Qvevri PGI

There has been a Georgian PGI for qvevri since 21st May 2021. Most web pages announcing the event seemed to be little more than rehashed versions of the same press release. So here, somewhat belatedly, I try to explain a bit of the background, and discuss some of the issues around the Qvevri PGI as I see them.

Originally, the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) was introduced as an EU category that could be used interchangeably with country-specific terms such as Vin de Pays for wines from France, Vino de la Tierra for Spain, or Indicazione Geografica Tipica for Italy, etc. Key differences were that under the new system, the same name for the category was to be used in all countries, albeit possibly translated into a local language, and also that the same PGI category applied across a range of agricultural products and foodstuffs, such as wine, cheese and olive oil. In a similar fashion, the EU Protected Denomination of Origin (PDO) was introduced as an alternative to the old Appellation d’Origine Controllée, Denominación de Origen, Denominazione di Origine Controllata, etc.

Following EU terminology, Georgia also introduced its own list of PGI and PDO goods. Previously it used the term Appellation of Origin, and while you still see that term used on the official website, which is a little confusing, all recent documents refer to the newer terms PGI and PDO.

Georgia’s list is independent of the EU’s, and is primarily only of relevance in Georgia, in the same way that the EU list applies primarily within the EU. However, both the EU and Georgia have entered into treaties with trading partners to gain recognition of their protected names in other countries too. Thus, for example, the USA recognises most EU PGIs and PDOs, though it has negotiated a small number of exceptions. Recognition of Georgian PGIs and PDOs outside of Georgia is however quite a lot more limited. You might like to note for reference that the official list of Georgian protected names is on the Sakpatenti website here, and the names protected by treaty in other countries are linked to from this page. If you are primarily interested in the Georgian wine PDOs, I recommend you take a look at this article first: Georgian Wine PDOs.

You can find the text of the Qvevri PGI document on the Sakpatenti website, which opens as a pop-up from the list of PGIs, but for your convenience I have created a PDF version of its text. The first thing worthy of note, is that the PGI applies to the qvevri itself, not the wine that is made in the vessel. So in that respect it breaks with EU usage, where PGIs and PDOs apply only to agricultural produce and foodstuffs. Also, as far as the geographical element of the PGI is concerned, the only requirement is that the raw materials should come from Georgia and that the qvevri be made in Georgia. I believe this is also inconsistent with EU usage, where PGIs and PDOs typically, if not always, refer to regions within countries.

In the PGI document, there is a lot of historical and cultural detail, but as far as I can see the only documented requirements of the PGI for qvevri seem to be that:

1) The raw materials should come from Georgia, and the qvevri is made in Georgia,

2) The qvevri maker is a member of the Organization of PGI Qvevri Producers/Makers, or other authorised body, and

3) The authorised body needs to certify that the vessel is indeed a qvevri, and make a permanent official mark of the organization on it, to allow traceablity.

The details of what is required to gain certification are not specified in the PGI document, and seem to be totally the responsibility of the certifying body.

I think it is commendable that steps are being taken to protect usage of the term Qvevri, but I am struggling to understand what precisely this PGI achieves. If I understand it correctly the PGI would stop someone in Georgia claiming to sell or own a qvevri if that vessel does not have appropriate marking and associated documentation. It might also prevent a wine producer claiming Qvevri as a trademark, as happened in Armenia with Karas, the Armenian equivalent of the qvevri. However, the PGI seems to exclude any qvevri made before the authorised bodies came into existence. And the chances of any other country recognising the Georgian Qvevri PGI will be pretty slim, as it applies to a clay vessel, rather than an agricultural product or foodstuff.

To me, the important thing is how the qvevri is used in winemaking. If the wine barely touches the insides of the qvevri, why should I care about whether it conforms to the new PGI? I was rather hoping for something on wine labels that would provide a guarantee that the wine was fermented, and aged for a specified period of time, in a qvevri vessel that conforms to a specific definition. To me, the obvious way to achieve this would be to append “Qvevri” to existing PDO names for such wines. And to be totally unambiguous about the claim, the text “PDO” should always be used on the label where it applies, e.g. “Kakheti Qvevri PDO”.

Within Georgia, I guess reputable qvevri winemakers are well known, and in some cases friends or relatives. But those of us that buy exported Georgian wines need a bit more reassurance – a reassurance that Qvevri PGI sadly does not provide.

Thinking inside the qvevri

Firstly, I’d encourage you to read this article by Daria Kholodilina. It gives a great summary of recent wine trends in Georgia, and was the stimulus for the opinions I am about to share here.

Evidence of ancient winemaking in the Vardzia cave complex

Well, have you read it now? Go on – I promise it won’t take you long.

I agree with Daria that the story of Georgian wine can get repetitive for people familiar with it – 8,000 years of wine history – qvevri and orange wine – importance of wine in Georgian culture – Soviet wine production in Georgia (boo) – etc, etc. But we lovers of Georgian wine should remember that most people are still ignorant of that story.

While boring for some, it is still in my opinion vastly important to communicate that story of tradition, because it is a true unique selling point that differentiates Georgia and its wine from the rest of the world. The recent introduction into Georgia of pet nat wines, free-standing qvevri, and concrete eggs, is also interesting, and may make some producers stand out amongst their fellow Georgians, but in the global context they are not so remarkable. Of course underground qvevri are used elsewhere in the world too, but not with all the tradition and experience of Georgia.

If you think traditional qvevri are boring, you should try visiting producers in other countries! I am sure most tourists and importers would much rather see qvevri tops, than yet another array of stainless steel tanks followed by a bottling line. I hasten to add that I personally am sufficiently geeky to find all of the above interesting, so if you have recently shown me your bottling line please don’t be offended 🙂

But to return to the story of Georgian wine, here are some suggestions as to how Georgian producers might seek to differentiate themselves amongst their neighbours within a traditional context:

1) If you use qvevri, talk about the variation in qvevri winemaking throughout the country, and explain how you fit into the national picture, and within your region. I know your wines are not all heavily extracted tannic monsters, but I am not sure how many people understand that yet.

2) Give context to your grape varieties in the same way. Explain how local or widespread they are, and where they are grown. I personally also find it helpful to know how the names translate into English, because they then become more meaningful and easy to remember.

3) I think most people already do this, but tell your backstory. I find the roots of Georgian producers particularly fascinating as they are so diverse – from hobbyist to ex-Soviet wine factory and everything in-between.

4) Finally – terroir. My impression is that this is given very little emphasis in Georgia, but wine people in general seem to love hearing about terroir. So why not do some research on your geology and soils, and your micro- and macro-climates, and explain why they are so important?

I know I cannot speak for everyone, but the above is my opinion as a British drinker of Georgian wine who has so far made a couple of trips to Georgia, and has visited vineyards on both trips. I’d also like to emphasise that I am not against innovation per se -it’s just that it is the Georgian tradition of winemaking that will keep drawing me back to the country and its wine.

Having now completed most of Daria’s bingo card, I shall end with a gaumarjosგაუმარჯოს.

How not to pick a wine

In a nutshell, contrary to the advice and suggestions you might see in some places, do not pick a wine based on how you presume the price is determined. That is how you don’t do it.

Even I have been guilty of offering price-related selection advice to an extent, in that I wrote a version of the common trope that explains how, if you spend a bit more money on your wine, there is a huge increase in the money available for the wine production element of the cost. To be fair to myself, I did add a touch of scepticism that you don’t usually get in those explanations. But these days I would give greater emphasis to the fact that, just because more money is available for wine production, it does not necessarily mean it is spent that way. It could for example go on marketing, to yield more profit, or to subsidise other wines in a producers range. Also, even if more is spent on production, it does not necessarily mean that you are going to like the wine any more. New oak barrels are expensive, but how much do you like oaky wines?

Then there is the idea that people typically go for the second cheapest wine on a restaurant list, to avoid spending too much while not appearing to be a skinflint.  So another piece of advice often given is to avoid the second cheapest wine, because that will be marked up more highly by cunning restaurateurs. That idea was recently debunked a few months ago, and gleefully reported on in the wine press. Apparently, in reality percentage markups are highest on midrange wines. So in these newly enlighted times, presumably those are now the wines to avoid? No, actually not.

All of the above is irrelevant to the consumer. Let people in the wine trade and restaurant business worry about the economics of wine production, mark-ups, and price points. For the wine consumer there are only two relevant considerations: how much the wine costs, and how much pleasure we can derive from it. Of those two factors, cost is a perfectly straightforward, but the concept of pleasure bears more analysis.

It is not just the liquid in the bottle that is important for pleasure, or even the issue of how well it goes with whatever you are eating. For all manner of goods, and wine is no exception, we seem to gain pleasure from all sorts of things. Rarity, for example. How many bottles were produced, and how common is the grape variety? Then some people take pleasure in enjoying expensive items; while others love a bargain. And labels can be as important on wine bottles as on items of clothing. It’s all a question of what works for you, and pleasure is rarely rational. If you are interested in How Pleasure Works, you may like the book with that title, written by Paul Blom – I did.

I admit that it is difficult to know how much pleasure one will get from any particular wine. But at the very least, thinking about pleasure is more pleasurable than fretting about the economics of wine trade.

Aldi wines – some impressive, some not

For a supermarket with a relatively small selection, I think Aldi have a very interesting and eclectic range of wines, which I have been exploring recently, sometimes trying recommendations from others, and sometimes just taking a punt on what looks interesting. I must say that the recommendations have been the more successful wines for me so I am hoping here to pass on some of that success for others to enjoy. If you don’t have an Aldi store nearby that stocks them, you can buy online and get any quantity of wine delivered for £4.95. (I have BTW paid for all the wines reviewed here, and have no commercial relationship with Aldi other than as a customer.)


Let’s start with the impressive wines – ones that I would recommend.

Firstly, I would remind you of the Spanish Bobal wines I reviewed back in 2019. Aldi are still selling the organic one for the same price of £4.99 (but a different label), and I having been ordering and drinking it with enjoyment throughout that period. Not every day, but it is a staple that I always like to have available at home, and of the people I know who have tried it, all like it. It is admittedly a very small sample, but remarkable in that it covers a wide range of wine lovers with different levels of knowledge and experience. So that is definitely on my list of recommendations. Just to be clear, it is the Toro Loco Spanish Organic Red.

Next up is another wine that was recommended to me and I have recommended. And all the reactions, including my own, have been positive. This is Aldi’s Greek Assyrtiko for £6.99. If you have been following my blog for some time you will know that the home of the Assyrtiko variety is the Greek island of Santorini, but this wine is from the north of mainland Greece, in Amyndeo, a region better known for its red Xinomavro wines. Nevertheless, this is the most Santorini-like Assyrtiko I remember tasting that is not actually from Santorini. I’d say it is comparable to a low-end Santorini, but at less than half price. If you are wondering what that is like, here’s my tasting note: Intense, fresh, mineral and citrus. High acidity. Dry, but ripe fruit. Decent length. A hint of liquorice edginess, which I like. Refreshing and clean ****. On re-reading my note, I am not sure how typical liquorice is of Santorini to be honest, but I wouldn’t get too hung up on that – it was after all only a hint I found.

Finally in my impressive category of Aldi wines is Specially Selected French Jurancon, also at £6.99. But be warned that I have only so far had one bottle of this, though I definitely intend to buy more. Also be warned that it seems to be a bit of a Marmite wine. Myself, I love it, but some others are not so keen. My very brief tasting note is: Intense citrus – lime and orange. High acidity. Dry ***. So the overall effect is that of a very tangy wine, but without the lemon citrus notes that often accompany that style. I am not very familiar with Jurançon Sec, but from my limited experience the Aldi wine certainly conveys the correct feel, but with the volume turned down a little – you cannot have it all for £7.00. In my opinion it is just a pleasure to have such an interesting wine readily available at a supermarket for a very reasonable price. Edit 20/12/21: After drinking a few bottles of this (not all at the same time), I decided that the volume was turned down too much, and the overall effect was a bit watery. It’s still not a bad wine, but I have knocked a star off the score, and I would always drink the Aldi Assyrtiko in preference. The Assytiko continues to impress.


Now for a brief mention of the more indifferent wines I have recently tried from Aldi. These were all OK, and the low price encourages exploration. I don’t feel motivated to return to buy more, but do try them if you are tempted.

Dealuri Romanian Feteasca Regala £4.99: Intense, pear-drop mainly. Medium acid. Off dry, maybe a little residual sugar but certainly sweet aromatics. Not unpleasant, but simple, and maybe a bit cloying **.  This is a Romanian wine from a good quality Romanian grape, but in my opinion totally lacked any character – it may as well have been a cheap Pinot Grigio.

Castellore Italian Frappato £6.49: Cherryade. Medium acidity. Low but detectable tannin. A touch of bitterness too, and it’s certainly not flabby. I think this is just off-dry. Pleasant in a childish sort of way ***. The Sicilian variety Frappato can make glorious wines, with vibrant crunchy red fruit, but this is not one of them. And while I did see some varietal character, I really would prefer to pay considerably more money to get something better.

Italian Aglianico £6.99: Vague dark berry fruit. Oak. Medium acid. Medium tannin. Very restrained. Perhaps some floral notes. Oakiness that gets stronger as the wine warms – I prefer it close to cellar temperature ***. I was a bit conflicted about this. I do like restrained wines, and this certainly was restrained, to the point of a fault. And I also appreciated that it was not made in an obvious crowd-pleasing style. But on the other hand Aglianico is one of the great Italian varieties, and this showed barely a hint of that greatness. If it were £4.99 I may have been more forgiving, but at £6.99 I felt I needed more, however irrational that might be.


There were no bad wines amongst the ones I tried 🙂

Glinavos Paleokerisio 2019

If you are at all adventurous in your taste for wine, you really must try this one.

As the label is all Greek, let me start by deconstructing it to the best of my ability. Paleokerisio is the name of the wine, and it is produced by Ktima Glinavos, where ktima means estate. It is a mere 10.5% ABV, and comes in a crown-capped 50cl bottle (which is a pain to stack in a wine fridge as the bottles teeter worryingly on top of each other due to the barrelling in the shape). Merchants seem to interpret the “19” in the lot number as the vintage indication, and I’m sure that is correct, but formally speaking this is a non-vintage wine.

The wine is designated PGI Ionnina, and thus comes from a mountainous region in north-west Greece. The region does not extend as far west as the coast, but has Albania to the north, and the Greek regions of Macedonia and Thessaly to the east. It is around 100km north to south, and 75km east to west, and thus has a wide range of growing conditions. Sadly, I do not know which part this particular wine comes from.

It is made from 97% Debina, and 3% Vlachiko, which are both varieties local to the region. Debina is a green grape, and Vlachiko red.

The name Paleokerisio means “like the old times”, which is the first hint at why you might find this wine is particularly interesting – it is made in the old style of the region. This means the grapes are fermented on their skins, and the wine is semi-dry and semi-sparkling. But the viticulture is not organic, and the second fermentation is in tank, so its production is maybe not quite as old-style as you might think. Nevertheless, it is interesting and, more-importantly, delicious. Yes, it’s an orange wine, though the small percentage of red grapes seems to give the amber colour a ruddy tinge.

I’d describe the colour as a deep ruddy-amber, or a palish ruddy-brown. The nose is not intense, but has some of that phenolic character you tend to get on orange wines. It is very slightly sparkling, off-dry, has highish acidity, and a slight astringency and bitterness. I repeat: it’s delicious. The sharpness, astringency and bitterness adds a refreshing edge to the wine, but is nicely balanced by its slight sweetness *****

Generally I like orange wines at cellar temperature, but I think this one benefits from being properly fridge-cold. It is great to drink by itself, and also with food from the eastern Mediterranean, from Greece to the Middle-East, or even with spicier Indian food. Yes, I know that is a pretty broad brush, but I think the wine is very flexible. As I see it, the main exceptions are that it would not work so well as an aperitif, nor with very delicate fish dishes, or dark meats in a heavy sauce.

If you are interested in buying some, I suggest you google “Glinavos Paleokerisio”, and expect to pay £12-14 for the 50cl bottle.  I got my last lot as a case from Pure Wines, for £12.50 each. Prior to that I used Wine and Greene, but the last time I looked they no longer had it in stock. If you make my suggested search, you will also find Julia Harding’s review of the wine, which I only noticed after I writing my tasting note. I was pleased to see that she too was enthusiastic about it, but we differ on the ideal serving temperature.

In addition to the label and my palate, information for this post came from merchants’ websites, The Wines of Greece by Konstantinos Lazarakis (also recommended), and Google Maps.

Botijas – Peruvian winemaking in clay

In an online discussion on “amphoras” in winemaking, wine enthusiast Peter Harvey drew my attention to a vessel I failed to mention in my earlier blog post on the various types of clay pots in winemaking: the botija, as used in Peru. I am very grateful to Peter for the information and photographs, which I use with permission.

He saw botijas in use at three wineries in the Ica Valley – Vinos Intipalka, Bodega Tres Esquinas and Bodega Lazo – and La Reyna de Lunahuaná, in the Lunahuaná valley.

Unlike most clay winemaking vessels, botijas seem to me to be true amphoras. They are the right size for amphoras, and the shape looks correct too. There is a narrow opening at the top, meaning the contents must be poured out rather than scooped. And they have a pointed bottom which, in common with classical common-use amphoras means they can be stuck into the earth to help keep them upright, as shown above at La Reyna de Lunahuaná. They do not have the usual long narrow neck, but are more like the belly amphoras from 640-450 BC, and although the name amphora implies something that can be lifted from both sides using two handles, handles were not always present.

The framed picture above is of the actual press still in use at Bodega Tres Esquinas, and their winemaking process is described by Peter Harvey:

The grapes are trodden Portuguese style, and the juice from the treading floor and the press runs directly into the botija which is carried in a wooden frame and plonked in lines under cover but otherwise in the open, loosely covered by hessian or suchlike. When the fermentation’s over they’re stopped off with a bung and cloth to settle the contents. After use they are simply washed out with water.

He also points out that

The Botijas were mainly used of course to make the base wine to be made into Pisco. Like the Georgians they seem to be “rediscovering” this technique for table wine and I know that the big Ica player Intipalka are sourcing old ones and re-using them.

While the use of botijas in Peru is currently of no direct relevance to UK wine drinkers, botija wines may eventually arrive over here, and in the meantime I feel reassured that the Peruvian winemaking traditions are being maintained.

The Story of Wine – book review

This edition of The Story of Wine by Hugh Johnson, is published by Academie du Vin Library. The headline price is £30 from both Amazon and direct from the publisher, but at the publisher’s you can use this £3 discount code: WINENOUS3. I’ll leave it to you to juggle shipping charges against any possible in-principle objections to Amazon. Mine was a review copy.

If the title of the book sounds familiar, that is because it has been around since 1989, published by Mitchell Beazley. As far as I can tell the text is identical to the Mitchell Beazley edition I have from 1999, so I will start by comparing the 1999 edition with this one.

Firstly, the Academie du Vin Library book has a good quality soft-covered binding, and the paper, rather than being bright and shiny, is a good quality matt. It is 240 x 170 mm, and comprises 496 sides. The text is clear and well laid-out, and with no illustrations the page design is clean and uncluttered. I think one of the major selling points of the Mitchell Beazley edition was the sumptuous quality of the book, with its rich colour illustrations, but personally I can see the attractions of the new edition. Basically, I find this version a lot more inviting to read – it’s considerably lighter to hold, the text is not broken up by illustrations, and it still feels sumptuous (but in a different sort of way). These are not minor points. In the last few years when I got interested in the origins of wine after having visited Georgia, I intended to reread the earlier edition, but somehow it just seemed too much like hard work due to its look and feel. Yet I now feel motivated to try again with this edition. But perhaps that is just me?

Regarding the illustrations, I have just checked a few places in the 1999 edition, and I cannot see any place where they are particularly closely related to the text, let alone essential for understanding it. Admittedly they do sometimes add information, but my overall impression is that Johnson wrote his book with the intention that the text should stand by itself.

It was a while since the last time I read the text and, irrespective of my new-found enthusiasm, I am realistically not going to reread it in the immediate future, so what follows here are a just few observations about the text. I’ll maybe write a follow-up post with more detail.

The first thing to note is the author’s intention to write this book as a story, hence the title of the book. He does not pretend to be a historian, and Hugh Johnson’s classic style of prose is unencumbered by footnotes, though there is a bibliography for each chapter. And as a story, it starts in the mists of time, and ends in the late 20th century, in the decades when Hugh is getting engrossed in the subject of wine. As such, the story is complete, and did not did to be updated since it was first written, he explains in his preface. Hmmm… that sounds like a pretty thin excuse to me, and I immediately spot some details in chapter 2 that could do with updating in the light of more recent archaeology, and I also consider how wine has changed in the last 30 years or so. But I could just about be prepared to treat it as a story on its own terms – a story reflecting its time of writing.

As for the subject matter of the book, I don’t think I could do better than reproduce the contents pages. (Try clicking on the image to make the text legible.)
If illustrations in a book are important to you, try to find an older edition – Google reveals there are still new copies kicking about waiting to be purchased. Otherwise, for sheer reading pleasure, I’d recommend you get this new Academie du Vin Library edition.

Edit: Well, some time after writing this review I did start reading the book again. But I did not get far. I found Johnson’s expansive prose rather annoying, and would have much prepared something terser that concentrated on facts, rather than scene-setting. However, as mentioned above, maybe this is just me. Judge for yourself whether you are like me or not.

Sherry: Maligned, Misunderstood, Magnificent! – book review

Sherry: Maligned, Misunderstood, Magnificent! by Ben Howkins, is published by Academie du Vin Library. The headline price is £23 from both Amazon and direct from the publisher, but at the publisher’s you can use this £3 discount code: WINENOUS3. I’ll leave it to you to juggle shipping charges against any possible in-principle objections to Amazon. Mine was a review copy.

In a couple of sentences…  It’s an attractive book, both visually and tactually, and if you like an easy-going style of writing I think you’ll enjoy it. It covers a broad range of topics and, irrespective of other factors, will be of particular interest to anyone who wants to know more about the trend towards en rama styles and the new generation of boutique bodegas.

The book is 240 x 170 mm, and comprises 223 sides on a heavy glossy paper, in high-quality soft covers. The pages are nicely bound, so the book will open flat, and comfortably stay open. From a sample so far of two, the quality of the binding, seems to be common to all the Academie du Vin Library publications. These may sound like superficial details, but I am increasingly realising that a book’s touch and feel is important – in the same way perhaps that a wine glass is to the wine it contains.

The book is well-illustrated in colour throughout, the illustrations complementing the text without being too intrusive. But as usual with most wine books, I found the maps lacking – I think there was only one created for the book, and it had little detail. Old maps were also reproduced in places, but were so small as to be impossible to read. On the positive side from a practical point of view, the book did at least have a decent index.

The major topics covered are: history, vineyards, wine styles, and bodegas. Those are followed by a miscellaneous group of smaller chapters on various subjects: Ruiz-Mateos (the man who broke the Sherry bank), the general culture of the region, non-local cultural references to Sherry, tasting and tasting notes, related food and drink, and finally a collection of reflections on Sherry from 50 wine notables.

The author aptly describes his book as “a personal take on the current sherry scene”, seemingly contrasting it with “Julian Jeffs’ classic book Sherry“. I see what he means. Jeffs’ book is indeed excellent in its scholarship and detail, and Howkins is wise not to attempt to emulate it. Nevertheless, in my 2016 review of Jeffs’ book I did note that it failed to communicate the current excitement for Sherry. Also there was no mention by Jeff of the trend towards en rama bottlings, and only slight coverage of the newer boutique bodegas. Howkins’ book certainly addresses well all of those aspects.

But what is implied by what he says is his “personal take”? Well, he has spent a lifetime in the wine trade, including a period working specifically with Sherry, and that gives him rich insights into developments in the region over the last 50 years or so and, through personal contacts, further back into the 20th century. It also gives him a good understanding of attitudes to Sherry in its export markets. However, one thing that struck me, was that this perspective is rather privileged, as there are numerous stories of being entertained by owners and directors of Sherry companies – glasses of Sherry in meetings, late and long lunches, late and long dinners, home visits, flamenco evenings, bullfights.

Don’t get me wrong – the experiences are interesting and entertaining, as Howkins writes well, and it gives a good insight into how Sherry fits in with that kind of lifestyle. But my recent personal experience of Sherry as a tourist in Sanlúcar, was very different. I found that Manzanilla, while important, was viewed by locals as a rather ordinary everyday experience. I was told they used it for cooking, and you could buy it in any bar very cheaply. But each bar and restaurant I came across obtained all its wine from a single bodega and, while delicious, they were all basic level wines, so the vast range of exciting Sherry styles and bodegas mentioned in the book was not readily available to me. I am not complaining, as I had a good holiday, but it was not the wine-geek and cultural nirvana the book might lead one to expect.

When I started reading I was a bit unsure about the book, as I think I am naturally more attuned to Jeffs’ drier formal writing, rather than Howkins’ prose that is more relaxed, wordy and effusive. But as I continued, I got more and more into the style and subject matter, really enjoying the Sherry company chapters, and especially the one on boutique bodegas. I also found it very interesting to learn more about the cream styles of Sherry, which tend to get overlooked in more recent accounts. I was aware of Harvey’s Bristol Cream, and must have drunk a few glasses in my time, but had no idea how important that one brand was to the British wine trade, and to the Sherry region.

After the bodega chapters however, I thought they got more piecemeal, disconnected, and of variable interest. In particular, I really did not understand the need for the final chapter of 50 personal reflections on Sherry. Each piece individually may have been interesting, but after the first 20 or so, many started to sound a bit samey.

Despite its weak finish, the book’s engaging mid-palate literally whetted my appetite for Sherry, and led me to crack open a half-bottle of Manzanilla brought back from Sanlúcar. I think the author would mark that down as a success.

Subjectivity is not to be sniffed at

“Any fool can have a subjective opinion about wine” is one of the arguments I occasionally see in favour of objectivity in winetasting, and that can be followed by “but experts have invested a lot of time in learning to taste objectively”. There are so many assumptions built into that line of argument I hardly know where to start, but my main counter-argument would be that objectivity in winetasting simply does not exist. However, here I would like to focus on debunking the idea that subjective views are necessarily trivial and to be lightly dismissed. We subjectivists do not all take a swig of wine that hardly touches the sides, and immediately pronounce on its quality.

For me, the ideal person to assess a wine is someone who acknowledges the subjectivity of taste, and yet is happy to give an opinion nevertheless. That person would understand the objective properties of wine, i.e. its physical properties and chemical composition, but also know how those elements translate into the perception of flavour, depending on the environment and individual differences. And of course personal preferences.

In its simplest form, a subjective approach might not be too dissimilar to what is thought to be objective tasting, according to the WSET Systematic Approaches to Tasting Wine for example, but without claiming any objectivity in the final quality assessment. The taster might also like to comment on their sensitivity to the different dimensions of the wine, and how factors other than the wine itself might be influencing its perception.  Of course this is not easy – in fact it is very difficult to do well. But that is really my main point here. A serious subjective approach to winetasting is far from trivial. If anything, the problem is that it is too complex if done well. But that is no excuse for us to stick our heads in the sand and pretend the complexities don’t exist.

Finally, I would add that I think it is important for the taster to say how much they actually enjoy drinking the wine. To me, a quality score, perhaps arrived at by totting up the scores for intensity, balance, persistence etc, is pretty meaningless, and I’d much rather know a taster’s finger-in-the-air feeling about a wine. That is how I score wines, and to be honest I sometimes find that subjective assessments can be hard to arrive at. With conventional wines from classic regions it is a lot easier, because you know more what to expect, and you understand your preferences a lot better. But with more weird stuff (natural wines, I am mainly looking at you) I find it can be more difficult to decide. The problem is in being able to understand the good and enjoyable aspects of an unexpected wine, and when one would best drink it. For example which dishes to match it with. Occasionally I find that a wine that seems promising on initial tasting does not work that well with food, and vice-versa, and established wisdom and accumulated experience with more-conventional wines does not always work.

But I usually get there in the end with my subjective opinion – if not before, then when deciding whether or not to buy more of the same wine.

(In the above, by concentrating on the complexity aspect of subjectivity I have ignored other important aspects. For more on subjectivity and wine, my World of Fine Wine article is a good place to start)

Goodbye landline – Hello VoIP

Apologies to wine enthusiasts – normal service will be restored as soon as possible – but this is an update to my 2012 post: Replacing a BT landline by VoIP. In brief, I have been and gone and done it.

After the flurry of activity back in 2012, there were several years of inaction, as I was a bit nervous about committing to VoIP, and my wife was not totally happy with VoIP line quality. We continued to have phones connected via Sipgate and Voipfone, but only used them occasionally, and for outgoing calls only.

ATA and Virgin Hub 3.0 – another great technical innovation of 2020 was the introduction of a labelling machine into the household

However there were a number of technical innovations in the Slatcher household. Not least, I was dragged screaming and kicking into the 21st century, and got myself a smartphone. This was significant because it meant I could call using VoIP also on my mobile, using the Zoiper app. And eventually, I moved from PAYG to unlimited UK calls for a small monthy charge, which made my landline even more redundant. In the meantime, my Virgin broadband speeds got faster and faster, and I ditched my old separate router to enable me to fully use that speed. Without the old router, my ATA stopped working, and at first I couldn’t be bothered to work out how to reconfigure it, so I had a cathartic clearing out of the rats-nest of redundant cables, boxes and phones. The ATA was moth-balled, and VoIP was Zoiper-only for a while.  But even though I was using it less and less, my landline provider (no longer BT) kept ratcheting up the line rental charges, so something had to be done.

A few months ago I resurrected my ATA, plugging it directly into my Virgin Hub 3.0 modem/router. It turned out to be not too difficult to get it working again with both Sipgate and Voipfone. When I looked afresh at the deals and service offered by those two companies, it seemed that their pros and cons were still pretty much as they were back in 2012. Voipfone would have been more expensive, with small monthly charges for a ported landline and multiple registrations, but it had excellent phone support. While Sipgate had no recurring charges for the same features, but support, while adequate, was email-only.  As I was by then less dependent on my old landline number working, I decided I could live with email support, and chose Sipgate as my main VoIP service provider – it was the one destined to host my old landline number, and to be the one hooked up to the main set of household phones.

The number porting went smoothly, so now the deed is done and everything is hunky-dory. The multiple registrations are a great feature, and mean that when someone calls our old landline number all the household phones ring, and also Zoiper on both our mobile phones. I also very much like the Sipgate voicemail system. All messages are emailed to me as mp3 attachements, which is so much handier than having to negotiate an answering machine or phone-based voicemail.

So far, so good.