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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

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Justin Trudeau points the way forward for European politics

Is the charismatic Canadian Prime Minister modelling the party of the future?

Six months after Canadian election day, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party continues to bask in the glow of victory. With 44 per cent of support in the polls, the Liberals are the most popular party amongst every single demographic – men and women, young and old, and people of all educational backgrounds. 

While most European mainstream parties only dream of such approval, this is actually a small dip for the Liberals. They were enjoying almost 50 per cent support in the polls up until budget day on 21 March. Even after announcing $29.4 billion in deficit spending, Canadians overall viewed the budget favourably – only 34 per cent said they would vote to defeat it.

Progressives around the world are suddenly intrigued by Canadian politics. Why is Justin Trudeau so successful?

Of course it helps that the new Prime Minister is young, handsome and loves pandas (who doesn’t?) But it’s also true that he was leader of the Liberals for a year and half before the election. He brought with him an initial surge in support for the party. But he also oversaw its steady decline in the lead up to last year’s election – leadership is important, but clearly it isn’t the only factor behind the Liberals’ success today.

Context matters

As disappointing as it is for Europeans seeking to unpack Canadian secrets, the truth is that a large part of the Liberals’ success was also down to the former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s extreme unpopularity by election time.

Throughout almost ten years in power, Harper shifted Canada markedly to the right. His Conservative government did not just alter policies; it started changing the rules of the democratic game. While centre-right governments in Europe may be implementing policies that progressives dislike, they are nonetheless operating within the constraints of democratic systems (for the most part; Hungary and Poland are exceptions).

Which is why the first weeks of the election campaign were dominated by an ‘Anybody But Harper’ sentiment, benefitting both the Liberals and the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP was even leading the polls for a while, inviting pundits to consider the possibility of a hung parliament.

But eight days before election day, the Liberals began to pull ahead.

The most important reason – and why they continue to be so popular today – is that they were able to own the mantle of ‘change’. They were the only party to promise running a (small) deficit and invest heavily in infrastructure. Notably absent was abstract discourse about tackling inequality. Trudeau’s plan was about fairness for the middle class, promoting social justice and economic growth.

Democratic reform was also a core feature of the Liberal campaign, which the party has maintained in government – Trudeau appointed a new Minister of Democratic Institutions and promised a change in the voting system before the next election.

The change has also been in style, however. Justin Trudeau is rebranding Canada as an open, progressive, plural society. Even though this was Canada’s reputation pre-Harper, it is not as simple as turning back the clock.

In a world increasingly taken by populist rhetoric on immigration – not just by politicians like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and other right-wingers, but also increasingly by mainstream politicians of right and left – Justin Trudeau has been unashamedly proclaiming the benefits of living in a diverse, plural society. He repeatedly calls himself a feminist, in the hope that one day “it is met with a shrug” rather than a social media explosion. Live-streamed Global Town Halls are one part of a renewed openness with the media. Progressive politicians in Europe would do well to take note.

Questioning the role of political parties today

Another interesting development is that the Liberal party is implicitly questioning the point of parties today. It recently abolished fee-paying, card-carrying party members. While this has been met with some criticism regarding the party’s structure and integrity, with commentators worried that “it’s the equivalent of turning your party into one giant Facebook page: Click ‘Like’ and you’re in the club,” it seems this is the point.

Colin Horgan, one of Trudeau’s former speechwriters, explains that Facebook is “literally a treasure trove for political parties”. All kinds of information becomes available – for free; supporters become easier to contact.

It was something the Liberals were already hinting at two years ago when they introduced a ‘supporters’ category to make the party appear more open. Liberal president Anna Gainey also used the word “movement” to describe what the Liberals hope to be.

And yes, they are trying to win over millennials. Which proved to be a good strategy, as a new study shows that Canadians aged 18-25 were a key reason why the Liberals won a majority. Young voter turnout was up by 12 per cent from the last election in 2011; among this age group, 45 per cent voted for the Liberals.

Some interesting questions for European progressives to consider. Of course, some of the newer political parties in Europe have already been experimenting with looser membership structures and less hierarchical ways of engaging, like Podemos’ ‘circles’ in Spain and the Five Star Movement’s ‘liquid democracy’ in Italy.

The British centre-left may be hesitant after its recent fiasco. Labour opened up its leadership primary to ‘supporters’ and ended up with a polarising leader who is extremely popular amongst members, but unpopular amongst the British public. But it would be wrong to assume that the process was to blame.

The better comparison is perhaps to Emmanuel Macron, France’s young economy minister who recently launched his own movement ‘En Marche !’ Moving beyond the traditional party structure, he is attempting to unite ‘right’ and ‘left’ by inspiring French people with an optimistic vision of the future. Time will tell whether this works to engage people in the longer term, or at least until next year’s presidential election.

In any case, European parties could start by asking themselves: What kind of political parties are they? What is the point of them?

Most importantly: What do they want people to think is the point of them?

Ultimately, the Canadian Liberals’ model of success rests on three main pillars:

  1. They unambiguously promote and defend a progressive, open, plural vision of society.
  2. They have a coherent economic plan focused on social justice and economic growth which, most importantly, they are trusted to deliver.
  3. They understand that society has changed – people are more interconnected than ever, relationships are less hierarchical and networks exist online – and they are adapting a once rigid party structure into a looser, open movement to reflect that.

*And as a bonus, a young, charismatic leader doesn’t hurt either.

Claudia Chwalisz is a Senior Policy Researcher at Policy Network, a Crook Public Service Fellow at the University of Sheffield and author of The Populist Signal: Why Politics and Democracy Need to Change