Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Why You Shouldn't Choose A Wine By Its Label

By Nathalie Bonney.

Disney Land, in essence, sums up all the things that kids love: magic, adventure and junk food. Vinopolis, in essence, sums up all the things that adults love: booze. As well as wine, drinkers (at Vinopolis, not Disney Land) can sample rum, Coke, whisky, absinthe and Bombay Sapphire cocktails. It’s Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Animal Kingdom all rolled into one.

We were at Vinopolis for the ‘Vineyard’ self–tasting tour, which allows for six wine tastings plus three premier wines and a gin cocktail. In preparation, I’d eaten a carby lunch, my friend had eaten a salad, the fool!

“You won’t find any Gallo or Blossom Hill here,” said Aaron, host of our introductory tutorial on how to taste wine. The first step is looking at the wine: apparently the darker a white wine looks, the older it is and vice versa with red. You can tell how alcoholic a wine is by swilling the wine round the glass and seeing how many residual ‘rings’ mark it; the more drops or ‘legs’ that fall from the rings, the higher the alcohol content.

Stage two is smelling the wine. Aside from the obvious ingredients, according to Aaron, even vegetables are used. Asparagus or olive wine anybody? Hmmmm.

Finally we got to stage three: drinking the wine. I was confident that my friend and I would be best at this. In fact, so confident were we in our own abilities that we completely dispensed with all aforementioned advice and decided to choose wines based on the prettiness of the labels. Weren’t we kooky? What a novel idea. No: massive error.

My first try was Cuatro Pasos, a Rioja apparently made with violets and blueberries from 80–year–old vines. More importantly, the label had cute, shiny red paw prints on it. On requesting a dash of Pasos, the server looked surprised and warned me of the wine’s “harsh” taste. Confident I wouldn’t like it, he allowed me to try a smidgen first instead of handing over one of my precious tokens. He was right; I’d just drunk tar. But at least I still had all tokens in tact. My friend fared less well. She opted for Donne Fugata Sherazade, which rather aptly means ‘the woman who ran away’. Despite Sherazade’s cute dress, the wine was watery and wimpy.

It was time to abandon this lunatic wine selection process of ours and go for expert recommendations. We went for Aaron’s earlier olive wine recommendation (Waipara West Ram Paddock Red below).

And then finally Bacchus himself answered “fear not, you shall have (good) wine.” And there was Katie Jones, hosting one of the barrel top wine tastings. (These basically allow drinkers an extra sample of wine without handing over a token.)

Jones has worked in the wine industry for 20 years but recently made the switch from selling it to making it. Her small vineyard, in the French village of Paziols, is only 2.5 hectares large and because of the slanted slopes where her vines are planted, she has to do everything by hand. Producing 2,000 bottles of white and 4,000 red, it’s worth the effort though. The red, simply called Jones Rouge, has a soft, fruit taste that lingers in the mouth, while Jones Blanc has an almost flowery scent and won a silver medal at the international wine challenge.

Aside from the wines being hugely gluggable, the green labels with pale vine leaves and simple white fonts, designed by her artist friend, would have come up trumps in our disbanded wine label challenge. However, even with Domaine Jones’ success, we decided to stick to our decision and go with wine recommendations for the rest of the eve.

Standouts were a syrupy smooth port called Andreson Portto – like slipping a Werthers Original into my mouth - and a mixture of a sweet raspberry wine from Canada and a sparkling Brazilian wine.

Post Vinopolis tour, I wouldn’t say I’m anymore of an expert but I have learnt something: never judge a bottle by its label.

Looking for further wine inspiration in London? Check out the Top 10 Wine Bars in London.

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