Thursday, 21 August 2014

Taste & Explore: The Majestic Free Wine Course

So I know most of you who follow our blog will already be well versed in wine drinking; you probably know your Merlots from your Malbecs, and you can take an educated guess as to what wines go with what foods. Let's face it, the labels on most bottles give good guidance, and even the supermarket shelves have enough info on them for you to understand what you're buying. Nonetheless, wine can be a massive minefield sometimes and can often leave you feeling a bit unconfident.

Now, although I write about drinks every week, I'm definitely not as qualified in the wine department as my other Vinspirers. I've been to a number of wine tastings before, as I'm sure you may have too, but I thought I'd change it up and go back to basics. I'd seen that my local Majestic Wine store offers a free wine course once a month, aiming to give customers the opportunity to learn about wine production, understand how you actually taste wine, as well as throwing in some fun and informative food matches.

To be honest, I don't tend to go to Majestic much - I'm never feeling flush enough to purchase a case at a time - so aside from the course, this was a good excuse to see what kind of things they have to offer.

A table lined with glasses was set up at the back of the store, where three whites and three reds were awaiting us. We were also given a Majestic Course notebook containing a glossary of wine terminology, a list of classic grape varieties, and plenty of space for jotting down our tasting notes throughout the evening.

We were given the low down on the three ‘must dos’ in wine tasting. Firstly, appearance; hold it up, tilt the glass, look at the clarity; you should be able to see through it unless it’s a big ol’ heavy red; assess the colour, and also the legs running down the inside of the glass - indicating high alcohol or sweetness. Next, the nose; swirl, sniff and judge the aroma character; is it clean smelling? Fruity? Floral? Spicy? Vegetal? Then the palate; draw in air, swirl around the mouth and consider the sweetness (on the tip of your tongue), acidity (on the sides of the tongue) and tannin on the gums. What flavours are you getting? What is the body like (texture, concentration of flavour and weight of wine on the palate)? And has it got good length, and what is the quality of the finish?

We weren’t given any information about the wines, our host just instructed us to taste as above, and discuss what we thought we were getting. This was quite a challenge, and made a big change from other wine tastings I’d been to; quite often you’re told what you should be tasting before you even get the chance to take a sip!

We quickly rattled through the whites, enabling us to compare and contrast; the first was citrus heavy, with sharp gooseberries and crisp acidity. The next had a bigger body, a stony fruit character and more minerality. The last was sweeter and richer, with tropical fruit flavours.

We’d guessed that No.1 was a Sauvignon Blanc, this one from the Loire Valley; Reuilly Cuvée Nathalie 2013. Both 2 and 3 were Chardonnays, which quickly dispelled the “I don’t like Chardonnay” myth that many of us still hang on to. No. 2 was a Chablis from Domaine Vocoret, 2012, whilst No. 3 was an Australian; Kangarilla Road Chardonnay 2013, McLaren Vale. I thought it was a great idea to have two of the same grape varieties but from different regions, it really showed off how vastly different they can be.

A mid way treat came in the form of a glass of Champagne; learning about the production sequence, the grapes used and the difference between vintage and non-vintage. This one was Canard-Duchêne Brut NV; a clean, apple-y taste with typical biscuit-y bread aromas. Delicious!

We did the same with the reds as with the whites; tasting and comparing. Our host also explained the difference in the wine making sequence between reds and whites, the best ways we should store bottles, ideal serving temperatures, and a debate over decanting and glassware.

The first red was very light in colour and had aromas of ripe red fruits and berries; it was silky smooth, with fine tannins and a bit of acidity - very easy to drink! The second was a lot darker in appearance, black fruits, a hint of spice and vanilla on the nose, with more tannin. It clearly had a bigger body and structure, but wasn’t as well balanced as the first. The last was a brownish colour (which we learned, generally implies oak aging); it had a woody, peppery aroma and a rich and spicy taste. It was smooth but tannic, making it more approachable than the previous, and it had the best length out of the three.

No.1 was a New Zealand Pinot Noir; Saint Clair Estate Pinot Noir 2012, Marlborough. No. 2 was a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot; Château Caronne Ste-Gemme 2009, Cru Bourgeois, Haut-Médoc. No. 3 was a Syrah blended with Merlot and Cab Sav from the Languedoc region, Southern France; Esprit de Pennautier 2011, Cabardes.

Topping up our glasses, we ended with some very simple food matches; experimenting with both good and bad combinations! The good were as follows:

Sauvignon Blanc and smoked salmon // Chablis and tomatoes // Spicy food (we had crisps) and the Australian Chardonnay // Pinot Noir and pâté // Bordeaux and cheese // Syrah and sweet chocolate.

Now, considering this was a completely free course, which lasted around two hours with wine aplenty, I’d say that it’s a no brainer. Each bottle was an affordable £15 or under – bar the champers - and there was no obligation to buy anything. So if you want to learn more about wines without too much confusing jargon, then this is a must. Hell, even if you think of yourself as quite a connoisseur, who doesn’t enjoy a decent conversation about all things grape, and a drop of it too?.. FOR FREE! What’s not to like?

Each branch will choose different wines to taste - it's down to the host - and they restrict the event to a small amount of customers, so that it's a bit more personal. You can find out the details for the free wine course at your nearest store on the Majestic Website, or simply pop in. 

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