Bibendum Portfolio Tasting

4 Mar Bibendum Portfolio Tasting

Wine tastings are curious things.

Chuck a bunch of people in a room with loads of open bottles, a long list, empty glasses and a few water crackers. Wine tasters stay on one side of long trestle tables and wine pourers/winemakers stay on the other.

Wine tastings are neither social settings where most wines are consumed nor the pristine, controlled environment of wine judging and assessment. It’s somewhere right in the middle.

A discreet sign directed me upstairs to the Bibendum tasting at Comme. I grabbed a glass, a booklet and tasting list and slipped inside.

The room was almost full with people swarming around the tasting tables which were pushed right to the edges of the room.  It’s intimidating walking into a wine tasting when you don’t know anyone, much like walking into a party. What to taste? Who to talk to?

I chose to start at the busiest table, home to Spinifex wines of the Barossa. Spinifex has a curious winemaking concept, all the wines are blends, which changes depending on the vintage. Lola 2010, for example, was a blend of five varieties: Marsanne, Roussane, Semillon, Viognier and Ugni Blanc.

In some ways this seems much more consumer led winemaking: making wine to a flavour profile rather than the expression of individual vintage and vineyard variations. The antitheses of Mac Forbes.

I approached the Mac Forbes Riesling with a glass stained with Barossa Tempranillo. I hadn’t rinsed. Silly, really.

“Don’t worry,” said Mac. “It can handle it.”  Which is a curious thing for a winemaker to say and made me fall instantly in love with Mac’s winemaking philosophy.

It’s hard not to like to Mac: laconic, modest and brutally honest. The Australian wine industry needs to bottle Mac and export his essence to every Wine Australia tasting henceforth. A leader in sub regionality, Mac produces five Pinot Noirs from the Yarra Valley. Exciting stuff.

The Bibendum Portfolio tasting was on Monday, 28 February at Comme. All wines are available from Bibendum’s website.

Two of my faves on the day were:

Spinifex Papillon 2009- fragrant and floral heady nose a reflection of the Grenache dominance in the blend. It’s so delightfully perfumed I’d suggest chilling this for drinking on a hot summer’s night (next year?)

Mac Forbes Riesling 2010- a devastating hailstorm at the Strathbogie vineyard left Mac without Riesling in 2010 until a friend called and offered a parcel from Tasmania. Minerally, citrus and zingy, I fell off my chair when I discovered afterwards this wine carried 20 grams RS.

Every wine tells a story

21 Feb Every wine tells a story cover

At Don Julio Parilla in Palermo, Buenos Aires, they invite customers to write messages on the bottle of wine drunk with their steaks and then add it to the display around the restaurant.

Thousands of bottles adorn the shelves and walls, each one speaking of a story: a reunion, a party, a celebration, an anniversary, a break up, a holiday.  There are the inane and the perfunctory alongside the gushing and the tender.

Every wine tells a story.

Tara Devon O’Leary’s book and Don Julio’s are essentially the same proposition: wine unlike any other consumable product is individual to its provenance, bottle and occasion. As such, Every wine tells a story: a collection of the most memorable wines of 2010 is a very personal insight into 29 lives.

The 29 contributors are an eclectic bunch from around the globe and I’m one.  Distilling 2010 down into just one bottle was tough for me.  Every wine brought back a flood of memories but most memories were simply of great nights or exciting occasions.  The final wine I chose represents so much more as it was one of the last wines I shared with my father.

To add an additional accent to the book Tara asked her 29 to select a person who personifies the wine. In some ways the personification is the most potent wine descriptor I’ve come across. I can immediately picture what a George Clooney, Alan Rickman, Anna Nicole Smith or Sir Allen Sugar wine would be like. (NB- only two are in the book and you’ll need to read the book to discover which.)

I love the simple premise of this book and the egalitarian nature of her inclusions. By bringing together a cross section of wine folk, ie me and Stephen Spurrier, she makes wine approachable.

She is casting her net wider next year with a broader invitation for the most memorable wines of 2011. So join her on Facebook and sign up for next year. The book is available here.

PS. I’m so incredibly in awe of Tara for taking this book from an idea to a published work. I love the chutzpah that it takes to do that. Congratulations, Tara!

Wine is like a box of chocolates

25 Oct Hotel Chocolat H box

Let me say from the start, I like chocolate.

I don’t like puddings, sweets, lollies or biscuits. I’m ambivalent to juice and don’t have sugar in my coffee. But I like chocolate.

I am referred to in my family as a Chocolate Monster. My mother is one and so is my son. Everyone else in the family got the savoury tooth.

So when given the opportunity to review Hotel Chocolat chocolates for this blog I went a step further and got a panel of Chocolate Monsters together.  With my mum in Australia it was just Amos and me but we took our job seriously.

I devised a scoring system out of 20 based on the wine trade standard version but repurposed as 3 points for presentation; 7 points for texture; 10 points for taste.

We spent the weekend ‘reviewing’ the 13 Christmas themed chocolates in the Christmas Chocolate Box.  As seriously as judges at the IWC, we tasted the chocolates and then compared notes making a shortlist.  Unlike the judges we didn’t spit.

Curiously, every chocolate I rated highly: the Floretine Dream, Mulled Wine or the Milk Liquid Caramel he rated poorly. And conversely, where I was put off by the confected flavours of Cranberry and Apple or Red Berry Mousse he loved it.

His notetaking was brilliant:

“Quite sour and fruity, quite a lot of cranberry…”

“I absolutely loved the strawberry flavour, it was really good and intense good fruit…”

“A bit too alcoholic. I wouldn’t have another one…”

On reflection I wasn’t blown away by the chocolates and this worried me.  What did this mean for me as a Chocolate Monster? Maybe I was moderating.  But I think chocolate, like wine, is much more about the situation, company and moment. Like wine, it is a mood enhancer. Like wine, it makes a great gift.  (And like wine too much can damage your health.)

Although I’m sure you can sit down in a white lab coat and accurately review a great chocolate (like you can a great wine) you’re not going to have a ‘moment’ in a judging room.  A moment seared into your memory where you remember the people, place, food, wine and weather.

So if you’re going to a Christmas dinner party with friends or family take these in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other and have a fun night.

The Classic Christmas H-Box Selection was provided by Hotel Chocolat for review. Photo taken from Hotel Chocolat website.

A plan is hatched

15 Oct images

Who can bare another London winter? The summer’s are great, right, but the winter… bleuh! All cold, damp and dark.  We decided early on in our stay that when it was our time to leave London we would do so at the end of summer.

And so here we are, leaving London in November and chasing the weather across the equator to arrive back in summer in Australia in January.

Our itinerary is a reflection of the three of us:

-          Jim, intrepid traveller and active pursuer of adventure;

-          Amos, 7 going on 30 years old, football fanatic and general sports nut;

-          Me, epicurean and gastronome.

First stop- New York for 6 days and something for everyone.

Costa Rica and Panama for 2 and half weeks- mostly for the boys, adventure and activities galore, some rum discovery on the Carribean coast and coffee in the highlands for me. I won’t complain too much. You know those screensaver photos of sandy islands with a few swaying palm trees? … yep, there.

Colombia for 2 weeks- mostly for the boys, a bit of coffee for me.

Buenos Aires for a month- this is mostly for me and what’s not to love? An apartment with the full mod cons and weekly cleaning service, pool, terrace, gym as well as parillas, malbec, helados, tango, Spanish lessons? It’s a hedonists dream.

Cycling around London when all you know is the tube

20 Sep Bike map of London

You don’t really see a lot of London on the tube, do you?

That’s a bit ‘Captain Obvious’ but adds another layer of complexity to riding a bike when you’ve only lived in London for two years.  I know exactly how to get to work on the tube- Central and Northern line- but on a bike?

This was a bigger issue than I had anticipated. I’ve walked to walk a couple times along the canals which is very lovely and I had visions of doing the same on my bike, however, there are several sections closed to cyclists, several steps and the cobblestones make it quite bumpy.  This was completely disheartening to me as I wanted to avoid the major roads.

A cycling colleague put me on to tfl and their free cycle maps. Yep, free! Fill out the online forms and they send you your maps which take around a week to arrive.

You can also plug in your journey in the Journey Planner clicking the ‘cycling’ box and it’ll suggest a cycling route based on cycling friendly roads. My route to work is one that I would never have thought of myself but is brilliant- wide boulevards, divided roads and apart from a couple hundred metres, few cars.

I carry this map in my backpack so I can get around town. The roads are colour coded- yellow for bike friendly and blue for a quiet road- although it did recommend I go down New Bond Street which I’d call neither bike friendly or quiet.

There are 14 maps covering most of London but I’ve only needed the one central map.

I may not be anywhere near doing the Knowledge but these maps certainly help!

Matt and the art of bicycle maintenance

16 Aug Matt

Matt likes bikes.

This becomes evident very quickly on a Sunday morning at an Evans Cycles bike maintenance workshop. I’d read about the workshops from fellow bloggers on the Go London blog and decided this was probably a very good way to prepare for the inevitable flat tyre.

Matt, our instructor was young and enthusiastic about bikes.  In talking about the importance of keeping a clean chain he shares his delight in using a toothbrush to individually wash each link, a process which takes him 2 hours. We mere mortals can simply use the cleaning kit which takes less than 5 minutes.

Like I said, Matt likes bikes.

And he shares his enthusiasm through boundless tidbits and useful advice. I’m not sure what I was expecting but I left with my brain overflowing with bike facts:

  • The best way to prevent a puncture is to keep your tyres pumped up
  • You can expect to pump your tyres up every 10 days or so
  • Check your brakes for grooves. They’re fine until you can’t see any grooves. Replace.
  • The cables on the gears will stretch and need to be tightened. This is super easy to fix with the barrel adjusters.
  • Same goes for the brakes. You want your brakes to engage within about 1 centimetre of squeezing them.

I walked out, pumped up my tyres, adjusted my brakes and gears and my ride home was as smooth as the day I bought it!

Booking is super easy. Visit the Evans Cycles website to find your nearest store and call and book. Total cost: zero!

Thanks Matt for the lesson. Really useful stuff and everyone should do one!

WCATT Tweet up in London

11 Aug WCATT London tweet up

I’m not entirely sure what made me so confident I could get 20 wine tweeps tasting wine at 9.30am on a Tuesday morning. For those with office jobs, I can only imagine how interesting that would’ve been to explain your arrival at 11am with tannin encrusted teeth.

Trish Barry came up with a cool idea for a tweet up for the Wine Communicators of Australia. As a former beneficiary of their Young Guns and Gurus programme I’ve kept in touch with WCA and was in on the initial consultation.

The idea was to run a simultaneous tweet up in Sydney and Melbourne with a couple of wines consistent between the two sites. I pretty much begged them to let me run it in London as well and put forward a case for how I could do it with no cost to WCA.

The biggest difficulty and worry was that to be simultaneous with Sydney and Melbourne, we needed to do the London tasting at 9.30am, hence the absurd timing. But Australian’s will, by their very nature, ‘have-a-go’ at pretty much most things.

We had around 18 or so tweeps and it started off quite anti social, heads down texting and watching the screens but loosened up quickly. The interaction between cities was amazing. The joking, the banter and the wind ups. I honestly wonder whether you could’ve done this tasting with the French or Americans.

I had a large screen projecting a Twitterfall feed of the event which was priceless. I had some comments from tweeps who’ve been to other tweet ups without the live stream and it doesn’t have the same buzz.  In fact, the stream was what got people opening up and talking in the real world. Incredibly at one stage in the morning we were actually trending 8th in London.

Wine Australia was kind enough to host the event upstairs in their boardroom. This really suited the ‘Aussie vibe’ and feeling of connectedness back to Australia. The giant stuffed koalas in the foyer were brilliant.

I brought in my Ipod and speakers and played my Aussie playlist which worked really well to cover the quietness at the start and add some energy. I also provided Minties, Fantales, Pineapple Lumps, Mint Slice and Tim Tams to add a bit of Aussie humour and nostalgia. I also had cheeses and bread/watercrackers which became necessary as the tasting became serious.

The tasting was themed ‘rare and regional’ and there was some pretty special wines brought along.

My wine of the morning was the Prodigy Shiraz 1997 which, as soon as it was poured and before it reached my nose, I could smell.

I was also really impressed with Mac Forbes Pinot Noir, La Violetta Shiraz and the Cape Mentelle Semillon Sauvignon.

Thanks and well done on all your efforts, Trish. I’m so glad we did this here in London!

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