Do you find that choosing wine can be a bit like a game of roulette?
You pick your bottle based on price tag and a vague memory of having drunk something similar in the past. You fill your glass and hope for the best.
Unlike beer, which, generally speaking, you can rely on to taste the same from year to year, this wine stuff just keeps bloody changing.
Harvest after harvest.
And that – depending on your perspective – is either the trouble with it, or the beauty of it.
It undoubtedly makes life interesting for winemakers and wine aficionados, but not a little tricky for you and me. Multiply grapes by regions by styles by vintages and the choices are bewildering. Though we may get to know broadly what it is we like in a wine when we taste it, we may not have the vocabulary to describe it much beyond red, white or bubbly. So we often rely on those more knowledgeable to navigate the vast cellars, taste widely and recommend. With any luck, they won’t come over all poncey in the process.
Pick a glass, any glass...
I’d like to think that my near permanent thirst for wine is somehow matched by my equally persistent thirst for more knowledge about it. I am, as a result, wont to indulge in research at every opportunity – you know, the kind of research that involves drinking the stuff.
So, when I was invited recently to not only sample a selection of wines from Cloudy Bay, but to meet their viticulturist Siobán Harnett, I was hardly going to say no. The fact that this invitation also involved eating in Michelin-starred Guilbaud’s again was, er, a bonus – admittedly one that you might actually sell your granny for. None of your fried dandelions on the menu here, no sirree. Instead a range of delicate and impressive eats, designed to complement the ever elegant liquids of Cloudy Bay.
On the Guilbaud's Cloudy Bay lunch menu:
Stewed Basque Pepper Terrine, Croustillant of Dublin Bay Prawns (yeah, I had to look it up too - they're crispy, in other words), Fillet of Charolais Beef, Rhubarb Cheese Cake (with an eminently edible candy-striped white chocolate surround)
Suffice to say that I was ruddy-cheeked by the time I departed.
That’ll happen when you (a) spend a few hours in a room with some 200 wines from 37 different New Zealand winemakers and (b) have yet to learn the necessary art of spitting. I’m feeling woozy just thinking about it.
The event was yesterday’s annual New Zealand wine trade tasting presented by New Zealand winegrowers and ably organised by Jean Smullen. The tasting room was filled with wine buyers and restaurateurs and people whose job it is to write about wine and, er, me (there will be no prizes for spotting the odd one out, sorry!).
Wine, check, glasses, check, off we go...