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From Chelsea to Vienna

This blog will be mainly dedicated to the upcoming European Wine Bloggers Conference (EWBC) in Vienna over the next week or so – assuming I find a moment to write thoughts down.

However, I am also writing a bit on my Posterous blog (which is easier to write from my iPhone) which will, I hope, one day be more integrated with this site. In the meantime, here is a link to some thoughts on the Fine Wine Fair taking place this weekend in Chelsea – pop down there if you have the time for some good wines.

>> It’s a fine time for fine wine

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It is so loud in here, I can’t hear myself drink

Interesting research reported on the BBC today:

The level of background noise affects both the intensity of flavour and the perceived crunchiness of foods, researchers have found.

It also makes me wonder about wines. We’ve known for a while that wines don’t taste the same in the air, and I seem to recall it was assumed it had to do with air pressure, but noise also makes sense. If any of your senses is being overwhelmed, then the others will naturally be affected.

I happened to run a dB meter on a recent plane trip (“there’s an app for that”) and it registered over 90dB – that’s as loud as a petrol lawnmower … and you sit in it for hours!

On the other hand, the research also seems to point to positive aspects – where pleasant sounds increase the intensity of flavours, which is backed by anecdotal evidence of “great wine moments” you have on holiday or with a great dinner partner.

Also in the group’s findings there is the suggestion that the overall satisfaction with the food aligned with the degree to which diners liked what they were hearing – a finding the researchers are pursuing in further experiments.

It seems that we have, at least partially, now got evidence that wine drinking is a pleasure that requires all your senses, not just taste!

Certainly, airplanes are not ideal wine tasting locations for many reasons, but there’s always a good reason to keep testing!

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Making the most of wine fairs

Do you like wine? How often do you get to taste it? I don’t mean drinking it, but tasting small amounts of many different wines, either to find out what you might like or to know what to buy?

Those of us who work in the wine business are lucky to get invited to tastings a lot – for our own education, information and ultimately to help bring the customer new wines in our shops, restaurants and wine columns.

But the wine buying public doesn’t get this opportunity often enough (but see below for a list of some fairs VERY SOON).

One of the BEST ways to get to do this is to go to a wine ‘fair’ (exhibition) where there will be many different wines present in one place. The entry fee hopefully guarantees that there will be a range of quality wines available, and also acts as deterrent to those who want to take (dis)advantage of ‘free’ alcohol to over-indulge.

Unfortunately these events can easily be a little overwhelming and confusing, and all that alcohol might make remembering what you ‘learned’ a little difficult. So here are a few pointers to make the most of these events, and below are a list of upcoming events I suggest you check out:

  1. Have a plan: Don’t just “go to taste”. The best way for wine lovers, amateur and professional alike, to get something out of a tasting is to have a specific objective in mind. There will ALWAYS be too many wines to try them all, so how do you focus? It doesn’t matter whether it is “Wines for Christmas dinner”, “Wines under £10″, “Pinot Noirs”, “Favourite wines I cannot pronounce” … as long as you have a mission, you can easily decide whether to stop & sip … or move on.
  2. Set a wine limit: Most of us struggle to differentiate between wines after a while. Professional wine judges might taste 200 wines in a session, most of us struggle after 20. If you set yourself a limit, you can politely refuse to taste through an enthusiastic producer’s entire range but dedicate your attention to a specific wine.
  3. Set a price limit: If you are buying wines, there is a temptation to try lots of lovely, expensive and unusual wines – but if you are not going to buy them, does it help? Remember your plan, and your limit. You can always taste a few ‘extra’ wines before you leave if you have the stamina and time!
  4. Prepare your visit (but be flexible): Most fairs will print a list of exhibitors and wines in advance. If you get a chance, make yourself a little map and plan of which stands are likely to be most interesting … but keep your eyes open as you go from one to the other. Don’t stick to it too rigidly, but it is better than wandering aimlessly and potentially missing something interesting.
  5. Go with a friend (or three): There will always be a time you need  second opinion, or simply someone to help you get out of a hard-sell pitch. But more than anything else, wine is social. Even wine tastings are more fun in the company of friends.
  6. Make notes: We’ve all done it. Found a great wine, been absolutely certain we’d remember it, then promptly forgotten its name. When you taste something, make a note – positive AND negative. It’ll help you when you are next looking for what wines to buy.
  7. Bring a camera: Notes are great, but our minds LOVE pictures. If you like something take a picture of the label. It saves a lot of unnecessary writing and will also help you share your favourites with friends.
  8. Be relaxed: The wine ‘experts’ (producers, importers, journalists, etc.) are there BECAUSE OF YOU! They need to impress YOU, not the other way around. Wine is meant to be fun.

UPCOMING WINE FAIRS (London)

So, with this plan in mind, where can you taste lots of wines in London in the next few weeks?

15-17 October Fine Wine Fair, Chelsea Old Town Hall – @finewinefair

A whole weekend of great quality wines. Well known producers will be showing their wines that are a cut above what we normally buy, but are still “affordable”. A great way to taste wines that will impress friends and family at Christmas, but don’t require a second mortgage. There will also be ‘personal shoppers’ to help you navigate the room, PLUS Spanish food delicacies .. and CHOCOLATE. What are you waiting for?

I’ll be going to this one and tickets only cost £20

6 November The Wine Gang Xmas Fair, Vinopolis – @winegang

The second edition of this fun event. The Wine Gang taste wines all year for their monthly newsletter and their top scorers are invited to show their wines at the tasting. Lots of masterclasses and wine tours. One day only, and you need to book a specific session, so book early.

Yup! I’ll be at this one too

13-14 November Decanter Fine Wine Encounter, The Landmark Hotel – @decanter

Decanter Magazine puts on several of these events a year and a re a chance to taste wines from the world’s top producers. Lots of high end wines, with prices to match, but the chance to meet some names that will impress even the most dedicated wine snobs!

Oh, and while we are at it, check out one of my favourite wine fair videos – with Olly Smith as the Pied Piper of wine:

International Grenache Day

Today, in case you had not already been deluged by tweets about it as I have, is International Grenache Day. Today we celebrate the Grenache grape, which has been called an “unsung hero” of the wine world.

Grenache remains mostly under-acknowledged in the world of wine – a “supporting cast member” or “the girl next door.” However, the potential for Grenache’s popularity is huge, with its juicy, luscious fruit, warm spice, balanced acidity and supple tannins. An aim of IGD is to create a wave of familiarity and interest so that one day people will walk into their favourite bar or restaurant and ask for a ‘Glass of Grenache’ as they do currently with Pinot Grigio or Merlot.

(from: Grenache Symposium announcement)

Does it mean anything “official”? No! There is no UN list mentioning this day or this campaign, but it IS an excuse to taste some new wines with friends and share the experience – something social media is very good for.

The idea actually came out of the first International Grenache Symposium held earlier this year in France, and attended by an elite group of winemakers, journalists and other wine experts (yes, I was invited I’ll have you know, but I couldn’t go, so there!). To their credit they talked a lot, and probably drank a lot, but they also thought it would be worth starting a little ACTION campaign we could all join in on … so I believe that Chester Osborn, respected for both his wine making vision at d’Arenberg in Australia but also for his quirky fashion sense, first suggested that the 24th of September 2010 should be International Grenache Day.

Today, we are encouraged to try a Grenache based wine, learn about it, share it with friends, wear loud, funky clothes, and record the event in photos, words or video and share it with the world.

GRENACHE LOVERS UNITE – for the First Annual International Grenache Day!!

A global movement is afoot, to put Grenache in its rightful place on the wine map and we hope you will join us!

On September 24th, 2010, events celebrating the Great Grenache Grape will take place around the world. We’re asking all of you Grenache fans to approach your neighbourhood restaurant and/or favourite wine retailer (or use your own business, if applicable) to feature a special Grenache-centred activity. Maybe a sales promotion, a wine-tasting, or a special restaurant dish/menu designed for Grenache pairings… anything goes, for the greater good of Grenache!

I will choose a wine later (I have quite a few options in my wine rack) and I hope to encourage a few more to join the fun on twitter and facebook – and if you do join in, let me know.

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Raising the Bar with Oz

11: Climate Change & Wine 2008 - Oz Clarke
Image by edgenumbers via Flickr

The UK’s most popular wine personality, as measured not just in terms of his wine credentials, but also his reach through TV, must be Oz Clarke.

I have just discovered that his ‘Buddy TV’ format has been adapted further in a programme to be called “Oz And Hugh Raise The Bar” on BBC2. He has obviously moved on from Mr Top Gear (who is probably still playing with his toys in his own series) to match him with Hugh Dennis again (after their Christmas special last year).

According to my sources (aka Google):

Wine expert Oz Clarke and comedian Hugh Dennis will set up a bar serving only local UK produce …(and) will travel the UK and Ireland to discover the best British drinks and snacks and purchase them as stock for their respective bars.

I look forward to giving it a chance. I’m sure there are lots of interesting things out there, but I hope there isn’t too much just-for-television fake drama and silliness.

It is interesting to see that the two most prominent UK wine personalities are now Oz Clarke and Olly Smith, who made their name on TV with wine but are now moving away into more general ‘winetertainment’ (with Olly on Iron Chef UK, and I’m sure more things to come). Hopefully it means their appeal will grow and they can bring wine to new audiences and get a proper wine programme commissioned again.

(Note: the programme is to be made by RDF Media – who I hope will inject more energy promoting this than they do updating their own site as I can find no reference to it there)

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