Archive - June, 2009

Wine tasting, the professional way

I thought you might find this both interesting and amusing.

I took part in a tasting of 75 wines with Charles Metcalfe (aka @thewinesinger) last week. During the day I took some video on my new iPhone 3GS (yes, playing around). I’ll publish the serious interviews soon, but this is Charles tasting wine 60 (or more) of over 75.

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Wine and Tech: Picturing a thousand words

Wine and Tech will be (I hope) a series of short posts on using some new technology to support the wine conversation

I have recently come across a number of innovations that are not directly related to wine, but which got me thinking about how they might be used to do fun, useful and social stuff with wine. I thought I would share some of these with you and see if they sparked ideas for you like the have done for me.


How good is your memory? Mine is awful. I’m pretty good with faces, but names are “gone in 60 seconds” (or less). In fact it is the same with wine. Some people can remember what a wine tasted like in previous vintages and minutely compare them from memory. Not me. So I was very excited to learn about EverNote.

EverNote bills itself as the way to “remember everything”. Essentially what it does it take your photos, documents, audio messages and more and not only store them, but index them so you can search and find them later. That isn’t revolutionary on its own, but you need to know that EverNote actually “reads” all the text in the pictures (yes, even the photos) and so you can search for the word in the picture, not just the name of the photo. How cool is that?

What does this have to do with wine? Well, it has always been difficult to capture all the necessary information from a label when you are tasting, especially if in fact you are in a restaurant or bar and not a formal wine event. It is so easy to taste something wonderful and promise yourself that you’ll remember it when you get home … and invariably you don’t. Now, a quick, subtle photo will suffice AND it will be easy to search for again even if you don’t remember much about it in future.

Again, this is quite useful for wine lovers who want to catalogue the causes of their inebriation, but how is this relevant to the wider consumer and the wine conversation?

What I love about the idea is that it allows the average consumer with a mobile phone & camera (and a data plan that allows upload to the web), to record their wine experiences and share them in a useful, searchable and standardised way WITHOUT having to join wine social networks. There are no tasting notes, unless they want to include them, and there is no need to even understand how to read the wine label. A photo, plus a tag such as “buy again” or “hated this” is enough.

Of course the system is much more powerful than I’ve described it, adding GPS codes, matching images etc, but you can explore that if you are keen.

I’m already playing with this and wondering how it might be useful to wine drinkers, so if you have any thoughts, or you use EverNote too, please let me know.

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Its about wine, naturally

I just spent an enjoyable afternoon learning about “Natural” wines with Kathryn O’Mara of Artisan & Vine and in the pleasant company of Denise Medrano (aka The Wine Sleuth) and Andrew Barrow (of Spittoon.biz).

Natural wine, according to Kathryn, are ones truly ‘made in the vineyard’. Whilst many winemakers might make this claim, Kathryn has selected wines that take this to the extreme. Kathryn’s challenge was to dedicate her wine bar to selling wine with a truly unique story and a dedication to their source.

Artisan & Vine’s wine list is made up almost entirely with wines that are organic or biodynamic, made in small volumes, with indigenous yeasts, many would no sulfur added (others with the smallest amount at bottling), and all of them by winemakers who she feels really believe in making the best wines possible.

If that is gobbledygook to you, don’t worry, it is for most people, including the wine trade. Essentially, these are wines made with the minimum of “extra” anything – just crushed grapes and nature. Most wines, like any other product, are made with certain additives that help to control the process and ensure a consistent outcome. That’s good for the consumer (you get ‘proper’ wines every time) and the winery (they ensure they have wines to sell). However, there are some who feel that this changes the wine and that if you want to taste the real flavours of the grape, the region and of nature, then you must limit ANY manipulation. In general, that’s just bonkers (we’d never have enough wine of an acceptable quality).

However, whilst one can argue the case for wineries in general to be more consumer-focused and aware of wine drinkers preferences around the world, the world would be a poorer place without dedicated mavericks challenging those tastes and broadening our experiences. So it is with wine bars.

The highlights of the tasting for me were the rich Pouilly-Vinzelles, La Soufrandiere 2006 (a Chardonnay from Burgundy), and Clos Milan 2001 from Baux de Provence (a blend of Grenache and Syrah). What amazed me was the concentration of the flavours, yet a very clean finish. Maybe there is something to this ‘natural’ wine after all?

The other wines were also full of personality, amazingly different, and really made me want to explore them further. These were highly unusual wines, such as the Tir a Blanc, Le Casol de Mailloles (which reminded me of wild flowers and cider) and the Contadino #5 (ripe berry flavours, smoky, pungent and something distinctly ‘volcanic’ – it is grown on Mount Etna). Whilst I may not recommend these to everyone, they are something you need to try if you like wine and want to expand your horizons.

That is what I look for in a wine list.

The pricing is fair, though not necessarily cheap, with reasonable mark ups for better quality wines. I encourage you to make the trip to St. John’s Hill, Clapham, SW11 and explore them yourself.

So, …

Q: Do I think most wine drinkers care whether their wine is “Natural”?
A: No!

Q: Do I think most wine drinkers care whether they buy wines from passionate people, made by people who are truly committed to their wines?
A: Yes!
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Wine, Oil & Vinegar

Is there something intrinsically “Italian” about a website built in Italy like there is something uniquely Italian about the country’s wines (beyond the obvious language issue of course)?

I don’t think so. However, there might be something uniquely Italian about how a problem is addressed and solved. For example, I’m attending a “wine” conference in Genoa, and amongst the 20 or so speakers at yesterday’s “unconference” were two olive oil producers and a producer of wonderful balsamic vinegar – all talking about the same issues of building their brand, sharing their personality and delivering expert content using the web. Who knows, maybe this cross-fertilisation of ideas might bring new insights or opportunities?

This is the sort of “outside the box” thinking and discussion we hope will emerge from bringing together bloggers who have an interest in wine, including food, travel and maybe other bloggers, at the European Wine Bloggers’ Conference (EWBC). Maybe it will be the Italian balsamic vinegar, or the Spanish wine tourism or maybe the Portuguese designer that will spark the discussion that will lead to a new approach to sharing wine online. Who knows!?

In the meantime, I must say I’ve been reminded of, and impressed by, the range of wines made in Italy, but which are so hard to find outside of it. It is a shame it is so hard to find wines such as the indigenous Pigato, Ciliegiolo, Cesanese and Cannonau – instead of the ubiquitous Pinot Grigio (does anyone know of a great resource on Italian grapes to link to?). I urge you to explore these further.

And on that note, I’m off to taste more wines from 125 producers at TerroirVino. A presto!

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Chablis: Chic or Not

On Wednesday I was invited to taste through a small range of examples of 2008 vintage Chablis with Arnaud Valour of the Burgundy Wine Board. Naturally I accepted – and it had nothing to do with the branded gifts I took away (although I’m particularly grateful for a copy of Rosemary George’s wonderful book; The Wines of Chablis)

I’d say that the wines were great, but they were only a selection of 6 bottles (blind – i.e. without saying which they were) and chosen to be the best of the region in this vintage, so you’d expect them to be. I was particularly impressed by the quality and easier drinking style of the Petit Chablis wines – they had more character than I really expected. For those unfamiliar with the Chablis hierarchy, this is:

  • Petit Chablis – the least expensive, simple, crisp wines
  • Chablis – a range of wines, but fresh, delicate and with hints of “minerality” (like the aroma of shells on the beach – see video)
  • Chablis Premier Cru (or 1er Cru) – more complex wines that must come from only 40 or so vineyards
  • Chablis Grand Cru – the most intense, age-worthy and usually stunning examples; only 7 vineyards on one slope go to making these

I asked Arnaud what he though were the unique style characteristics of Chablis, and why people should chose Chablis, and I recorded the answer (I apologise for the poor quality sound):


Of course, the wines got better as we went up the scale, getting more rounded, more complex and showing those classic Chablis characters. It does seem that 2008 will be a good vintage for the region. It also seems that sales of this premium region are as affected by the credit crunch as everyone else, so you may be able to pick them up for a decent price when they hit the shops and merchants.

For the premier cru wines (I tried an interesting organic 1er cru) and above, it would be a crime to drink a 2008 now as they’ll develop over the next decade, but the trouble will be finding someone who will keep them for you, so it might be worth getting a few and keeping them in a cool corner for a future special occasion.

Chablis Online

But this blog isn’t about tasting wines or about specific regions. I also spent a while asking Arnaud about the online marketing and social media plans of the Chablis region. After all, Chablis already has brand recognition around the world, you would think it could leverage this to its advantage online too.

It seems that there are plans to launch a new site at http://www.chablis.fr – I see there is a site there now, but it has numerous flaws, so I’m hoping it is a work in progress. Considering how controversial internet marketing of alcohol is in France these days, it is good to see that not everyone is abandoning these efforts. Apparently Chablis is out to broaden its appeal to “women and younger consumers”, mainly, it appears, through tasting events in Chablis itself. For the rest of us, the plan is to focus on the wine trade. Unfortunately the wine trade is already familiar with the wines, and with hundreds of regions competing for their attention, I wonder how effective this will be (it got me writing about it I suppose). I was specifically told they had no plans for Facebook fan pages, blogs or twitter accounts, which unfortunately fits the stereotype of French wine marketing.

Arnaud himself was very articulate, friendly and spoke excellent English, but there are only so many people he can meet in person. Surely they could find a way to “amplify” his message through social media channels easily enough?

In short, Chablis continues to be a great wine, it continues to be a reasonably expensive wine, and it doesn’t have much new to say about itself from a marketing perspective, so continues to speak to the same consumers. If you buy it, you’ll probably keep doing so. If you don’t, what reason have you to start?

Question: What does Chablis mean to you?

I wonder if I could urge you to go and taste a bottle of Chablis, any style, any vintage, and let me know what you think of it? How did you find the wine? Did you like it? Was it good value for money? How was it being sold compared to the competition? If you would consider undertaking this mission, please do let me know what you thought here in the comments.

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