It is a fact universally accepted that nothing is what it seems and so our list is not a simple catalogue, a digest of wines and prices, but a succession of anfractuous diversions and distractions. As one of Sterne’s characters remarks in Tristram Shandy, ‘Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine; they are the life, the soul of reading’. Rather a picaresque digression surely than the humdrum hawking of product after product, for, in our view, the liquid in the bottle – in every bottle – has the potential to be the starting point for numerous narrative journeys. There may be a scientific purpose to the expedition, or the narrative voyage may be either sentimental, fanciful, argumentative or philosophical but the intention is always to arrive by some means at some sort of chaotic truth: to get under the skin of the grape and dive into the ferment (faites vos metaphores, mesdames et messieurs) by unpacking the many and varied impressions and sensations that wines unveil to us. Revealing our own very personal responses, whilst at the same time examining the objective criteria that make a particular wine what it is, such as the personality of the grower, the methods employed in the winery and vineyard, the history, topography and climatic conditions of a region and finally the local gastronomy and culture. The truth, as Wilde remarked, is rarely pure and never simple (but then he never tasted branded wines).
The list is furthermore underpinned by an agenda insofar as we try to challenge assumptions and promote what we regard as original practice. Without wishing to sound precious it is important to believe in what you are doing and not just push wine as if it were any old product. Our aim is to buy and sell “real wines”, to gently shift perception, and we try throughout our list to clarify and articulate what makes these wines special. We believe that typicity (wine that tastes where it comes from) can be achieved through a combination of sensible winemaking practises involving minimal interventions, through sustainable agriculture and promoting of biodiversity, adhering to natural organic solutions, working by hand, fermenting with natural yeasts, not using additives, the minimal addition of sulphur and light or zero filtration. Wherever possible. These are guidelines not axioms. We simply want our wines by-and-large to taste natural and to reflect the nature of the vintage.
Two further points regarding balance in wine: firstly, when we taste we seek a paradigm of “tastiness,” consequently we enjoy wines that display proportionate alcohol. Secondly, where oak is used, we prefer it to be in the background; we’re not keen on overly-constructed, breast-beating wines that rely on its presence as an enhanced flavouring. Palpable extraction of flavour is rarely charming since the many rude variables rarely harmonise, although critically, these faux-complex, souped-up, powerful, plummy, toast-and-jam wines are still lauded by some folks who seem to believe that thicker veneer equals greater complexity. Sometimes the aspiration to excellence neutralises the individuality of the wine because it seeks to impose a pre-ordained style rather than being content to reflect typicity. In the ratings war where points means prizes – and consequent higher prices – a few journalists, wine-buyers and customers still fall hopelessly for tricked-up wines. The wine we tend to enjoy most – and drink – is wine that expresses its fruit in a refreshingly pure way. Viniveri– true wines.
Make the goblet full of wine, for wine is so good
Especially when it’s pure, without any falsehood
–Masnavi of Hafiz – Book of the Winebringer