Archive for November, 2009


Plan of Action

Wine tasting is a top notch way to spend an evening with friends. At least there’ll be something interesting to throw down your throat while you chat, as opposed to the usual bag dans le box party wine. A friend is planning to run a couple of tastings with friends for charidee, and asked me if I had any pointers. As desperately pressing as all my other engagements may or may not be, I ended up writing a little outline plan of how the evening might go. I thought I might as well post it here in case anyone fancies a look.

Basic Idea:

12 people

Taste 2 wines at a time so you can compare them – this really makes the individual qualities of each stand out.

Wrap each bottle in tissue so everyone is tasting blind (make sure YOU know which one is which!) Print out tasting sheets with space for notes and also tickboxes so guests can guess things like: is it old or new world? What grape variety might it be made from? (give 4 options) How much might it cost? (4 options again).

You’ll need:  24 wine glasses, 12 Champagne flutes, 12 tasting hseets, pens/pencils, water, ice buckets if you can’t fit all the white wine in the fridge.


Everyone arrives and sparkling wine is served with nibbles. Make sure everyone has two empty wine glasses, a tasting sheet and a pen.


Sauvignon Blanc – 1 x French (Touraine can be really good value) and 1 x New Zealand (Marlborough).

Pour everyone a sample of each. Sniff! Talk about aromas. Taste! Discuss flavours. Are they the same as the aromas? Generally, the French should be more refined compared to the pronounced fruit and aromas of the NZ. Both should have gooseberry, grass and green fruit aromas/flavours but the French may be more balanced and will hopefully have some mineral notes (like wet stone). The NZ will probably be more acidic (should make your mouth water more) and limey.

When everyone’s done discussing, uncover the label and tell them where it’s from, what it’s made from, and how much it costs – one point for each correct guess. You could also add a little info about the specific regions/winemakers/winemaking techniques – if you think anyone will be interested!


Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blends – 1 x red Bordeaux and 1 x Australian or Chilean Cab/Merlot blend

Again, the French will probably be more restrained and the aromas/flavours may be more balanced and integrated. The new world wine should be more fruit driven and the fruit may be riper (like jam) partly due to the very hot sun where the grapes are grown. Discuss, guess, then uncover as above.


Shiraz/Syrah – 1 x Rhone or S. France and 1 x Australian (if you didn’t use an Aussie Cab/Merlot above) or South African.

Both should be big and full, with the lovely spice typical of the grape. Once again the French may be subtler and perhaps more complex as opposed to the huge great juicy chunk of wine from the new world. If you choose a South African, it may well be slightly smoky. By this point your guests will probably be pretty good at spotting the old world and the new world wines, so they’ll be feeling pretty chuffed with themselves!


You could either carry on comparing more wines now, or for a bit of variety you could try some food and wine matching. Italian wine is a good bet for this as most of it is highly acidic and tastes a million times better with food. So maybe a Chianti with some Italian meats and cheeses, or a Rioja with some tapas, or an Argentinian Malbec with some pieces of cut up steak. Mmmmmmmmmm…… It might be nice to finish with a dessert wine and something sweet. As we’re approaching that festive time of year, how about mince pies!

You could also prepare a printout with all the wines you’ve tasted – where they’re from, how they’re made, who makes them, and don’t forget to say where you can buy them.

I’ve costed this example up (using widely available wines) choosing bottles for £7-8 each and including nibbles, and food matching, and I reckon you can do it for pretty much spot on £100. One way to bring the cost down is to invite each guest to bring one of the wines on the list so you don’t have to fork out for the lot. It’s just an outline of the sort of thing you could do, very easily adaptable to your own taste. Hope it helps, chin chin!


Naked Angels

You may have seen a relatively new name in wine retail popping up here and there. Naked Wines was set up last year by Rowan Gormley who thought he had some pretty cool ideas about what the wine world needed. His main aim is to bring to these shores some of the fantastic small producers out there who don’t have the means to promote themselves. The wine world is full of stuffiness, elitism and unnecessary expenditure, and Naked Wines aims to cut all of this out. The motto at Naked Wines is ‘Get Naked. Drink Better. Spend Less’. There’s a neat little video of Rowan himself explaining one way they can help us all to achieve this.

To me, one of the most interesting things about Naked Wines is the lack of wine buyers. The wine sold is all chosen by their very own customers. Fool proof! If you don’t like it, you’ve only got yourself to blame! Seriously though, I find this concept extremely exciting. Many companies out there bleat on about wanting to make wine more accessible to those of us who haven’t grown up with a pair of silver grape scissors in our mouths, but this is solid indisputable proof that Naked are actually doing it.


So how does it work? Well I went along to their South African tasting event to find out. About 60 of us gather in a conference room and are given scoresheets. First off, I quickly realise not every single customer gets a say in what wines are bought, you must be selected. These chosen folk are known as Archangels (you can apply to be one on the website). There are various tables set up, each lined with 25 bottles. We are assigned a table number each – I get number one, Shiraz. It’s noon and I haven’t eaten all day, is it wise to start on the heavy reds? I remember I am supposed to be a professional and commence sipping and spitting like the best of them. My word there are some rather large wines in there! Some fantastic, others less so, but nothing awful. Trying not to be influenced by the shape of the bottle and fanciness of the label I gurgle and shwoosh like a trooper. After 25 slurps of Shiraz I hand my scores to a Naked person so they can be entered into the computer. Then a new sheet and a new table – blends. A few whites to start (don’t really have a chance after all that Shiraz) and then on to more reds. Shwoosh, glurg, spit, shwoosh, glurg, spit….scores in. Phew, I’m an athlete! In my own way.

All our data is put together on the computer which then works out which are the top ten wines from the whole room. In fact, it turns out there are fourteen top wines as a few of them have tied scores. These are then set out for a second tasting where we must indicate what price we would pay for each. My valuations range from £4.99 up to £15.99, though most around the £7-£10 mark. The final stage is the exciting bit. The Naked Wines staff call the makers of these 14 wines and they (in South Africa) take part in a live auction right in front of our eyes. Now I’m not entirely sure of the technicalities of exactly how this works, but basically the winemakers are bidding for a certain share of the Naked Wines budget for South African wine. So they are told what we have decided their wine is worth and they can choose to adjust their selling price accordingly to receive a bigger share of the dosh. I think. What I do know is it’s all very democratic and instant and I thoroughly enjoy the feeling that I’m a part of the process.

I’m extremely impressed by Naked Wines so far. I like what they’re trying to achieve and it’s certainly a refreshing change of attitude in what can be a tiresomely old fashioned industry. After all the scoring I got a chance to taste some of the wines I hadn’t had time to try, and took a bit more time to appreciate them. I hadn’t been assigned to the Pinotage table during the scoring so I felt it was my duty to try a few examples of South Africa’s signature grape before leaving. Pinotage is a Marmite grape, although in my experience more people hate it than love it. I’ve heard people compare the taste to ‘licking an ashtray clean after a party.’ Mmmmm, yummy. Personally I like the smokiness, and the meaty bacon aromas you often get on the nose. The best one by far I tried on this occasion was the Eaglevlei Pinotage 2007 (click for a little review). Also good was the Cape Rock SGMV 2008 though I don’t think either of these made it to the top table so I may have to wait a while until I can try them again.


South African wine has a tough time of it over here. It still has a fair wodge of the UK market but that’s a lot to do with the big brands which are designed for mass market safe tastes. Next time you’re having a steak or a roast, and definitely when you’re planning a barbecue, leave the Bordeaux and the Malbec for once and give the Cape a try.

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November 2009