I recently attended a summer wine tasting with the Cambridgeshire Wine School in an attempt to educate myself further in a field I know tragically little about. It was a great evening and a very painless introduction to the frequently daunting world of wine, run by the knowledgeable and friendly Mark Anstead. As well as learning a bit more about various wines, I also had a fascinating insight into exactly where your money goes when buying a bottle of wine (hint: most of it doesn't actually go on the stuff in the bottle), plus the opportunity to try a range of wine and food matches (the best involving chips, naturally).
We began with a Cava - the Jaume Serra Cava Brut Reserve (Spanish), which spends 15 months fermenting, longer than the usual minimum of 9 months. Mark told us all about the way in which they remove the resulting sediment from the wine - by gradually rotating the bottles over a period of six weeks, the sediment moves to the neck of the bottle. The bottles are then put in frozen brine to freeze the sediment, opened, and the sediment pops out - fascinating! The result is a pleasant biscuity flavour which I rather liked.
Next, we tried a white wine - Joseph Mellot Green Bottle Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (Loire, France). The main interest in this lay in its plastic bottle - keen to reduce carbon emissions, the manufacturers use a plastic bottle that weighs only 58g, compared with 480g for glass bottles. This apparently reduces the carbon footprint by a massive 68%. Of course, there are image problems associated with wine in a plastic bottle, which is the downside, but it also means much less weight to carry if you fancy an alcoholic picnic. I wasn't a huge fan of this, apparently - I've written a little sad face next to it in my notes - but I remember we tried it with some goat's cheese, which was a really delicious match. Mark also recommended Thai food and tomato-based dishes, remarking that sometimes acidic food and acidic wine can pair rather well together, which surprised me - but I bow to his superior knowledge!
Third on the list, the Stella Alpina Pinot Grigio 2011 (Alto Adige, Italy). I really liked this wine, with its notes of peach and honey. It went very well with slices of roast chicken. Mark told us that this is one of the better Pinot Grigios on the market - those produced in the Alto Adige region are apparently better than those from the Veneto region.
Fourth, the Tour de Belfort 2012 (Vin de Pays du Lot, France). This is produced by a small organic family business, using no pesticides, herbicides or insecticides, and harvesting by hand (resulting in low yields - I found out all about the harvesting process during my trip to Chablis last April). The wine is naturally filtered with no added chemicals. It contains a mixture of grapes: 35% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Semillion, 5% Sauvignon Gris and 35% Chardonnay, the latter to create a fuller body. This got a smiley face in my notes, so I was obviously quite keen on it. Afterwards, another wine from the same producer - a rosé with delicious notes of almonds and vanilla.
Next we moved onto the red wines - first, Domaine de Puits Beni, Morgon 2011 (Beaujolais, France). This was lovely with pork pâté and charcuterie - definitely the stuff of summer picnics - and had a light, smoky flavour. I preferred the next red though, the Peter Lehmann Shiraz 2009 (Barossa, South Australia), which had a more pronounced smokey taste and a hint of spice, though perhaps for me it would have been better suited to the winter months. Finally, we tried another Peter Lehmann wine - the Moppa Shiraz 2008, which was nearly twice the price but, in my opinion, worth it. It had a less smoky character with more fruity flavour and more body.
All in all, I had a lovely and informative evening. I'd recommend the wine tastings to anyone in the Cambridge area - they're great for meeting people (over wine - what better way to meet people?), you learn a lot, and you get to drink a lot of wine. You can spit it out if you like, but I saw very few people doing this. As well as one-off wine tastings, Mark also runs various courses, some of which involve cookery and food-and-wine matching - have a look at his website for more details.
Thank you Mark for a great evening!