Making wine is part science and part art, part chemistry and part creativity, part alchemy and part mystery. Adventures in Viticulture, an event at the 2016 Edinburgh International Science Festival, brought together four experts to explore the interface between the art and science of winemaking.
Charlotte Maberly, a lecturer and co-creator of the master’s degree in gastronomy at Queen Margaret University in Musselburgh, the first course of its kind in Scotland, chaired the event and briefly explained why it’s important to study gastronomy, placing food and drink in their wider cultural context.
Kat Grant, manager of the Majestic wine warehouse on Leith Walk in Edinburgh, then introduced the audience to the method for assessing the quality of a glass of wine, by looking at its appearance, smelling its aromas and finally tasting its flavours and structure. Kat walked participants through how to assess the sweetness or dryness of a wine, its acidity and its tannins, presenting all of the techniques in an accessible and easy-to-understand way.
Next up was David Green, senior lecturer at the University of Aberdeen, who spoke about precision viticulture, which involves assessing the geography of a vineyard – from the acidity of the soil through to the variations in temperature between rows of vines – to improve the quality of the wine. David explained how the falling cost of camera equipment and “unmanned aerial vehicles” – UAVs or drones to you and me – is making it easier for viticulturalists to study their vineyards in greater depth.
Finally, Christopher Trotter – who featured as the guest chef in the April 2014 issue of Scottish Field – entertained the audience with tales from the vineyard. Christopher is growing grapes in Fife in what he believes to be Scotland’s first outdoor vineyard since Roman times and he explained how his 2014 vintage had been oxidised and turned into a wine with a strong sherry aroma, before the poor weather last summer prevented him from making a 2015 Chateau Largo.
As well as listening to the experts speak about wine, the audience also got to taste some samples from Majestic too:
Majestic’s flagship Definition range offers reliable bottlings designed to portray the textbook characteristics of a wine. Its Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand provides the high acidity you’d expect, along with concentrated gooseberry, lemon and green apple flavours, mingling with aromas of asparagus, green pepper and cut grass.
CVNE Rioja Reserva, 2011 (£14.99)
This was the real crowd-pleaser on our table at the science festival tasting, with several participants reaching for a second taste. On the nose, this Rioja from Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España (CVNE), has all the familiar smoky and vanilla notes that come from ageing a wine in oak barrels, along with the blackcurrant and sour black cherry aromas from the Tempranillo and Garnacha grapes.
David Green from Aberdeen waxed lyrical about the Pinot Noir grape variety as part of his talk, but this example from the Loire Valley in France was perhaps the only disappointment for me during the tasting. It had pleasant strawberry jam aromas on the nose, but the taste was a bit too simple and straightforward for me, lacking both complexity and the concentrated fruit flavours that would be needed to balance its acidity.
La Grille Rosé d’Anjou (£8.99)
On the other hand, the Pinot Noir’s cousin – a Rose d’Anjou made from Gamay and the local Grolleau grape variety – was my surprise favourite from the evening. It struck a good balance between the concentrated strawberry and raspberry fruit flavours and the acidity, with an off-dry touch of sweetness making it an idea wine to sip on its own.