Category Archives: Wine Life

What’s in a Vintage?

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As per usual,  I’m just going to start this by taking a dig at wine snobs.

Ever so often at the wine store I work at someone (picture the stereotype – white, middle aged, male, $$$) will be hunting out their case for the week (usually French) pick up a wine, proclaim ‘Oh that was a glorious vintage!” then go ahead and dash out a few $100’s for ‘The Vintage” – never asking if anyone has tried it, anything about the producer or region, nor to see the tasting notes, just, BAM. It’s all good, as usually they’re hitting up the kind of dollars that it’s ensured to taste like liquid gold. But there’s this huge wine snobbery etiquette that somehow seems to interchange the words ‘good wine’ for ‘great vintage’ without thinking about what vintage means in the whole scheme of things.

So lets dissect this ‘Vintage’ , of course in a way that is totally fabulous with less snobbery and more metaphors.

Basically ‘Vintage’ is the year you see on the label, and is the summer that the grapes were harvested. Usually you wont see the wine on the shelves for quite some time as the winemakers are fermenting, blending, ageing and doing all kinds of crazy magic to it. Or the wine could be released just few months after vintage, if the grapes were super ripe, picked nice and early and the style doesn’t require much intervention or ageing (here’s to looking at you, Sauv).

There are so many factors that can make or break a vintage – tiny factors in climate, weather patterns and geography that could come together  to make your wine super fabulous, or have you hitting up that spittoon. Pretty basically, most grapes adore the summer sun as much as we do, and hitting things back to home, New Zealands 2013 summer was insane – as was the vintage. It’s been proclaimed the best decades by wineries, writers, soms and France.

The ideal summer day spent bikini clad, lazing in the sun, building up a tan and sipping on Mojitos, equates to grapes sitting in the sun, getting crazy ripe as they convert acids to sugars and building up some sick fruity flavour and absorbing enough water to keep it all going (but not too much – they don’t want to bloat). And in the same way that rain could totally ruin your week, rain before harvest could cause a grape to bloat, split and rot – which does not translate will once its in your glass, gross.

Of course there’s a gazillion variations on a gazillion things that could give you happy or sad grapes – If only it were so black and white. Like my little babies that they are, wine grapes are all special in their own ways (Slash bloody difficult), where your plump, baked Shiraz’s are total heat fiends, Sauvignon Blanc thrives off cooler nights to give it that herbaceous bite, whereas a bit of rain and rot is the perfect thing for sweet Riesling and some of the most expensive wine in the world is make from grapes picked frozen off the vine, buzzy stuff.

So thats a little bit of Vintage 101, and as per its use in wine snobbery, all I can say is the vintage does not make the wine – your vintner is currently adapting and developing his vines, methodology and technology to predict and enhance and repair whatever mother nature throws at him – and sometimes what he does is a risk, then you’ve got the winemaker who holds so many keys to conjuring up the next drop, and countless options with each, then lastly theres you – the humble consumer – what do you buy? how long do you cellar it for? or how long can you hold out from cracking it open? what should you drink it with? at what temperature? What glass should you use? (it makes a difference, I promise) so many dilemmas!

Of course those are some questions to ponder for another time. For now just bask in the glory of a stunning summer gone past, and get oh so excited about the 2013 goodies that’ll be rolling out over the next few years.

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Grapes of Gatsby

Last night signalled the end of like a three hundred year hype for The Great Gatsby. Carpet rolled, suits donned and popping bottles. I’m not one to wank on about ‘life of the rich and famous’, but The Great Gatsby is a work like no other, and F. Scott Fitzgerald is probably history’s most successful alcoholic, so I feel like an event like this deserves the E! style coverage I’ve got going on about now. but before I dig into the bubbles any further, let us first all appreciate this….

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One picture instantly validates it as the best party in the world.

Fitzgerald and booze are no strangers, and the drink followed him closely during his short existence, in his 20s introducing himself as “F. Scott Fitzgerald, the well-known alcoholic”, writing the compilation On Booze and living the Champagne drenched lifestyle of his social status.

So it was no surprise to find the premier both lavish and booze fuelled like the 1920s of my dreams. But champagne? not the nights superstar. Instead the toxin of choice came in the form of Ferrari Metodo Classico, a Methode Traditionelle from Alto Adige, Northern Italy. Made 100% from the Chardonnay grape (one of the three main components in Champagne), lemon, apple and floral notes are light and crisp, and notes of yeast delicate, its restrained compared to the bakery of champagne, and I’m literally salivating.

Ferrari is the it  tipple for the more cultured – think the Venice film festival and Prada. Thank the lord. Its probably the most refreshing thing not to see such Hollywood acts of poppin’ bottles of Moët & Chandon and throwing their money around. A new, and not inferior, bubble is nice, as is the price tag (you can get the Ferrari Metodo NV for $30). yes. please. 

Baz, I raise a glass to you.

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A Touch of Italy distributes Ferrari Metodo Brut NV, find it here

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My Mate Red

Pink, Salmon, Purple, Ruby, Garnet, Tawny. Pale, Medium, Deep.
Red is the whole package.

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Uncorked

For my current study, I’ve written a book review on a piece based around a prominent wine personality- here is my (edited) review on “A Life Uncorked” by Hugh Johnson, the done it all and know it all of the wine world- first and foremost a wine writer (The World of Wine Atlas, The Pocketbook of Wine, The Story of Wine, Vogue Contributor, Editor of Food and Wine) and even more so, a wine fanatic. He is the bomb diggity.

Hugh paints the picture of your stereotypical wine connoisseur from the start of his bountiful 40 years in wine. It began when a roommate returns home from a black-tie dinner in Cambridge presenting two glasses of burgundy- same vintage, adjacent vineyards, but tasting completely different. This was his first foray into a lifelong curiosity into wine, “A curiosity that still makes me impatient to see what lies under every cork”. The stereotype unashamedly remains- residing in Elizabethan ‘Sailing Hall’, his wine of choice is the Claret (British slang for Red Bordeaux), and more often than not the said clarets are drunk in his beloved garden, under the shade of an apple tree, his nose red, face in a smile- high class british wine lover 101. Throughout Uncorked we begin to understand his position in a breed of highly influential Englishmen, with a love for wine, and the aim of presenting the glories of it (mainly French) to the common wine lover, with a knowledge and talent of an elite few.

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Though we see very much of the scholar within Johnson throughout Uncorked, it is the curiosity within him that I found most engaging, and presents an array of episodes far further than those of your standard Wine Commentator. We see him collecting and designing wine glasses, with a brief of being unfussy but made for enjoyment and affordability, resulting in ten different styles, made specifically for the absolute enjoyment of ten different varietals. Frustrated with descriptive terms of vogue, e.g. ‘fruit driven’ and ‘mineral’, he designed a ‘Taste Tunnel Experience’ for the Sunday Star Times Wine Club, where large glasses were filled with the physical items that would typically be smelt or tasted for various wine varietals- liquorice, pipe tobacco, stewed plums, raspberries and a small amount of leather to represent Syrah, for example. Johnson talks in length of when his curiosity “got the better of him” and forayed into the science of wine, planting a vineyard in Bourbonnais, albeit far from other vintner’s eyes, or his position as a member on the board of Chateau Latour- one of the great first growth chateau’s of the 1885 Bordeaux classification, that still holds its place as a great today- well worth the hefty price tag.

As Johnson takes us through his cellar, pulling out reds, whites and sparkling’s, each vintage inspires a moment of his life- career, family, travel and tragedy, his cellar is a living time machine, that takes an reader through prolific moments of his life. The alone vintages can tell stories of their own- of luxury, of war, of a culture, of a family. Johnson can pull a story from a wine, the same way a fragrance evokes a memory. Bubbly takes the reader on a trip through time, where we meet a Dom Perignon that waits for bubbles to steady themselves before bottling, harvest workers drinking on the job from half fermented barrels- one of the first discovery of the CO2 effect on the brain, we then visit the Pol Rogers Salon in Epernay, experience Johnsons showman ship of sabre-ing the foil and cork off a bottle of champagne (successfully, and not so successfully) and a formula one drivers love affair with Mercier.

As we divulge deeper into Johnsons cellar, we find all quantities and vintages of Chablis, bountiful stocks of Bordeaux, Prosecco for the more casual celebration, German Rieslings, the odd red burgundy and even a case of 1911 Perrier-Jouet, and with all these wines, come hand in hand with stories, intelligence and a great undying passion for each. Uncorked is so full of old world wine, that Johnson seems a little out of touch with the modern wine landscape- it reads almost as history book, and with almost 400 pages, can get a little tiresome. Johnson impresses on almost every page with wines rich with history that one could barely imagine, and his passion for it is infectious, but still it reads cheerfully and clichés are strewn through, but comfortably- it would be nice to read something in there a little more far flung or “off the map”.

What I found most interesting from Uncorked is the Johnson is all in all a wine lover. Wine, for him, is for drinking with food, not other wines; he calls himself not a wine critic when it comes to writing, but a commentator. Johnson scoffs on the idea that a wine can achieve ‘a perfect score’, and that the notion of points themselves is ridiculous- the fact that people have different palates for starters, or how generally Americans prefer their wines sweeter and simpler- a good sweet and simple wine won’t stand out in a scoring line up of 30 wines, bigger is always better in that case. The concept of the ‘100’, a percentage of perfection, will provide the wine consumer a ‘ready-to-wear’ critical opinion, not the chance to explore the wine themselves. Commenting on scores and ratings, Johnson believes that numbers only really produce wine snobs- and from that, the even wore- the wine bore. Instead tasting notes are stripped of numbers, ratings and terms of vogue- a love of language spills from the pages, with some of his best wine notes adopting metaphors, where wines take on human characteristics- a pretty young girl, in full bloom of womanhood, approaching maturity or frail in age- not completely pc, and ridicule is easy- but metaphors work, allowing the consumer to stay safe or branch out with the promise of a tasting ‘adventure’, and in a way that doesn’t look like it has had money come in and influence a review.

Though of the old boys club of wine, very British with a palate that appeals to the French, Hugh Johnson has experienced many an era of wine- of great vintages, of drastic industry and scientific change. The world of wine has given him a lot, and he has taken it with open arms- calling him just a wine writer would be an insult. Uncorked gives a great taste of Johnsons vast estate of experience and knowledge from gardening columns in glossies, to parties with a bounty of Magnums of Riesling and seafood by the bucketload, Johnson has done, and knows, it all.

‘A Life Uncorked’,
By Hugh Johnson,
Published by University of California Press, 2005

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Lindauer is my Home Girl

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Week two of my professional wine knowledge course- and how I see my ‘Toxin of Choice’ has changed astronomically.
I was always scared that with knowledge, the mystery of wine that I devoured would turn to clarity, and the fun diminish. But now the more I learn, the more I want to know- there are 1368 grapes of course- and it’s not just the grapes that evoke the magic of my so beloved tipple, everything that touches vino is so much more than my young eyes could even imagine seeing in the world of wine.

And young eyes they are, considerably younger than the rest of my tutor group – and no longer is my wine for admiring glass one and two, devouring three and four, forgetting five and six.

Sometimes.

Really, could I ever let go of that?

We may shit all over Pinot Gris, smirk after a wine is declared ‘very drinkable’ during tasting, or share anecdotal disgust at every Lindauer bubbly ever released (Lindauer Champagne anyone?)

But in RL The Ned Pinot Gris is inhaled with absolute delight, and Lindauer Summer is my home girl.

Aromas, Tanins, Acidity, Body, Sweetness, are IN-EXISTENT without booze, and unless your drowning your sorrows or are a dried up old booze hag, booze is best consumed with a side of company- wine connoisseurs or not, good quality wine or not, it should be enjoyed either way, a winelife I may live, but if a social occasion comes calling, and the bank account isn’t loving live to the full, its not going to be let down by an avvy vino, or a less than avvy vino, or maybe I’ll just stick to some RTDs, but pray to lawd not.

In Piemonte, Italy – a region regarded for its absolute respect of the Nebiollo grape (death sentencing for stealing a vine sound all good?)- no home is complete with out a bottle on the table- cheap, blended, sub quality vintages but worshiped all the same- for the tradition, experience and custom of getting friends and family together around the table.

Best friends, poolside with my traditional cheep, cheerful and oh so drinkable Summer is no exploration into the complexities and layers of a Prosecco DOC, but like life- wine really cant take itself too seriously can it?

Taste is objective, and snobbery isn’t an attractive quality on anyone, I rather my friends jolly, fun and, for richer or for poorer, under the influence.

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