YOU DON’T LIKE WINE!
Do you also not like food? OK, I see where this argument fails, but bear with me, I may have a point. Wine is not food, accepted. We do not need it to survive (allegedly)! It is alcoholic and although I cannot comprehend it, I can respect those who choose to refrain.
Safety brief complete, rant continues….
How do you know you don’t like wine? What did you have that you didn’t like? Maybe you just haven’t met the right wine yet?
There are literally hundreds of grape varieties producing a range of wines that is incomprehensible to many (including me)! Don’t get me started on how many different wine regions there are all around the world. And if you think grapes=wine=much the same, come on! So you don’t like mushrooms but you like toast. You like apples but you don’t like strawberries. And so it is with wine. The range is so vast, I’m pretty sure there is nothing comparable.
Have you tried a variety of both still and sparkling, red, white and rose, in sweet, dry and medium styles? Have you? Surely it’s IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO LIKE WINE!! Let me take that one step further. I refuse to believe that anyone does not ‘like’ wine. Does not want to like wine, that I can believe, but why? Do you know what you are missing? Clearly not!
I’m taking a few deep breaths now, and a few clicks on the Internet reveal a great many suggestions of where to start, in the main with medium dry German white wines. Can this be right? Just because this is supposedly ‘easy to drink’, does not mean you will like it. Admittedly it is where I started, but I know people who were ‘converted’ to wine by red Bordeaux.
A more interesting response was returned when I posed the question on twitter…
@christhewino suggested “start them on a Rose, then ask what they liked about it (hopefully something) that will guide them towards reds/whites”, or “Bordeaux as so many wines are, in 1 way or another, based on them”.
@Sainsburyswine offered “Something from our House range. All under £5 and great examples of grape styles” and “our House Soave is a delicious entry level”.
My thoughts are, try the ‘extremes’ and see if you can work out what you like, or don‘t like. Try one of the following fabulous wines:
Chateau du Seuil Graves Rouge 2006, £14.49 from Virgin Wines
It’s not often I buy wines over £10, but if I’d found nothing else I liked at the Virgin Wines Tasting (which I did), I would have been happy with this. The Wine Enthusiast gave 89 points when tasted in January 2009 commenting:
“It takes a while to get beyond the dry structure of this wine. But underneath that initially forbidding exterior there is a solid core of ripe, sweet black fruits and an elegant balance with the acidity coming through to finish well. A wine for some ageing - maybe 3-4 years’.
Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d’Asti, £6.99 (half bottle) from Booths Supermarket
Liquid sherbet for grown ups! Or as Matthew Jukes (more eloquently) puts it:
“..with pristine grapey, juicy fruit and a delightful prickle on the palate, Nivole is one of my favourite Moscatos of all…”
I’ve struggled to find anywhere else that sells this in the UK, but I’m sure someone does!
Torres Vina Esmeralda, around £7/8 in Majestic, Waitrose and elsewhere!
I don’t know many places that don’t sell this. It’s widely available and a good ‘converter’ wine for the Blue Nun brigade (and a wonderful sunny day drink).
Waitrose website reads “Lovely delicate honey and fresh grape fruit characters are tempered by the zip and spice of a little Gewurztraminer…one of the best value characterful white wines available today”.
Or try a Muscadet, (one of my favourite whites), I mention one in my post ‘A Matter of Taste’. Or Phoebe’s favourite, a fizz (sparkling wine), some are listed in my post ‘Spit It Out’.
Admittedly it could be a bit expensive to work out what you like. I’ve said it before and let’s face it, this won’t be the last time I say it again. GO TO A WINE TASTING! For very little money you can spend many lovely hours tasting all kinds of wine. And if you can’t do that, pop along to your local wine shop. Most shops worth their salt (or wine) have free weekly wines on tastings, Majestic being a prime example.
But above all, try some wine! “Even if you have nowhere to do it but in your own living room. Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them”.
I’ll leave you wondering where I’ve borrowed that from.
Posted by Phoebe Brain, May 2012
Follow @Phoebebrain on Twitter
Spit it Out!!
It’s March already! Did you make some New Year’s Resolutions? I vowed to spend ‘Less time drinking, more time shopping’ (previous post) and let me tell you, that is going very well!
Not least because I’ve committed to donating 4 weeks ‘wine money’ to a worthy cause. The subtext being that (in theory) not a drop of alcohol will pass my lips for 28 days (roll on 24th March)! It’s going, well um, well!
It seems however that I overcompensate for the “less time drinking” part and although I’m not exactly shopping more, I’ve booked not one, not two, but 3 wine tastings in April and May! This is a lot. Until I attended a total of 1 event last year, I hadn’t managed to get myself to a tasting in 5 years!
This presents a second New Year’s Resolution …
If you’ve been to wine tastings, you will know that it is common practice to spit the wine into a spittoon once you’ve tasted it, in fact you’ve probably done it. I have not. The older I get the harder I find it to get through a day’s tasting without feeling completely washed out, but somehow I can’t bring myself to spit out any of the wine. I know I would get so much more from the tasting if I did.
In my defence, I recently read this on
Wine Etiquette that suggests “It is perfectly acceptable to swallow the wine at a wine tasting event. If you’re spending a leisurely afternoon tasting wine with friends…by all means, don’t feel compelled to spit out a wine if you like it”.
That said, I’m still not sure I‘ve got it right. I would have to admit to somewhat questionable judgement after a couple of hours tasting.
I wonder though, will the Taittinger Prelude Grands Crus be the exception to that rule. The point at which I tasted this, was definitely the messy end of the tasting. Having given up drinking anything ‘interesting’ (that is, wines that I intend to try but rarely drink) I reverted true to form, to drinking only fizz. I was inelegantly working my way through the Taittinger range, pretending to be some what knowledgeable and interested in the finer details of viticulture and vinification (get me with the long words), when I was stopped in my tracks. And at a pretty good price. Alright, it’s not your everyday drinker (not on my budget), but if you’re going to splash out on a bottle, this is £43 at Majestic, and has recently been well discounted! I was expecting a much higher price tag.
Back to the wine itself though, having not sampled it since (and not trusting my own typically sketchy notes at this point), this is what wine expert Tim Atkin had to say:
“Taittinger is making impressive Champagnes at every level, from non-vintage to deluxe cuvee, but this has to be the pick of the stable at its reduced Christmas price. It’s an elegant Chardonnay-based bubbly with subtle hazelnut and brioche flavours and fine, pinhead bubbles. The Christmas Day bubbles chez Atkin”.
If that’s a bit of a stretch, but you fancy some lovely bubbly, these are some of my favourites. Have you tried them?
Sainsburys Taste the Difference Vintage Cava, £10.49 (I’ve always bought on offer for under £8)
Condesa Blanca Brut Cava, Oddbins £7.00
Sumarroca Brut Reserva Cava The Wine Society £7.50
As for the Taittinger Prelude, I have a bottle and it will be my ‘wine fast’ breaker! Definitely something to look forward to. I’m sure it’s worth waiting for! Now, only 13 days to go….
And the spitting? First tasting is in April. Maybe I’ll practice at home first (with water of course).
Once again, Happy New Year! Thanks for reading and if you have some wine resolutions of your own or have comments on mine, please share.
Please leave comments or tweet me @phoebebrain
Better late than never!
Have you made your New Wine Resolutions?
OK, it’s a bit late for January 1st but almost in time for Chinese New Year! It is surely time we all committed ourselves to some New Year’s Resolutions, if you haven’t already!
I have many (all wine related), and up first is…
LESS TIME DRINKING, MORE TIME SHOPPING…..
Most of my wine comes from the aisle next but one to the tea and coffee. I spend only a few minutes scanning the shelves and then promptly place random bottles into the trolley. This is no way to shop for wine! This is not a criticism of the supermarket. I cannot believe how complacent I have become about choosing wine. I couldn’t even tell you what influences my choice, although budget does come into it.
I have tried local wine retailers (but that requires ‘extra’ time, who has that), and I always find the experience disappointing. Not necessarily the wine, but just the visit to the shop. Recently it dawned upon me why this is. I am comparing the experience to something with which it is not comparable. In my younger years (not that I am particularly old, but I was definitely young then), I was Assistant Manager in a branch of Oddbins. I LOVED that job!! Now when I go to buy wine, that is the feeling I am trying to recreate. If anyone can match that for me as a customer, I imagine my bank manager will tut and roll his eyes!
I am happy to say that I have joined the Wine Society (round of applause please)! To date I have made only 1 order (2 mixed cases - ‘hand picked‘). I find myself a little overfaced by the choice! I received many recommendations via twitter which was amazing, and I have already found a few favourites (including the one below), but essentially buying from catalogues and websites doesn’t do it for me. I want to go nose to nose with the labels, to touch the bottles! Yes I know that‘s odd, what did you expect?
I was especially excited by The Society’s Vin D’Alsace 2010 at £7.95. Mostly I was surprised by just how ‘taken’ I was with this wine. I don’t often choose to drink white wine these days, particularly over red or my beloved fizz, but this one is worth changing your ways for as far as I’m concerned. The Wine Society describe the wine as:
A blend of sylvaner, riesling, gewurztraminer and pinot gris with a touch of muscat from the venerable house of Hugel. Vivid lemon yellow, beautifully floral nose showing the complexity of the five grapes that continues on the palate. A greenhouse of summer fruits in a glass, and a total delight.
I couldn’t have put it better myself. No seriously! I’m awful at describing wine! However I’m not entirely sure what ‘a greenhouse of summer fruits…’ means! But all in all, I am essentially very impressed with the Wine Society and will soon be making my second order.
So getting back to the point (I’m sure I had one). Time is precious and there is precious little of it, but surely it’s better to spend more time finding the right wine and less time drinking the wrong wine! If I only enjoy 1 bottle of wine each week that I haven’t tried before, I will consider this a huge achievement on my part. Small fries for some, walking on the moon for me!
So Happy New Year, thanks for reading and if you have some wine resolutions of your own or have comments on mine, please share. I have some more too, which I hope to share over the coming weeks.
Please leave comments or tweet me @phoebebrain
Bit of post-weekend sarcasm. Happy Monday!
A MATTER OF TASTE
All tastes are equal. But some tastes are more equal than others!
The day I watched my father-in-law glug down several glasses of corked wine, I was rather shocked, to say the least. But I gave it little thought, except to assume he just didn’t care what it tasted like. Even now I wince at the mere thought of it.
But when you think about it, there are so many more curiosities when you mix wine with people. Are those who refuse to drink cheap wine really wine snobs? Why don’t we all like the exact same wines? Why doesn’t everyone taste the same ‘tastes’ in the same wines? Why do some people taste ‘better’ than others (steady, you know what I mean)!
I’ve been trying to write this post for some time now, and by trying to write, I mean it’s crossed my mind several times, but I’ve hit a stumbling block. I went looking for definitive answers and what I found was a world of confusion and contradiction. Yes I envisaged quite a bit of trawling and admittedly I’m no scientist, but foolishly I expected something a little more concrete.
All that aside and well accustomed to a bit of stumbling from time to time, I decided to carry on with the post anyway, so brace yourself for my version of science…
What is taste?
Your ‘taste buds’, or taste receptors, are grouped inside papillae, the small bumps you see on your tongue (this is about as technical as I get). How many, or how few, people can have is where the confusion seems to start. According to Tim Hanni, creator of Vinotype (more on that later), the range is from 500-11,000 so you can start to imagine the difference in experience! He also tells us the average is 3,000, although another source says the average adult has 10,000 taste buds – I’m not sure at this point if they are counting the same things!
Gordon M Shepherd, professor of neurobiology at Yale School of Medicine, says that without smell there is no flavour. His research shows that sense of smell is the dominant sense in flavour. Not only that, but we don’t just smell by sniffing, but from the back of our mouths. I think there’s a good opportunity to get caught up in technicalities here, as the professor explains that flavour and taste are very different things. Sit comfortably for ‘Jargon Class’ (don’t worry it’s short):
Taste is simply (and this is where all my headings fall apart completely), if something is sweet, salty, sour, bitter or umani (savouriness). Flavour is the sum of all sensations surrounding what you can, er, taste!
And as if this wasn’t enough www.esciencenews.com document a study which although it is a known fact that women generally have a finer sense of taste than men (naturally!), the experience showed that male and female subjects had largely the same number of taste buds. They concluded that the difference was in fact in the way in which boys and girls process taste impressions.
So now I’ve cleared that up (or not) lets move on.
Taste (or the ability to detect flavour) – who has it and who doesn’t?
Again, the correlation here appears to be the number of taste buds on your tongue, and you may have heard the term ‘super-taster’ banded about. Research suggests that the more taste buds you have the more likely you are to be a ‘super-taster’. In this study, people were tested for their sensitivity to a bitter chemical. This divided people into 3 groups, 25% were termed super-tasters, who found the taste revolting. 50% were medium tasters who can taste the chemical but didn’t mind it. 25% were so called non-tasters, who can’t taste any bitterness. But (I think) this only affects your ‘taste’, not ‘flavour’ - see earlier Jargon Class.
Apparently super-tasters find flavanoids (healthy antioxidant chemical found in many fruit and veg) unpleasantly bitter, or bitterly unpleasant! They avoid foods which contain high levels such as citrus fruits, onions, parsley, pulses, dark chocolate and wait for it, wait for it, Red Wine!! So bang went my theory that our wine experts are super-tasters – not so. Do I want to be a super-taster, no thanks!
Can you categorize someone’s taste?
I was fascinated to read about Tim Hanni’s Vinotype Wine Tasting Experience. Tim’s concept is a way to categorise individuals to understand their wine preferences based on their physiology and life experiences. This sounds reasonable considering what has just been said, however it does say the key physiological factor in Vinotyping is the number of taste buds a person has.
I don’t understand enough about how Vinotype works, but if it does, I’d say that’s an amazing feat. I’ve come across a couple of apps that attempt to categorise your tastes and as much as I can’t disagree with the result, it does all seem a bit general and the wine recommendations have included wines I don’t like.
What is my taste?
I used to drink Dao, Pinotage (these are the 2 I’m admitting to) and many other wines, that quite frankly aren’t for me these days. But I’ve recently rediscovered a wine I haven’t drunk in at least 10 years. If you’ve read the rest of this blog (both posts), you are probably well aware I’ve been surviving on a diet of Rioja, fizz and Chianti. But I’ve been missing out on so much, one of which is Muscadet, and here’s one I’ve been enjoying recently.
Sainsburys Taste the Difference Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie 2010 - £6.99
I’ve just googled this and apparently it is widely recommended! I don’t really do describing wine, so I’m offering you this from Susy Atkins:
‘Very fresh and deeply lemony with a salty tang on the very finish. Pour with seaside seafood, white fish and dressed salads’.
What do I like about this - it’s bone dry and has a lot more going for it than just fruit! I’m not sure what ‘deeply lemony’ conjures up if I’m honest! What don’t I like about this - in all honesty, not much! It bugs me a little that it’s ‘Sainsburys Taste the Difference’ rather than a mysteriously French sounding name! But there’s the snob in me! Let me say at this point that I don’t think that Muscadet is for everyone - it’s not like other wines!
Back to the very long-winded way in which I was trying to make my usual point!
The fairly nonsensical statement at the start of this post ‘all tastes are equal. But some tastes are more equal than others’ stolen and shamelessly modified from George Orwell’s 1945 classic, Animal Farm, is true in many senses. But what I mean by it is that it really just boils down to this: your taste is as valid as the next person’s.
Is someone else’s opinion of wine more valuable than yours? Not to you!! Yes obviously someone who is skilled and experienced in tasting wine is well placed to describe that wine to others. That description should assist us in deciding whether the wine is something we might like. But just because it gets 5 stars or a 95 from Parker doesn’t mean you are going to enjoy it. The best you can do is to understand your own taste and I’m confident the best way to do that is (happily) to taste more wine! And this to my mind is what public wine tastings are all about - finding the wines you like.
Are you a so called ‘non-taster‘? If you like wine, I’d think not. But possibly like my father-in-law, you just don’t mind or can’t taste the ‘wet-dog’ wine! That doesn’t mean you aren’t experiencing the wine (and there are wines he doesn‘t like)! Don’t compare yourself to ‘the experts’, trust your taste buds. And if someone loves (dare I say) Blue Nun, Black Tower and Frascati (oops sorry), each to their own. It may not be my taste these days but as I said before, tastes change.
Posted by Phoebe Brain on 13 December 2011 (follow Phoebe on twitter)
Straight to the Point
My tasting notes are pointless!
I used to get to a few big wine tastings/wine fairs each year. The kind that are terribly civilised for the first few hours but then escalate into a flurry of excited ‘tasters’ dashing from one stand to the next with shouts of ‘you’ve GOT to try that’ and ‘this is AMAZING’! Oh how I miss them….
At these tastings I took notes in the only way I’d ever considered I was supposed to. Reading these notes now I can’t imagine why I bothered to write anything at all.
My notes attempted to follow the format that I had been taught. Look - write, smell - write, taste - write, score - write. Right? Wrong! My notes could have been anyone’s (that is assuming that ’anyone’ wasn’t particularly good at describing wine)! I’d write the typically obvious; Sangiovese - cherries, Merlot - plums, Riesling - petrol, Pinot Noir - ‘farmyard’. None of this is rocket science, if you want this kind of information you can look it up on
Question: what is the purpose of tasting notes. For me, I don’t need to know every last detail of how the wine tasted. I’m not someone who needs to describe the wine to anyone else. Even the educated and skilled descriptions are questioned from time to time.
Wine Anorak wrote ‘This is the primary difficulty with writing about wine. Verbal descriptors are imprecise and largely fail to evoke an imagined flavour on the part of the reader. This is why I’m increasingly moving away from descriptors that simply attempt to identify all the different smells and tastes in a particular wine’.
As for me, all I really want to know is whether I liked the wine or not and why. Is this sour grapes (sorry!) on my part because I’m not particularly good at describing wine? Maybe so, and please don’t get me wrong, I like descriptions. It’s largely how I chose wine I’ve never had before, that and how pretty the label is and how heavy the bottle is (just kidding)! But I don’t need this kind of description in my notes.
Hopefully you‘re not just thinking I‘m crazy, and if you are, can I just point out that it isn‘t just me.
Keepwinesimple.com posted ‘writing wine tasting notes need not be a complicated activity. These notes are for you….. The only rule is that they should convey the information that is important to you’. Entirely sensible to the point of obvious I would say. Although it does go on to discuss colour, aroma, taste and rating. I see how this might be useful to others, but all I’m really interested in is my overall ‘wine experience’.
I love wine. I trust my opinion on a wine over anyone else’s and I would urge you (if you don’t already) to do the same (your opinion, not mine). The best you can do to work out which wines you like is go tasting. I’m going to one this month and I am SO EXCITED!
I will ask myself just two questions. 1. What do I like about this wine? 2. What don’t I like about this wine? I expect just in asking these questions, I may answer with some kind of description about the wine. But, perhaps bizarrely, I believe the main focus of the notes is not the wine, it is the ‘drinker‘! Essentially, it’s all about you. I wish I could explain that better! Hopefully I don’t need to. People don’t have the same experience of the same wine, it’s the interaction between you and the wine.
I’m not suggesting everyone writes their tasting notes like this, but if you’ve never considered what you hope to get out of your notes, or like me, have never found them remotely useful or interesting, ask yourself the question - What do I want from my notes? Start from there.
Wine isn’t just a drink, it’s an experience.
What’s the point in drinking the same wines all the time?
In the last decade my wine buying behaviour is laughable and yet so difficult to change. I bypass whole sections without realising and reject wines for unjustifiable reasons. In making a concerted effort in recent weeks to improve this situation, I find myself searching for South African/New Zealand Pinot Noir and Australian Shiraz. Random? You bet ya!
I ask for recommendations and find it impossible to hide the nervous twitch that ensues at the mere mention of Pinotage or Zinfandel/Primitivo - how dare they! They may as well have suggested I drink the dirty dishwater!
Can you count on 2 hands the wines you drink regularly? Or count on 1 hand the ‘categories’ of wines you drink?
My answer is most positively yes to both of these, in the case of the latter it goes Chianti, Rioja, Cava and Prosecco.
If you are one of those enviable individuals who has earned your place in the world of wine tasting/writing/blogging, this surely does not apply to you, but for all us mere mortals, I’d wager a good percentage fall into this ‘trap’ - tell me if I’m wrong.
I’ve always, quite smugly, thought I know a bit about wine and know how to choose a good bottle of wine. I have recently realised that what I’ve actually done is created myself a little set of rules that mean I only buy certain types, if not the same wines, all the time. So conversely, what has actually happened, is that I know incredibly little about wine and my experience has dwindled rapidly as I’ve spent a good 7 or 8 years drinking the same wines - which I could count on 2 hands.
Recently I had the pleasure of reading the late Len Evan’s Theory of Capacity. If you haven’t read it you should. Taking his point ‘4. To make the most of the time left to you, you must start by calculating your future capacity…’ I’m going to err on the side of caution here, but I reckon I’ve a good 3000+ bottles to go (if I‘m totally honest, probably more like 6000++). Do I really want that to be thousands more bottles of Chianti, Rioja, Cava and Prosecco? With that many to go at, surely I can afford to dabble a little?!
A survey this year conducted by Spar (yes the shop), showed that half of Britons are so nervous about their lack of wine knowledge they will leave wine buying decisions to someone else. 28% opt for ‘safe’ brand names they recognise to avoid embarrassment. My motivation is different, but surely what I do is take the ‘safe’ option of repeatedly drinking the same wines, in my case, to avoid disappointment.
In the Wine Spectator, Matt Kramer writes
Why I No Longer Buy Expensive Wine. Mr Kramer says ‘..what I now seek from wine, more than anything else, is the element of surprise….Expensive wines rarely offer that element of surprise for me anymore‘.
The comments added to this article are divided to say the least. One of my favourites reads (in part) ‘I find it much more enjoyable to sit down once a week with a great bottle of wine that I know what I am going to get’.
I see both sides of the argument. And it’s not so much that I’m sitting on the fence with this one, but rather that from time to time, I’d like to venture out of this field and into the next one and then the next. The journey starts here…
Posted by Phoebe Brain (follow me on Twitter)