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IF AUSTEN COULD SEE US NOW...

Pride, Prejudice and Wine

January 28 sees the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s magnum opus, Pride and Prejudice. Written with a lightness of touch and poignant humour, it is a touching love story but, more than that, a damning account of the inescapable, harmful class bigotry of her day.

Right, book club is over. The point of all that? Well, until relatively recently, the last sentence of the above paragraph could have applied to certain aspects of the wine trade. Strict appellation rules, inaccessible language, indecipherable labels, dogmatic experts and general snootiness beleaguered the industry, making it seem inaccessible.

But we at Oddbins think that the wine industry has turned a corner and has liberated itself from the shackles of yore (you must forgive us if we indulge in some Regency-era parlance, but it does please us so). Screw caps have been sighted in Bordeaux, there has been a proliferation of knowledgeable wine bloggers on the web and an ever-increasing number of producers are abandoning appellations in favour of less restrictive classifications like France’s Vin de Pays (VDP) and Italy’s Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT). By doing so, they can experiment freely with grapes and processes and create new, interesting and, frequently, stunning wines.

A particularly interesting manifestation of this new-found freedom is the labelling of wine. Now. You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, nor a person by their appearance, but we all do it. In Jane Austen’s day they did it a lot. The supermarkets have cottoned onto our penchant for big names and snazzy labels and they stock wines that fit the bill. We at Oddbins like to think of the supermarkets as protagonist Lizzie Bennet’s shameless, socially ambitious mother, Mrs Bennet. But we believe there is more to wine than this and would like to introduce you to six wines that do their own thing, regardless.

The first three wines are our pride. These are cracking wines that have radical, modern labels that don’t scream about their posh provenance – because they don’t care. Hooray! We think Miss Austen would approve. Let’s meet the wines:

Parcela No. 5 Luis Alegre Rioja 2007

What do you think of when you hear the word “Rioja”? An old-fashioned bottle, with italic script, possibly in a wire mesh? Us too. Well this here is the opposite: it is a bad-boy, renegade prodigy of Rioja and we love it. With cherry, thyme and mineral notes, it is a vibrant, expressive, ‘modern’ style of Rioja (unlike the oaky, vanilla-laden traditional styles). Aged in oak for 14 months and in the bottle for two years, this wine could call itself a Reserva, but chooses not to, in a bid to differentiate itself from Rioja of old. The funky label is actually an aerial shot of the Single Vineyard (Parcela 5) with a heat-sensitive camera and, again, is purposefully modern in style. The wine was also a Silver medal winner at the 2012 Decanter World Wine Awards.

Falanghina “Biblos” 2010

The Italians are known to have panache-a-plenty but, sadly, when it comes to labeling their wine, they often seem to run out of steam. So we were chuffed to find this little number from Molise, southeast Italy. Producer Di Majo Norante is owl-like in its ability to look both backwards and forwards. Backwards because it is trying to save ancient grape varieties on the brink of extinction in that region and forwards, because they don’t think they need a fusty old label to prove they have class. In fact, this pineapple-y, waxy, verdant, herby goliath of a white has a banging label that we would happily hang on the wall here at Oddbins Towers.

Henry Fessy Fleurie 2009

Mr Fessy has been making waves at Oddbins for a while now, both with his winemaking genius – this is one of the most engaging and deep (and surprisingly full-bodied) Fleuries we’ve seen for a while – and with the bonkers, moustachioed square-faced bloke on the label. This distinctive logo was introduced in 1988 to mark the winery’s centenary and was inspired by the facial hair preferences of the founder’s grandchildren, Serges and Henry Fessy, who also happen to have a sense of humour. Once again – hooray!

Now: the flip side. The next three wines are also scrumdiddlyumptious but their labels are not exactly radical. You might say they are boring. These wines sometimes experience prejudice as a result. But, if the supermarkets are Mrs Bennet, then these wines have to be her feisty, headstrong daughter, Lizzie. She might not have the razzle-dazzle of the aristocracy, but she is a remarkable character. Let’s meet our Lizzies:

Henry Pellé “Les Bornés” Menetou-Salon 2011

From the producer who almost single-handedly put Menetou-Salon on the map as a serious competitor to its big-name neighbours, Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, this wine is really a delight, though the label isn’t going to win a Turner prize any time soon. Crisp and cleansing, with brilliantly pure lemon fruit, this is what the Loire is all about and, between you and us, the prices haven’t caught up yet, so now’s a good time to get in there.

Ségla Margaux 2009

Get yourselves a glass of water, folks, it’s a Bordeaux under screwcap. A flipping Second Growth Bordeaux under screwcap! Wonders never cease. The people behind this daring move? Chanel’s owners, the Wertheimer family. Yes, Château Rauzan-Ségla is run by the family that runs the innovative fashion powerhouse. Not only have they broken ranks with cork-lovers, but they have overseen a spectacular renaissance and its wines are garnering rave reviews across the board. The Château’s Second Wine, Ségla, is made with grapes from the very same vines that produce its Grand Vin and the result is just blinding. It is clean, modern and chunky, with real integrity. Having expended all that effort on the wine and the screwcap, they clearly needed a Kit Kat by the time they got to the label, but ne’er mind, eh?

Luis Alegré Rioja Crianza 2009

Déja-vu? Yes – you have seen this name before – Luis Alegré make the aforementioned Parcela No. 5 with the cool label. So what happened, you ask? Did they lose their creative marbles? Well, we don’t really know what went on with the label, but this Rioja Crianza is packed with such a rich tapestry of blackberry, blueberry and liquorice flavours that we’d happily forgive them anything.

And this last wine wraps up our little foray into wines and their labels nicely: here we have a brilliant producer, who has given one wine an excellent label, and another a bog-standard label. This demonstrates how totally arbitrary wine labelling can be. But if these wines represent Lizzie, who represents her sexy, shy and smouldering suitor, Mr Darcy? Well we think that is you, dear reader. OK we don’t know if you are sexy, smouldering or shy, but you are the ones who save Lizzie (amazing wine) from the influence of her mother (supermarkets) and from the tawdry pursuit of class (labels) at all costs. So, to steal a phrase from this book, you must allow us to tell you how ardently we admire and love you. (LT)

This blog was written while drinking: Besserat de Bellefon’s Rosé Champagne. You didn’t think we were going to let this anniversary slide by us without some bubbles now did you? A masterclass in elegance and charm, to quote Austen one final time, we have fallen "violently in love" with this Champagne. Its plain Jane label and relatively unknown name testify, once again, that you really can’t judge a book by its cover…