Sometimes staff training has to be simple: illustrating, taste-wise, the difference between a cheap wine and a not-so-cheap wine. It's important that as a wine merchant you can not only taste that difference but also understand why certain things really do matter, whether it's stricter selection, better viticultural practice, better wine-making, a better vineyard site or all of that and more.
Occasionally the more expensive wine won't be showing as well as it should - maybe it's not the better wine (in which case it should be de-listed immediately); or perhaps the bottle is out of condition or it's going through an awkward phase in its development. The latter happens from to time to time but will never not sound like a lame excuse. The difficulty in explaining the 'awkward phase' to either a customer or a trainee staff member makes it a futile exercise. It also doesn't really matter. If a wine isn't tasting as it should it may as well be corked, whether it's reductive, dumb or simply being awkward.
We opened two Clarets:
L'Orangerie de Carignan 2007 (£8.99)
Proper claret nose of pencil shavings, a touch of cedar and sawdust with understated red berry fruit. Not quite ripe cassis, though there are darker fruits lurking there.
The palate is a bit taut; not quite as engaging as the nose. The fruit's tight and obscured by the leafy, vegetal edges. The tannins are a bit rough and the finish has a little hint of sucking on pennies. However, in the midst of some proper, rustic food, much of this would be moot - the tannins grip and the fruit comes out a bit. For the money, it's not bad - there are plenty of over-ripe New World wines at the same price that may outshine this at a tasting, but pale at a dinner party.
Chateau Potensac 2005 (£24.99)
Ripe cassis and liquorice on the nose. Deep and perfumed, it feels finer to smell, softer and perhaps a little touch of varnish on the end
That ripe cassis mixes with a touch of black cherry and anise. The tannins already seem velvety. This isn't just a better wine, it's a more modern claret. Part of me almost wants some of that graphite and sawdust the L'Orangerie boasted. That part of me is easily ignored as this is an easy wine to enjoy and pour another glass. The modernity is somewhat upsetting however, not because I begrudge oak and prosperity and things that taste good, but because I like wine that tastes of where it's from. This is not as obviously claret as the cheaper, and somewhat meaner, bottle. It is really rather delicious though and it is worth the twenty-five quid. But it's also a touch anonymous. And for a house like this, that is a sad thing.
Both tasted 21/9/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop