It’s not that difficult to EXTEND YOUR WINE KNOWLEDGE and your cellar, says MARY DOWEY …
Evening classes are in full swing. Maybe you half wish you’d signed up for a course in wine appreciation – but it seemed expensive, or time-consuming, or marginally unhealthy compared to the gym? Never mind. With minimal equipment and a little resolve you can
improve your knowledge and enjoyment of wine without stepping beyond your front door.
Follow these five simple steps:
1. KEEP A TASTING NOTEBOOK
The most crucial advice of all is to keep a small notebook in the kitchen. (Mine are A6, ring-bound.) Every time you open a bottle give it a page, writing down the date, wine name, region, producer’s name (a vital pointer to quality), vintage, price and where you bought it; then briefly your impressions about aromas, flavours and overall impact. Giving a score out of 20 will help to make your assessment more focused. Never again will you say “I had a lovely Italian red last week but I can’t remember what it was…”
2. USE TASTING GLASSES
A few glasses designed specifically for wine tasting are a sound investment. Their tulip shape traps aromas so that these can easily be sniffed – an important step in wine appreciation since smell and taste are closely interlinked. (In an ideal wine, both should appeal.) Their widest point is low down so that a small amount of wine is exposed to plenty of air and can be swirled (to “open up” flavours) without splashing. Posh
wine-geek-favoured brands include Riedel, Schott Zwiesel and Zalto. Standard ISO tasting glasses do the job much more cheaply (about €24 for six).
3. STOP BUYING THE SAME OLD THING
We’re all guilty of buying wines that we like time and again. To deepen wine knowledge, horizons must be wider! While random purchasing can uncover some fascinating bottles it can also create confusion, so my advice is to follow a particular strategy.
See 4 and 5 below.
4. EXPLORE A STYLE
It makes sense to focus on a particular wine style for a month or two, buying and comparing different examples until you feel you (a) know it inside out and (b) have clearly identified a few favourites. With winter at the door, it’s a good time to delve into rich reds – Ripassos from north-east Italy; Syrahs/Shirazes, especially from the northern Rhône and Australia; Malbecs from Argentina and Cahors. As richer whites suit this time of year too, you might consider Pinot Gris from Austria and New Zealand; Semillon from Australia; Viognier from anywhere at all.
5. EXPLORE A COUNTRY OR REGION
If you’d prefer a geographical focus, that can work well too. Limit your purchases to one area for a while – buying and comparing wines from different producers. Currently exciting possibilities include Spain beyond Rioja (e.g. Navarra, Priorat, Bierzo or Ribera del Duero, the subject of my November column); Portugal (especially the Douro and Alentejo); and Austria (for reds as well as its white star, Grüner Veltliner).
3 of the best
Mas des Agrunelles La Valière Viognier, Languedoc 2016. An unusually fresh Viognier and an alluring natural wine too – firm, dry and layered with personality. Enjoy it with prawns, crab or a korma. Alcohol: 13%. From Quintessential Wines, Drogheda; Wicklow Wine Co, about €21.50.
Antolini Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2014. Perfect autumn red; this is one of the most delicious I’ve come across, earthy and rich but finely judged – not a clumsy whopper. Alcohol: 13.5%. From Wines Direct (www.winesdirect.ie). €20.75.
Niepoort Vertente Douro 2014. A compelling Douro red from respected port house Niepoort. Best with meat. Alcohol: 12.5%. From Corkscrew, Dublin 2; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4; Mortons, Dublin 6; Sweeneys, Dublin 11; Red Island, Skerries; 64 Wine, Glasthule; about €24.95.
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