Archive - April, 2009

Not everything that sparkles is a luxury good

Vinho VerdeA couple of days ago I attended a tasting of Vinho Verde wines in the rather posh setting of The Royal Exchange by the Bank of England.

The Royal Exchange has a long history of being a trading floor, one where, presumably, merchants found great deals, did their business and went forth to make their fortunes. Today, the building is home to the exclusive shops of the world’s most famous luxury brands, established names with astronomic price tags that help customers demonstrate their wealth to others.

It occurred to me that, in some way, the current setting was rather incongruous for Vinho Verde wines. These are wonderful wines, full of amazing freshness, drunk young and preferably with fresh seafood to match. They have been famous within Portugal, and with visitors to that country, for many years, but they have not established a major export market in the UK. They are are about as far from famous luxury brands as possible.

In fact, they are more like the raw materials for those luxury brands – the diamonds without settings or the uncut designer cloth, the stuff that would have been traded here in eras past. Someone, somewhere will be able to turn these great materials into something special, and more profitable.

Red wine with some spritzVinho Verde (Green Wines) are wines from the far north of Portugal, wines of great acidity and freshness, and made from an unusual range of grapes (which is what you’d expect from Portugal, home to hundreds of different, and hard-to-pronounce grape varieties). The majority of the wines I have come across are white, but you also get some rose, a smattering of reds, and I have now discovered, also some amazing sparkling wines.

The key characteristic of these wines is their acidity, but the younger wines also have a certain spritz – not sparkling as such, but some light effervescence that really freshens the mouth. They are not anything like the big, juicy, fruit bombs we get from all sorts of countries of the world in UK supermarkets, but they are an experience that wine lovers should try.

There weren’t that many exhibitors at the tasting, but I still didn’t manage to taste all of them, but I did try several different ranges. The ones that stuck in my mind were:

  • Quinta de Lourosa – the traditional white Vinho Verde was very good, but I was particularly taken by the 2005 Sparkling White Vinho Verde made from Arinto (another unusual grape) which was very good indeed. [This Quinta also does some wine tourism and offers accommodation and tours, so worth checking them out if you plan on visiting the area.]
  • Afros – a white and red pair from a brave winemaker Vasco Croft, who is making Biodynamic Vinho Verde and achieving a truly stunning level of concentration on his wines. The 2008 red, made from Vinhao, is inky dark and particularly splendid.

As with many wines from Portugal, the quality of the wines is not in doubt, but getting more people to try them and understand them is difficult because the competition is so fierce. They certainly have the potential to be recognised as a unique style of wines, unlike anything else in the world that are worth exploring, a little like their northern neighbours in Rias Baixas have done with Albariño, and then justify their luxury brand surroundings.

If you are looking for something a little different, especially if you are planning to match some wines to seafood of some form, try selecting a YOUNG Vinho Verde and enjoy!

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Blend your Rhone – tastelive.com in London

Tomorrow (or today when you are probably reading this) a group of intrepid wine lovers in London are joining a global event linked to the Hospice Du Rhone event that supports the varieties and wines of the Rhone region.

Like some past “Twitter Taste Live” events I’ve been involved with, such as the Hugel dinner and the Bibendum trade event, this is an online tasting of wines that allows participants from around the globe to share their experiences.

There will be 2 other major tastings on the same night in the US (With 1winedude in the East and Estate-Sonoma on the West coast) as well as 3 UK events – London, Oxford and Oxted (Surrey). While the US events will focus largely on single varietal wines, and mainly from California, we in the UK are looking at the originals – the blends from France. We want to show that blends can be even more exciting than single varietals, and Gareth Groves from Bibendum (who supplies these wines) will help us out with some expert knowledge.

As of this moment, the best place to read more information on this event is on the existing TTL site here, but tomorrow morning I hope to see the launch of the NEW & IMPROVED TasteLive.com – so I’ll add the link here when I can.

The UK tastings will take place on Friday 17th April, starting at 7pm and probably last just over an hour. We will be tasting:

Alain Jaume Cotes Du Rhone Blanc Haut de Brun 2007
Louis Bernard Cotes du Rhone Rouge Cuvee des Prelats 2007
Ventoux Rouge Les Sablons Cave Terraventoux 2007
Gigondas Tradition Domaine Font-Sane 2006
Domaine Paul Autard Chateauneuf de Pape 2006

We have chosen these wines to reflect different regions within the Rhone, and to select wines that showcase blends of the indigenous varieties of the Rhone, because this really sets many of them apart from the rest of the world.

One of the great thing about these tastings is that you can combine the face-to-face tasting with friends in a pub (as each group is doing) with the power of Social Media to bring these groups together AND share it with all those who are interested but couldn’t make it. Hopefully, some of those who don’t take part this time will be inspired to do so next time (leave me a comment here or follow me on twitter and I’ll try and keep updated).

I will be with a group of around 10 other ‘twitterers’ in The Lansdowne Pub on Gloucester Avenue in Primrose Hill, a pub with a lovely informal atmosphere and great wines (including, I must admit for full disclosure, some of mine – but we are not tasting those). There is WiFi, so we are all bringing laptops, iPhones, PDAs, etc. so you can expect a great deal of twittering, photos, and maybe even some video.

The Lansdowne is laying on a special menu to accompany these wines which I am REALLY looking forward to:

Snail vol au vent with persillade
Morels and asparagus on grilled bread
Onion tart with gruyere
Roast chicory and ham with breadcrumbs and thyme
Eggs poached in red wine

The other groups taking part are being led by @surf4wine in Oxford and @bigbluemeanie in Oxted, Surrey.

If this sounds interesting, follow the event as it unfolds in the UK from 7pm onwards. If you are already on twitter, follow me (@thirstforwine) but even if you are not, you can watch the comments as they stream in on the homepage of http://tastelive.com

* Photo: Courtesty of The Lansdowne Pub, Primrose Hill, London

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Wine is not just for wine bloggers

This post follows neatly, although it wasn’t planned that way, from the last one.

A wine region in Spain wants to invite a select group of influential bloggers to visit their region, possibly in June, to learn about the wines, about the local food it matches with, and a little about the region itself as a tourist destination.

The first port of call, in Social Media, would be wine bloggers in key markets like the UK, … but why just wine bloggers?

I’ve said before that if we want to make wine more relevant and less threatening to more people, we need to “reach beyond the wine bubble” and talk to others who also influence consumers interest in wine, such as foodies, event organisers and travel bloggers. If this group felt comfortable discussing and recommending wines, the Wine Conversation would be transformed!

So, I’ve offered to put together a list of interested UK bloggers, but also of those active in other forms of Social Media, so that this wine region might decide to invite a broader selection of them and thus have lots of different people learn more about it.

Disclaimer bit: this is nothing to do with the wines or wine regions I represent, it is on behalf of a friend who is working with the wine region in question, and who asked me to reach out to my UK followers.

Why these categories, and why bloggers in particular?

The cost of the trip will not be insignificant for the wine region (few wine regions have big budgets) and they hope to have those who come write about their experiences and share them with their audiences. This is easiest where writing about the trip will be ‘in context’ for those bloggers. For example, it might not be that easy for a tech blogger to suddenly switch to writing about great wines from Spain (although I accept that depends on the blogger).

Also, why bloggers? All can be considered, but from the region’s perspective, they’d obviously love to have the kind of content, reach and permanent record offered by blogs (and I mean written word, photography and video). Remember, this is a BIG step for a wine region only used to talking to wine journalists working with established media.

Finally, I’m afraid they cannot bring everyone. I believe the trip will be for 5 or so people, so I’m afraid quite a few of you will be disappointed, but I promise to let everyone know if more such trips arise, so it’s worth getting involved anyway. I have no idea what criteria they might use to select a group, beyond making this a fun, influential and eclectic mix to see what an investment in Social Media might deliver for them.

I already have a pretty good list of foodies and some events people, as well as a few unusual requests that could be very interesting too, but if you want to throw your hat in the ring, you can do it publicly by leaving me a comment here, sending me a Direct Message on twitter, or an email at: thirstforwine AT gmail DOT com – and if you were to say WHY they should choose you, that might help :)

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