Bacchus v Cheese: Wedded Bliss or War of the Worlds?

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Declaration of Interest: I probably picked the grapes from which the featured wine was made!

Grape harvesting at Aldwick Court Farm & Vineyard is always fun (unless it is cold and/or wet, obviously).  And it gets even better when the wine made with the grapes we harvested is ready for release – we gleefully receive our “wages” i.e. wine at the annual Harvest Supper.  Sadly I had to miss it this year, because I was about to sit the huge and hideous Unit 3 Still Wines of the World (yikes!) theory and tasting exam for my WSET Level 4 Diploma.  I did not therefore collect my earnings until recently.  This year, Sandy from Aldwick Court Farm has  rewarded my hard work in the 2016 harvest with 3 tasty bottles of Aldwick vino – i.e. Mary’s Rose and Bacchus from 2016, and Finbarr from 2015 (I helped that year too).

As I am always on the look out for winning wine and food pairings, I have decided to put my wages to good use  – I will enjoy each wine with various tasty treats and record what goes with what.

I have a head start in that I am reliably informed that the Bacchus is a great match with Lye Cross Farm Organic Vintage Cheddar which, conveniently, is on my way home from the vineyard.  So I nipped into the Lye Cross Farm shop – and came out with rather more than I intended!  The gentleman on the meat counter was particularly helpful and I am pleased to report that Him Indoors enjoyed the bacon…..

I digress.  Here are the details of the wine and the cheeses.

The Hypothesis

I get why the tangy vintage cheddar would match the equally tangy Bacchus, so I anticipate that this will, as advised, work very well.  That said, Bacchus shares similar characteristics to Sauvignon Blanc.  This well known aromatic grape variety is classically teamed with goat’s cheese – e.g. Sancerre and Crottin de Chavignol both from the Loire valley in France.   I therefore bought a local goat’s cheese to see what happened.  I also bought a brie as when I prepared a wine and cheese tasting recently, I had a Sauvignon Blanc that went well with it, and both brie and camembert can be tricky to match.  Maybe Bacchus would work with brie too.

The Wine: Aldwick Bacchus from Somerset, England 2016 11% abv. 

The grapes are grown on south facing slopes overlooking the Mendip Hills.  2016 was a good vintage in UK vineyards so I am expecting the usual refreshing English acidity, as well as relatively ripe fruit flavours.  But what fruit flavours should there be?  What do we know about Bacchus?

Much has been said about the improving fortunes of UK sparkling wine production, but the undeniable potential of Bacchus for still white wine production has been less publicised – until the Decanter World Wine Awards Platinum Best In Show gong went to Winbirri of Norfolk for its 2015 Bacchus.     This wine was said by the judges to have a ‘complex, oily nose with spice, elderflower and citrus’, and was described as ‘well-defined on the palate with grassy notes. Very elegant and delicate with a slight spritz and a long, clean finish’.  Describing Bacchus generally in the 2015 edition of Grapes and Wines: a comprehensive guide’, Oz Clarke and Margaret Rand reported key aromas of hedgerow, elderflower and pear and told us that ‘This is about the closest England can come to the herbal pungency of Sauvignon Blanc.’ Christelle Guibert described a Camel Valley 2013 Bacchus from Cornwall thus: ‘A delightfully perfumed nose with notes of crisp apple and honeysuckle, underpinned by a spine of acidity.’ 

My tasting note for Aldwick Bacchus is as follows:

“Defined and pronounced aromas of nettle, asparagus, green apple, lime, and honeysuckle.  A savoury wine with a crisp zesty bite.  Refreshing acidity in balance with the fruit. Tasty!”

Hopefully the 2017 Bacchus (which I helped harvest last week…!) will be just as good.

The Cheeses

Rachel Cheese – a mild delicate goat’s cheese made by White Lake Cheese, Pylle, Somerset.  This is from their website:

“Our multi-award winning Rachel is a semi-soft unpasteurised goat cheese with a smooth texture and sweet, medium flavour. As she matures, Rachel is washed regularly in a brine solution – this gives the artisan cheese a dusky rind, and the occasional orange and yellow spots. Rachel is the namesake of Pete’s friend who, much like the cheese, is sweet, curvy and just a little bit nutty!”

Rachel sounds rather like me except for the sweet part.

Somerset Brie – sourced from Lye Cross Farm shop, but I am not sure where this was made within our fair county.  A robust flavoured brie with lots of umami mushroom flavours.

Lye Cross Farm Organic Vintage Cheddar – strong, tangy and lingering – a Big Cheese indeed from Redhill, Somerset – just up the A38 from Aldwick.

The Method

The sandwich method, which is: wine – then cheese – then wine.

The Verdict

Last place goes to the brie.  This was out and out warfare.  The cheese walloped the wine, then the wine retaliated.  War of the Worlds.

Next comes the vintage cheddar.  This was a good match in that as predicted, the pronounced tanginess of the wine paved the way nicely for the pronounced tanginess of the cheese, and then the wine was refreshing afterwards.

But in clear first place comes the Rachel.  The wine made way for this delicate mild cheese which needs to be enjoyed in a decent sized slice to savour its subtleties.  But when I tasted the wine again after the cheese, the wine brought out the flavours of the cheese, and there was a truly delicious and harmonious blending of the vegetal greenness of the wine with the cheese.  The creamy nuttiness of the cheese really sang through the wine, and the wine itself became weightier and rounder.

Wine and food pairings work when they complement each other as happened here with the cheddar.  But wine and food wedded bliss is when the wine and food combined tastes better than when tasted apart – and that is what happened with the Rachel.

So although I was indeed reliably informed that Bacchus and vintage cheddar pair well, I believe I have gone one better – I can now reveal the Somerset answer to the Loire valley classic – a marriage of Bacchus from Aldwick with Rachel from Pylle.  I must find a vicar to read out the marriage banns.  Definitely one for my ideal wine and cheese tasting menu – and all the more satisfying because I helped in a small way to make the wine.

PS  You are lucky readers – the photo of Arthur on our front page shows him contemplating the platter above – much more delay and the cheese would have been history.  He later enjoyed a bit of cheese – but his views are not worth blogging – he is handsome, but not discerning.

 

 

 

 

 

WHY DO WINE EXAMS – AND WHY DO WSET LEVEL 2?

IMG_1106 IGNORE THE  EMPTY WINE GLASSES…….

The first thing to know about WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) Level 2 is that it is a “win win”.  You get to taste wines throughout the course, but there is no tasting exam at the end!  The exam (sorry, there is a teeny weeny theory exam) is simply 50 multiple choice questions in 60 minutes, pass mark 55%.  That’s it!

Why bother when you can go to great wine tastings without any exams at all, I hear you cry?

For wine trade professionals, the answer is obvious.  WSET qualifications are required in order to progress in your career.  Not only that; consumers are very clued up these days.  People like me equip them to know their way round a wine list and suss out faulty wines with confidence, so those serving them need to stay one step ahead.

For consumers, wine exams seem daunting and a tad unnecessary.  Much easier to book yourself on to a nice gentle wine tasting event where no one will put you on the spot and get you to think too much.  Indeed, thinking is far too tricky after a glass or two, surely?

So why on earth do people like me do WSET exams?

To be honest, I went on the WSET Level 2 course as something to do.  The exam at the end just happened without me thinking about it.  I was new to Bristol in 2003, and had no friends locally except my new colleagues.  A wine evening class was just the thing – I could go after work, I could go on my own (a big plus for Nancy Nomates – although in the end a colleague couldn’t resist and signed up too!) and I didn’t need to know anything at all about wine to attend – I didn’t even need to have done Level 1!  I was a lawyer with no interest in the wine trade.  I was just a curious wine drinker, simple as that.

I went on to become hooked on studying wine – hence I am part way through my WSET Level 4 diploma course.

But what do you get out of it if you don’t want hours of in depth study?

These days, the answer is found partly in the “strap line” for the course – “Looking behind the label”.  The label on a wine bottle won’t tell you what the wine will taste like.  But it will tell you what it should taste like, if you know what to look for, and what the labelling terms mean.  The course book (see photo above) is packed with wine labels and ways to decipher them. It is a handy tool in itself.

You also get to understand how food affects the taste of wine, and vice versa.  Many “old world” wines are made to pair with food, but the wrong food with the wrong wine can be a gastronomic disaster.  Both Levels 1 and 2 spare you the pitfalls of the food/wine marriages from hell.

However, to my mind, the real benefit is the tasting side of it.  You taste a wide range of wines to ensure you recognise the styles and quality levels taught.  As you can see above, you get a handy card which sets out the WSET Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine (SAT).  Even at Level 2, there is a decent amount of detail on it to help you identify the wine style and quality.  So although you don’t get tested on it, you get a useful framework you can use to appreciate wine better whether at home, or in a wine tasting event.

I have always found it hard to name an aroma I recognise without prompting, and on the back of the card is a lexicon which lists a number of common aromas you might detect.  It is A5 sized and laminated so you can stick it to your fridge or pin it on a memo board.

You can then use your tasting skills when you next go to a wine tasting event.  However well tutored it is, there won’t be time to teach you how to get the most out of the wines.  That won’t matter for simple wines, but if you are lucky enough to be tasting expensive complex wines with a range of subtle flavours and aromas, you are likely to miss many of them without having first acquired wine tasting skills.  That seems a real shame.  In my experience, most people get far more out of a quality wine if they can use their tasting skills.

Of course, you can swot the rudiments of tasting wine in books and on websites.  But it is only when you find yourself in a tasting room, discussing the wine in front of you with others that you fully understand how the terms we use relate to each other, and to what is in your glass.  The best classes are held round a table, so you can easily follow and join in the tasting experience. No one is born a Master of Wine.  Unless we have an impaired sense of smell and/or taste, wine tasting is a skill which can be acquired through tuition and practice.

Recognising that we are becoming more IT savvy and have less time to travel to the nearest tasting course, WSET increasingly offers virtual classrooms, especially useful for its many international students.  However, I doubt that distance tastings can replicate being with others in the same tasting room. Even if they could, I don’t think I would enjoy them as much.  I have made and cemented lasting friendships on my wine courses.  How could I have done that in a virtual classroom?  Indeed, as my good friend Kelli (yes, we met on a wine course!) says, “Wine tastes better with good friends”.

I have therefore come to realise that the real reason for doing your WSET Level 2 course is not the exam – in fact you can almost forget about it.  The main benefit is the wine tasting skill you acquire, because you are taught about wine style and quality using the wines you taste on the course.

In 3 days, or 8 evenings, you will have given yourself a sound framework for your future wine tasting adventures.  You will understand wine styles and quality levels.  You will know why wines taste as they do – in terms of both grape growing and wine making.  You will be able to demystify wine labels.  Most importantly of all, you will get at least twice as much pleasure from every glass of wine you drink than you do now.  Wines that never touched the sides of your mouth can now be sniffed, sipped and savoured as never before.

I call that a sound investment.

If this blog has inspired you to sign up, I wish you well on your wine adventures, wherever they may take you.  All I ask is that you click on the comment button to keep me updated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHY STUDY WINE?

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In January 1997 I attended my first ever wine evening class in Tonbridge.  My friend and I wanted something to do in the dark winter evenings.  By day, we were stressed and overworked lawyers, so a wine evening class seemed perfect.  We could enjoy some wine,  and we might even learn something.  There was no “spitting”, so I cannot recall much about it – except that in sparkling wine week, I experienced for the first time the difference in taste between champagne and other fizzy wines – a tiny seed of wine appreciation had therefore now been sown, and a new skill had unwittingly been acquired.

When I relocated from Kent to Bristol in 2003, it was time to seek out new friends.  I was now a senior lawyer working very long hours, with frequent trips to London and elsewhere.  It was hard to find time to commit to social activities after work, and when I did have time to do something, I had little energy left to do it with.  Fortunately, I found some wine evening classes in Bristol which fitted in with my other commitments, and I persuaded one of my new colleagues to come along too.

My new wine tutor offered WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) exam courses, and she encouraged us to sign up.  I was not keen.  O levels, A levels, a law degree and Law Society Finals were quite enough for me.  However, I was persuaded that a short exam of a few multiple choice questions was easy peasy (no tasting exam thank goodness), so why not tack that on at the end of the course…?  My colleague and I therefore took the plunge, and before we knew it, we were the proud holders of the WSET Level 2 (then called Intermediate) Certificate.

So studying wine had helped me settle in somewhere new and cement new friendships.   I also had a new addition to my CV and looked (on paper at least) slightly less geeky.

But something else had happened.  Although I was a happy and contented supermarket wine shopper, I now realised there was a much bigger wine world out there to explore.  My taste buds had woken from a lifetime of slumber.  As a result of learning how to taste wine (as opposed to drinking it), I could taste all sorts of amazing things in a glass of wine that I had previously missed, and I was getting much more value for money from my glasses of wine.  I had also discovered that there was a huge range of wines to explore, much more varied and fascinating than I had realised.

It was time to find out what else was out there.  It was time to learn more to gain more.  It was time to tackle the WSET Advanced course, now known as Level 3.  Again, this was an evening class due to my day job commitments.  This time I would be  “spitting” – partly because I had to drive to the venue, and partly because I was now expecting a baby!  I therefore remembered rather more about what I was taught.

The exam now included a “blind” wine tasting assessment.  I was apprehensive, not least because the senses can be thrown completely off beam by hormonal changes in pregnancy.  As luck would have it, my senses seemed to be accentuated, so everything tasted that little bit stronger – giving me a sneaky edge over my fellow students.

Despite my pregnancy and the demands of the day job, and the sadness of losing my mother at this time, I achieved a merit in the exam in May 2007 and was awarded a prize by the West of England Wine & Spirit Association.  I was invited as a guest to their annual luncheon to receive it.  This was the first time I had ever tasted a vintage champagne.  I had never tasted anything like it.  After receiving my book token prize (wisely spent on wine tomes I assure you), I was amazed by the “guess the port” competition.  There were indeed people in the room who could identify the shipper and the vintage, the only clues being what they found in the glass.

By now I had met some of the best known characters in the wine trade – the late John Avery MW, the late Bill Baker MW, to name but a few.  True, the more I knew, the more I knew there was to learn.  But wine was no longer a scary mystery.  I understood it, and could talk about it with genuine knowledge, even if my knowledge was not yet quite as great as my enduring enthusiasm.

Developing my knowledge was now more challenging with a lovely young daughter to care for.  However, I carried on with wine evening classes, where I met a beguiling lass called Kelli.  We dreamily mused about how wonderful it would be to leave our day jobs and work with wine instead.

Lawyers are risk averse by nature so there was no chance of me doing that!  However, Kelli was a much more courageous creature.  Off she went to London where she learned so much about wine that when she returned, she set up a wine tasting business, and then added to that a wine shop.  Being a trusting soul she asked if I would help by giving any tastings she could not do.  So all of a sudden, my wine study had to be put into practice!

Since then, I have given many tasting events of all kinds.  I have even taken the brave step of retiring from law to spend more time with my family and work with wine – emboldened by Kelli’s inspiring example.  I am a WSET Level 4 Diploma student, and I have passed the WSET Wine Educator Programme which means I am now a WSET Nominated Educator for Kelli’s wine shop in Winscombe.

So my purse is a little emptier, but my life is much more fun and rewarding.  It is always a pleasure to help others along their own wine journey.  I would not have been able to do this without my WSET qualifications.

Where will my wine journey take me next?  Maybe I will enjoy a bottle of champagne a week in my 50th year…..or embark upon a Grand Tour of European vineyards……no, I will NOT be taking any more wine exams!!!!!

More importantly, where will your wine journey take you?