A take on Hugh Johnsons “Taste Tunnel”, I used my mad skills to profile three classic varieties,
Have a look, then maybe have a taste, and impress the ladies when you’re in town and on the prowl.
A take on Hugh Johnsons “Taste Tunnel”, I used my mad skills to profile three classic varieties,
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.
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
‘The Dork of Wine’ is the harsh but too true label that the wine world has labelled Riesling- like its sitting alone in the school playground. In the past, I’ve been a total bully- preferring my citrus from my Sauvignon and Stone fruit from my Chardonnay, but with all of my new lovers, I’ve uncovered a diamond in the rough and a passion for (albeit super fucking expensive) a good glass of Riesling- give it to me from Classic Germany or Premium Australia- I’ll love it with gusto.
Aromatic, fruity and floral, Riesling responds well to soils and climates that produce different flavors so distinctly that even within villages, vineyards have each their own ‘stamp’ on the varietal. With an acidity and potential for sweetness that causes an incredible ability to age- trying Rieslings across the board can assure that no experience is the same- all the more reason to start drinking it, and never really stop. It’d be rude not to really.
If there ever is a place to start a love affair, its in France. My (to date) favorite Riesling comes from hot and dry Alsace, bordering Germany and protected by mountains, the love potion comes from producer Domaine Bott Geyl’s 2010 Elements – tropical with spice and zest it was lengthy, super complex, ageing wonderfully and left me absolutely weak at the knees. taaaaasty.
Even with spotlight on the ‘Dork’, that’s not to say she cant be a bitch. A bad amount of acidity and sweetness can cause her to age with a nasty air of kerosene. So to be safe- she’s not one to risk pulling out when it dates back to “the good old days”, unless you sniff petrol, and that’s just a tidge not okay.
But back on track, and a final sign off in my proclamation of love- do try it. I’m not one to be selfish now- and whether its a classy half glass or bottle of otp, I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. Love ya Ries, ex oh ex oh.
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.
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.
Today was my first introduction to Sherry and Port, drinks I never thought I’d touch until I was on microwave meals and needed something to get me through my knitting. Sherry, in my eyes, is a tipple in the arena of grandmas.
Old and adopted by the English fortified wine may be, but it has balls bigger than what you need to watch Coro, fortified wine = added spirits (juices from the Marc varietal), added spirits= more alcohol, plus with up to 100 years to go crazy with flavor and complexity, she sure packs quite a punch.
Jerez de la Frontera in the South of Spain is the ‘spiritual home’ of Sherry, and the common association of British origins comes from a long winded history of traders finding new markets to buy and sell alcohol throughout Europe, once french regained rule of Bordeaux in 1453. Now over 500 years later, wine making estates in Douro, Portugal, the home of Port, is sweet wee England’s home away from home, boarding at Eton, club sammies, the whole shabam #historylesson.
The tasting was not unlike many a childhood Halloween when I came to the last of my goods, to be faced with the task of finishing the ‘bad’ candy (as fast as possible, naturally), sickly sweet and syrupy would do the experience as a whole very nicely, but thankfully it had its merits.
Three Sherries, one region, a whole lotta booze.
The Manzanilla was up first, a style characterised by its ageing of the Palomino grape, with the solera process feat yeast. Yes yeast, not even removed, just stirred through and renamed flor, cause foreign is sexy, duh. Funnily enough, bread was the first thing to waft up the nostrils and take over the mouth, with citrus, savory and almond notes to go, I’ll go ahead and call it an acquired taste.
Next up was the booze hag of the bunch, Amontillado (up to 20% abv), the above plus spirits, killing off the yeast and bringing out raisins, almonds, walnuts, butterscotch and caramel aromas, which all in all, smelt like Christmas cake, Booze Hag edition. It tasted a lot more refined, nutty and savory, with dryness and acidity that lifted the wine from what could have been a syrupy disaster, the Amontillado was complex and interesting, plus 100% drinkable (bonus).
Pedro Ximenes (PX) was, through trial and tribulation, the pick of the bunch, black intense fruits and super sweet, taste number one was only encouraged by a sniff the slightest sniff of coffee within the madness. But fkya nose, the palate didn’t follow through, instead engulfing my mouth in a maple syrup drenched prune syrup. That said, it was nice, but enthusiasm and gulping cannot be trusted -back to the Halloween antidote- too much candy is a RL issue.
Whoever has been told that eating more chocolate wont make their problems go away can cheer for joy for PX, a mouth full of bitter chocolate (!!) and a secondary, more cautious, taste opened up my first mind blowing (I know, I know) experience of food matching. The syrup spun to velvet, prunes thrown to the curb and toffee down the drain, a bitter bite brought out velvety coconut, walnut and cherries, no more words can be said other than heaven
(and pour it over vanilla ice cream, I’m gaining faith in labels)
All wines produced by Lustau, Jenez, Spain.