrive in Bondi, you can have fish & chips on the front. Or for the more metropolitan, go to the excellent Birichina Bondi for hole-in-the-wall coffee and sandwiches.

3. Bottle shop for something bizarre.    The Australian Wine Centre on Pitt Street is a great place to find a less-well-known bottle of wine. 


Michael Frost in the store is an enthusiast for all the wines you DON’T know. He casts a sweeping arm across shelves filled with old vintages of Grange and Hill of Grace saying “we have all these wines... and there’s a market for them” before turning to a Western Australian Fiano and King Valley Tempranillo and saying “...but what we really like is introducing people to these more exciting discoveries.” Visit him en route to...

4. Be a tourist.   Youre thinking “this isn’t unusual or bizarre... this is what EVERYONE does”. But then you weren’t going to do it because you thought it would be a bit naff. Well stop it. You’re in Sydney. There are 5000 other people doing the same thing and you know you want to. Stop pretending you’re an “independent traveller” and above this sort of thing. Get your selfie stick out and start clicking. 

A beautiful dome

A beautiful dome

5. Get into containers.   How did your last bottle of Australian wine get to you? If you’re not in Australia it almost certainly came in a container. And “Container: the box that changed the world” is a surprisingly fascinating series of exhibits (in containers) about containers. I can see I’m not winning you over. Seriously, just go. It’s in Darling Harbour.


6. Do NOT feed Kenny the Beagle.  In fairness you are unlikely to bump into this legend, as he lives in a quiet street in the suburbs. But Kenny has already become an internet star several times over thanks to his “feed me” face and “don’t feed me” sign.


Every morning Kenny sits on his porch and trots our to greet every passing visitor. And hopes for a snack from each one. But ever since this sign appeared, life had been a long disappointment for Kenny. Poor fella. 

Coming tomorrow... Day Two: The Hunter Valley

Changing the Government's drinking guidelines doesn't make sense by Joe Fattorini

Britain has one of the lowest recommended alcohol consumption levels in the world. We have some of the highest taxes on alcohol in the Europe. We drink less today than we have done for thirteen years. Yet we demonise alcohol with a one-size-fits-all approach to reduce drinking.

Moderate consumption of alcohol is one of nature's greatest gifts. It promotes conviviality and laughter. Wine is both art and craft, the most complex drink on the palate, inspiring life-long enthusiasm. To understand wine is to understand our history and culture. Some of us even make television programmes about it. (We agree beer and spirits are pretty good too.)

Wine, isn't only a delicious drink. In moderation it has health benefits. Red wine contains antioxidants and boosts your immune system. It reduces your risk of a stroke and cholesterol levels as well as your risk of a heart attack, diabetes and certain cancers. And it increases your bone density, improves your cognitive function and giving you a longer life to enjoy both too.

So why do the medical establishment demonise wine, beers and spirits? It's true, as the government's own advice says, "there is no level of regular drinking that can be considered as completely safe". But then there is no level of regular car driving that can be considered as completely safe. Or cycling. Playing football. Eating avocados. Drinking coffee.

If lowering recommended consumption levels (and raising taxes) reduced drinking and harm, Britain would already have the lowest rate of drinking in the world. But we don't. What we have is 4.4% of people drinking almost a third of the alcohol. And cheap and nasty alcohol at that. It's time or targeted interventions with the few who abuse alcohol. And for the rest of us to celebrate the joys of an honest Vin de Pays, a local pint, a gently-aged Scotch.

A version of this article first appeared in The Herald newspaper

Champagne and The Peacock's Tail by Joe Fattorini

If you ever see a recommendation for a "great value Valentine's Day wine" you know you're dealing with an idiot. And most likely a single one. There's no such thing. We might call it "Idiot Signalling Theory". Because they're clearly unaware of the most important insight into Valentine's Day wine. Which is "Costly Signalling Theory".

It's a commonplace that wine recommendations are powered by an algorithm adding "quality" to "pounds spent" and spitting out "great/poor value". It's also bunk. Wine lovers are never Homo Vinonomicus, least of all on Valentine's Day. They're peacocks and peahens. Engaged in complex head-nodding, tail-shimmering rituals. Champagne producers know this to their advantage. As do diamond sellers. And - contrary to popular opinion - it's to your advantage too.


The story of diamonds and deBeers is well-told. Especially Frances Gerety's famous strap-line "A diamond is forever". Less well-known is the origin of the "two month's salary" rule when buying an engagement ring. It seems a bit arbitrary, but is anything but. deBeers knew it was two to three year's dating costs for the smitten engager. So the engager isn't only signalling their affection. They're also excluding themselves from the dating market for long enough to become older, less desirable and potentially left on the shelf. It's not just a ring. It's one hell of a statement of commitment.

There's a more basic level of commitment too. Last week I met a young woman who seemed surprised at the "two month's" rule. "My boyfriend says it's just a month" she insisted. I'm sure he does. And I'm sure he insists he's only being careful with the pounds too. But bear in mind that one month's salary takes him out of the dating market for as little as a year. Now read that last sentence back in the voice of David Attenborough. And imagine the next scene of "Life on Planet Wine" where the abandoned mother is in her now-tatty nest, giving birth. Alone. Then look across to your gibbon of a one-month's-salary-engagement-ring boyfriend, sitting on the sofa, eating Dorito's, scratching his bits, watching the bikini-clad women on Love Island and tell me that deBeers weren't onto something.


"Good Value Champagne" is an oxymoron. Used by morons. It's not meant to be "good value". It's about display. It's true, sometimes the display is pointless "look at my WAD" vulgar flashiness. But in truth it's more often the reassurance that comes with reputational sunk costs. "I'm going to spend more on this than is necessary, to show I can, and that I'm not going to go off and mate elsewhere". Most wines we enjoy day-to-day are flight feathers. They're useful, practical and worth the effort. Champagne is none of these things. It's the peacock's tail of wine. A glorious, shimmering declaration of "I'm using up resources with abandon to show I can, and reassure you I'm not going anywhere."


So what should you buy? Curiously, it needn't simply be the most expensive Champagne out there. It's true Costly Signalling Theory suggests that you do well to buy something that others don't have the resources to buy. But you can also signal your willingness to sink costs into time and effort. To signal hat you have selected a wine that someone with less access to what's in fashion wouldn't have the taste to choose.


Like Cuvée D by Champagne Devaux. It's £100.00 worth of Champagne for £40.00. Still enough to make your wallet smart. But not enough to invite bailiffs. It's available from (the reassuringly expensive) Hedonism Wines and Planet of the Grapes. Along with various independent wine shops. It's also a critics' favourite. Allowing you to shimmer a peacock's tail of expertise and taste, if not necessarily the perma-tanned Eurotrash display of Flavio Briatore types with their Jeroboams of Cristal.


Not that Cristal is poor value. It's just not the "value" that most of us will ever know. 2002 Louis Roederer Cristal "en magnum" was crowned Supreme World Champion at The Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships in 2016. And I tried it. It's a stunner. But it's also around £500 if you can find it. For almost-as-good-in-the-same-vein try Louis Roederer Carte Blanche NV. Roughly £40 from the Whisky Exchange, Selfridges and others, it's softer, gentler and more seductive. A much more affordable shimmer of the peacock's tail.

Why do you REALLY like that Bordeaux? by Joe Fattorini

If you've heard of Geoffrey Miller, it isn't for his thoughts on wine*. He's an evolutionary psychologist and author of a book called "Spent". It's a Darwinist look at consumerism and how marketing "uses our inherited instincts to display social status for reproductive advantage". Or, looked at through the world of wine, why sommeliers smile and say "you have exquisite taste madam/sir" when you order a $/£/€200 bottle of wine. It's because they know you want some nookie.

French sommelier.gif

But Geoffrey Miller has another wine insight. Although he didn't know it when he said it. He's identified a particular European heuristic. If you're not familiar with a heuristic, it's a psychological word for an "approach to problem solving, learning, or discovery that employs a practical method not guaranteed to be optimal or perfect, but sufficient for the immediate goals." It's a mental shortcut. A leapfrog to "what's probably the right answer". Doctors are probably trustworthy. Grannies will probably not nick your laptop when you go to the loo on a train. They're not guaranteed to be reliable. (cf Harold Shipman and the lady who tried snaffling mine a few years ago). But they "feel right".


Miller believes this European heuristic favours intricacy. If something is complex and elaborate on a small scale, Europeans reckon it's "probably good". It's why the Swiss make watches. And why European cars are so much smaller than American ones. Whereas in America the heuristic is different. Bigger, is better. America values scale. Power. Vast shopping malls. Hulk Hogan. Monster trucks. 2015, 2010, 2009, 2006, 2005.

Why 2015, 2010, 2009, 2006, 2005? These are vintages in Bordeaux. And they're all thought of as the riper, "bigger" ones. And last night I tried the lot from Chateau Brown. Chateau Brown is in the vastly underrated area of Pessac-Léognan in Bordeaux. And Chateau Brown is a brilliant (and handily-easy-to-remember) name to have in your back pocket if you're looking for tasty, well-priced claret. You can (and should) buy some from places like Soho Wine Supply and Ellis of Richmond. And my notes have words like "supple" (2015) "lush" (2010), "bold" (2009), "ripe" (2006) and "exotic" (2005).

Ch Brown.jpg

The tasting was organised by Jean-Christophe Mau (of the Chateau) and Richard Bampfield MW. Richard split eleven wines into two groups. To one side were those bigger, lusher, riper vintages. On the other side were contrasting years. 2014 "bright". 2013 "pacey". 2012 "pepper". 2011 "light". 2008 "sauvage". 2007 "herbal". Interestingly, Richard called them "classic" vintages. As well he might. He's a European.

Im not a european.gif

"Classic" is a loaded word. With its connotations of classical music, classic art and classical antiquity. It implies "better". At dinner afterwards (it's a hard life working in wine) I sat opposite Neal Martin. It's was a momentous evening for Neal. It was the last night of his work for The Wine Advocate and eRobertParker.com, America's most influential wine publication. In the morning he would move to begin working with Vinous, a rival. Neal doesn't much look like one of the world's greatest tastemakers. Particularly for a generation of American bankers, lawyers and financiers. All lovers of the large.

Neal Martin.jpg

Over the last 15 years or so he's moved markets and palates with his assessments of Burgundy, South Africa, Sauternes, Tokaji, Port, Madeira and Bordeaux. Yet Neal's a bit scruffy. He could conceivably have emerged from a Nick Hornby novel about confused dads working in a retro vinyl shop in the noughties. Lacoste sweater, trainers, jeans. He's achieved global fame and authority as a wine critic. But he walks and talks like a boy-done-good from Southend. Which he is. You almost want to ask him to quote for plastering your front room. (Indeed, when Neal was photographed for an article in The Sun about his rise to fame, he changed in such a rush he confessed afterwards he had spatters of Dulux up his arm from some recent decorating.)

It's no great revelation to say that there's a difference between American and European preferences in wine. And Bordeaux is at the pointy end of it. What's "good" in Bordeaux has been the topic of fierce rivalries and debate. Most famously in "the Chateau Pavie incident". I'd tell the story. But the protagonists themselves tell it better in this Radio 4 programme. In the European corner is Jancis Robinson MW (also known for her starring role in The Wine Show... *coughs*) and in the American corner is Robert Parker. Neal's now-former-boss.

For some Robert Parker is a bête-noire. And by extension Neal. Parker's love of big, ripe, fruity, forward, lush wines and influence over Americans, changed the wine world. Not always popular in Europe. Neal's own palate is nuanced. But even so, Neal told how he was booed by an audience at the famed Meursault Paulée dinner in Burgundy when they heard who he worked for. The antagonism comes from a sense that they've changed palates. Away from "better", classical European styles. To "lesser", brash American ones.

Geoffrey Miller would see it differently. If his European vs American heuristic is right, Robert Parker and Neal and Jancis are three of the great, hidden psychologists of our age. Their task wasn't to convince their audiences. But tell them what they wanted to hear. Status - and hence sexual success - for Americans, comes from being big. Big car, big wines, big steaks. I'll stop there. Jancis too, is blessed with a palate and insight into what Europeans know will "probably" lead to social acknowledgement. And subsequent nookie. Attention to detail. Fine distinctions. Grace and restraint.


We pretend that wine appreciation exists on a higher plane. That identifying, describing and detailing the fine distinctions between wines is a cerebral, almost monastic task. Part-science, part-philosophy, part-artistry. One is good because it's "classical". The other bad because it's "vulgar". But we're kidding ourselves. Two million years of evolution churn away every time you taste a glass of wine. Evolutionary psychology says you like it because you think it'll help you get it.

*You possibly heard of Geoffrey Miller because on his much-regretted thoughts on PhD applicants. Miller attracted considerable controversy in 2013 for this (retracted and apologised for) tweet.

Round Robin by Joe Fattorini

Ah yes. The Christmas "Round Robin". A British tradition under threat. Or so I'm told. You know the sort of thing. A photocopied letter from a half-remembered relation. Folded into the Christmas card. Packed with "news" ("boasting") about distant cousins you vaguely remember but only because they turned up unexpectedly to your 7th birthday party, sobbed through the Punch & Judy and then soiled themselves when someone burst their balloon Dachshund. Few mourn its decline. But I am among them.


So, in support of this festive tradition… what a whirlwind year it's been. For the first time in a twenty-five-year career in wine writing and broadcasting, I was humbled to receive an award. Well, as it happens, two. In my acceptance speech for the IWC's Personality of the Year Award I suggested it had "been in the post".

Bubbling resentment isn't attractive. But it's honest. Someone else asked if the IWSC Wine Communicator Award was "for journalists who spend all day drinking in restaurants." I pointed out this description fails to distinguish it from any other journalism award. But yes, it is.

This year wine journalists have stepped out of the restaurant and weighed in on some of the bigger issues of the day. Not only Brexit, climate change and financial turmoil. But important stuff. Like Donald Trump's wines. This summer the Trump Winery came in last place at a tasting competition in London. It was the biggest electoral upset since… well, the last time Trump lost the popular vote. Which was the last time people voted. But all was not lost. Wine tasting is a complex thing. And British competition organisers guard against bias. We use a special process. It's too complex to explain here. And American readers would find it baffling. But after all the votes had gone through the competition's "Electoral College" it turns out that Donald Trump is the greatest winemaker of all time. Believe me. Winning Again! GREAT!

Not that he'd ever enjoy his own wines. Temperance organisations suffered a terrible blow in 2017 as Donald Trump explained how he’d become the man he is today by not drinking alcohol. Fortunately, others in the public eye shared their love of wine. This year we learned that Sir Alex Ferguson and Meghan Markle have the same favourite wine. It’s Tignanello, an expensive Super-Tuscan red noted for its refinement and complexity. There was some depressing coverage of the news. Notably, a subtle racism about people drinking fine wine from some ethnic backgrounds. Meghan Markle was appalled. She said it was disgraceful to suggest you can't enjoy fine wines just because you come from Glasgow.

Alex Ferguson.gif

We also heard rumours David Beckham was looking at buying a vineyard. There was a lot of interest in the sort of wine he enjoyed. Journalists asked if he went for something fruity and voluptuous. Or perhaps a more challenging style of wine. Something lean, with sour and wooden characteristics. Well, obviously yes, said David, that was what he normally had at home. But he loves something voluptuous when Victoria is staying at her mum's.


As you might be able to tell, I've been trying something new this year too. For most of the past twelve months we've been travelling across the world making series two of The Wine Show. It's on Hulu in the US and will come to the UK and other countries around the world in the New Year. I don't want to give too much away (although there’s a sneak preview here). But in one memorable episode I'm challenged to come up with a series of jokes and perform them on stage. It's hard to judge your own performance. But the compere on the night was there to give me a quick review. And "as a gift to stand-up comedy" he said I "make an excellent wine taster".

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Which brings me onto some Christmas wine recommendations. Rather than print them out here you just need to click through to the International Wine and Spirit Competition’s web site. I wrote them there on account of being named their Wine Communicator of the Year. I may not have mentioned that. Honestly, it was the biggest shock I’ve had since that time I came to your Punch & Judy party and your sister burst my balloon Dachshund…

balloon dog.gif

gin and juice by Joe Fattorini

It's hard to know what was the more surprising discovery this week. That testicles have taste receptors? Or that Aldi’s £9.95 Gin was judged one of the best in the world at the IWSC Awards. These facts are unrelated by the way. I tried. Apparently that's why they call it a hi-ball.

For some the gin news caused consternation. Mainly because you couldn't get hold of it. Aldi stores were filled with twenty-first century Margo and Jerry's, looking bereft at empty shelves, heading home only with some charcuterie that looked nice and 54 bog rolls. Incidentally, the charcuterie really is very good. And the wine collection too. And the loo paper*.

(*As it happens, this is exactly what Aldi are hoping people will do. Especially with wine, award-winning spirits and special offers. "Some people shop with us first to try the wine and then come back to do a weekly shop" said Aldi MD Matthew Barnes in The Telegraph last year, "so it's very important to us"

But there was also a slight sniffiness about the price. By some estimates the final cost of gin in the bottle after fixed costs and tax is about 77p. This is hardly Aldi’s fault. Most of the cost of a bottle of gin goes to the tax man. What you're actually buying from Aldi here is something that costs about as much to make as a Snickers Bar*. (*As a male writer in his forties, I am legally obliged by the Guild of Reminiscing Comedy to recall how this was formerly called a Marathon). Bottle of award-winning spirits vs cheap chocolate. I know which gives me more pleasure.


Some people knocking the low cost of Aldi’s gin could also be accused of a little hypocrisy. On the one hand they bemoan the minimal cost of ingredients in gin. On the other they're full of praise for the timeless joy of a plain jambon beurre or the simple flavours of a ripe apricot. Things don't need to cost a lot to be good. Gin is a bright, citrusy, juniper-scented spirit that needs to hold its own though some tonic, a measure of Campari or grapefruit juice if you're a rapper. There's no law that says it’s always better if it's distilled by a man with a ginger beard in his garage, using hand-rubbed lemon verbena and juniper berries that have been through the alimentary canal of a civet cat.

Maybe, just maybe, Aldi’s gin is the small boy in the crowd pointing at the procession of imperially-priced “craft" gins and suggesting they are actually wearing no clothes. A metaphor almost as twisted as my clackers when I tried to see if they could taste an Aldi Gin Tom Collins.

Incidentally, at this point you maybe wondering why I am so determined to litter a perfectly decent discussion of a gin with references of testicles. I genuinely did discover that they have taste receptors this week. It's been on my mind. But also on my mind have been the curse of paid-for-social-media-posts in drinks writing and the murky world of advertorial. People might think that a warmly positive review of Aldi's gin was sort of quid pro quo. But by repeatedly referencing my knackers this guarantees nobody in the press office will ever direct anyone here. It makes sure our relationship remains not only arm’s length, but distant to the point they’d probably cross the street if they saw me coming. It's a weird logic, but I'm proud of it. #notanad... as they don't say among wine's Instagram influencers.

More stocks of Oliver Cromwell Gin are arriving in Aldi stores soon. Do go and try it. You’ll like it more than a Snickers* (*Marathon) bar. And most gins at twice, thrice, fource… fourthce… four times the price. While you're there buy some charcuterie, loo rolls and wine too. I heartily commend Aldi Cotes du Provence Rose (£5.99) whilst the sun is out for a soft apricot and wild strawberry scented, light style of rose. This was also an award winner, this time at the IWC Awards. The Animus, Douro 2014 (£4.99) from Portugal is potentially the greatest barbecue red of the summer. All that sun-packed, warm and spiced fruit but for under a fiver. Freeman's Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 is another crowd pleaser this time for just over a fiver at £5.99. Don't expect something innovative or mindblowing - but that's the point. It's better than almost every other New Zealand Sauvignon at this price. There are more expensive wines (the Exquisite Collection is a particularly reliable own-label range) but we're keeping in the spirits (boom boom) of things here and that rose, red and white should sort out good-value summer drinking for a bit. And now for a cup of tea...

personality by Joe Fattorini

There’s a special place in purgatory for people who back out of industry dinners. “Something came up”. Yes, of course it did. No doubt the realisation "I have to spend an evening with my colleagues”. You have a fictional “migraine” whilst the rest of us see a cheeful banqueting 10 regenerate into a sparse 7, because apparently Brian is also “stuck on a train” and Jenny is “looking after my sister… she’s just been dumped and I don’t want to leave her alone”. Stopping the sentence just before “with her Netflix subscription and the new series of House of Cards”.

Last week that hateful person was me. And uniquely in recorded history I REALLY did have a last-minute reason. An operation. The doctor rang the day before with a spare slot. I took it. At 7.30am on the day of the International Wine Challenge Awards he set about me with a general anaesthetic, a knife and no mercy. You don’t want to know the details – seriously, you don’t – but I wasn’t going to sit comfortably for a week. With a heavy heart and numb portion I let a couple of people know I couldn’t make it that night.

There was a moment’s silence. “No, seriously… you HAVE to come” they said. I thought maybe they’d not heard. A general anaesthetic. A significant slice. Bed rest for two days says the doctor. House arrest for a week.

“Yeah, yeah… we get that. But still, you HAVE to come”.


“Well… er…” There was a pause here. Then “Ed’s dropped out. He’s stuck on a train. We’d have two empty seats. It would look embarrassing at the table.”

And so it came to pass that I sat there, wishing I’d bought a ring-cushion and more co-cocodamol, for the three-hour awards ceremony. If you’ve not been, it’s a fun evening. If a long one. There are awards before dinner. And more awards after. Cheery wine merchants ascend the stage for Best List and whatnot. Happy wine and sake producers step up for a range of assorted trophies. You want to know how happy? See this guy

That's Kuji Kosuke, showing how it feels to be winner of Champion Sake with his Nanbu Bijin Tokubetsu Junmai 2017. I love him.

Between courses we chatted and I shifted position delicately. We’ve just finished filming series two of The Wine Show, and the inter-course gossip was high quality. There was an anecdote about a Hollywood actor that still makes me wince, along with recollections of six months travelling around the world drinking wine in glamorous places with funny people. As the evening drew to a close, I was in the middle of a particularly involving tale when I vaguely heard the hosts talking about someone “discovered by the producers of The Wine Show in a film of him sitting in a bath of wine.” I wondered if it was something a bit like this.

I can’t imagine there are many more videos like this out there. Turns out there aren’t.

With that I went from over forty years of being “a bit of a personality” to “IWC Personality of the Year”. For many years at school, end of term reports were variations on “Joe is quite a personality. But perhaps talks too much and lacks application when it comes his studies”. This remains true. But now I’ve managed to win an award for it. I think my former teachers and I can call this one “a draw”.

Cleverly, the organisers of the IWC ask the winner to give a short acceptance speech. In the US this would be banned as a form of Cruel and Unusual Punishment. For both the winner and the audience. The winner has ten seconds to think of something that will be recorded, broadcast and forever appended to the moment they won a prize as one of the foremost communicators in the world of wine. The audience has around a minute of listening to someone talk to them without the aid of a script, edits, re-records, preparation or sobriety. And indeed high on adrenaline, panic and the parting, whispered words at the table “you’d better thank us or you’re fired…”. To know what that looks like – it’s here.

Actually, if I’d had a month to prepare, I don’t think I’d say any different. A career in wine, newspapers, radio and now television, has found an unlikely home for a very particular set of skills. Skills singularly useless elsewhere.

Most importantly, what did we drink? At the awards there are lots of the award-winning wines floating around. But we chose a few from our friends at Berry Bros & Rudd. All come with hearty recommendations, although a quick look at the web site suggests we may have bought the last of a couple of them. They really were very good and I found they made a particularly dreamy match with the co-cocodamol.

2014 Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Kabinett, Selbach-Oster, Mosel (£16.95) is pure and clear as petrichor, only sweeter and fruitier. There’s a vibrant, wide-eyed feel to this; magical with spiced flavours and summer salads. 2016 Miraval Rosé, Famille Perrin, Côtes de Provence (£19.95) should becelebrated for its delicate, wild strawberry fruit, the herbal aromas that persist on the palate and savoury spice on the finish that makes it so good with food. It will forever be known – however – as the estate Bradgelina bought. Although if that introduces more people to the charms of Provence Rose, then that’s no bad thing. 2014 GRUS de Alcohuaz is from the highest vineyard in Chile, 2,200m up in the desert Elqui Valley. There were just 8000 bottles of this intense, wild, deeply fruity blend of Syrah, Malbec, Petit Syrah and Grenache. It blends the rich cake-like fruit of a sun-baked vineyard with the precision and focus of a vineyard on the limits of viable production. Probably because it comes from a vineyard that’s both. There doesn't seem to be any of the inaugural 2014 vintage left, but look out for future releases. Finally we had 2010 Sagrantino di Montefalco, Passito, Fattoria di Antano, Umbria. This was concentrated and heady, gently sweet but like a wild fruit, not a sticky. Magical with chocolate, even better with cheese. We drank the last of it I think, unless there's some in the new Berry Bros and Rudd Pall Mall shop.

milk and alcohol by Joe Fattorini

And as Dr Feelgood fades away, we ask what is the best drink to have with our supper. "Easy" you say. "Wine, occasionally beer and a light Fino sherry on Friday when we have fish and chips. Non?"

Well, the answer could be - as you say in the one bit of French remembered from school - "non".

That's according Bas de Groot, the world's first Milk Sommelier. Bas claims that milk is "a liquid of serious complexity akin to a fine wine". "The main thing I do is tell the story of the rich diversity of milk..." he says, immediately making it impossible for me to poke fun at him. I've spent the last thirty years telling stories about the rich diversity of wine, claiming it's a perfectly sensible way to make your living. The fact that I tell stories about wine and he about milk is a quibble. Neither of us are curing cancer or likely to win a Nobel Prize.

Yet the reaction of wine fans has been to poke fun at Bas. Including - I'm ashamed to say - me. It's been done in a range of rather po-faced ways; wine people specialise in the online equivalent of looking over pince-nez spectacles with mild disdain. Typically my own particular contribution to the mockery was gif-based...

But beyond the name calling and sniggers, are wine and milk "akin" Or is there a case to be made that wine is in some way special? A different class of drink? Something where expertise makes you a better class of person? Because to be honest that's why I got into wine in the first place. If I'd have been able to achieve a similar social status just considering the differences between gold and silver top, it feels like a bit of a waste of time.

Well, wine does have one thing up its sleeve...

It gets you giggly. Whereas milk rarely does once you move onto Farley's Rusks. But there is another reason why wine remains the king of drinks. And for this we need to look to the example of the greatest Milk Taster of all.

I can concede it IS possible to discover a remarkable amount from tasting milk. The breed of cow (sometimes), what they ate (occasionally), how it was processed (usually), where it came from (if it's very special). But the point is, it takes a very particular palate to do that. For the rest of us we value milk because it all tastes pretty much the same. That is, "milky". Whilst milk may be in general a "liquid of serious complexity" compared with Tizer, it's a pretty uniform sort of complexity. It all tastes roughly the like "milk", and we like it that way.

Wine, au contraire, is compound-for-compound the most complex drink on the planet. And its possible - with the right practice - to tell the "breed" of grape, what soil they were grown on, how the wine was made and where the wine came from. And to do it consistently. That is a reason why we like it. As an enology professor explains to Bianca Bosker in her book Cork Dork, "after blood, wine is the most complex matrix there is". That complexity means wine has the capacity to create taste sensations beyond words. A mental gestalt that only the best can accurately describe, sparking neurons across the brain, reviving memories like a latter-day Proust. For the rest of us, once again, there are gifs:

So if we're not going to be drinking half a litre of Cravendale, what do we drink? Well how about Les Hauts de Saint Martin, St Chinian 2014 (£6.99 Co-op)? A darkly-fruity wine with a hint of the herbal hillside. Its mouth-coating texture makes it a perfect wine for sausages... mmmm, sausages. (I told you. I'm no Proust).

When you've had your ripe, red Saint Chinian go and grab a bottle of Tblvino Qvevris 2015, a Georgian, "Amber" wine (£10.00 M&S). And a bottle of Aldi, The Exquisite Collection Cotes de Provence Rosé 2016 (£5.99). And a bottle of Navajas Blanco Crianza, Rioja 2014 (£7.95 The Wine Society). Each one completely different. The textures go from grippy, to feather-light to rounded. The flavours go from orange peel to wild strawberries to nuttily-fresh. The foods they match go from "everything" to light seafood grills to paella.

Milk has textures and flavours that range from "a bit watery" to "sort of normal" to "that's really very creamy isn't it". And it goes with... Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, tea and insomnia.

And spending a little more on milk means you're in Waitrose. Spending a little more on wine means you enjoy a lot more wine. If you liked the red St Chinian, you'll adore Domaine Gauby, Les Calcinaires Rouges 2015 Cotes du Roussillon Villages (£14.95 Berry Bros & Rudd). This is a long-haired wine of the best kind, a whiff of wild-yeast and sun-tanned fruit giving it a very particular sense of place. The wine-equivalent of Bodhi in Point Break

If you like the Amber wine, the Rose and White Rioja then you can spend a little more too. Pheasants Tears Saperavi 2015 (£22.00 Highbury Vintners) is a dense, brooding wine made in buried kvevris, an 8000 year-old wine making technique that quite literally lets the wine interact with the earth. It has a crackling freshness and chewy palate for people who want to do some thinking with their drinking. Château Léoube Secret Rosé 2016 (£20.00 Daylesford Organic) is a perfect food matching rose, (and Gold Medal Winner at the World Rose Awards) suffused with herbs, pear-textured fruit and wild strawberries. Bodegas Beronia Rioja Viura 2015 (£10.00 Ocado) shows you the diversity in a single style of wine - with White Rioja going from soft, nutty and gentle when it's aged in oak, to tingling with grapefruit and lemon in this ripsnortingly good-value wine. Possibly one of the best value whites in the UK today.

As you drink each one, the aromas, textures and flavours will take your mind to vineyards, chateaux and lazy days in the sun. It's part of the experience of enjoying wine. And that's why we love wine so much.

And what about milk's ability to evoke? To take your mind somewhere magical? Most weeks I receive a text from my mother. She likes to keep me abreast of news in the local paper. We live in a farming community, proud of its local produce. And every week on the back page there's an article with an image that captures the alchemy that is a glass of that local produce. It comes to mind every time I have a glass. As Dorothy might have said: "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Provence any more..."

Got milk? Get wine.

back to the floor by Joe Fattorini

What's it like being a sommelier? 

I knew once. I was one. Then, like childbirth, you forget the pain, the odd-looking equipment and red stuff splashed all over the floor.

This week, twenty five years on, I returned to service. And the memories of swollen ankles, angry recriminations and peculiar tongs came flooding back. Oh yes, and being dismissed high-handedly by people who hold their knife like a pen.

And with that you see how swiftly we descend. Diner vs sommelier. The very word sommelier brings out the worst in us. People view sommeliers as insufferable wine-popinjays, too grand to carry dirty plates. The sommelier senses this. And responds by critiquing your cutlery skills and your husband's "natty" dress sense in the wash-pantry. OK, so that's me doing that. I'm not proud of it.

Which is why we start this week's recommendations with a book: Bianca Bosker's Cork Dork.

It's a first-hand journey into the world of sommeliers and their weird obsessions. A brilliantly written one too. By turns funny, eye-opening, slightly disconcerting and then funny again. Read this book and I defy you to look at (and talk to) sommeliers the same way again.

Because what you'll find is that (for the most part) sommeliers - dare I say, we - are here to help you find the right wine, for the right occasion, at the right price. 

So picture your sommelier.


Maybe that's a bit ambitious. Something more... realistic?


Okay, split the difference.

Your pictured sommelier is ready to use their expertise to turn the two plus two of your food and drink purchase into the five of a memorable experience. In doing so, you must trust us. Surrender a little control for your greater good.

Trust us when we try to gently suggest "the Pinot Grigio you ordered Mrs Holds-Knife-Like-Pen, will disappear under the food you ordered. What you need is something like The Wine Foundry Godello 2016 (Aldi, £6.49). More zest for food. But the same scented softness that you like." She didn't, and wasn't happy. But that's her loss. And Mr Natty-Little-Suit's loss too. I know I said "good choice, madam". But that's my job. Fibbed for your pleasure.

Our job isn't to just pour your favourite wines, nor to make you drink our favourite wines either. It's to find your new favourite wines. But we know you don't know what it is yet.


This means trying wines you've not had before. Like the somms' favourite, Grüner Veltliner. The problem with Gruner Veltliner is it looks like a German, sounds like a German and we don't think we like wines that are German. As it happens, anyone who tries Markus Huber's Morrisons Grüner Veltliner, Niederösterreich, Austria 2016 (£8, Morrisons) will find this is dry, elegant and stone-fruity. Like all the best Grüners it has a twist of pepper on the back palate that makes it perfect with summer food. (Anyone who searches for it online will find the autocorrect for this wine is Grindr Veltliner, which brings up an altogether different set of search results.)

Another variety you may be gently motioned toward is Furmint. Royal Tokaji Dry Furmint 2015 (£9.99, or £8.99 on the mix-six deal at Majestic) is the place to begin. It's one for anyone who likes Sauvignon Blanc but would like more grown up flavours of quince and linden and/or doesn't want to douse their food in aromas of gooseberry and asparagus wee.

(Incidentally, this week Lidl announced a new range of Hungarian Furmints coming into their already impressive wine department. Although not everyone is happy. Fans of Twitter-handbags-at-dawn-stroppiness like me will enjoy this thread immensely).


Good sommeliers don't encourage you to drink odd or unusual for the sake of it. We've done the hard tasting, so you don't have to. Not all grapes thrive in new locations. But we've discovered Albariño DOES thrive in the hills of Uruguay, as Bodega Garzón Colinas de Uruguay Albariño, Maldonado, Uruguay 2016 (£8, Sainsbury's) amply shows, with a friendly stone-fruit and salad complexity. It also gives you the opportunity (with apologies to Homer Simpson) to look at the bottle and declare "hey there's a wine here from You-Are-Gay". It's an old one and not a good one, but what were you expecting? Mark Twain?

Sommeliers are obsessives. Trainspotterish in the pursuit of the weird and wonderful in wine. So do indulge us occasionally. It's worth putting up with 30 seconds of a lecturette on the complexities of cement-egg fermenters if you get to enjoy Zorzal Eggo Malbec, Gualtallary, Argentina 2015 (£16, Marks & Spencer). I can hear you already, sucking air between your teeth and wincing at £16. But this has a silkiness to luxuriate in, a vibrancy to the fruit and an energy that makes you smile. It's our job to know that involves vast cement eggs and the rotation of the earth keeping solids in suspension and... I'll stop speaking now. Enjoy your wine sir.

Perhaps it's the ritual that doesn't help.


The presenting. The ceremony. The wondering what you're looking for when you sniff at it. (If you're wondering it's the wet rag/cardboard smell of a corked wine. If you think you can smell it, send the wine back). All this implies that you have to choose something expensive. But don't be afraid to enjoy the ceremony without the flash. Good wines are good wines no matter the cost. And good sommeliers love it when someone recognises - or encourages them to recommend - one of their better value choices. I've just written a list with something very similar to Wine Atlas Bobal, Utiel-Requena, Spain 2015 (£4.98, Asda) on it. It's a treat, all juicy, fun and fleshy. And great value too.

And that's all we have time for. I'm back on the floor in ten minutes. Gently advising. Encouraging. Supporting. We're here to help you. Don't sneer. Oh, and let us pour... 


hot tub wine machine by Joe Fattorini

What happens in the hot tub, stays in the hot tub.

Unless of course it's something that would cause colleagues and friends to be amused/horrified/require tests at a GUM clinic. Or means the hot tub needs draining, disinfecting, filtering, refilling, draining again, exorcising, refilling and you have to have a bit of a mental block every time you use it in future. In those circumstances it's fair game. Spill. Go on. What did they do? The dirty buggers.

Onto today's big question. What's the best wine for the hot tub? Is there anything that can beat the mighty Listel Rose available for £7.99 at Ocado (or €2.70 if you know where Cliff goes in France?)

Possibly "Jacuzzi Family Vineyards" in California? Set up by Valeriano Jazuzzi, one of the brothers whose pumps and baths business made the original Jacuzzi. But they make reds and whites and we're looking for something pink.

The main requirements are:

  1. Cheap
  2. Cold
  3. "Easy drinking"
  4. Able to overcome the heady aroma of chlorine
  5. Did I say cheap?

Well, we'll come onto cheap in a minute. Let's start by asking a question that's always useful when facing a new or distinctive challenge: what would Ian Beale do?


The Sage of Walford says we should have a glass of fizz. Like Graham Beck The Rhona Rose £15.00 from Marks & Spencer. Yes, yes, I know it's more than you thought you were going to spend. But you're enjoying a moment of luxury. Decadence. Indulgence. Those are Ian's toes gently tickling your calf. Don't ruin it with a bottle of "Euine - (wine-flavoured pink beverage. May not contain real wine)" that you bought on offer at Texaco. No. This calls for frothy bubbles, soft red fruit and a ripe juicy finish.

Of course things can get pretty wild in the "HT". So what do you want when everyone is all...

Well, we need to dial it up with the flavour. Also, it is a law universally acknowledged that wine in hot tubs containing more than two people mostly ends up spilling in the water. So we want this to be cheap and fruity. And none come more perfectly qualified than the Pink Mad Bull itself that is the minor legend Toro Loco rose £3.79 from Aldi. Consistently the best value, funster rose in the UK for about 4 years. If you find subtlety and grace here you're doing it wrong. This is a raspberry delight for parties. You see, you didn't have to wait long for "cheap".

It is of course a misconception that all hot tub parties are wild affairs.

Berry Bros. & Rudd Provence Rosé by Château la Mascaronne £12.95 is an altogether more grown up wine. Floral, complex and gently spiced. Serious. But still engaging and fresh just this time with wild fruit and wild herbs from the garrigue. When owner Tom Bove sold his vineyards to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, he kept this small, immaculate parcel for himself. Hard to work, but reckoned among the greatest sites in Provence, this is a treat for the senses. And if that wasn't enough dinner-party/hot tub anecdotery, this is also where Pink Floyd recorded part of The Wall.

Because far from being the 'nasty sex pond' of the public imagination, hot tubs can be dignified, adult spaces where people of like minds can get over the stresses of the day while gently soaking in pure water, evoking the spirit of Shinto spirituality...

So here are a few recommendations to help mask the reality that someone's forgotten the bubble cycle has finished. Santa Julia, Plus Malbec Rosé, Mendoza 2016 £8.50 from Sainsbury's is big and juicy and packed with soft spices. Whilst those who want to keep it French and classy need to grab a bottle of Tesco, Finest Sancerre Rosé, Loire 2015 £11.00 with a fresher, lighter, zestier take on the strawberries and cream perfume of good rose. And let's not forget the 'special occasion' classics like Whispering Angel Rose, 2016. You can pay anywhere between £16.00 (Waitrose) and £24.00 (Majestic) so make sure you buy clever for a bottle of this juicy, rich and heady rose. If you are going to spend more than £20.00 with the Chateau d'Esclans estate, buy their classier, more Burgundian, food-friendly Rock Angel Rose £21.00 at FromVineyardsDirect.

Finally, is there something that is good value ("cheap"), fizzy, fun, fruity and captures the true spirit of the hot tub as much as...

I reckon you can't go wrong with M&S Rose d'Anjou 2016 on offer right now at £6.00 (normally £9.00). Fresh and bright with lots of juicy, sweet strawberry flavours and cleaner than the water once you get out.

And that is it. It's time to turn the heat up to "lobster boil", put Kenny G on the water-resistant UE Boom and watch the moon rise.

Oh, and please remember to Hot Tub responsibly.