Thursday, 29 May 2014

My Wines and Spirits Course

Everyone has a few of those things that they have been wanting and meaning to do for a long time, but just never seem to be able to get started.  Well, it was with a sense of excitement that I started my 'one of those things' this week.

On Monday night, I attended my first lecture of the nine-week WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) Level 2 Award in Wines and Spirits.  The course is called:  Wines and Spirits:  Looking Behind the Label and the only way you can take this globally recognised course in Western Australia is through Full Bottle Wine Education & Events, which was established by Paul (Ed) Edwards.  Ed was there to welcome us on the first evening of the course and will be lecturing, along with a few of his experienced colleagues. 

As with any course, the first step was for everyone to introduce themselves and explain why they were attending (as well as name their favourite wine and why).  Usually I dread this activity, but it was quite amazing to hear the variety of reasons for attendance as well as their current roles and relationships with wine.  I would estimate approximately 70% of the class were in some facet of hospitality or sales and was impressed with the calibre of the restaurants/bars they were working at (such as Bistro Guillaime, The Print Hall, Balthazaar).  From an outside observer, I gauged that these high quality wine establishments must inspire people to learn more about wine through staff educational tastings.

Session One was all about Tasting and Evaluating Wine.  We went through a discussion of how to appropriately prepare for wine tasting.  There are some recommendations that many people might consider a slight inconvenience such as:

  • Do not wear perfume - it can inhibit/distract your ability to detect aromas.
  • Do not drink coffee, smoke or brush your teeth within two hours of the tasting - this will mean your palate is not clean (supposedly chewing a piece of bread can help).
  • Use a proper tasting glass - WSET use what is called an ISO glass, which has a rounded bowl, allowing concentration of the aromas and preventing spillage of wine when it is swirled.
Once the above criteria have been met, supposedly you are ready for tasting.  The next consideration is the WSET Level 2 Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine.  This structured and rigorous approach to tasting is divided into four stages:

  1. Appearance
  2. Nose
  3. Palate
  4. Conclusions
I do not seek to bore you with the details of each stage, but it is enough to say that each stage is very clear on the terms and definitions that may be used to define the wine.  There are 22 sub-categories of aroma and flavour characteristics to choose from, with each sub-category having an average of 4 to 5 descriptors.  So there are over 100 words there that you can use to describe the wine.  Funnily enough, I still found myself wanting to use words outside of these!

Ed was very good at explaining that the reason for being restrictive on the wine description vocabulary is to make tasting accessible and communicable.  What this means is that if you use the WSET conventions, all of the descriptors are smells or flavours that an ordinary person would be able to relate to (rather that an obscure childhood memory, such as the smell of your grandmother's carpet, for example). Also, they are globally consistent terms, meaning that if you were in another country talking to someone else who has studied through WSET, they would understand exactly what you were talking about.  

Big, Bold Barolo
Six wines were tasted during the first lecture, with a focus on styles with easily recognisable characteristics.  I felt this was like a 'warm up' to get us all into the swing of the WSET approach.  Without giving too much away (for those who would like to take the course in future) the wines were:

1. Pinot Grigio from Italy
2. Gewurztraminer from Alsace, France
3. Sauvignon Blanc Semillon from Margaret River
4. Valpolicella from Veneto, Italy
5. Barolo from Piedmont, Italy
6. Tokaji from Hungary

I have been told that part of the deal is 15 hours if study in our own time (there is an exam at the end). So here I go, first time I have studied in a long while!!

WSET Study Guides

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

A Bit of a Fizzle

To celebrate my husband arriving home from a stint at the mines and with my renewed enthusiasm for wines of the sparkling variety, I came up with a plan for a great BBQ dinner and matching sparkling red. 

The Wine: 
Duke's Vineyard 2010 Reserve Sparkling Shiraz

The Meal:
BBQ pork belly strips, BBQ royal gala apple slices, creamy mashed potato and rocket salad. 

The Outcome:
We were a little disappointed in how we found the wine to be drinking.  Both fruit and fizz were lacking and the overall flavour was slightly tart.  I had been very excited to try it, as we had bought it on a trip to the Great Southern almost a year ago.  My husband had taken me down there for the weekend as a surprise for my birthday (big tick for him!).  Duke's had thoroughly impressed us on this trip, both with the outstanding quality and individuality of all their wines and also with their beautiful cellar door and humble generosity.

I definitely do not want to discourage anyone from visiting Duke's Vineyard, in fact quite the opposite, I strongly suggest you drop in there if you are down near Albany.  I will definitely have to open another bottle from Duke's in the near future to see if I can do them justice with a better review next time!

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Enomatic Excitement

Last Friday afternoon, I had been working at Applecrosse, so my husband and I took the opportunity to see what was on offer at Bad Apples Bar.  I had heard good things about this place, especially the fact that they are the only place in Western Australia with an Enomatic Wine Dispenser.  

Enomatic were the first company in the world to come up with a system whereby open wine bottles can be preserved for up to four weeks.  This is based upon the use of inert gas, which slows down the rate at which the wine oxidises.  There are two major benefits of the system: firstly it allows premium wines to be served by the glass without the concern of wastage and secondly, the in-built portion control technology allows tasting, half-glass and full-glass serves to be regulated exactly.

To make the most of the opportunity, I decided to compare some premium wines (rarely possible to buy per glass, let alone as a tasting portion) to some more affordable and approachable wines of a similar style.

1. Riesling

Tim Adams 2008 Reserve Riesling
Very pale yellow in colour, the only hint that this was an older wine was a whiff of aged cheddar intermingled with the petrol and mineralogy.  Still extremely acidic (which I like) so looks like it has quite a few years left.

Ferngrove 'Cossack' Riesling 2013
Slightly green-tinged, this wine suggested freshly crushed kaffir lime leaves and a slight whiff of kerosene.  Medium bodied with tingling grapefruit acidity.

Outcome:  I preferred the Ferngrove Riesling, despite its youth.  It seemed to have more personality and individuality.

A trio of chorizos - venison, pork and lamb.
2. Shiraz

2013 Tomfoolery 'Young Blood' Shiraz, Barossa Valley
Milk chocolate and black pepper on the nose, this wine was medium bodied, more along the lines of a Rhone style Syrah.  It was very succulent, with rhubarb and beetroot shining.
($2.30/taste, $54/bottle)

2009 Torbreck 'Run Rig' Shiraz
Aromas of rose petals, banana and young tawny port on the nose.  It felt velvety and grainy in the mouth with rich dark chocolate coated coffee granule hints, star anise and black pepper.
($12/taste, $320/bottle)

Outcome:  Although I'm usually a fan of the more opulent style displayed by the 'Run Rig', I honestly would have been just as happy with a bottle of the 'Young Blood', which interesting based upon the vast difference in price.  I think it was the banana smell that slightly put me off the Torbreck Shiraz.

The opportunity to taste a teeny-tiny bit of the 'Run Rig' was an exciting opportunity.
3. Alternative Blends

O. Fournier Alfa Crux 2004 Malbec Blend, Mendoza, Argentina
Very interesting on the nose - fertiliser/seaweed and bandaid.  The wine was a viscous, squid ink colour and tasted dark and brooding, with notes of black licorice.  It was not too heavy and had good length.

Vinteloper 'Adelo' Touriga/Shiraz/Pinot
Very aromatic with smells of a gas lighter, wild stemmy fruits, and lavender.  A medium-full bodied wine with both comfort and intensity, lots of purple, ripe mulberry goodness.

Outcome:  I absolutely love trying alternative blends.  For me, the Touriga blend shone in regards to the fruit expression.

Wrapping up, my husband and I really enjoyed our experience at Bad Apples Bar.  The staff were exceptionally helpful and friendly and the opportunity to try some premium wines by the glass was wonderful.  We will definitely be returning to this well-presented venue in future and I am also interested to keep an eye out for some of their wine evenings.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

A Trio of Reds

For my work last week at the champagne and chocolate tasting, Christina was kind enough to thank me with a few bottles of wine to try.  They turned out to be quite diverse and interesting, so I would like to share with you my thoughts and tasting notes for each.

Samuel's Gorge 2011 Shiraz
The first red wine on my tasting radar was:

Samuel's Gorge 2011 McLaren Vale Shiraz.

This unique wine was a deep, opaque maroon/velvet colour, with the appearance of being quite viscous.  The nose was dark and brooding - I picked up notes of charcoal fire and menthol behind the earthy forest berries.  The sensation on my tongue was like a shagpile carpet under your feet, so velvety and opulent.  There was well integrated oak and dense, allspice notes.  

This is definitely one for the cellar, or to impress your friends at a dinner.

Next in line, I was fortunate to have two Cabernet Sauvignon's from Yering Station, Yarra Valley, in consecutive vintages.  These were:
  1. Yering Station Village 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon
  2. Yering Station 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

This allowed me the exciting opportunity to understand the difference between the two vintages and winemaking styles and how this impacted upon the expression of the wine.  Besides variations in climatic conditions between 2011 and 2012, the 2011 is from the 'Village' range, designed as a food wine for short to medium term cellaring, whereas the 2012 is from the Estate range, which can hold up with longer term cellaring. 

In regards to vintage seasons, 2011 was a much more difficult vintage for the Yarra Valley, with challenges from excessive rainfall, cool temperatures and disease.  This generally resulted in lighter wines and many red crops were severely reduced.  The better wines were often described as 'perfumed and delicate'.  On the other hand, 2012 was considered an exceptional vintage for all grape varieties.

With this knowledge, prior to tasting I was fairly sure I would prefer the 2012, due to my propensity for fuller-bodied versions of Cabernet Sauvignon.  After tasting blind, here is what I thought of the two wines:

2011 - Light in colour.  The nose was quite restrained (I had to stick my head right into the glass) with aromas of a red berry smoothie.  Very light-bodied with some cloves and red licorice, and had a wonderful, spicy length to it.

2012 - Much darker purple. I could smell the coffee grinds aroma you get as you walk into a cafe, mixed with plum jam.  Much less spice on this and I felt that it lacked much of a fruit taste.  I think this was overshadowed by the green capsicum flavour.

So, interestingly, I preferred the 2011.  Goes to show - never judge a wine before you smell and taste it!

Yering Station Cabernet Sauvignon - 2011 vs 2012

Monday, 19 May 2014

Perfect Pinchos

I am fully aware that I am definitely not the first person to write about Pinchos at Leederville.  But having visited this cute little Spanish bar for a second time, I just had to give it the dues it deserves.  

For those who have not had the joy of visiting Spain, or delighting in authentic Spanish food, you may not be familiar with pinchos.  They are different to tapas in that they are designed to be small and bite-sized, and were traditionally pierced with a stick to hold a morsel of goodness to a piece of bread ('pinchar' is the Spanish verb 'to pierce').

One of my favourite aspects of the particular pinchos bar I am writing about is their ordering system.  When you sit down, you are provided with a tear-off copy of the menu and a pen, so you can fill in your own order of food and drink, complete with quantities required.

On this particular occasion, I was at Pinchos with a friend of mine who had never been there before.  Her delight at the quaint location, delicious morsels and refreshing wines was contagious!

For me, the primary goal in my ordering was to learn something new about Spanish wine.  To my delight, there were two white grape varieties on the menu of which I was relatively unfamiliar.  First was a Macabeo, which I have only encountered as a constituent of Spanish Cava, rather than as a stand-alone wine.

This particular example, the Castano Dominio Espinal Blanco Macabeo 2012, D.O. Yecla was crisp and refreshing, not unlike a Sauvignon Blanc, but with a satisfyingly spicy finish, and no 'tinny' flavour.  We enjoyed this wine with Boquerones (marinated white anchovies) which were absolutely divine.  The halved red globe grapes and hints of spanish onion really complemented the gorgeous little fish.

Macabeo with Boquerones
Apart from this, we ordered a selection of smaller, bit-sized pinchos:
  • Pintxos Jamon - ham, tomato, blue cheese, fig/onion jam.
  • Pintxos Chorizo con Miel - sausage, honey and cheese
  • Almendras - smoked almonds
As these items were on the richer end of the scale, I selected the Menade Organic Verdejo 2012, D.O. Rueda as an accompanying wine.  This was a light, golden-coloured wine with peaches and cream wafting out of the glass.  There was a slightly oily mouth-feel and it was full-bodied but refreshing.  If you like a good chardonnay, I would suggest you may enjoy this wine and style.

Verdejo with various pinchos
If you are looking for somewhere to have a laid-back lunch or a light dinner, relaxing with a wine as Leederville hums around you with its slightly hipster vibe, this is the place.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Shopping and Wine

This week, I started a new, but temporary, job in Perth's city centre.  The idea is that I will knuckle down for the next few months to raise some funds for my trip to Canada in September (the minimum wage in Canada is much lower than in Australia).  Working a 9-to-5 office job is very much a novelty for me, as I am used to wearing hi-vis and steelcaps and spending the majority of the day on my feet.  By the end of the week, I had realised that I really do not own much in the way of business attire.

What better way to rectify this situation than with a late night shopping outing on Friday after work.  As I am not the most patient of shoppers, I thought it would be a good idea to break up my shopping with a quick wine tasting. Swinney Vineyards were holding tastings at the East Perth Vintage Cellars and I was intrigued by this family-owned Frankland River winery that I had not previously encountered.  Plus, I have a soft spot for Frankland River riesling.

I was not disappointed.  

There were four wines on offer (in order of tasting):  

1. Tirra Lirra 2013 Riesling, Gew├╝rztraminer, Pinot Gris  

Definitely a case of the whole being better than the sum of its parts.  This wine stayed true to the crisp minerality of its Riesling roots, but the Gewurztraminer added some beautiful spicy notes and I'm guessing it was the addition of Pinot Gris that really rounded out the body of the wine and added a silky, almost oily texture.

2. Riesling 2013

A little more colour to this wine than some of the other Frankland Rieslings I have had of late (not a bad thing).  The wine had that lovely Granny Smith Apple aroma that I can't get enough of in a Riesling.   

3. Tirra Lirra 2012 Tempranillo, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon. 

This was by far the most intriguing wine in the range, made from bush vines (vines that grow without trellising), which are quite uncommon in Western Australia.  Although I could definitely distinguish the typical savouriness of the Tempranillo and the juicy fruit of the Grenache, there was something different about this wine.  I loved the earthy character and the complex combination of spices.  

4. Shiraz 2012

Turns out that the grapes that go into this wine are from the Wilson's Pool Vineyard.  These grapes often make their way into a well-loved wine of mine: Houghton's C. W. Ferguson.  I found the wine to be quite savoury and very elegant, a great example of cool-climate Shiraz.

Loving the simple but classy label design - the wine speaks for itself!
Thanks to Janelle Swinney who patiently and professionally answered all my questions as I tasted the wines.  I ended up walking away with both of the Tirra Lirra wines and I look forward to attempting to match them with food at a later date. 

If you are interested to learn more about these wines from an up-and-coming Frankland River producer, check out their beautifully designed website here:  Swinney Vineyards

Oh yeah, and I did manage to purchase some business clothes that night as well.  Hopefully my choices were not adversely affected by my wine consumption... 

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Sparkling Wine and Chocolate Tasting

Brought to you thanks to Christina Pickard's School of Wine

A little while ago, I nervously sent an email to Christina Pickard to ask her for some advice on my quest to expand the horizons of my wine knowledge.  I had seen her name popping up around the Perth wine scene in SCOOP magazine and through her School of Wine events in bars around Perth. My email felt like a bit of a 'stab in the dark', as I never really expected to hear back from such a successful and well-travelled wine writer and entrepreneur.  

So I was ecstatic to receive a detailed and thoughtful reply from Christina, complete with a suggestion for assistance with some future wine tasting events.  This resulted in my involvement with the School of Wine's Sparkling Wine and Chocolate Tasting event yesterday.  I was lucky enough to assist with serving the wine and chocolate and learnt much about the pairing of these two luxury items in the process. 

Unlike the majority of the female population, I am not a huge chocolate fan.  Neither is sparkling wine my first drink of choice (although I am always happy to have a dabble). However, some of the selections and pairings I was exposed to last night may have changed my opinion.

Here is a list of the sparkling wines and their matching chocolate creations that were up for tasting at the event.  I have included a very brief background note about each wine and chocolate.  I was impressed that 7 of the 8 chocolates were hand made in Western Australia.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Revisiting White Burgundy

On Day 7 of my 30 Wines in 30 Days, you may remember that I branched out from my comfort zone of Australian wines to taste a French Chardonnay.  Well, I had actually bought two wines from the same winery, Domaine des Deux Roches, to allow for a comparison.

So recently, feeling slightly thirsty, I decided to crack the second bottle.  This one was the Domaine des Deux Roches 2012 Saint-Veran Rives de Longsault. Being the southernmost region of Burgundy, the Chardonnay produced in Saint-Veran tends to be fuller in body than other regions producing white Burgundy.   

This was definitely suggested in the bright gold colour and beautiful smell of peaches and nutmeg that jumped out at me from the glass. I also enjoyed the creamy texture but was less impressed by some green/stemmy characters. On the other hand, perhaps this was a hint of mineral or 'flinty' aroma, which the French call pierre a fusil, and is a common characteristic of white Burgundies.  Still, some good crispness which was nicely mellowed out by oak usage.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Wrap Up of 30 Wines in 30 Days

Thank you to everyone who has followed me on my 30 Wines in 30 Days.  
What a ride it has been!  

Some days presented me with more interesting wines and experiences than others.

Some days I was privileged to enjoy sharing a bottle of wine with family and friends.

Some days I drank my wine alone at home.

Some days I struggled to find a suitable or convenient point in the day for a glass of wine.

Some days it was difficult to find a wine I wanted to try, depending where I was.

But every day I enjoyed the challenge and the opportunity to learn something new, practice my wine sensory analysis and put this into words.

Here are some of the little gems I have learnt from consuming and analysing 30 Wines in 30 Days:
  • How to ensure wine was not wasted when opening a bottle without intending to consume the contents in one sitting.  (This involved some creative cooking and also the use of a Vacu Vin, which I have found to be very handy indeed).
  • There is a reason that Champagne can be so expensive and I can now see why some people are willing to spend exorbitant amounts for the best.
  • As hoped, a greater appreciation of the differentiation between styles of wine and wines at different price points in regards to length, body and balance. 
  • It is possible to maintain a healthy lifestyle whilst enjoying a glass or two of wine each and every day.
  • People in the wine industry (in general) are very approachable and willing to assist with learning more about wine, irrespective of previous experience - just ask. 
  • Many people believe that they cannot  identify different aromas in a wine, primarily because they are intimidated or worried about being wrong.  Once they realise that everyone has a unique sense of smell and taste and just give it a try, it is surprising how the experience of drinking wine can take on a whole new level.  

Throughout April, I have not just been sitting around drinking wine each day.  I have also been developing options for my ongoing foray into the wine industry.  So what is next?

1. WSET Level 2 Award in Wines and Spirits

I have just signed up for this eight week program, which will involve my attendance at a two hour session every Monday evening, followed by a final exam to achieve the internationally recognised accreditation.  

2. Working at wine tasting events

I have arranged some volunteer work at various wine tasting events that will be occurring over the coming few months.  I hope that this will provide me with some unique learning opportunities in regards to hosting wine events, wine presentation and education. On the plus side, I will also have to opportunity to taste some really nice wines for free!

3. Vintage in Canada

I am very excited to announce that I have been accepted for a vintage at Road 13 Vineyards in British Columbia, Canada, starting early September!  This will be my second vintage experience and will allow me to further develop my skills and understanding in the area of wine production, whilst learning about a lesser known wine producing region.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

30 Wines in 30 Days - DAY 30

A sleepless night of plane travel was not enough to dampen my excitement to catch up with some old friends in Townsville (where I previously lived).  It was fitting to share my last wine for the 30 day challenge whilst we recounted the past few years and what everyone had been doing with themselves.

The majority of the group had chosen steak meals for dinner, so I selected the Philip Shaw 'The Idiot' Shiraz 2012 (despite the name being slightly off-putting).  This wine is from the Koomooloo Vineyard in the Orange region of New South Wales.  

I was well aware that this is a cool-climate region, but was interested to learn that "less than 1% of Australian vineyards are above 600m and Koomooloo is one of the highest vineyards in Australia at 900m" (excerpt from the Philip Shaw website).

The wine tasted quite young with plenty of ripe fruit flavours but a slightly 'sappy' acidity.  I can imagine that it will develop more depth with age, and I would be interested to try it in a few years time.  That being said, there was good length and some spiciness to the red.  As cool-climate wines are starting to come into vogue, I have no doubt I will encounter more of this style of Australian Shiraz as I continue on my wine tasting journey.

Beautiful Magnetic Island off Townsville

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

30 Wines in 30 Days - DAY 29

Firstly, apologies for the delay in publishing the last two days of my 30 Wines in 30 Days challenge.  Immediately after our wonderful holiday to Exmouth, we skipped across to sunny Far North Queensland for a wedding on beautiful Magnetic Island, off the coast of Townsville.

Due to a spate of recent flights, my husband fortuitously had some passes for the Virgin Lounge, which made our long, overnight trip slightly more bearable and gave me the opportunity to sample some airport lounge wine.  

My selection was the 2013 Luella Adelaide Hills Chardonnay.  This was a very lightly styled chardonnay, a purposeful choice to avoid staying awake on the plane. Although I could  identify the presence of oak, it was the zing of acidity that enveloped my tongue.  The freshness reminded me of the crisp, cool air of the Adelaide Hills which I experienced on a visit a few years ago.  I also reflected that this lovely area, is often unduly overshadowed by its neighbouring regions such as Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale.