Tag Archive - tasting

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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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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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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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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Reaching the wine drinker

LIWF 2008
Image by RobWinton via Flickr

The UK wine trade has lots of events where we pour, taste, buy and sell wine, but the majority of the big events are “trade only” events where professional buyers, writers and winery representatives such as agents, importers and distributors, get together to do deals.

The great news is that the quality of wine being made is arguably as good as it has ever been, and the buyers themselves are also better qualified to choose wines for their businesses.

But someone is missing from the picture. The drinker.

Of course, the UK consumer is always on the mind of wine makers and importers, and certainly of the businesses that will ultimately sell them the wine. Yet, how often do these businesses make decisions based on feedback directly from their ultimate customers?

One of the reasons I bang on about Social Media for wine so much is that it allows all of us, whatever our role in the wine value chain, to hear directly from a whole range of consumers about their tastes in brands and products, including wine. Today, that audience is still somewhat limited to the more technically minded (i.e. geeky) but this is changing VERY fast.

I am very excited, therefore, about the possibilities offered by the combination of wine and Twitter‘s short, focused and public messaging as is being used by twittertastelive.com – in fact I like it so much I am involved in helping to bring this idea to a broader UK and European audience.

I used this in December as well, but this time we are giving consumers and influencers outside the wine trade the chance to give some feedback on wines during one of the most important UK trade events, Bibendum Wine Ltd’s Annual Tasting. I must state for the record that 1) Bibendum is the company that imports the wines I work for and 2) we will be tasting one of these wines as part of the event, namely the Dinastia Vivanco Crianza. However, no-one will be filtering the results or comments so I hope you’ll accept this minor potential conflict of interest.

From 4pm tomorrow (21st January 2009), there will be a group of food, wine and media bloggers gathered together at Bibendum’s physical event (at the Saatchi Gallery in London) and another 8 or more individuals and groups around the country particpating remotely. Each will taste the three wines and exchange tasting notes, comments, questions and desperate demands for refills using twitter. Click here to read more about “Beyond the Trade“.

Follow along on twitter by following me (@thirstforwine) and the others listed below, and look out for tweets with the code #ttl

I’ll report back on the success, or otherwise, later in the week.

The participants will include:

@bibendumwine
@thirstforwine
@documentally
@sizemore
@loudmouthman
@eatlikeagirl
@hollowlegs
@chrispople
@foodstories
@wmjohn
@bigbluemeanie
@jonthebeef
@mackney
@fraseredwards
@rjbirkin
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