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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

Paul McMillan
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"We're an easy target": how a Tory manifesto pledge will tear families apart

Under current rules, bringing your foreign spouse to the UK is a luxury reserved for those earning £18,600 a year or more. The Tories want to make it even more exclusive. 

Carolyn Matthew met her partner, George, in South Africa sixteen years ago. She settled down with him, had kids, and lived like a normal family until last year, when they made the fateful decision to move to her hometown in Scotland. Matthew, 55, had elderly parents, and after 30 years away from home she wanted to be close to them. 

But Carolyn nor George - despite consulting a South African immigration lawyer – did not anticipate one huge stumbling block. That is the rule, introduced in 2012, that a British citizen must earn £18,600 a year before a foreign spouse may join them in the UK. 

“It is very dispiriting,” Carolyn said to me on the telephone from Bo’ness, a small town on the Firth of Forth, near Falkirk. “In two weeks, George has got to go back to South Africa.” Carolyn, who worked in corporate complaints, has struggled to find the same kind of work in her hometown. Jobs at the biggest local employer tend to be minimum wage. George, on the other hand, is an engineer – yet cannot work because of his holiday visa. 

To its critics, the minimum income threshold seems nonsensical. It splits up families – including children from parents – and discriminates against those likely to earn lower wages, such as women, ethnic minorities and anyone living outside London and the South East. The Migration Observatory has calculated that roughly half Britain’s working population would not meet the requirement. 

Yet the Conservative party not only wishes to maintain the policy, but hike the threshold. The manifesto stated:  “We will increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas.” 

Initially, the threshold was justified as a means of preventing foreign spouses from relying on the state. But tellingly, the Tory manifesto pledge comes under the heading of “Controlling Immigration”. 

Carolyn points out that because George cannot work while he is visiting her, she must support the two of them for months at a time without turning to state aid. “I don’t claim benefits,” she told me. “That is the last thing I want to do.” If both of them could work “life would be easy”. She believes that if the minimum income threshold is raised any further "it is going to make it a nightmare for everyone".

Stuart McDonald, the SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, co-sponsored a Westminster Hall debate on the subject earlier this year. While the Tory manifesto pledge is vague, McDonald warns that one option is the highest income threshold suggested in 2012 - £25,700, or more than the median yearly wage in the East Midlands. 

He described the current scheme as “just about the most draconian family visa rules in the world”, and believes a hike could affect more than half of British citizens. 

"Theresa May is forcing people to choose between their families and their homes in the UK - a choice which most people will think utterly unfair and unacceptable,” he said.  

For those a pay rise away from the current threshold, a hike will be demoralising. For Paul McMillan, 25, it is a sign that it’s time to emigrate.

McMillan, a graduate, met his American girlfriend Megan while travelling in 2012 (the couple are pictured above). He could find a job that will allow him to meet the minimum income threshold – if he were not now studying for a medical degree.  Like Matthew, McMillan’s partner has no intention of claiming benefits – in fact, he expects her visa would specifically ban her from doing so. 

Fed up with the hostile attitude to immigrants, and confident of his options elsewhere, McMillan is already planning a career abroad. “I am going to take off in four years,” he told me. 

As for why the Tories want to raise the minimum income threshold, he thinks it’s obvious – to force down immigration numbers. “None of this is about the amount of money we need to earn,” he said. “We’re an easy target for the government.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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