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.

In Hunter Valley

Two-ish hours north-ish of Sydney is the wine destination of Hunter Valley where we spent a lovely couple of days with Lisa, Mitül, Ash, Jono and Anna.

If you drink a little wine from time to time you’ll recognize the name “Hunter Valley”, but it turns out there’s just a handful of boutique vineyards left here.  The region contributes just two per cent of all Australian wine.  The upshot is: it’s tourism that’s the real industry in Hunter Valley.

These facts were given to us by our tour guide and minibus driver, James. He’s an English ex-pat, and former travel agent, with a brisk, dry manner and cavalier attitude to driving. I liked him a lot.  He’d take us over dirt roads to some great wine tastings, prepping us on the eccentricities of the owners, while we bounced around in the back of the bus.

With four vineyards to hit in the day we needed to make at start  at 10am.  Kicking off a wine tour so soon after breakfast wasn’t something I’d fully thought through—I’m not yet at that stage of life where I wake up thinking I could really do with a nice glass of red.  However, when the minibus arrived and we climbed on-board the immediate concern switched to defending ourselves from the hoard of mosquitoes in the minibus.   “Are there mosquitoes back there?” asked James in a tone of surprise that suggested he knew damn well there was, had a pretty good idea of how they got there, but wasn’t comfortable explaining the cause. I may have read too much into his tone.   Not that it mattered much, as we’d nailed most of them by the time we arrived at our first vineyard, Ernest Hill.

Jane made notes on the wines, so I don’t have to mention them, other than to say there were some lovely wines, once you get passed the problem of tasting wine while minty toothpaste still lingers in your mouth.  That problem goes away pretty quicky, but for me was replaced with a different problem.  How much wine was I drinking?

I’ve started using the NHS drinks tracker (iPhone app) and it doesn’t have a category for wine tasting, and as you taste more it becomes increasingly difficult to translate wine strengths and tasting measure volumes, or “standard drinks”, into “units” used in the UK.  It wasn’t until the third vineyard that I found a handy leaflet which at least told us how much was in a tasting measure:

By about the third vineyard, I’d probably had enough wine tasting for the day.  Ash and I started wandering around a cellar with a calculator working out how these people make enough money from selling wine to people like us, or from wine clubs.  “They don’t”, was the short answer from James.  I guess it’s all about the wine passion then…

The tourism side has warped some people’s minds a little.   At an ice cream place there was a no photography sign. WTF? Jono asked the question of a member of staff and she said the rule is there because the competition had been copying their designs.  Although she added “….but I don’t care”.

But if you’re out that way, I’d definely recommend heading out there.  We stayed at a lovely place in what I’d describe as the middle of nowhere, and I could have probably enjoyed another day or so there.   But I’d have to drink less wine.

Geek Wine Thing

Checking the colour
Originally uploaded by Jane Dallaway.

Last night we attended the first Geek Wine Thing organised by Danny and held at the Regency Town House.

Henry Butler from the Butlers wine cellar led the tasting, and for the cost of a tenner we tasted 8 different Spanish and Portugese wines. As a total novice in the wine tasting world, it was interesting to learn more about how to smell, look at and taste wine. Henry was an excellent and enthusiastic teacher.

The tasting started off very quiet and subdued, but before too many glasses had been consumed we got noisier and noisier.

The wines we tasted were:

Pares Balta Blanc de Pacs 2006 – Spain
Soalheiro Alvarinho 2005 – Portugal
Castello D’Alba 2005 – Portugal
Navajas Crianza 2003 – Spain

Monte Real Reserva 2000 – Spain
Clos Le Fites 2002 – Spain
Quinta de la Rosa Tinto 2004 – Portugal
Niepoort Redoma 1994 – Portugal

The white wines were split into unoaked (the first 2) and oaked (the second 2) with one each from Spain and Portugal. As usual I preferred the unoaked – so another nail in the coffin of oaked wines for me.

Next time, and I hope there will be a next time, I’ll try and remember to bring a pen to make some notes, as somewhat unsurprisingly I don’t remember too much beyond the first couple of glasses 🙂

As usual, my photos from the evening are all on flickr.