Monthly Archives: December 2013

Some of 2013’s top wine moments

There seems to have been a lot of talk lately on twitter and on other blogs about people’s wine of the year. I have to admit to always being slightly amazed that anyone can take a year’s worth of tasting, sipping, slurping and drinking and distill it all down into one wine. One wine to rule them all. How can you begin to compare between any number of completely different wine styles and decide which is best? I certainly can’t. For me, wine is as much about the situation, the people you enjoy it with and possibly the food you eat with it as much as the wine itself. So rather than picking just one wine, here instead are some of my favourite vinous moments of the past year:

The lifestyle of the rich and the famous moment –

A couple of contenders for this. Lunch at Chateau Margaux in February as part of our MW bootcamp week would certainly be up there. Drinking Margaux 1999 with Côte de Veau followed by blinged-up Tarte Tatin in the exquisite dining room at Margaux was something special. But the truly incredible pinch-myself-am-I-really-here? moment was taking a lunchtime cruise on Sydney Harbour in the blazing sunshine on the Robert Oatley super yacht whilst eating canapés and sipping a variety of Robert Oatley wines. James Bond, eat your heart out.


The When Harry met Sally moment –

I am generally of the opinion that most good wine will go with most good food and that sometimes it is easy to get too worried about creating the perfect match. However, I do have to admit that the combination during our epic lunch at The Fat Duck of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party mock turtle soup with La Bota Amontillado was sublime. The nutty, savoury Amontillado perfectly matched the complex soup and lifted the whole dish to another level. I’ll have what she’s having.

Some of 2013's top wine moments

The disappointing moment –

This would have to be finally tasting my very own Purley wine. After such high hopes of creating amazing wine in what is surely the fabulous terroir of Purley, it seems that even when fermenting a thimbleful of grape juice things can go wrong. A stuck ferment plus some stinky reduction problems certainly didn’t result in the greatest wine of the year. Lets hope the 2014 vintage is better.

Some of 2013's top wine moments

The double take moment –

Probably a bottle of Turkish wine I had at my brother’s just a few weeks ago. I have to admit to not having tasted a great amount of Turkish wine before and I was really surprised by how pretty and delicate this one was- medium bodied and full of sour red cherry flavours giving a pleasing crunchiness. The variety was Kalecik Karasi and this wine at under £10 from the Wine Society was a real bargain.

Some of 2013's top wine moments

The raiding the cellar moment –

This year I turned 30 and so the top raiding the cellar moment has to go to when I took a small collection of 1983 wines over to Portugal to enjoy with some friends (many of whom share the same birth year). None of the wines were what you would call ‘top wines’, and certainly some of them should have been drunk quite some time ago, but celebrating our 30th birthdays with birth year wines was pretty special.

Some of 2013's top wine moments

The eye-opening winery visit moment –

Whilst visiting Orange in Australia was eye-opening due to the unexpectedly (for Australia) cool climate, it was Haut Bailly in Bordeaux that was really unanticipated. I don’t count myself quite as Bordeaux-phobic as Lenka, but its not a region thats normally high on my shopping list. We monkeys had a couple of days visiting wineries in Bordeaux back in February before our MW bootcamp started, and whilst the wineries we went to were fascinating, the wines themselves weren’t hugely memorable. That is until we got to Haut Bailly. The combination of almost spiritual-like serenity in the vineyards and wines that sent shivers up my spine with their poise and beauty is something I won’t forget in a while.

Some of 2013's top wine moments

The you only live once moment –

Definitely the bottle of Selosse Initiale I bought to celebrate passing my MW exams. Worth every single penny.

I’ve got a feeling that 2014 will bring some more memorable moments but for now – Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!


Thinking outside the wine box and into the match box

A little while ago I was having a conversation with an English artist living in Paris.  It transpired that when he moved to France, he was clearing out his flat and found a huge collection of match boxes from all the different bars, restaurants and hotels he had visited across the world over the years.  Each match box brought back a flood of memories … a hot date, drowning his sorrows, lonely in a foreign city, a strip bar on a stag do, a business meeting.  He took a photo of each of these match boxes; some had wine stains, some were torn, some had one match missing, some had two, some had numbers written on them, some had none, and he made a photographic collection.

He found it fascinating that while each stranger in a gallery stared at his cryptic memories, it brought alive adventures and stories in their minds quite different to the true history of the match boxes.  The box with the silhouette of a woman on it conjured images of dark red rooms, scantily clad waitresses and clandestine liaisons when in truth it was all that was left of an innocent drink in a European hotel bar.  Imaginations were set afire with possible scenarios.

It struck me then that this is exactly how wine should be: a very personal experience to be interpreted in any way that moves the individual.  The sight of a label, the aroma of a wine, the taste of a wine; all these sensations have the power to ignites long lost memories, or to create imaginary ones.  Our senses are powerful when we allow them to be and can dance a mean and intriguing dance with our imagination when freed to do so.

As the discussion progressed we decided that we would put together a wine and art dinner; pairing the wine with not only the food, but with the photographs – a wine and a course to go with one of the experiences.  There was no prescribed right or wrong.  We were seated at a long table in the centre of a small gallery, the collection of match boxes hung around us on the white walls.  As the wines and the different courses were served people were swiftly drawn to different photographs that they felt worked best with the pairings.  Their individual sensory adventure spoke of different scenario’s which were represented by their own interpretations of stories behind the match boxes.  The interaction of the guests (none of whom would describe themselves as wine aficionados) with the wine was as fascinating as it was spontaneous and energetic.  It was a freeing experience; there was no talk of oak, of harvest yields, of organic versus biodynamic, just unadulterated enjoyment, debate and laughter.

So this Christmas indulge in a glass or two; take a sniff, take a sip, sit back, close your eyes and let your imagination take flight, you never know where you might end up.

Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year to you all.


How much is too much?

A man slumped on the floor, head in hands with glazed eyes and vacant expression. Minutes later he stumbles towards the toilet, hand firmly placed over mouth whilst people swiftly move out of his way. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief when he makes it to the toilet and the door shuts behind him.

You might think this was the result of a few too many beers at a down-at-heel bar late on a Friday night. In fact, this was the scene at a consumer wine tasting in Manchester early on a Saturday evening just a few weeks ago. Of course, this man was not representative of the attendees at the tasting as a whole, but the vast majority of those present were certainly tipsy and many were on their way to drunkenness. For the first couple of hours at the event everyone had been interested in tasting and learning about the wines on show, but the final hour or so was more about getting their money’s worth and drinking as much as possible.

Contrast this scene with that of another consumer tasting I worked at not that long ago, this time in Stockholm. Here the attendees were truly there to learn about wine, many were spitting as they went around – and once they had tried what they wanted, they were happy to leave, feeling that they had had a good evening. There wasn’t a drunk person in sight.

So what is it about people in the UK that causes us to act like children in a sweet shop when it comes to alcohol? Why don’t we know how much is too much – and why do we feel the need to drink as much as we can just to perceive that we’ve got our money’s worth?

Sadly there isn’t an easy answer to any of these questions. What is clear though is that it is no good for us in the wine trade to act as though these issues don’t really affect us – that they’re more to do with the perceived ‘lesser’ alcoholic drinks of spirits, cider and beer than wine. It may be easy to argue that wine is a more exalted alcoholic drink due to history, culture, its ability to match with food or even perceived health benefits – but at the end of the day wine is alcohol and, frankly, that is one of the (many) reasons we drink it.

The issues of alcohol and its negative impact on health and society are regularly debated in the media and by the government. Minimum pricing was just the latest in a line of ideas to improve the problem but that now seems to have been shelved (something, personally, I am pleased about – see my previous blog arguing against minimum pricing here). However, in my opinion, ideas to limit the sale of alcohol via pricing or tax or by limiting advertising are not really addressing the problem – which seems to be more of a cultural mindset than a price-sensitive issue.

It will only be when we really understand why we as a population think that the only way to have a good night out is to get drunk or why when people go to a wine tasting that they think that they have to drink as much as possible to get their money’s worth that we can begin to solve the wider problem.

In the meantime my fellow monkeys and I will continue to drink wine not as a means to an end but as an end in itself. For our mindset is that there is nothing more enjoyable than having a glass or two of good wine with good friends. Lets spread the word.