Friday, 29 July 2016

Confessions of a Wine Geek...
Photo taken from under CCL

"Hi, my name is Tim Milford and I am a Wine Geek."

I imagine that loads of people would say that they like wine. Lots would say that they LOVE wine. But for me my love affair has gone further than that; I am fascinated and beguiled by wine. I find its subtleties, intricacies and variabilities amazing. I find the artistry, craft, precision, history and tradition of the people that make it astounding. There is no doubt about it - I am a Wine Geek. There is nothing wrong, of course, with being a Wine Geek. I would also say that the fellow Wine Geeks that I have been lucky enough to meet have to be some of the nicest, most generous people I have had the good fortune to come across. 

So, how do you know if you are a Wine Geek too? Here are some tell-tale signs, let me know how many apply to you - needless to say, I am guilty of all of the below...!

1) You (try) to keep meticulous wine notes

Early on in my wine love-affair I was given a Christmas present which was a year's subscription to the wine magazine "Decanter" (see symptom no.2). My favourite section each month was Michael Broadbent's column, I loved his debonair style and, frankly, I lusted over the wines and wine makers that he nonchalantly tossed around. He would mention trying a 1934 Lafite or Mouton-Rothschild as if it were an every day occurence, but always seemed so warm and gregarious in doing so. He said in one of his columns something that I have always tried to do, which was that one should keep meticulous notes on everything that one tastes. Why is that? Well, it helps you to remember what you've tried, plus it makes you look up which sub-region the particular wine comes from. Furthemore as you taste more and more wines it helps you remember them!
I personally use an Excel spreadsheet (see above for evidence...). I know some people like to use apps like Vivino, but I don't like the idea of putting all that precious information into one app and then becoming dependent on it. What I also like Excel for is that I can do searches. I might, for instance, think I fancy writing a post about German Spätburgunders in a few weeks - a quick search allows me to pull my tasting notes of all of those wines with ease. I think this is one of the defining characteristics of geekery - the desire to catalogue and record information about your passion. I know a few people who DJ and they say that behind all of the on-stage showpersonship, they have an encyclopaedic knowledge of their chosen music genre and can name all of their thousands of records to you. I now have notes on over 300 different wines that I have tried; I don't quite manage Mr Broadbent's instructions to note every wine, but I try to get as many as I can...!     

WP_20160127_20_31_06_Pro2) You get given wine-related gifts for your birthday/Christmas

As you develop your love for all things wine it starts to spread. Your friends and loved ones start giving you wine related gifts for birthdays/anniversaries/Christmases all aimed at supporting your geekery.

Case in point for me was last year when my wife got me a Coravin for Christmas, which is quite frankly brilliant. I wrote a piece about it for  Vinspire which you can read here.

3) You become determined to try all of the obscure grapes and regions that you can

Socrates was once told that he was wise, to which he responded "wisest is he who knows that he knows nothing". This is how I feel about wine, every time I feel that I learn a bit more about wine it opens up another subject area that you want to learn about. You think you know about Italian wine and then you discover that there are over 350 different authorised grapes within Italy! 

Furthermore, when you come to read pieces from those people who REALLY know about wine you understand that they have devoted their entire lives to trying to understand wine and, usually, have managed to become experts in just a couple of these areas.

For the last few years I have been on a personal mission to try as many different grapes as possible in what I suppose equates to the wine version of "Pokemon Go". There is a club known as the Wine Century Club to which the only entry criteria is that you have to be able to say that you have tried at least one hundred different grapes. I achieved this last year (something I tracked through my wine spreadsheet) and am waiting for my membership to be acknowledged - it will be a proud day when it is!  

Basically a pilgrimage
4) You start to plan your holidays around visiting vineyards/wine regions

This is when you are getting to serious levels of geekery. You try shoe-horning the topic of holiday destinations to places where you could enjoy some nice wine tasting. "I've heard that California is a lovely place to visit, my dear. Also Reims is meant to be beautiful at this time of year..." 

Over the next couple of years I am planning trips to Tuscany, Australia and New Zealand. All beautiful places, yes - but the common theme? I'll leave you to decide that...

5) You start spending too much time talking to sommeliers in restaurant

This one really drives my wife crazy. Pre-wine geek phase the conversations with sommeliers went something like this:

Me: "I'm having the beef and my wife is having the lamb, can you recommend something nice?"
Somm: "Of course, sir."

That was it.

Now we tend to get involved in more in-depth discussions about the wines. I must say that I still like to ask for their recommendations, after all it is their wine list and they know it best; sometimes they'll throw in a real curve ball, something you'd never have picked. The good thing about this is that should you dislike the match then they will usually let you select a different bottle. 

One of the good things that I've found about making friends with the sommelier is that they know that you are serious about your wine, which they usually are too. Sometimes I've found they've got something open that they think is really interesting and they'll give you a little sample of!

6) You start practicing wine tasting/smelling

I am not a naturally great taster, either nose or palate. As such I have to work quite hard to practice my wine tasting (see symptom no. 7) to work on my aroma and flavour memory. I have found that this has meant that I have started seeking out unusual tastes and smells so that I can build up my descriptions of wines. After all, the purpose of writing about wine is find a way of describing the profile of a wine to the reader in ways that they can comprehend. I did find myself smelling some magnolias in Kew Gardens and exclaiming, "wow - these smell just like a lush, juicy Gewürz"!! 

One of my favourite presents I received recently (see symptom no. 2) was a rather lovely kit (see above) that contains 54 different synthesised aromas in little bottles. The purpose of this kit is to allow the budding Wine Geek to practice their smelling against these aromas. After all, what does hawthorn smell like? What about lychee? These are commonly used descriptors in the trade and it is very helpful to have gotten acquainted with these.

7) You take a course in wine tasting

So, you've committed to a life of wine geekery; the obvious next step is to take a course in it! Why? Well, from a knowledge perspective they help fill in some of the technical information about the wine industry. I think that is what separates the wine lover from the Wine Geek. The wine lover is quite happy just appreciating wine, whereas the geek needs to know how it is made - after all it is the magic and nuance of the wine-making process that means that vineyards that are separated by incredibly small distances can produce distinctively different wines and that they can range in price dramatically.

Most people do their wine courses through the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) who have got a well structured and comprehensive educational programme that takes you from complete novice, through tasting exams, blind tasting exams, to dissertations and diplomas. Those who are really serious go through the Master of Wine or Master Sommelier qualifications which are, quite frankly, terrifying. If you haven't seen the film "Somm" about a group of prospective Master Sommelier students then I urge you to do so (it's on Netflix). Their blind tasting abilities are frankly astonishing (even if some of them are intensely dislikable!) 

8) You start a blog about wine

So, your Wine Geek levels have reached maximum levels; you're essentially a wine version of Sheldon from "The Big Bang Theory". What's the obvious next step? Right a blog about it, of course. After all, your friends are unlikely to be fascinated by the fact that you've just picked up a rather funky and daring Vin Jaune. Who are you going to share your tasting experiences with? Well, the fortunate part of living in the Information Age is that through blogs and social media it is possible to make contact with lots of fellow wine geeks all around the world and share your experiences with them.

There you have it, my eight signs that you may be a Wine Geek. If you find yourself ticking these off, don't worry about it - you're in good company... Embrace your inner Wine Geek!

Acknowledgement: I should also credit the title of this blog, which I have stolen with pride from a blog title that a good friend of mine, Ant from The Grape Escape in Cheltenham, used to write. It was too good a title not to use... Thanks, Ant!