Thursday, 20 March 2014

Extreme Wine Tasting

For the last few years now I have been organising a wine tasting for members of my amateur orchestra (Camden Symphony Orchestra) at the inimitable Theatre of Wine in Tufnell Park. I say "organising", but what I actually do is simply pick a theme for the tasting and then sit back and let the guys at the shop do all the hard work. For this session I'd set them what I thought was an interesting challenge: extreme wines. I wanted to get away from the vanilla and the mundane and look at the dark, murky, twisted under-belly of the wine world. Or something like that...

The session was led superbly by Jason and Daniel who used their contrasting styles to guide us expertly through the 10 wines that were on display; Jason, erudite, articulate and evocative; Daniel, flamboyant, passionate and, at times, outrageous. I won't detail all ten wines here as that would take a little too long, but I will go through some of the highlights.

We started by tasting a Champagne-method sparkling wine from Edoardo Miroglio in the Thracian lowlands of Bulgaria (£16), which was extreme in that it had zero dosage (meaning that no sugar was added after the wine has been disgorged), giving it a refreshingly zesty and springy flavour. This would be perfect on a summer's day for afternoon sipping whilst picnicking on a common, however to my taste I would say that it lacked a little depth in the flavour stakes.

Next up was a 2012 Viognier from Yves Cuilleron in Condrieu, northern Rhone (£16.80). Northern Rhone? Yum! Viognier? Double yum! This qualified for our tasting as the actual site for the vineyard is set on top of an extremely precipitous cliff top. The wine itself had tremendous spicy notes on the nose, a touch of white pepper and paprika. On the mouth it was surprisingly fresh with a background kick of acidity and some nice fruity flavours wafting through.

If this tasting was about one thing it was helping to push our tasting horizons. That's exactly what our next wine was about; a 2009 Assyrtico from Hatzidakis Nykteri, Santorini, Greece (£20.60). Santorini is an island in the Aegean set in an extinct volcanic cone. The temperatures in the summer are so extreme that they have to pick the grapes in August to stop them over-ripening. The wine was herby, musty but had a little hint of honey. On tasting the wine it was slightly off-dry, but lacked a bit of body and was a touch cloying. Not my favourite wine of the evening, but it was certainly extremely interesting.

One area in the wine world that has seen real expansion in recent years is the practice of bio-dynamic/organic production. To this end we were presented with a 2011 Carrignan from Clos Fantine, Faugères, France (£14). It was a dark, inky red, with perfumed aromas. On the mouth it seemed to be almost effervescent, with a slightly sour, astringent taste. I must confess that I was sceptical at the outset as I have yet to have had a bio-dynamic wine that I have truly enjoyed, and this one did not change my mind; however, in terms of the brief for the evening this fitted the bill perfectly.

Lastly we came to something that was right up my street: a 2012 Riesling Spätlese from Dönnhoff Norheimer Kirscheck, Nähe, Germany (£24.90). This is an extreme wine due to the fact that it is picked late to allow the sugar level to increase in order to produce a sweeter expression. There was an explosion of fruit on the nose, with aromas of passion fruit and guava bursting from the glass; on the mouth it was bright, acidic, vibrant, dynamic and poised. It won't surprise you to know that I bought a bottle of this to take home!

It's very easy sometimes to get caught in a rut when it comes to our wines, to convince yourself that you know what you like and therefore become reluctant to experiment and try new things. I believe, however, that we should look to broaden our horizons wherever possible. There are hundreds and hundreds of varieties of wine out there, with innovative and creative wine-makers experimenting and tinkering all the time in order to improve results and better our experience. Who knows what you'll find if you're prepared to spend a bit of time looking?

Many thanks to Daniel and Jason for another fantastic evening! 


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