I enjoyed following the Obama visit to the UK. A particular highlight was the sight of Ken Clarke dozing contentedly through Mr Obama’s address at Westminster Hall. Priceless stuff.
More relevant to this column was the news that the Obamas had been served an English wine at the state dinner at Buckingham Palace.
The Ridgeview Fitzrovia Sparkling Rosé 2004, no less. [A quick Internet search didn’t find me any bottles for sale but you can buy the 2007 vintage for £22.95 direct from the estate www.ridgeview.co.uk] That’s great and I am very pleased for Ridgeview and for the positive PR this generates for English wines as a whole.
What I did find rather irksome was that on a visit to Britain at an event being hosted by our Queen, the menu was written in French.
There is, no doubt, some etiquette that makes this the right thing to do, but if this is acceptable to everyone can we please stop giving the French such a hard time about their wine labels?
At least once a week someone will tell me that the problem for French wines is that they don’t make the labels easy enough for us Brits to understand.
This is a view promoted widely within the trade.
It is — for many — a nonsense that the French should persist in putting Chablis on the label without reference to the fact that it’s made from Chardonnay.
Or, in the case of Sancerre, they want Sauvignon Blanc to be highlighted in bold.
It’s a valid argument in certain cases but I have a sneaky suspicion that Chablis sales have remained solid precisely because many people don’t know that it’s made from Chardonnay.
The wines from the region mostly missed the ‘anything but Chardonnay’ movement that was so very ‘à la mode’ for a while.
It’s also only of any use when people recognise the grape in question.
How many people can, hand on heart, claim any significant acquaintance with, say, Carignan, Pineau d’Aunis or Savagnin?
If you saw these names on a label would their presence make you grab a case of six and make haste to the checkout? No, I didn’t think so.
So many of my culinary discoveries have come from ignorance.
I’m not sure that as a youngster I would have rushed to try octopus, tripe, steak tartare or eel but I did — all because I didn’t understand the menu or had made some basic error of vocabulary.
I survived and whilst I didn’t fall in love with all the dishes, my life is still the richer for having tried them.
So, if you’re tucking into ‘agneau de la nouvelle saison de Windsor au Basilic; courgettes avec radis sautées, panaché d’haricots verts et pommes boulangère’ can I make the following suggestions: AOC Corbières Blason d'Aussières 2007 (£9.99 www.majestic.co.uk). A sophisticated red with earthy hedgerow fruits and fresh, grainy tannins.
Alternatively, I have a long-established soft spot for the AOC Costières de Nîmes Château de Surville 2007 (£8.99 www.marksandspencer.com) that delivers a truly succulent mouthful of wine — lovely in this rather overcast weather.