Monthly Archives: March 2015

Wine is Not a political statement

I am hosting a tasting of wines from unusual regions and I have been hugging myself gleefully as I plan the delights that will be in store for the lucky tasters.  There will be Koshu from Japan, Agiorgitiko from Greece, Pinot Grigio from Slovenia, Teran from Croatia and, following an unforgettable tasting trip I was excited to present a wine from Israel.  I spoke to one of my suppliers to check on the availability of their Israeli wine only to find it had been delisted as it was proving too hard to sell.

Frustrated, I countered that Israeli wine was just the kind of challenging sell that they should relish.  I naively thought it was a quality perception that was proving to be the insurmountable hurdle. Many consumers are unaware that Israel produce wine, and if they are aware, they often believe that being Kosher will negatively impact the quality; that it is simply the equivalent of communion wine.   The time I spent there showed me this was simply not true.  Quality levels are generally exceptionally high, and the restrictions of kosher winemaking makes the winemakers deft forward thinkers as they work to ensure Sabbath does not fall in the first ¼ of fermentation – the danger zone for stuck fermentations.  This is a point I relished demonstrating to consumers through a blind tasting.   But I was both surprised and disappointed to find that it was actually political objections that were causing the majority of potential customers to reject the wines.

I am all for people taking a political stance and like most, have my own opinions on this complex subject.  I appreciate that for many consumers choosing what you buy is one of the limited ways we can make a political statement.  However, having met a number of wine farmers, and I use that term deliberately as they are simply agricultural farmers not political movers and shakers, it is saddening to think that they are being penalised for the politics of the region.

One producer I encountered came from a family that had farmed grapes in the Gaza strip for decades, but now it is such a politically volatile area no one will buy her wine or even the grapes. An accident of geography has left her on the brink of ruin.  She has no interest in politics beyond wanting enough stability to enable her to work her land, produce a product she loves and sell it based on its quality.

Another producer who is situated on a hillside facing Lebanon described how, one year during the war, they were busy harvesting while rockets flew over their heads, fired from the bank opposite them and destined for the town a few miles behind them.  He said with a wry smile and sad eyes that it was one of the best vintages they had produced.  This resignation to the sad reality of their situation, combined with a determination to continue to make wine (an admirable mentality which can be found on both sides of the border), is what I have come to learn, embodies the type of person drawn to the wine industry.

I am proud that the international wine community is an all embracing institution where people and wines are judged on their own personal merits and not tarred with politics and accidents of geography.  I understand the heightened emotions surrounding the Middle Eastern politics but I wish that consumers could, for a moment, look beyond that and remember the men and women working the soil and trying to make a living with no thought of political power play. So before you disregard wine for political reasons remember that sometimes it is simply humble fermented grape juice trying to make its way in the big bad world.

– Alex

Milos, music and wine

The other weekend I was invited along to a classical guitar concert at the Wigmore Hall, featuring the world-famous guitarist Milos. Unlike probably everyone else there, I had little idea of what to expect – having not really listened to any classical guitar before, nor been to Wigmore Hall before.

So it was a bit of a shock to find myself on the front row in this intimate venue, with Milos just in front of me, practically in touching distance. Close enough to see the scuffed red soles of his black patent brogues and hear him breathing as he played.

For any classical guitar fans out there, you may be aware that Milos has model good looks – so sitting on the front row wasn’t exactly a hardship. But when the music started I could gradually feel myself pulled into it. Time slowed and it was no longer about the man, but about the guitar and the music that came out of it. The audience was spellbound, caught up in the moment and the notes touched somewhere deep in the core of all of us.

Afterward, Milos spoke and said he had chosen the piece as it “tickles my tastebuds”. Funny he should use those exact words because that feeling that he created with the music – something so hard to put into words – that is exactly what I feel when tasting a wonderful wine. In the same way his music slowed down time and tugged at the heartstrings, calming the mind whilst simultaneously creating a feeling of excitement – that to me is the taste of fine wine.

So, music as wine or wine as music – or both just the result of that indefinable thing we call art? Just a thought.