A whine about wine

I apologise to my regular readers who may have missed my column last week. A bad cold rendered me useless for wine tasting and although I did think about replacing my column with some hot toddy recipes, I ended up missing the deadline whilst pondering the idea of a wine rant instead of my usual review of something new or interesting on the market.

Loving wine as much as I do makes it all the more annoying for me when something gets my goat, so here, in no particular order, are my five principal gripes about wine.

When my glass is TOO full

Anyone who loves wine likes to swirl it around the glass and savour the aromas whilst enjoying a good meal; something that is not possible when a glass is overfilled (above between 1/3 and 1/5 of its capacity depending on the size of the glass).

But there are still so many restaurants out there where the staff is obviously instructed to deposit as much wine as possible into guests’ glasses in the hope that they will consume it faster and order another bottle.

I often reprimand waiters for this practice, in many cases refusing their wine service for a remainder of a meal and taking charge myself.


I understand how important it is to Portugal’s economy, as the world’s largest exporter of cork, but I remain firmly of the opinion that the cork should be used as a stopper only on premium wines that are destined for longer than average bottle-ageing, in which case the cork producers can justify charging more money to ensure, through a rigorous selection process, that the risk of cork taint is all but eliminated.

The screw cap may lack the charm and deprive us of the sense of occasion of popping a cork but it is without a doubt the most cost effective and efficient method of sealing a glass bottle for the consumption of a liquid.

I am not at all fond of synthetic corks but did recently see a bottle sealed with a glass stopper, probably not a cheap option but without a doubt the most attractive option other than real cork.

They say that today the proportion of wine spoiled by cork taint is around one in 20 bottles, a significant improvement over just a few years ago when it was closer to one in 10.

I will admit to being particularly sensitive to the essence and flavour of rotten cork rendering my wine undrinkable, but I find it hard to accept that with all the technology at our disposal these days, nobody has found a cost effective way of eliminating the problem. I say, bring on the screw tops.

Over-oaking and insufficient information on wine labels

The French are excluded from this gripe as anyone buying French wine should at least have a basic knowledge of what is produced and how in each region. But that said, they are generally better at making wine than other countries and generally not guilty of over-oaking.

My gripe here is mostly with the new world but Portugal is also an offender. The tendency of over-oaking wines that would have best been left to ferment and age in stainless steel is finally starting to die out in Europe. But the Australians and the Americans who set a trend that was embraced by many of Portugal’s producers are still at it, making wines that taste not so much of grapes but of wood.

I am all for the careful use of oak in white wines of sufficient concentration and particularly in tannin rich reds where the use of oak is essential. But when browsing the shelves of a wine shop or supermarket, I want to know before I buy a wine if it has been oaked or not.

Overcharging in restaurants

My gripe here is not at the top of market where restaurant owners invest in quality glass-wear, well-stocked cellars and possibly a trained sommelier, adding to the customers’ enjoyment of the overall wine experience and justifying the mark-ups on the wine they sell. My problem is with everyday restaurants that stock nothing more than a few bottles of plonk, serve it in a poor excuse for a wine glass and still charge mark-ups of 300% or more.

Lack of Algarve wines at restaurants

I often wonder if most of the Algarve’s restaurant owners are fast asleep when it comes to the great opportunity on their doorsteps. Today, it would be quite possible to put together a fairly decent wine list containing nothing other than Algarve wines.

From east to west we have over 20 wineries, all producing good wines and many of them exceptional.

The Algarve has emerged over the last 10 years as a serious wine-making region within Portugal, but most restaurants have only one or maybe two producers represented on their wine lists, vastly outnumbered by wines from other Portuguese regions.

It is the Algarve’s restaurants that must lead the way in gaining the Algarve’s wine producers the recognition they deserve.

By PATRICK STUART [email protected]