'it reminded him of the tang of the salt sea breezes and the sharp, green smells from
cutting grasses and stalky things with his Swiss Army knife on a 9-mile walk he did with his father on the coastal path above Tenbigh when he was about fifteen'
By Peter Grogon
Just how do they do that?
When we buy a bottle of wine in a restaurant we all know we're paying a mark-up of, what, somewhere between 100% and 200% of retail price, don't we? Yes, of course, we all know that. Some of us also know that the high street
off-licences who also operate wholesale businesses round the back (no names, no
packdrill) have different stock for those customers compared to the retail businesses.
That's the reason you seldom see the mega-selling brands on restaurant and pub winelists - even though we all know about the mark-ups, it's thought that we'd have a fit of the screaming ab-dabs when somebody tried to sell us our favourite £5.00 bottle from Safebury's for £12.50.
However, if you're a particular fan of the Rochester Castle's 2002 Gloire de Chablis from J Moreau, you'll be pleased to know that drinking it by the bottle in the pub, for £8.99, counts as no sort of an extravagance because you can't buy it any cheaper in the shops - not at all, anywhere, not even by the case, not even with a pretty, pretty pleeeease.
Now, this is not your fat, fruity sort of Chardonnay, it's a long, clean, lean, mean, green thing that comes with a flash of cold steel - they say they don't like it up 'em, but I do. The mark-ups if you're drinking by the glass are exceedingly reasonable too - in this case a paltry £3.20 gets you a 250ml. glass (which is a third of a bottle to you, buddy) or £2.50 for a healthy 175ml.
If a fat, fruity thing is a bit of what you fancy, then Nottage Hill Chardonnay 2003 from down-under is one such - and in a nice, smoky, melonish way - and its piffling price tag of £6.99 should not occasion the beating of any breasts since you would only be paying ten bob less at Waitrose. No need for any sackcloth or ashes subsequent to splashing out £7.99 for a bottle of Nobilo Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2003 from New Zealand either, as it'd cost you £6.64 from Tesco if you were buying halfa-dozen. What's it like?
Well, Michael, one of the duty managers at the Roch and our solicitous host for the
tasting, insisted he didn't know very much about wine but, when pressed, thought it reminded him of the tang of the salt sea breezes and the sharp, green smells from cutting grasses and stalky things with his Swiss Army knife on a 9-mile walk he did with his father on the coastal path above Tenbigh when he was about fifteen. But what does he know? More PG Wodehouse than Proust perhaps, but close to the mark nonetheless, Ms Beech, in company with us, considered it a 'jolly, plump little gooseberry of a thing'.
I don't know which is a more incongruous sighting in the Rochester Castle, a bottle of Beaujolais-Villages or Lionel Blair in a sequinned jumpsuit, but the former is a classier act, coming as it does from the august firm of Louis Jadot. At £9.99 the Combe aux Jacques 2002 vintage is a civilised glassful of light, tight and bright cherry and raspberry Gamay fruit. ('Seems more like strawberries to me', chipped in Michael, whose growing confidence wasn't a problem for me at all in any way whatsoever.)
Merlot Casa la Joya 2003 from Chile (a frankly silly £6.99) is nothing but a great big, glycerol-laden blackberry fruit gum-smelling mouthful of minty pluminess. 'Black Forest gateau?' ventured Michael. I ignored him. If you're going to order a bottle of Don Jacobo Rioja Crianza 1999 for £8.99 then do it - and yourself - a favour and order yourself and your chums (assuming you have any) a beer or other aperitif as well and proceed as follows: 1) pour the wine into the requisite number of glasses; 2) drink the beer in a leisurely fashion; 3) now drink the wine, the nice vanilla nose and soft oaky plummy flavours of which have had a chance to develop as it has 'breathed' a bit. Don't let anybody try to fool you into thinking that just opening the bottle will do the trick because that will oxygenate an area about the size and depth of a 1p piece,
unless you're intending to stare at it for several days before you drink it. (Assuming the wine has no sediment, you can open the bottle, cover the top with the palm of your hand and then invert it slowly a few times to circulate the air but, strangely, I've noticed
that I get some odd looks when I do that.)
How do Wetherspoons manage to sell such good wines at prices that make it hardly worth going home again?
'Ours not to reason why, ours but to do and die... of drink' as the poet said.
The Rochester Castle, 145 High
Street N16, 020 7249 6016