Peter Ranscombe joins Diana Thompson for her first Wine Events Scotland online tasting to learn how the format works – and tastes some great-value Chilean bottles along the way.
I WISH I’d bought shares in Zoom.
The video-conferencing app has become almost as ubiquitous during the covid19 lockdown as Jason Leitch, the Scottish Government’s national clinical director and, for many, the reassuring voice of calm during the coronavirus crisis.
But the software isn’t just being used by bosses to keep tabs on their workers or for inane conversations about biscuits with colleagues – it’s also being used to host wine tastings.
A raft of online events has sprung up over the past couple of weeks, ranging from tomorrow night’s transatlantic tasting with Princess & The Pinot founder Soma Jennings and The Wine Show presenter Amelia Singer live from Los Angeles on Zoom through to “The Friday Bubble” regular get-togethers on Instagram organised by sparkling wine delivery firm The Finest Bubble.
Diana Thompson was one of the first wine educators to cotton on to the idea.
Hours before Prime Minister Boris Johnson bumbled his way into advising the public not to go out to bars and restaurants, Thompson had already canvassed her regulars about their appetite for attending online tastings.
A week later, she was ready to go with an invitation emailed out to tonight’s “Organics in the Americas” tasting, with wines supplied by Edinburgh-based merchant Great Grog, which delivered the wines for the event straight to my door after I placed my order online.
Regular readers will recognise Thompson as the brains behind Fizz Feast, the sparkling wine festival held at The Edinburgh Academy each autumn, and – before the lockdown – I was a regular guest at several of her Wine Events Scotland in-person tastings, including masterclasses on Croatian wines and chocolate and wine matching.
There were plenty of familiar faces from those tastings among the 15 participants at tonight’s online event, alongside three special guests: Justin Howard-Sneyd, a master of wine and the winemaker at Domaine of the Bee in the south of France; Anita Jackson, UK director of trade body Wines of Chile; and Sarah Mauritzen, account manager for Scotland at importer Boutinot.
Thompson opened the evening by explaining that Chile was an ideal location for organic vineyards because the roots of its vines were resistant to the phylloxera louse and its climate helped to prevent mildew, meaning farmers could manage with natural remedies instead of synthetic sprays.
She showed slides to participants using Zoom’s “share screen” feature, which worked extremely well, with her pre-prepared maps giving the audience context for the wines they were tasting.
We opened with the 2017 Tabali Pedregoso Gran Reserva Viognier (£10.50, Great Grog), made by an estate that’s practising organic farming but isn’t certified.
What struck me most about the wine was its freshness – viognier can get very fat and flabby when it’s grown in warmer climes, but Tabali’s altitude and cooling fogs help the grapes to retain their acidity.
That crispness was balanced by intense lemon sherbet flavours and a spicy twist of ginger, making me crave some lemon chicken from my local Chinese takeaway to accompany this wine.
Tabali’s vineyards lie in the northern Limori valley, with Jackson chipping in to compare the distance from the Chilean capital, Santiago, to Limori as mirroring the space between Edinburgh and London.
Next, we ventured into central Chile and the Maule valley, from where the 2019 Santa Alba Reserve Pinot Noir (£8.20) was produced.
The toasty roast meat aromas on the nose built and built and built on the palate, ending with a sweet tomato sauce-like barbecue note.
Sweeter cherry drop and sharper redcurrant notes helped to balance the tannins, which had enough grip to rip through a sausage or burger on the barbecue.
One of Zoom’s features that was put to good use tonight during the tasting was the instant messaging panel, which allowed participants to chat to each other without interrupting the flow of the conversation.
We discussed whether the pinot had potential for ageing – I felt that it was perhaps worth a look in five years, but not beyond that.
Yet the final wine of the night, the 2017 Araucano Reserva Carmenere (£11.05) from the Colchagua Valley, had more structure and more concentration to its fruit flavours; signs that it could develop even more interesting facets with age.
It’s made by the Lurton family from Bordeaux, who practice biodynamic farming on their Chilean estate.
That focus on the health of the soil is always reflected for me in the intensity of the flavour in the resulting wine and the Carmenere was no exception, with its classic chocolate notes centring around bitter dark chocolate, alongside a sweet kick of vanilla, a subtle sprig of mint, and a spicy punch of clove.
More gamey roast meat notes here too and more grip to the drying tannins, but everything was in proportion and this is a very grown-up style of Carmenere for the price.
In fact, all three wines are among the best-value examples I’ve tasted in a long time, delivering concentrated and exciting flavours.
I’m looking forward to part two of Thompson’s “Organics in the Americas” tasting next week, which will feature another wine from Chile and two California, before she moves onto Italy and its indigenous varieties on 15 and 22 April with wines from Bellissimo Vino in Edinburgh.
And, if you can’t wait until then, Boutinot’s South African partner, Waterkloof, is hosting a tasting on Instagram and Facebook on Friday night at 6.30pm, followed by Howard-Sneyd’s English sparkling wine chat on Zoom at 7pm.
My top five tips
If you’re going to take part in an online wine tasting then here are my top five tips:
- Pour yourself a large glass of water before you start – tasting is thirsty business and it helps to rinse out your mouth between wines;
- Keep a piece of kitchen roll or a paper towel to hand – if you’re as messy as me then it’ll come in handy, even if you use a wine pourer, like the ones Diana Thompson supplied in her starter pack;
- Lay a tea towel or placemat in front of your computer screen or laptop – Thompson sent out her usual handy tasting mats before the event, but I needed something slightly bigger to catch my messy dribbles;
- Don’t be scared to spit – have an empty mug or ice bucket to hand to use as your spittoon and don’t be afraid to use it so you can pace yourself, remembering that you can use a stopper to save the rest of the bottle for later, such as the Vacuvin stoppers and pump Thompson included in her pack;
- Mute your microphone until you’re ready to speak – that way, you’ll avoid any embarrassing noises interrupting the speaker, like your washing machine reaching the spin cycle or your kids racing into the room.
Read more of Peter Ranscombe’s blog entries about whisky, wine and other drinks on The Grape & The Grain at https://www.scottishfield.co.uk/grapegrain/