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The master blender

Published:  18 January, 2007

I have lately been made aware of the horror evinced by certain wine critics at the practice of adding soft drinks to wine.

I first came across this practice a little while after the Berlin Wall came unbricked when on my first trip to Romania with Giles MacDonagh, the Financial Times sybarite. We visited a midnight dive where the youngsters poured Pinot Noir into Coca Cola.

While cynics might opine that this does nothing for the Coke but smartens up the Pinot, I can only riposte that at least it helped the local vineyards. I have been a great fan of Romanian Pinot and, what is more, as it was my first introduction to its mixed role in young adult orgies, I was, I admit, a little shocked but fascinated.

But this is nothing to the gob-crunching chuckle I was unable to suppress when a New Zealand wine producer told me of the time an overseas importer who entertained him at a restaurant in Singapore paid the equivalent of 5,000 for a bottle of Chteau Petrus 1982 and poured out two glasses, handing one to the Kiwi while enhancing his own with Pepsi.

"I don't like the taste of red wine," the importer explained, making sure that everyone in the restaurant knew he had just splashed out five grand by prominently displaying the bottle on the table.

I have long advocated blending wine, though not with soft drinks. I remember a memorable dinner chez moi when I lived in Notting Hill, at which a South African Pinotage merged with a Languedoc Grenache, a Shiraz from the Barossa and a Uruguayan Tannat. (I forebore to go further and add a smidgen of Chilean Viognier. The secret to creating a masterpiece is knowing when to stop).

None of the wines was especially thrilling solo, but as an anonymous red in a large glass jug my melange perfectly accompanied a slightly spicy, hugely garlicky game casserole with chorizo and smoked ham chunks.

My eight guests, two of whom were what one might loosely call connoisseurs, were enchanted and, naturally, unable to pinpoint the wine's provenance, grape and, most interestingly of all, price (no constituent of the blend was remotely expensive but as an ensemble exhibited a rare and luxurious lan).

Impromptu vinous marriages, then, are not always disasters or cause for approbrium.

Malcolm Gluck, former wine columnist of The Guardian and best-selling author of the Superplonk titles, is a freelance writer