I am often asked why I don’t write about wine more on this blog, considering the fact that I drink so much of the stuff. Well, that’s because I only drink wine to get pissed.
Only kidding. In the past year or so I’ve been making a real effort to tackle the vast topic head-on but in doing so found something rather unexpected waiting for me: fear. I had identified the problem as akin to standing on the edge of a huge cliff, looking out into a vast sea of information; the bit I already knew was a little speck on the distant horizon. When I came down to the real business of it though, I felt a different kind of intimidation: a fear of the ‘wine world’ in general. There seems to me to be a lot of old guff surrounding rituals of opening, tasting and being ‘qualified’ to even talk about wine, like some of the people involved are trying really hard to make the subject more complicated than it is, with the apparent aim of making themselves feel a bit more important. Are you getting the impression this annoys me yet? Yes it does.
In the past year or so however, I’ve met people who have the exact opposite intentions, who are trying to make wine more accessible, as it should be. These people include my friends Kate Thal, owner of Green and Blue Wines; Dan Coward from Bibendum; Rob McIntosh from the Wine Conversation; Ryan and Gabriella Opaz from Catavino and the other wine lovers you’ll find on my blogroll, including Andrew Barrow, who invited me down to Brightwell Vineyard for my first foray into the world of English wines.
These people also encouraged me to attend the recent European Wine Bloggers’ Conference, in Lisbon. Now that’s what I call throwing yourself in at the deep end. As I set off on my adventure, I counted my lucky stars that a few weeks beforehand, a group of us had a tutoring session on the basics at Bibendum, where I’d stocked up on a few points of reference from the bigger picture. It’s all very well tasting wines from a certain region but if you don’t have any knowledge base to slot them into then you are pretty much screwed. Since then I’ve been tasting, tasting, tasting and feeling slightly more confident that I could take something useful away from the conference.
I’ve decided to use this post to record a few things I’ve learnt. Hopefully this might be useful to someone else out there who finds themselves in the same position. Writing it has also had a remarkably cathartic effect for me. So here we have it, 10 things I’ve realised about wine…
1. Swirling the wine around in the glass before tasting is purely to get more air in contact with more surface area of wine and therefore increase your chances of picking up any subtleties. Examining the behaviour of the wine on the sides of the glass after doing so, or attempting to assess its ‘legs’ is mostly of no value, except perhaps to get an idea of the alcohol content. More alcohol = more viscous wine. You can of course, hold it up or against something like a white tablecloth, to get a good eyeful of the colour.
2. Just because someone else can pick up a certain flavour or aroma from a wine, it doesn’t mean you have to (and vice versa). We’ve all been there – the person next to you is all, “I’m definitely getting petrol on the nose” and you sniff and sniff, desperately searching for a hint of forecourt only to conclude that your nostrils are Neanderthals. It’s all subjective. I wouldn’t doubt myself when tasting food for example, regardless of whether anyone else is getting a finish of Stilton from the fat on their rib-eye; I know what I taste. Believe.
3. Don’t be afraid to have a good old chew on it once you’ve got it in your gob. Some people do that sucking thing, the idea of which is to coat as much of your tongue as possible to enhance your tasting experience. I’ve developed a sort of half suck, half chew, swilling it around in there as much as I can and generally trying not to worry about what other people are thinking.
4. Smelling the cork is a complete waste of time.
5. I have discovered that I can tell when a wine is corked. It basically smells like walking into a damp basement; a bit musty. Sometimes it smells only slightly musty, and this is when it is only slightly corked. Ta da!
6. Palate fatigue can be a problem. After tasting 18 wines for example, as we did on one occasion at EWBC, the untrained palate simply gets tired out and gives up. Everything starts to taste the same. It is at this point that a person needs bubbles; a person needs beer. There’s a damn good reason we drank so much Bock.
7. You I need to face up to the fact that spitting wine out is part of tasting.
8. Charles Metcalfe is a famous wine critic (and a thoroughly charming chap), who is also famous for enjoying a little sing. I honestly had no idea. Here is a (very bad quality) video of him singing at the EWBC. I think this is a must-know fact, personally…
9. If you work in the world of wine, be nice and don’t take yourself too seriously. See above.
10. EWBC is definitely worth the trip if you are a blogger at any stage of your wine adventures. Ryan and Gabriella Opaz and Rob McIntosh put a huge amount of work into organising the event and I think they should be congratulated on its success.
I would like to thank all of them for putting up with an ignorant food blogger who is trying her best to learn. I would also like to say a huge thank you to Dan from Bibendum who had provided some amazing tastings for bloggers, and never tires of encouraging us to get involved. Cheers!