I'm a bit of a foodie. I like a good restaurant and I feel I straddle the divide between traditional gastronomy and experimental laboratory cooking. One of my favourite, and conveniently local, restaurants is The Peat Inn. A one Michelin star restaurant where the chef, Geoffrey Smeddle, cooks beautifully elegant dishes in a classic style. Sure he adds foams and strange twists to his dishes, but the bottom line is that he is more of a classical chef and I've never eaten a more tastier Grouse anywhere in the world!
I've also eaten at Noma in Copenhagen, and thoroughly enjoyed the Reindeer moss and bone marrow caramels that were placed in front of me. I love the Willy Wonka mentality of the creators of these gastronomic experiments and am desperate to get to The Fat Duck to see the wonders that Heston Blumenthal has created. I am happy in either style of restaurant, and although I am unlikely to start messing around with dry ice in my own kitchen, seeing what Noma did has encouraged me to be more experimental in my own cooking.
It appears that a lot of people, who may have never been to a restaurant like Noma, are similarly opening their eyes to the fun that food can be. Putting popping candy in pastry or triple cooking chips is growing in popularity, and the Heston Blumenthal range of products in Waitrose simply fly off the shelves as people are eager to try strange versions of traditional foods. So why, when it comes to booze, are we so closed minded?
There are a few opinions held by the general public that I believe need to change when it comes to buying alcohol. The first is whisky buyers that hold onto the annoying opinion that age is important. As more and more distilleries are producing malts with no age statement, creating a house style of young and old malts mixed together so the customer has a consistent style (like non vintage Champagne), there is still a resistance to buying them, with people thinking that a malt has to be a minimum of ten years old to be any good. Another thing that bugs me is when people insist on single varietal wines and immediately rule out anything that is blended as being sub-standard (Lafite anyone?). And the final thing is that a wine has to have a vintage on it.
Certainly, vintages are important to investment wines and traditional wine regions, but for every day drinking wine, does it really matter? If a winemaker has reserves of a great year that he wants to put into a poorer year to make a good wine, what is wrong with doing this? Even the top Bordeaux producers are allowed to put 15% of a previous year's wine into their new release and not declare it. Yet if a producer is honest and says "I've put 20% of 2007 into 2008", he cannot declare a vintage on the label and he runs the risk of the wine being thought of as cheap and not worth drinking. I found myself doing this just the other day when I was presented with a cheap red wine without a vintage. The wine was awful, but it wasn't because of the fact that it was multi-vintage, it was because the wine was badly made.
"... great wines are made in the vineyard, which is rubbish..."
And then I tried a wine at the Specialist Independent Traders Tasting (SITT) in Manchester and found that the most interesting thing to pass my lips that day was a non vintage still wine. Le Mas des Masques Silex Chardonnay was from Provence, and it was weird and brilliantly fun! Nutty and with some onion skin and old Chardonnay fruit aromas, it was as if someone had taken these aromas and poured it over sandstone and then sniffed it. A lot of ginger skin, then some salty aromas and a bit of pepper emerge from the palate. Oak is there, but it is older oak - not a big vanilla fest. This bundle of wood meets with some pineapple skin and dry honey on the finish. A fantastically fun wine, it is like a good, old Burgundy with a sprinkling of pepper on it. (93pts, £15 from SWiG)
I don't think that producers or consumers are going to embrace the idea of non-vintage wine any time soon, but in un-regulated regions, I can think of worse things to do than create really good tasting wines by blending vintages together. Winemakers claim that great wines are made in the vineyard, which is rubbish. Great grapes are grown in the vineyards, but wine is made by man and to a recipe that they choose, so what is wrong with being a little adventurous. If leaving things alone was the key to great produce, we'd be eating raw lettuce in Michelin starred restaurants, so winemakers of the world, embrace the inner Heston and get creative!