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Brace yourself for seven days of Super Tuscans

An enoteca in Spitalfields, east London, will be selling a different Tuscan red by the glass each day, with dishes to match.

Image: Bridgeman Art Library

They call it vino da tavola: table wine, the basest of denominations. Which prompts the question: what really, in the context of one’s dinner, is wrong with a wine that’s fit for the table? Labelling your wine vino da tavola is the vinous equivalent of calling your neighbour a peasant: breeding, not personality, is the criterion.

Marchese Piero Antinori’s vino da tavola was a prince in disguise. Antediluvian rules forbade sullying the great Tuscan red grape Sangiovese with international upstarts such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, yet pure Sangiovese was also forbidden: at least 10 per cent of the wine had to be local white varieties. In 1971, Antinori marketed a Sangiovese blended with 20 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, opting out of the DOC – equivalent to the French quality classification appellation d’origine contrôlée – to do so. Antinori may be a marchese (an Italian marquess)whose family has been in the winemaking business since the 14th century, but like any good peasant he has more respect for his crops than for his masters.

Antinori’s Tignanello was the second of the ripe yet structured wonderwines that became known as Super Tuscans – the first, Sassicaia, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc (no Sangiovese in it at all), was the creation of his uncle, and surely anyone who rejoices in the personal appellation Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta can be trusted to know the value, or not, of a name.

The category Super Tuscan has certainly become vastly valuable. A Sassicaia 2010 will set you back over £100; Lea & Sandeman has a bottle of Tignanello 2010 for £75. The good news is that these are wines to age, so by the time you open one you may have forgotten what it cost.

The wines are now such stars that the rules have been altered to accommodate them, and they have a DOC, Bolgheri, of their own. It is Chianti Classico, also from Tuscany that is now up and coming, though this most ancient of wines makes for a funny kind of oick. Yet the old order gives way to the new – that, at least, never changes – and the new order is an Enoteca in Spitalfields, east London, owned by Nick Grossi, who is half Italian and so fond of Super Tuscans that he named his place after them. From 28 April to 2 May, he will be attempting to get round their major drawback – bile-inducing prices – by opening a different Super Tuscan each day and selling it by the glass, with a dish to match. The food is all meat, of one kind or another: the distinctive white Chianina cows of Tuscany may have been ousted by the world’s growing passion for the region’s wines but the two certainly go well together on the tavola.

Prices start as low as a Super Tuscan served in a restaurant can. On Monday, there’ll be Pometti Toscana 2007 at £7.95 a glass – pretty good, for a softly mushroomy wine that complements tagliatelle and kid-goat ragù. Tuesday’s Petra Zingari 2011 has a pleasingly sour redcurrant tang; on Wednesday, you can try Tenuta San Guido Le Difese 2011 (from the very vineyard that produces Sassicaia), a terrific wine with the green perfume of bay leaves and a price tag a tenth that of its celebrated sibling.

Thursday is a favourite of mine: Tenuta dell’Ornellaia’s entry-level wine Le Volte. It’s £11.95 a glass, with the ping of early blackberries and the softness of ermine. Talking of ermine, on Friday Nick will open Tignanello Antinori 2009, at a piffling £37.95 a glass: worth it for such rich, mouth-filling gorgeousness – but with such structure that I abandoned my accompanying veal stew as a distraction.

Winemaking, like small restaurant businesses, needs flexibility to thrive. Just like Antinori forty years ago, Grossi is bending a rule or two (you’re not supposed to sell £125.50-a-bottle wine by the glass) but I reckon those marchesi would thoroughly approve.

Next week: Felicity Cloake on food

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 09 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Anxiety nation

Photo: Getty
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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.