I recently lost a wonderful friend who in his heyday was wont to say, 1 bottle good, 2 bottles better. And if you enjoy a glass of wine, why not 85, as recommended by Decanter? To clarify, that is their recommendation for the maximum number of wines that a taster should sample in a single sitting. Getting paid for drinking wine? Cushy number, surely? Hmm. Have you tried it?
Many of us may have hosted or attended wine evenings. I organised one for charity once, run by the estimable Stuart Easton of Luvians. It started sensibly enough, but even with food involved went downhill fairly rapidly. I recall one particular wine which only one member of the party liked. Everyone offloaded their glass into his, with predictable consequences. Well that's NOT what we're talking about today.
A couple of Mondays ago, L and I attended Liberty Wines Autumn Portfolio Tasting in
Edinburgh's Balmoral Hotel, as guests of Paul Brennan of the Dine Group. Out of the 340 or so on offer, we scoffed about 40 in our quest for the elusive house red. Before you send round the paramedics, I should correct my use of language. Scoff probably isn't le mot juste. L and I did know what we were doing and didn't embarrass our hosts. We can swirl and sniff like good 'uns. Slurping is also second nature. It's the fourth S that doesn't come naturally, to wit the spit. There is an art to spitting without dribbling. The experts can be identified by the quality of their expectoration. If you are invited to one of these things, do some practice in advance.
At your own soirée where no one is driving, a little excess bothers no one. This, on the other hand, was strictly business, And, to be truthful, not nearly as much fun as you might think. We were looking for reds at the lower end of the price scale, something which can be enjoyed either with food or on its own. That involves a lot of tannin, which can go for your lips pretty quickly. I asked one of the pros for some advice. Should I, for example, be changing my glass for each one? Oh no, he said, but just be aware of how your palette is reacting, and give yourself a rest if need be. The water and bread sticks were useful tools.
There is also the issue of note taking, tricky unless you have clear set criteria. (I should know - establishing the Tom Eats! scoring system wasn't a breeze.) It's very easy to forget which one had the blackcurrant overtones, and which the vanilla. Was it the one with the fruity nose which had the unpleasantly astringent after taste, or have I got that the wrong way round? Reviewing notes the following day which read, a load better than the last one, is less than helpful.
After the morning session we had things narrowed down to about five. We were quite proud of ourselves and also of our unexpected sobriety. But let me issue a word of warning in case you're thinking of driving home. Decanter estimates that tasting and spitting 20 wines is the equivalent of drinking a 125ml glass.
The Balmoral provided a spot of excellent lunch. We met chums from Unalome by Graeme Cheevers and from Kyloe. L and I decided we had had enough. Enough, that is, of doing things properly. So we blagged a drop of champagne as an aperitif. At the lunch table where some wine was provided, spitting would not have gone down well. After that, it seemed churlish not to sample some of Liberty's finest fare. I can still recall the wondrous Chassagne-Montrachet, no doubt coming soon to a wine list near you for upwards of 400 quid. Or a luscious Sauternes and a complex Icewine. Some things are just far too good to spit.
Many thanks to our hosts, Liberty Wines, and Paul Brennan of Dine (Dine, Cambridge Street; Dine Murrayfield; The Tollhouse, all Edinburgh.) If you haven't discovered the delights of Luvians, make a short trip to Cupar or St Andrews