Monthly Archives: April 2015

Judging at the International Wine Challenge

Over the past couple of weeks we three monkeys have all spent a bit of time judging for the International Wine Challenge. The IWC is one of the biggest wine competitions around where wines from all over the world get tasted, analysed and assessed by panels of judges who eventually determine which wines get those all-important bronze, silver and gold medals.

International Wine Challenge

International Wine Challenge

Now, you might think judging wine sounds like a rather easy day in the office – and it is certainly enjoyable, but it is also pretty hard work. The first week is all about deciding whether a wine is worthy of a medal, commendation or simply isn’t good enough quality to warrant either. Then the second week the wines that were judged worthy of a medal are re-tasted to decide whether they are gold, silver or bronze.

Each week there are around 20 panels of judges, with each panel comprising 4 or 5 people. Whilst many of the judges are UK-based as you might expect, many of the chair judges also fly in from across the world to join in and add their knowledge to the competition. Over the day each panel will judge anywhere between 60 and 100 wines, which are divided into smaller flights of similar wines. So you might start the day as I did with a flight of Italian sparkling rosés which is then followed by a huge variety of flights such as Portuguese whites, Italian reds, Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand Pinot Noir, Muscadet, Languedoc rosé, Aussie Shiraz….and after all that you will generally finish with something sweet or fortified.

International Wine Challenge

Hard at work judging

Never knowing what your next flight will bring adds a certain roulette-type thrill to the judging but also means you’ve always got to be on top of your game and be equally fair to each wine. Just because you were hoping for a flight of top-notch Burgundy doesn’t mean you can be disappointed to judge the Argentinian Malbecs.

Bottles to judge at IWC

Bronze, Silver or Gold – that is the question

I really enjoy judging competitions like this – not only does it give me the chance to taste a lot of wines from many different regions and countries, it is also a fantastic opportunity to catch up with friends in the industry and meet new people. The wine trade is an incredibly friendly place and one of the real pleasures of judging is meeting like-minded people from elsewhere in the country, or even the other side of the world, learning from each other and sharing knowledge. The gin and tonics after a hard days tasting are also pretty good!

Two monkeys and a Wadsack

Two monkeys and a Wadsack

The results from this year’s competition will be announced on 13 May and I for one am looking forward to finding out what some of the wines I tasted were. There’s more than a few I’ve got my eye on to discover what they are and where I can buy them…

Emma


An Australian lunch in Wiltshire at The Harrow

You might think that working in the wine trade means an endless cycle of wine tastings, lunches and dinners. Sadly the reality is rather more mundane; featuring a computer, a desk and the occasional cup of tea. Not exactly glamorous.

But, I have to admit, every so often the fantasy comes to life – and these occasions are real privileges.

Yesterday, one such occasion took me out into rural Wiltshire to enjoy a stunning lunch matched with a selection of great Australian wines at The Harrow at Little Bedwyn. There, husband and wife team Roger and Sue Jones have created the ultimate in English country dining –laid back and relaxed, and a real haven for foodies.

We started off out in the garden, soaking up the springtime sun and enjoying a glass of Charles Heidsieck NV champagne. Attention to detail is key in any restaurant – and at The Harrow that means that Roger and Sue had kept the champagne in their cellar for a number of months (“a minimum of 6… I prefer a year”) before selling it to their customers. This added bottle age had given the wine a wonderful golden hue and a great depth of toasty notes: really rather delicious and a great tip for any champagne lover.

To accompany the bubbles were two different canapés. First off was a Roger classic: foie gras macaroon. The creamy disc of foie gras with a dollop of salted caramel was sandwiched between a macaroon made with cep powder – an incredible savoury taste sensation that was so different to what you might expect. The second was a little pot of crab with a watercress sauce: delicate and refreshing, and the perfect counterpoint to the richness of the previous canapé.

Then we headed inside to our table to start the lunch properly. Our first wine was a Riesling from the Eden Valley: Pewsey Vale Contours Riesling 2009, served with ceviche of bream with wasabi sorbet. And what a great match that was: the dry, zesty Riesling complementing the delicate fish, and the toasty notes from extended bottle ageing counteracting the slight heat from the wasabi sorbet. Fresh and refreshing: the perfect starter.

Ceviche of Bream with wasabi sorbet

Ceviche of Bream with wasabi sorbet

From there we moved onto Chardonnay – and a wine from Margaret River in Western Australia: Voyager Estate Chardonnay 2009. This was paired with a lobster doughnut complete with red curry jam. Here the richness of the Chardonnay worked both to complement the meaty lobster and offset the curry flavour from the jam. Another take home message: Chardonnay can be a great match for curry dishes, particularly those which are spiced rather than overly spicy.

Lobster Doughnut

Lobster Doughnut

Our final white was much more unusual than the previous two: Aeolia Roussanne from Giaconda in Beechworth, Victoria. Unusual for the fact it is not a very well known variety and also because Giaconda stopped making this wine in 2012: so it is becoming an increasingly rare commodity. Roussanne as a grape variety tends to give rich, textural white wines with a notable savoury edge – and this was no exception.

Giaconda Aeolia Roussanne

Giaconda Aeolia Roussanne

The pairing with a dish of cod, chorizo and squid was really something special: one of those rare occasions where the duo go beyond being a good match and instead become something altogether different. A real case of where the whole is far more than the sum of the two parts.

Cod, Chorizo and Squid

Cod, Chorizo and Squid

Whilst, it has to be said, that was quite the highlight for me – there was more yet to come. The main course of Welsh lamb, Isle of Wight tomatoes and asparagus was served with Dawson and James Pinot Noir 2010 from Tasmania. The dark, smoky Pinot worked a treat with the pink lamb and fresh vegetables: a real array of flavours on a plate and beautiful to look at too.

Welsh lamb with Isle of Wight tomatoes and asparagus

Welsh lamb with Isle of Wight tomatoes and asparagus

Finally, it was time for dessert. Simply titled ‘Rhubarb’ on the menu, this turned out to be a celebration of this classic English vegetable with both rhubarb ice cream and sorbet, rhubarb sponge cake, poached rhubarb and rhubarb meringue. Delicious – and delightfully refreshing after the range of flavours we had encountered throughout the lunch. We didn’t have a sweet wine with the dish, but I would think a sweet, spritzy Moscato – perhaps the Innocent Bystander Moscato – would be a lovely addition.

Rhubarb

Rhubarb

So, as you can see – not exactly the toughest day in the office, and I can only say a huge thank you to Roger and Sue at the Harrow for their generosity in inviting us out to their little patch of foodie heaven. If you ever find yourself out in Wiltshire (or just take the hour-and-a-bit train from London) – go and visit the Harrow. You won’t be disappointed.

Emma

http://www.theharrowatlittlebedwyn.net/