Sparkling wine thing

Last night we attended the latest geek wine thing event: Sparkling Wine Thing. It was a blind tasting of 8 sparkling wines, ranging from non-vintage champagnes, to new-world sparkling wines, to vintage Cava. We were given the list of wines, and then attempted to identify them one by one. Each one was revealed before we moved on to the next, so the last ones were easier than the first ones.

I don’t have tasting notes for many of these, but I did glean some Fizz Facts:

  • The reason champagne and other sparkling wines have foil around the top of the bottles is because originally they didn’t fill the bottles up after disgorging so it disguised the empty part of the bottle
  • Cava must use the traditional method to be a Cava
  • Polish glasses before pouring champagne as dirty glasses make the bubbles flat
  • Champagne can only be made from three grape varieties Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir
  • Champagne should be served in fluted glasses which taper in at the top to trap the bubbles and the aroma. The goblet style glasses might have been all the rage at one point, but they don’t give the best champagne experience
  • Non vintage champagnes are popular because you get consistency for the blend – so Mumm, Veuve Cliquot, Lanson always taste like the same regardless of what year you buy it
  • Sparkling wines made using the Traditional Method will have beaded bubbles

And after all this, what did I learn? Well, I discovered that I don’t need a fancy champagne to keep me happy. I actually really enjoyed one of the cheaper wines on offer, the Lindauer Special Reserve NV from New Zealand, which I thought had good flavours, was quite full of bubbles, and had a beautiful blush of pink colour.

Big Wine Thing

On Tuesday Richard and I had the pleasure of attending the inaugural Big Wine Thing. This was an extension of the usual, monthly or thereabouts, Geek Wine Thing but instead of purely wine tasting, this was a food and wine matching event. Again held at Hotel du Vin in Brighton, and this time led by both James and Fergus from Majestic and Pierre, the assistant Somellier.

The evening started with champagne as the participants arrived and settled down ready for an evening of food, wine and education.

Our meal started with a smoked salmon starter served with a lovely, clear, crisp chenin blanc, a Vouvray Coulée d’Argent 2008. This was a delightful wine, and another wine which will be finding it’s way into our fridge over the next few months (to join the albariño and the gavi di gavi from the previous tastings).

Our main course (for the carnivores) was lamb with dauphinois potatoes served with a vibrant collection of vegetables and served with a Chilean Syrah ‘Las Kuras’ 2007 Casa Lapostolle. This met with mixed reviews. It certainly smelled wonderful, really powerful, but the flavour didn’t quite live up to the bouquet.

Dessert was the biggest Creme Brulee I’ve ever encountered (and I managed to scoff the lot) served with a pleasantly surprising dessert wine, Beaumes de Venise ‘Domaine de Coyeux’ 2004. I say surprising because I’m not a big dessert wine fan, often finding them too cloying and syrupy. But this was clean and youthful and had a lovely smell of lychees and grapes.

We gained three wine facts from the evening:

  1. Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape, just labelled differently
  2. Many wines are organic but aren’t labelled as such due to the 10% charge that the soil association charge – this was the case for the Chilean red
  3. Muscat smells of grapes – as evidenced by the Beaumes de Venise

All in all another great evening, and certainly an event I’d be keen to participate in again.

Geek Wine Thing – La aventura Española

On Tuesday evening Richard and I headed off to the Hotel du Vin for our first Geek Wine thing in quite some time. This one was the second of the new format Geek Wine Things, now being organised and orchestrated by Fergus De Wit and James Reina from Majestic Wine.

There were 8 wines for tasting, 4 white and 4 red, made up of 4 classics and 4 bright young things.

8 glasses for tasting from

It was a great evening, and as when in the Hunter Valley recently, I made a series of notes. These are made up of “wine facts” and tasting notes. Some of the more useful are:

  • The Spanish wine system is really focussed on the aging process – so Reserva and Gran Reserva have clearly defined meanings on a bottle of Spanish wine. This isn’t the case when these words are applied to many other nations wines
  • Good vintages for Rioja are 2001 and 2004
  • The younger a red wine, is the more breathing time it is likely to need
  • When thinking about wine and food matching, a good hint is to choose the kind of food that is served where the wine is made
  • If you buy a Spanish Reserva or Gran Reserva, then you’re probably on to a winner

Checking the colour

Out of the white wines, my favourite was the first we tasted. This was Albariño Martin Codax 2008 Rias Baixas. Albarino wasn’t a wine that I’d knowingly tasted before, and is indigenous to that particular area of Spain. It was described as being a good halfway house between Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

Wine #5

Out of the red wines, there were 2 that I really liked. These were Emilio Moro 2006 Ribera del Duero and Muriel Gran Reserva 1996. The Ribera del Duero is an up and coming wine area, and the Emilio was a lovely drink. The recommendation was to buy two bottles, drink one now and bury one in the bottom of your garden for 3 to 5 years to age further. Apparently Robert Parker gave it a score of 92 – which marks it out as being a good buy. The Muriel is ready for drinking now and was a lovely smooth wine. As Richard said, if either of these were served to us we’d be delighted.

Apparently, Majestic are running a promotion on Spanish wines next month, so I’m sure we’ll be heading down there to pick up some of these for our drinking pleasure.

Santa Dash 2009

After the awful weather of last year, it was a relief to wake up yesterday to a dry, if somewhat chilly, start to Santa Dash Saturday.

3 Madgexian Santas: Alex, Martin, Jane

In a similar manner to last year, I hooked up with Seb and we “dashed” around the course together. I’d set the virtual trainer on my Garmin Forerunner 205 with a 35 minute aim which was, if I’m honest, somewhat ambitious. I kept an eye on our pace and it was pleasing to watch the distance between us and our virtual pace setter increase (in the right direction). At the halfway point we calculated we were on about a 33 minute pace – last year I did 33:03 – so we kept on going. The last 1k was tough going, but we kept on and looking at the splits actually increased our pace before managing a “dash” to the line finishing at, a frankly surprising, 30:22.

Richard used his flip video to record some footage which is over at (as well as below):

You can still sponsor our efforts.

Brighton Science Festival

Last week was Brighton Science Festival and we managed to get to 2 events, although we did attempt a third.

The first one we attempted was the Cafe Scientifique festival special on “The Frog who Croaked Blue: Synesthesia and the Mixing of the Senses”. But we arrived too late and saw

on the door and so had to make do with a glass of wine in Browns instead…

Next up was the Big Space Show which consisted of 3 parts. The first was comedienne Helen Keen performing her show It Is Rocket Science which was an amusing and quirky look at space, rockets and science.

All in all, a great evening of learning.

The last event we attended was Big Science Saturday, a day of science talks and demonstrations.

Our first talk was The Science of Superheroes, a humourous and entertaining look into how the superheroes superpowers could be replicated in the real world. The most amazing of which, at least for me, was invisibility.

Invisiblity experiment closeup

Next was Dr Harry Witchel on The Secret Language of Negotiation which was an interesting introduction to tells and signs with some video footage to back these things up.

Dr Harry Witchel - The Secret of Negotiations

Final talk of the day was Ben Goldacre who allowed the audience to choose which talk he should do in a “choose your own adventure” style. He was fascinating, passionate and knowledgeable and we’ve since bought a copy of his book to peruse in our own time. Highlights for me were the formulas of “how to a perfect ” taken from the Daily Mail, the BBC and the Daily Telegraph

Choose your own adventure with Dr Ben Goldacre

If my teachers at school, or at least one in particular, had shown as much passion for his subject as the speakers did I might have managed to leave school with a science qualification. As it was, my Physics teacher announced on the first day of our GCSE course that “as far as I’m concerned women are only here to give pleasure to me and give birth to my children and I don’t see why I should teach you physics” which I’m sure you’ll agree is a great start to a 2 year course and something that affected my relationship with science. These type of events are a great way for me to reconnect.

Brighton Santa Dash

A few weeks ago Martin told me about the Brighton Santa Dash, a 5km run along the front dressed in a felt santa suit. I’d been looking for a 5k race after the Preston Park 3.8k run I did in November, and so I signed up to join a handful of other Madgex Santas.

Number 306

This morning, in the wind and rain, I headed down to Hove sea front, collected my felt suit and hat and got ready to go. Richard came with me for moral support armed with a video camera (which stopped working before the race even started due to water damage) and my camera.

Hmm, this beard could get annoying

Seb joined me at the start line and we ran along together for the majority of the race. There were santa’s spread out along the sea front, with various bits of santa suits strewn along the promenade – felt suits don’t handle the rain too well, and felt trousers don’t stay up very well. I didn’t too bad, just losing my belt. The run back from Hove Lagoon to the finish line was a struggle against the wind but I was surrounded by plenty of other soggy santas.


I finished in 33:03, which compares favourably to my 32:35 best practice time, especially considering the conditions, and the fact I was wearing a santa suit and hat. Waiting at the finish line were Richard, Dave and Alex armed with tea and cake – what an absolute star she is.

Brighton Earthship

Bottle wall
Originally uploaded by Jane Dallaway

I attended a talk several years ago about the Earthship concept, and have been meaning to join one of the regular tours to the Brighton Earthship but just never got around to it. When I spotted the tour as part of the eco Open Houses it just seemed too good an opportunity to miss.

I found it hard to justify driving to Stanmer Park to go and visit an eco property, so we got the bikes out and pedalled off to Stanmer House where the group assembled. There were probably around 80 people so we split into two groups and walked off through the Stanmer Organics plots towards the Earthship.

As John, the tour guide, was telling us all about the building process, and how the earthship works, I got to wondering if there were any you could stay in anywhere. My question was answered inside as there was a leaflet – “Eco Home Holiday Rental – the house that runs itself” – in Ger, Normandy, France. Sounds like a great way to experience “off the grid” living without committing to it for the long-term.


The Communal Bin Consultation has started in the little bit of Brighton we live in. Potentially a good idea, but I think one to reject. If you’re not sure if you’re affected take a look at the map of the proposed and existing bin locations (PDF).

We’re told: “The containers will be emptied regularly to prevent them from overflowing. Where we currently have bins we do not have any problems.” Ah come off it… no problems at all? I’ve seen over-flowing bins, and a good percentage of the one’s I’ve seen are broken (as in the photo above).

But anyway… a dull topic… and one that’s been discussed for a while, and rejected by many. It’s just one of the usual issues.

BTW: there’s a surprising number of photos of Brighton bins knocking around.

Windy Day Brighton Cycle – 16:9, Final Cut Express, iDVD experiment

This is a test movie I put together so I could discover how to use the 16:9 setting on the camera, to see how to edit with 16:9, and how to export it. I also wanted to see how I’d get on hand-holding the camera on a cycle.

It turned out to be a great lesson, but unfortunately a terrible piece of video. Sorry about that. Here’s what I’ve learned…

In the first half of the film I was cycling with the camera resting on the handlebars, using my right hand to press the camera onto the handle bars. This is bad for two reason: first, I couldn’t signal in traffic to turn right; second, the vibrations from the road through the camera has crippling effects on the recording.

Later I was cycling essentially one handed, which produced smoother film. It also allowed me to try out changing the filming angle.

Other stuff: cycling against a strong wind, while filming, resulting in me wheezing. Combined with the occasional loud sniff makes for some horrible sound. Gah. But it was a good exercise for me in blending and offsetting the sound from different clips—more so later in the sequence than earlier. Oh, and I learned that I need to oil my cycle: some of the squeaks and rattling sounds are embarrassing 🙂

But that aside the 16:9 part kind of works. I had to jump through a few hoops to export the movie into iDVD. Although the 16:9 export from FCE has the right aspect ratio in QuickTime player, it imports to iDVD as 3:4. I don’t have QuickTime Pro, so I couldn’t use the official Apple workaround for this, or Anamorphicizer, so to get round it I had to pull the movie into iMovie08 and then export from that. It works.

Initially I was deeply unhappy with the output, especially when viewed on TV. Then I found the “Deinterlace Source Video” checkbox in the size option box from “File/Export QuickTime Conversion…” (which is where I also picked “PAL 720×576 16:9” for the dimensions). Lots of jaggies in the original, all gone when deinterlaced.

The version here is a result of exporting from iMovie08 using the “Share/Export Movie” menu, and picking the “medium” format.

Duration: 4min 19sec

Camera: Sony DCR-PC4E (MiniDV)

Recorded: 13 Jan 2008

Editing software: Final Cut Express HD 3.5

NaVloPoMo 2007 Screening

This afternoon we spent a couple of hours at The Werks watching the highlights of the NaVloPoMo 2007 project. Some of the films were funny, some were sad, a lot were well thought out with a story to tell.

I used the video feature on my phone and recorded snippets of the afternoon, which I’ve edited in iMovie as a tribute.

I don’t think I should give up the photography and switch to video any time soon :-). Having said that Node 101 is a skill swap style idea to help people learn how to produce video, so if it gets off the ground in Brighton, maybe I should head along.