Wednesday, 30 November 2011

A+ Australian Wine One Day Wine School

Five in the morning is far too early to be getting up and thinking about wine, but this is what I found myself doing this week courtesy of an invitation to one of Wine Australia's inaugural 'A+' One Day Wine Schools in London, as set up in conjunction with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust.

I was unsure about how to do a write up for this as a day. Nick Stock, one of the guest speakers (the  others being Andrew Jefford and Tim Atkin MW) was on Twitter earlier and described it as 'epic,' which is no overstatement. If there is any criticism at all it is about the level of ambition. Fitting so much into one day was always going to be difficult, and when you add guest speakers that encourage the audience to challenge them with questions and in turn enjoy answering, then a packed day becomes even more so. This blog post is about the day itself, rather than the wine, which I'll talk about another time.

After the introductions the first main speaker was Andrew Jefford, who treated us to a lecture which, I assume, is a first glance into what his forthcoming book on Australia must go into in unparalleled depth. It was a more detailed examination of Australian climate and geology than in the WSET diploma, and so not for the faint hearted, but superbly presented and illustrated - with plenty of information provided for us all to digest at our leisure afterwards.

The focus of the day was how wine is being re-assessed in Australia, and how there is a movement away from wine as a commodity and towards something genuinely invoking a feeling of place. Nick Stock suggested that during the first Australian wine boom exporters had 'forgotten to take the back-story' which left them struggling once people had tried those initial wines and then said 'What next?' This is why Andrew Jefford's lecture (and the information surrounding the wines later) was so geared towards terroir, the feeling being that Australia has proved itself time and again with regards to technology-driven fruit expression, and is now moving forward.

A great wine is always enhanced by a good atmosphere and good company. Australia House certainly provided the atmosphere, and the guests were great company. As a self-confessed wine geek I'd have been happy to pay the train fare just to sit and listen to these guys talk about Australian wine, but there was nearly fifty wines to taste too.


If anyone in the wine trade is interested is even vaguely interested in how Australia is pushing itself forward as a home of something more than supermarket wine, then I would highly recommend you try to get on this course. Even if Australia isn't your thing then it is fascinating to see something that is now coming to light, and it will be interesting to see if other countries follow suit. There are lots of great books and writing about the 'Classic' wine regions. but this is in many ways a whole new discovery, and it is that freshness that makes it inspiring.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Marramiero 'Inferi' 2003

This one's a bit of a blast from the past, and a blast it is. It used to be an old Oddbins staff favourite. One of those wines that used to be talked about on the company grape-vine (sorry, couldn't think of another phrase) before it came into the warehouse and invariably fought over by the managers who wanted allocation for their 'customers.' This really meant it was snapped up by staff on pay-day, if not delivery day, and customers' chances of getting to try some was rather less.

It's a Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, a big ripe inky wine, coming in at a whopping 14% alcohol. Even having mellowed a little over the years since I bought it the tannins are still grippy and there is still masses of black cherry fruit, tempered by smoky vanilla and spicy oak.

I'm sure some might argue that it's a bit load, and all this barrique ageing and fruit is too international a style, but I've always enjoyed this - and I think it's still got enough of an Italian accent to be proud of, rather than disrespectful to, its heritage.

One I've had for a while, probably somewhere around £15, although I'm not sure who stocks it now. If you see it, grab some, but don't be afraid to let it cellar.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Notes on Notes

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it's normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through. - Ira Glass

Writing good tasting notes, by which I mean ones that people will relate to, understand, and be informed and entertained by, to the point where they will keep coming back and reading more, is a creative process. Like any other creative work, it isn't easy (hence the quote above). It's the old 'walk before you can run' cliché, and it's why I thought Victoria Moore's piece in the Telegraph back in September wasn't particularly helpful. I think she overlooked the fact that the Wine and Spirit Education Trust diploma course that she thought was so prosaic, and therefore dropped out of, was a matter of writing to demonstrate understanding of fundamental things  for an exam. It is a starting point. There is also a difference in a purely personal tasting, and tasting with an audience in mind. I doubt anybody at the WSET is suggesting that following their rigid guidelines is likely to get you a column in the Telegraph, but most of us, when we take our first tentative sips, need to have terms we can immediately relate to. When I am trying to get people to examine the flavours of wine for the first time, articulating their thoughts is invariably the most difficult part - they are usually convinced they're 'wrong'. I always tell people that tasting wine is a learned skill, there is nothing particularly difficult about it to start with, and once people practice as a matter of course they'll get better and enjoy a more rewarding experience.

To someone with a will to learn about, but not a knowledge of, wine, an expressive Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is a fantastic wine because the flavours are so up front and identifiable. A similar sort of thing can be seen with beer. Pointing out hoppy and malty flavours may not be that interesting to readers of beer blogs, but without knowing such fundamental style differences your tasting notes will never improve, and indeed sometimes overlooking the basics can be as bad as being unimaginative. There are parallels in other disciplines that rely on both the creative and the mechanical, not least beer and winemaking. It's perhaps stretching the point somewhat, but few would argue that there is no art or creativity in architecture and the architect certainly needs to know the building they are designing won't fall down. Picking out an American IPA and saying to a beer novice, 'try this, this is what a hoppy beer tastes like,' might lead to a similar revelation seen with 'try this, this is what wine people are on about when they say gooseberry flavours!'

Villa Maria 'Cellar Selection' Sauvignon Blanc was the first wine I remember ever remember feeling like I could in any way describe the flavours of - I picked it for a staff wine sales competition with Oddbins and won (although I am sure I had some help from sympathetic colleagues). Since then I have been working through the WSET qualifications - the prosaic mechanics of educating my palate - and I hope eventually to fight my way through to the point where my work is as good as my ambitions.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Masserian Pietrosa Verdeca 2009

One of the reasons wine is put forward by some as the world's greatest drink is the rich variety involved in the raw ingredient – the grape. In a discussion on which was 'better' wine or beer, the fact that Italy alone has over 1000 different native grape varieties was used as an argument that wine was more varied than beer. While this may be a legitimate point, if you have to be a geneticist and DNA profiler such as Dr José Vouillamoz, a contributor on the subject in the Oxford Companion to Wine to tell the difference then really that makes absolutely no difference at all to us as consumers. The point of all this? Well, this is a single varietal wine, made from Verdeca, which is a pretty obscure variety – it's not listed in Oz Clarke's book Grapes & Wines and its entry in the OCW doesn't run as far as flavour characteristics (it's actually more of a suggestion that it doesn't really have any.) The question is I suppose one of whether wines such as these represent a genuine case for preservation of obscure varieties on the grounds of taste rather than purely academic interest.

The wine itself is a lovely colour, pale gold with green hints. Lots of lime on the slightly floral nose. There's plenty of fresh green apple and lemon flavours. I also thought it had a pleasant texture, a slight oiliness but since it was backed up with a decent acidity, which must have been a worry with a Puglian white, it seemed to work.

I don't think that Verdeca is ever going to take the world by storm (not exactly sticking my neck out there) but given it is declining in popularity as a crop in Puglia, it would be a real shame if were to die out entirely. I have certainly had plenty of Italian white wines that are far less interesting than this.

£11.99 (75cl) from Delilah Fine Foods in Nottingham

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Pipe & Glass

I was glad to see that the Pipe and Glass in South Dalton, East Yorkshire won the Michelin Pub of the Year award. I was brought up near there and it's a pub I've been visiting on and off most of my life since my parents still live nearby.

While it's generally had a good reputation locally, in the last few years it's really kicked on from there; good Yorkshire beer, an excellent wine list and superb food, which has earned it a Michelin star - and it's our venue of choice for birthday dinners and other celebrations. It also has good vegetarian options which, importantly, don't leave you wanting a snack by the time you have got home.

Highly recommended if you're ever in that part of the world. Friendly and unpretentious, proper Yorkshire hospitality.

More in The Guardian.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Devil's Corner Pinot Noir 2010

As far as I can remember this is the first time I've tasted a Tasmanian Pinot Noir. Climatically Tasmania is well situated to produce good wines from cool-climate loving varieties, providing some shelter can be found from the winds.

As New Zealand Pinot Noirs seem to be getting more and more international recognition, and thus becoming more expensive, it was interesting to try this one to see if a relatively unknown area of a country not generally that well regarded for Pinot (apart from certain areas) could compete.

If you're a fan of the light, Marlborough style of Pinot Noir then I'd say this wine, from the Devil's Corner range of second wines from Tamar Ridge is well worth a go. Lots of perfume on the nose, violets and red fruit, and a tart raspberry and redcurrant palate with refreshing acidity levels.

£12.75 (75cl) from Weavers in Nottingham

PS. I'm going to duplicate blog posts to here in case I start to have issues again with fasthosts and their crazy bandwidth restrictions like I did at the end of last month.