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Wine in a day

Wine in a day

While I feel that I know a fair bit about food (well, routinely coming second in the Annual Food Festival Quiz has to count for something right?), I am the first to admit that my knowledge of wine is severely lacking. Enter Sara Bangert from The General Wine Company who hosts regular “Wine in a Day” courses at Michael Sutton’s Cellar. It’s not often that you are given permission to start drinking at 10.30 in the morning so I was most keen to sign up for this one.

After initial introductions – we were a mixed bunch, ranging from chefs and food bloggers to builders and estate agents – the morning kicked off with a general introduction to the different types and styles of wine and how the colour is determined by the types of grapes used. We then went on to consider the factors that influence the structure and body of wines, such as acidity, aroma and flavour characteristics, tannins, barrel ageing and climate. Apparently with the general increase in temperature due to global warming wine makers are having to think hard about ways in which they can mitigate the effects this rise in temperature is having on their grape harvests, such as growing at higher altitudes.

We then learnt about the principal white grape varieties of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, and of course sampled some of the wine varieties containing these grapes. Sara also touched on the proper way to taste wine, which is to first look at the colour, then smell (without swirling the wine), then to smell after swirling and finally to taste, remembering to slosh it all around your mouth as different parts will pick up different flavours.

They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and the morning ended with Sara putting our noses through their paces in a rather fun scent test. The Le Nez du Vin wine aroma kit consists of 54 pure fragrances designed to find out how well you can identify the different aromas found in wines. Thirteen little bottles of fragrance were handed around and much discussion ensued. The most common phrase heard was that of “Ooh I know that but I just can’t put my finger on it”. Scores ranged from 1-7 out of 13 (I was very happy with my 5) with a chef and a builder fighting it out in a final tie-break! I found this exercise fascinating as it’s amazing how difficult it is to put a name to a very familiar smell, eg banana without any visual clues. Apparently with practice you can become quite good at this. Of course you then have to try and pick these aromas out in an actual glass of wine … perhaps that’s best left for Wine in a Day Part 2 …

Having been told to pace ourselves wine-wise in the morning, once lunchtime came we all threw caution to the wind which resulted in a rather more lively afternoon. After discussing some of the major red grape varieties (and discovering that Merlot is the “tart” of the grape world) we focused on matching food and wine. This was the bit that I was really looking forward to, as I admit that I usually just pop some wine on the table when having friends over for dinner without any thought whatsoever about whether it will “go with” the food.

There are obviously many factors to consider when choosing a wine to go with food including sweetness, acidity and tannin content and as we found out it’s not just as simple as serving white with fish or chicken and red with beef. We were presented with a platter of foods, including smoked salmon, spicy chicken and blue cheese and then asked to taste a number of wines with each one. It was fascinating to see how much of a difference the right wine really makes. Some discoveries included :

  • Wines with a high level of acidity go well with oily food, such as smoked salmon.
  • “Big” red wines such as Shiraz don’t generally sit well with oily fish but are gorgeous with dark chocolate.
  • Sweet white wine with blue cheese is sublime.
  • Rich, sweet wines with good acidity combine beautifully with rich foods such as pate and also dark chocolate.
  • Gewurztraminer (a dry but sweet tasting wine from Alsace and a new one on me) is fabulous with spicy foods.

All in all this was a thoroughly enjoyable and informative day. Sara is a great teacher – fun, down to earth and exceedingly knowledgeable – and Jonathan & Suzie are fantastic hosts. You don’t have to know a lot about wine before you go but you will certainly come home with a wealth of useful knowledge (and a tiny bit tipsy) at the end of the day. Unfortunately I also managed to come back minus my notes so I hope I’ve managed to remember everything correctly! You’ll just have to go and find out for yourself what it’s all about.

Other useful information I picked up during the day included:

  • Those people who say they don’t like Chardonnay but love Chablis are talking nonsense … the wine is made from the same grape.
  • Do not keep your wine in the kitchen next to the window or on top of the washing machine!
  • We tend to serve our wine too cold …
  • No-one uses English oak to make barrels … long-term career opportunity?

I would certainly recommend this as a great day out, either for yourself or a friend. Or better still a group of friends … then you can put everything you’ve learnt into practice together. I would like to think that next time friends come round for dinner they may be able to tell I’ve been on this course!