Monthly Archives: May 2013

Schrödinger’s cat, Symington’s cork and fine wine

It all began with a discussion about Schrödinger’s cat. Why we were discussing the cat has long since been lost at the bottom of a bottle of wine, but there we were trying to explain the concept of quantum mechanics to monkeyAlex. Now, the idea that the cat is both alive and dead at the same time, and it is not until you open the box that you can prove the cat is dead or alive is confusing at the best of times. After a few glasses of wine it proved to be a little too confusing – resulting in many cries of “don’t kill the cat” and “call the RSPCA!”. Confusion reigned until my boyfriend Miguel came up with a metaphor much more understandable for a winemonkey – and a concept that has since been named ‘Symington’s cork’. You don’t know if a wine is corked until you open it, so you can consider an unopened bottle to be simultaneously corked and notcorked. “Aha” cried monkeyAlex (who is well known for her TCA-sniffing abilities) “I get it!”.

Cat in a box (not dead)

This concept of how perception affects reality came up again the other night with a discussion on fine wine. As anyone who has written an MW style essay, or indeed anyone who has written essays in the English school system knows, one of the most important things in an essay introduction is defining your terms. In the MW this could mean defining practicalities such as pruning or packaging or woollier concepts like the wine industry or fine wine. So, how do you define ‘fine wine’? Well, you could argue for a wine that sells well on the secondary market or you could make a more specific statement and say anything over a certain price is fine wine. But for me, fine wine isn’t about these concrete facts, but is something rather more nebulous. I always think of a fine wine as being somehow alive – they have a vibrancy to them and a feeling of joy and for me that is easily distinct from a more everyday wine that whilst may be enjoyable doesn’t elicit such an emotional response. And this brings us back to perception. If this vibrancy in the taste is a key requirement for me for a fine wine, then tasting the wine is what makes it fine. That is to say that in the bottle the wine is both fine and notfine – and it is only on tasting it that the quality level is perceived. Put another way, a bottle of wine has the potential to be fine but cannot be called fine until it is opened and enjoyed. If you’ve ever had a bottle that you kept for a special occasion and were really looking forward to drinking but then on opening found it to be dull and lifeless you might perhaps agree with me. And conversely there are those rare bottles that don’t promise much but on opening prove to be far more exciting and interesting than the outside promised.

And so to conclude with a quote from the Simpsons which nicely illustrates my thinking:

Lisa: If a tree falls in the woods and no one’s around, does it make a sound?

Bart: Absolutely! [makes sound of a tree falling]

Lisa: But Bart, how can sound exist if there’s no one there to hear it?

Bart: Wooooooo…

Wooooo indeed. Here’s to fine wine, drinking it, perceiving it and enjoying it! For really, life is too short for bad wine.

Emma (scientific monkey)


Can you teach an old monkey new tricks? I sincerely hope so.

It was with unfettered glee that I finished my final exams at university, vowing never again to put myself through such an excruciating experience.  So how is it that 9 years later I once again find myself in a pit of black despair surrounded by piles of incomprehensible notes trying vainly to prepare for the biggest exams of my life?  At the start of the marathon that is the MW I thought it was passion, now I realize it is a combination of stubbornness, stupidity and masochism that has brought me to this place.

So is it too late for this old monkey to learn new tricks?  It is certainly proving harder to be a student then it once was.  Firstly, time is not on my side; they say life speeds up as you get older and they weren’t joking.  This is definitely not helped by a full time job which is not the ‘9-5’ that Dolly Parton promised me.   Secondly my memory appears to be working a ‘one in one out’ policy for facts, (too much space seems to be taken up by dodgy country songs that, by all accounts, seem there to stay).  In comes the oxygen transmission rates of saranex screwcaps and out go the production costs of a vigneron.  Thirdly, and possibly as a result of number one and two I am permanently exhausted but seem to lack the ability to sleep at the appropriate time; such as in my bed at night rather than on my books in the mornings.  I am clinging onto that old comfort blanket of ‘you know more than you think you do’ because right now I am struggling to remember my own name.
None of this appears conducive to the successful completion of my exams, however I do have one secret weapon in my armoury; and that is the other two monkeys.  Just as I am beginning to flag and think that it would be far easier to simply drown my sorrows in the pub they convince me another timed essay or blind tasting is the way forward.  Though sadly they can’t sit the exams for me, they do seem determined to boot my ass into the exam room and drag me across the finish line by my hair.  Whether the final result is a pass or a fail it is a journey that has, so far, taken me to far flung corners of the world, introduced me to some truly amazing people and fuelled a passion for the industry, the people and the wine in all its amazing (if unidentifiable blind) forms.  Maybe I’m not destined to have MW after my name, but I will certainly be putting GIBGG (Gave it a Bloody Good Go)


Dear Chardonnay, it’s okay to be you.

I have just learned that today is apparently the International Chardonnay day. How that passed me by, given it’s one of my two fav white varieties, I have no idea. But conveniently I was planning to post the blog below just on this day. Psychic. I thought that given I trashed my least favourite variety here last week (to much agreement, which made me smile), it may be worth to attone and post something about one I actually like. This may be the last blog for a few weeks as the monkeys head into the dangerous territory of the Master of Wine exams. Ouch. Wish us well. So…’s one I prepared earlier.


Dear Chardonnay,
It’s been a while since we last had a chat and I thought we should. Youve grown up a lot, and changed. I noticed. I care about you so just want to make sure that you are still happy within yourself. I know you’ve had your ups and downs over time. In your younger years, you really lived life to the full. You used to enjoy toast with lashings of butter, tropical fruit cocktails, vanilla milkshakes and clotted cream. People liked you that way, though you were a bit obnoxious at times. We all have our moments. A few years ago you gave in to pressure. You went to the gym, you got lean. You’re not that much into butter anymore, you’re on a diet of green fruit, lemon water and savoury snacks. But are you happy? I know you had an issue with acid burn in 2010, when you went to Burgundy. You’ve been spending a lot of time in Australia lately too, doing yoga on the beach and downing green shakes. You certainly look the better for it. Your abs are quite impressive. But are you really healthy? Is this all too much? I do notice how happy you always look when you’ve been in California, you are basically glowing. The golden glow and peachy skin is beguiling. I’d like to see you this happy more often. It’s not all about the looks and you know it. You do have substance. I think you’re a touch too hard on yourself at the moment. Chill out, enjoy the sun and have an ice cream. I will always love you, no matter what – lean or fat – and so will others. I think the middle ground is a good ground to stand on. You can gain a few extra pounds and still be elegant, you know. I just want you to be happy and realise that it’s okay to be you.
Lenka (Evil Monkey)

Savvy? No, thanks.

17th May marks the international Sauvignon Blanc day. The bleedin’ what, you ask? Precisely my point. Whoever decided that there should be such a thing must have been flying on something. I blame the Kiwis, really. They do, after all, have bucket loads of that stuff to sell. Now, let’s be clear on one point – I intensely dislike Sauvignon Blanc. I hesitate to use the word ‘hate’ as hate leads to the dark side……oh what the hell, I joined the dark side a long time ago. I hate Sauvignon Blanc. There.

A glass of Savvy-B (its street name). Smells oh so wonderful, doesn’t it? Like vegetable soup that you left out of the fridge and the cat found it. She didn’t want it, either, so she peed into it. Nice. Sure, not all Savvy-B is quite so pungent and there are ‘better’ examples that go more into the mineral, flinty or tropical spectrum. Unfortunately the world seems to be enamoured with Marlborough Sauvignon. I don’t get it. I’ve never liked Sauvignon. It’s not just because it’s oh so popular and I am a party pooper who instantly dislikes anything that may currently be trendy. (Though I have been known to do that – there was once a shameful time in my past (when I was less of an ‘expert’) when I wouldn’t touch Chardy coz the mere world Chardonnay always pronounced itself with an Essex accent in my head. Of course I was totally missing the point there and have since seen the light. )
I just cannot see myself coming round to it, ever. Part of it is that it lacks a certain amount of sophistication. Naught wrong with a simple drink here and there, I hear you scream. But if I want simple and fresh, I will reach for an Albarino. It is peachy and smiley and slips down easily. It’s the vegetal character of Savvy-B that I cannot stand. Who wants to drink a wine that tastes like canned peas? As much as I like fresh green asparagus, I don’t want it in my drink. Similarly, I like nettles in a cup of herbal tea….not in wine, thanks. I think the only styles of Sauvignon I can bear to drink are the ones that contain Semillon….and heaps of oak. Ironic. Gimme a Graves or a Pessac and we’ve got a bit more to play with. No asparagus there, all lovely lemon curd, passion fruit, wet wool and a touch of vanilla. More like it.
The Loire seems to have seen the light and has turned away from ‘vegetality’ (I officially decree it a word), some Argentine producers are producing riper styles but geez, everyone else is making aforementioned veggie soup.
Last year I tried possibly the most terrible red wine I ever put in my mouth, a super expensive silly pseudo-natural blend of Pinot/Syrah and…..Sauvignon Blanc. The label didn’t say stupid but it shoulda. I am sure it was an awful wine to begin with but the addition of Sauvignon turned it into an indigestible nonsense, again reminiscent of vegetable soup.

In light of all aforementioned crimes against good taste, I decree that on this fine World Sauvignon Blanc day, we should all celebrate with a glass of Riesling. You know it’s the right thing to do.

Lenka (Evil Monkey)

Sing-a-long Barossa

As you might remember from previous posts, two of the monkeys are rather partial to singing along to Disney on long journeys and know many of the songs word perfect. Well, after their hugely successful performance of ‘Amarillo’ in Hunter Valley with the rest of their group (“this is our evening in the Hunter…”) they were given the task of composing a new song to sing in the Barossa. There was only one choice really – the brilliant ‘Part of their World’ song from the Little Mermaid that had previously featured on the monkeys’ Bordeaux tour. So, after much thought and consideration the words were changed and they were very pleased with the result. Only to then sing it to the rest of the group who all had somewhat bemused faces. “Whats that song?” “I dont know the tune” and “Disney? Really?” were just some of the comments received. So after discussion the monkeys were overruled and instead Bon Jovi’s Summer of ’69 was used instead (to much less success in our opinion).

But, we can’t be the only Disney fans out there – so for posterity here is our rather fabulous re-working of the Little Mermaid.
Emma and Alex
Look at this wine
Isnt it neat?
Wouldn’t you think our collection’s complete?
Wouldn’t you think we’re the group
The group who has everything?
Look at this trove
Treasures untold
How many bottles can one cellar hold?
Looking around here you’d think
Sure, they’ve got everything
We’ve got Bordeaux and Burgundy aplenty
We’ve got Champagne and Sherry galore
You want Vintage Port?
We’ve got twenty!
But who cares?
No big deal
We want more
We wanna drink wanna drink some Shiraz
We wanna see wanna see Barossa
Walking around through these, what do you call ’em?
Oh – vines!
Drinking European wine doesn’t make us happy 
Barossa Shiraz is what we want 
A great big glass and a steak on the barbie
Up the valley, in the hot sun
Oh we will have so-oh much fun
Drinking Shiraz wish we could stay
In Barossa
What would we give if we could live in Australia?
What would do to live here in the hot sun?
Betcha back home it’s snowing
Hailing, raining, chilly, windy
Its miserable, sick of winter
Ready to tan
And ready to learn what the winemakers know 
Ask ’em our questions and get some answers 
What is yeast and why does it – what’s the word 
When’s it our turn?
Wouldn’t we love, love to buy lots of Shiraz 
Having lots of fun 
In the hot sun 
Barossa Valley