A mixed case arrives from Corney & Barrow. My orders are to improvise so I pull out a bottle at random. Here it is. El Campesino, a 2013 Chardonnay (£7.13), from Chile, which has a full, direct flavour and a slightly bitter tang that cuts against the sweetness. The Dionysian experts who scour the earth on Corney & Barrow’s behalf describe it as ‘fresh’ and ‘modern’ but not ‘overly oaked’. That, I presume, is a reference to cheapskate vintners who chuck oak shavings into the barrel to enhance the flavour. No crime there, I’d say, if it produces results. Customising wine is as old as wine itself. The Romans used to lob all kinds of things into their plonk: honey and herbs, spring water, and even ice hauled down in blocks from the nearest mountain and stored underground. Today’s on-trend mixer is said to be Diet Coke.
Next up, Il Barroccio, Veneto, 2013 (£7.13), which looks too pallid to be a white. It’s almost clear, like vodka. Some antique prejudice tells me that a decent ‘white’ ought to be tawny yellow, like the border of a sepia photograph. I pour a big glass. Down it goes. Wallop. Quite a sharp crack. Perhaps ‘uncomplicated’ might be a kinder word. Easy enough to knock back, all the same, and if it weren’t for the others waiting I could happily sink the bottle and make a rousing speech in front of the mirror.
For choice, I prefer red. The full-bodied, tooth-staining, hangover-inducing quality appeals to my blokeish side. White is for wimps. I pull out Il Barroccio’s ruddy sibling made from the black grape of Sicily, Nero d’Avola (£7.13). I swish it around. A simple, inviting aroma. Down the little red lane it goes. Vroom. An instant impact but there’s not much complexity and it tastes better with a chunk of Parmesan.
Next, to France for another red. The Domaine de Saissac, Pays d’Oc, 2012 (£7.84) gets top marks for graphic design. The title of the wine dances across the label in lavish, artful swirls. The contents are pleasing enough, if perhaps a little insipid, so for contrast I take another glug of Il Barroccio which suddenly seems meatier, bloodier and more interesting.
Even better is the Casa Felipe Carmenère, a Chilean red from 2013 (£7.13), whose dark and potent flavours somehow remind me of thunderstorms. By far the best is the Puertas Antiguas Shiraz 2013 (£7.13), also from Chile, which is crammed with fruity richness. A truly lovely wine, at any price. But I can’t resist a spot of sacrilege. I half-fill a glass with the Shiraz and add an equal measure of Diet Coke. I lift the foaming cocktail to my lips, feeling a little Jekyll and Hyde-ish. Down the hatch. My palate records one its strangest ever encounters. It’s like drinking a mug of fizzy, lukewarm tea spiked with Night Nurse. I won’t do that again.