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Painful Tasting and Writing

Am I simply getting old? Our 2006 Rhône offer is coming together but it's been more of a slog than usual. I have, thus far, written 3.5 offers and have been underwhelmed by all of them.

Choosing the wines has been the easy part: more of a case of what to leave out than what to include, as we tasted so many that are worthy of cellaring by the Bowes Wine faithful. The problem lies in how to communicate their qualities whilst avoiding boring everyone to tears. It has to be readable, punchy and, if possible, mildly humorous. Maybe my funny bone's having a limp moment, but when I reread some of what I've written, I've been finding my own attention wandering, which suggests that catatonia might ensue should the words ever find their way into the consciousness of others. Progress, however, is now being made. I am really excited about these wines. Quality and value are like nothing else on earth.

I broke from brain-wracking to visit London this week. Two tastings drew me Capital-wards: the annual champagne tasting at Banqueting House in Whitehall and a tasting titled France Under One Roof, for which Lord's cricket ground in St John's Wood is home.

The champagne tasting is a marathon for taste buds and teeth alike. A large room is taken over by importers whose stalls line the perimeter of the room. In the centre of the space are two large tables, themed Vintage and Non-vintage and it is these table that attract the majority of the attention. Non-vintage wines were labelled 1-49, so you can get some idea of the enormity of the task in hand. It was this table on which I focussed. And I was pleasantly surprised. There were remarkably few complete dogs, a great many acceptable wines and some real surprises: little known houses offering entry level wines of real class and distinction. Do watch this space, as one or more may well turn up on our drinking wine offers in future.

I tasted 59 wines in all that day and the pain of it was not inconsiderable. You see, the acidity in wine softens the enamel of the teeth. It is well known that one should avoid brushing one's dentistry for at least a couple of hours after tasting wine as one can effectively scrub off this protective layer. Two hours for a champagne tasting, however, is nowhere near long enough and brushing that evening, I incurred the wrath of my gnashers. They still hurt, three days later. Champagne's naturally a very acidic wine; it is, after all, made from under-ripe grapes. And the under-ripeness of 59 samples is making itself felt.

France Under One Roof is a scrum of a thing. Focus, taster, or one will feel as though one's taste buds have been run over by a herd of Cape buffalo. I was there, predominantly, looking for some delicious reds for our drinking wine list and sampled not a few. And yes, each sample made my teeth feel as though I had bitten into that unseen bit of tin foil wrapper that so often manages to conceal itself about a Kit-Kat bar. I tasted hard for four hours and then retired hurt.

I know that to the layman wine merchanting often appears to be no more than the pleasurable extension of a favourite hobby. But there are intense periods of hard work, dear reader. Of that I assure you.
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