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Hugh Johnson: ‘I’ve formed a bond with Grillo and flirted with Verdicchio’

Sometimes, stepping out of your comfort zone is overrated.

I’d like to say we took advantage of the lockdown and its related commotion to do a stock-take, explore new avenues, turn over intriguing stones, widen and deepen our drinking, taking careful notes as we went. Sadly, no. I won’t say we got stuck in a rut, but we did tend to stick with comfort wines – and comfort, in our case, means familiar.

Regular readers of this quarterly column can probably guess the labels on the resulting empties. We have a wider range of comfort foods, I’m afraid, than comfort wines. Happily, professional duties deflect me from total monotony. I’m delighted to be seduced by something from the Cape, or lured away to the deep south of Italy. I’ve learned (or been reminded) that Aglianico is one of the great red varieties, that Syrah can be succulent in Sicily, that Spain has a lot more to offer than Tempranillo – and they can grow Pinot Noir in Patagonia, too. I’ve formed a bond with Grillo and flirted with Verdicchio. I’ve had a good conversation with Zinfandel, and Trollinger has caught my eye.

Riesling, of course, has always been in my Comfort Corner, but it comes in so many guises, from prickly to a deep massage, that it can’t get boring. Sylvaner has sometimes stood in for Chablis, and the Marsanne/Roussanne ménage for Chardonnay. In fact, if one region has been making Bordeaux jealous it is the Rhône, in all its parts, and realms adjacent. From considering Châteauneuf- du-Pape a wine for rich dishes on cold days, I’ve been meeting bottles of lively refreshment. And it doesn’t stop in Provence; it goes right down to the Spanish border. If there is any region I still struggle with it’s California, and after many years I’m convinced it’s the taste of the local market that departs from mine, rather than the climate and terroir.

Which bottles, then, have we in this house been emptying at speed? You’ve already guessed claret, and you’re right about the Médoc; Margaux and the southern half for light-heated delight, Pauillac for deeper meaning. The Right Bank when the smell from the stove is richest. Much less in numbers from Burgundy (Chablis apart; we need a pipeline from the Yonne), but more and more from Roussillon and neighbourhood, for white wines as well as red. Bubbly and Sherry compete as appetisers, with as many bubbles coming from this side of the Channel as the other.

That, I have to admit, is about the only change.

Hugh Johnson OBE is a world-renowned wine writer. This column first appeared in Decanter magazine’s June 2022 issue.

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