Ah, hello there, what’s this…your 43rd boredom scroll of the day? Well I heartily welcome you, hopefully I can provide you with a few minutes of respite from your isolation ennui.
If I had a £1 for every time I’d seen a mildly witty, painfully cliché post pertaining to alcoholism and quarantine in the last 10 days I’d be a rich, rich lady. Sadly, the world doesn’t work like that, so here we are: I still have a student loan to pay off, and you still have an indefinite amount of time locked up in your own home. Lovely.
Social media never fails to deliver the goods when it comes drama, so throw a worldwide pandemic into the mix and it’s hardly surprising that there has been nothing short of a cataclysmic explosion of all things Corona. Covid memes, Covid news, Covid fake-news, Covid videos, Covid induced nominations and the many and varying Covid boredom busters that are primarily, though not limited to, challenges…so very many challenges. When people actually had lives to partake in, much of this would undoubtedly have been deemed just a little lame and a lot tedious, but given that most of us our turning to our phones to save from crawling up the walls or murdering a well-meaning but beyond irritating family member, it’s actually quite useful.
So, my proposal is to combine two of the aforementioned evils – in some cases, it seems, two wrongs do indeed make a right. Here’s how it works…
I know the prospect of venturing into the unknown can be a little scary, but let’s face it, you’ve got absolutely nothing else to do so let’s leave the fear to the Daily Mail's we’re-most-certainly-all-going-to-die articles and live a little.
If you tend to go for New World (Europe) wines, then maybe try something Old Word (South America, New Zealand, South Africa etc etc). If you’re a white (wine) drinker, let’s say along the lines of Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigot (nope, not a mind reader, just the choices of 99% of the population) then you could try something like a Gewurztraminer, German or Austrian are great and tragically underrated. If you like something with a slightly floral vibe then maybe an Old World Viognier – South African would work.
For those that don’t tend to venture out of Europe, think of it like this; the warmer the climate, the ‘warmer’ the wine. The fruits you’ll smell and taste will be more tropical or stone fruit esque, rather than the citric vibe you tend to find in colder climate wines. Again, check out my regions guide for a bit more info if you’re interested.
Best of luck all, worst case scenario: you spit it out. Given the circumstances I’d just learn not to be so fussy and enjoy the happy haze.
Ready, steady…chin chin?
Now, I’m not pointing out the obvious here (promise). My student budget and I are quite well aware of the fact that el vino can set you back a few bob – looking at you Bordeaux. But in this case, I’m not referring to the (empty) pocket situation, but rather the form. ‘Manners maketh man’ according to Colin Firth and his spy cohort, and when it comes to wine there is undeniably an etiquette that goes with it. However, what I’m quickly coming to realize having now spent 4 months in France and 4 in Italy, is that said etiquette is not remotely uniform. It’s not exactly a secret that the Brits don’t go hand in hand with the European status quo – there so very many options for a poor Brexit joke to be inserted here, so I’ll leave that up to your imagination – but with regards to wine, considering they didn’t even make the stuff until recent years, they seemingly put the wine-wise Europeans to shame in the Pouring Stakes.
Or do they? Etiquette, after all, stems from culture and the society that culture includes, so it’s little wonder that it varies from country to country. Now, if I were to break it down from life experience it would go something like this…
Let’s start with what we’re used to:
So is there a right or wrong when it comes to wine etiquette, or is it really just a question of falling in line with the rest of your nation? Personally I think it should come down to what works for you. Some like taking it steady (given that the majority of people reading this blog will be either English or Austrian, I realize this is a foreign concept for you, but yes, it does happen). Admittedly I’m more partial to having a well-attended glass, but given that my DNA is 50/50 English/Austrian perhaps the life of the reserved and constrained was never really going to work for me.
On the topic of etiquette, I should probably also mention that there’s a whole host of Do’s and Don’ts in terms of how to pour wine/how to chill wine/how to hold a glass etc etc, the list is in equal measures endless and boring, so I’m going to save you the trouble of reading about it, and me the trouble writing about it. What I will bestow on you all is this *Top tip* (sounds official that way no?): hold a wine glass by it’s stem, not by the ‘bowl bit’– keeping your grubby mitts in the right place not only means that your wine will stay fresher without the influence of heat, but also that you’ll look like you have a semblance of an idea of what you’re talking about…which is always nice.
Happy wining all, I hope the summer rosé is flowing well,
The Super Market Situation: how to buy a bottle of wine with no stress, no mess and a lot less guess
It seems though, that the public trauma doesn’t end here. I know for a fact that at least 90% of you will all, at some point in your lives, have suffered from what I have now termed ‘The Super Market Stress’ or, more specifically ‘Wine Wall Worries’ (or ‘WWW’ from hereafter, the World Wide Web is a little dated now I feel, so I’m claiming it for my own). I might actually go so far as to say that WWW would trump Gym Anxiety…demi-gods are indeed intimidating, but they’ve got nothing on 500 bottles of wine staring down at you in the midst of your bottle induced fluster. Almost soldier like in their regimented formation, the rows upon rows bottles do little in the way of making your life easy when it comes to choosing what to drink.
Having now spent 2 months in France, I have realized certain aspects of life here really make England pale in comparison – my all time favourite of said aspects being the wine section in the supermarket (I know, my life is really THAT exciting). And this is for 2 simple reasons: 1. There is SO much choice, and 2. It is SO cheap…and actually drinkable when compared to England's £3/£4 vinegar that they stick a wine label on.
However, while doing a quick booze run the other evening with some friends, I was caught in the act, mid-gawk, happily perusing the epic selection of bottles on offer. But on turning to my right, I realized that though my gawk was being mirrored by those around me, it was for a very different reason. WWW had set in and a fluster storm seemed imminent.
All and any implosions were avoided, but it did make me think…(that’s to say the few brain cells I have left sprung into action). It’s true that I can’t quite provide you with Clueless-Only Wine Shops as there are Women-Only Gyms, but I can at least try to ease your WWW woes with a little guidance as to how to take the wine aisle by storm. So buckle up folks, after this your local Saino’s won’t know what’s hit it…
4 Steps to Wine Wall Wisdom according to V & V
So there you have it, wine without worry and shopping without stress. Good luck to you on your booze buys, if you get stuck mid fluster why not try and whip out V & V for a bite-sized info on exactly what’s in front of you...it might just come in handy (I hope!)!
Until next time,
Moving from the idyllic vineyards of Chateau Mauvesin to the city has been, in no uncertain terms, a shock to the system. Honestly though, that shock was nothing in comparison to my first morning in the office at Maison Beyerman (a wine merchant for whom I will be working over the next 3 months). I’m fairly certain my brain cells actually thought they were being assaulted…it turns out that an explanation of not just the functioning of the wine trade and market, but also Bordeaux’s own specific wine trade (because obviously it’s different from the rest of the world – the concept of the ‘simple life’ is evidently yet to reach the Western Coast of France) in rapid-fire French, is in fact quite a lot to take in.
For some reason, which isn’t exactly a mystery given the subject of this blog, when I confirmed my placement working for Beyerman way back when, my line of thinking went something like this: ‘wine, wine, wine, wine’. Not ‘merchant, merchant, merchant, merchant.’ Now, I realize that this may indeed have been a little naïve…I also realize that the former sentence is equally a ‘little’ bit of an understatement. But it’s in situations like these that you just put you’re head down and crack on…and then immediately go home to google ‘Trade Systems for Dummies’.
So now that I’ve (at least vaguely) got my head around it, let us tackle the subject of ‘La Place de Bordeaux’. For starters, it’s not a quaint little square complete with an 18th century church, though there are plenty of those knocking around here in Bordeaux. No, La Place is, rather than a physical location, more the system of trade that is unique to Bordeaux…the system I will now try to explain to you, so buckle up team, Leo’s got nothing on me (perhaps excluding the Lamborghini), let the Trade Tale begin…
To be able understand any story, first you need to understand the characters involved. In La Place, there are 3 (so theoretically it shouldn’t be too tricky): The chateaux (wine producers), the courtiers (brokers) and the negociants (merchants). This is one of the few instances in life where three is not a crowd, in fact, much like The Musketeers this triumvirate seem to have worked out exactly how to get a three-way relationship right (mind out of the gutter please – I see you).
So the chateaux are in effect the beginning of a supply chain. However, rather than selling directly to the merchants, they bring a middleman into the equation: the courtiers. It’s true that this does complicate the whole process…but it seems that, for once, the French logic is pretty rational. Not only does the courtier act as a guarantor, ensuring there is a good working relationship between the producer and the merchant, they also have an unbelievably intimate knowledge of the who’s, how’s and where’s of the wine. This market information means that they can keep things flowing through La Place because they know who wants what, who has what and what to do with the ‘what’…still with me? In other words, it’s a little Gossip Girl –esque: the courtiers know everyone’s business. However, rather than sending bitchy texts, this knowledge is actually essential to the functioning of the market as it enables them to ensure prices are fixed appropriately and that demand is sufficiently met (XOXO).
One of the more unique aspects of La Place is the Primeur system, also known as Futures. Don’t get too excited, there’s no Doc Brown on the scene, nor is there a time travelling car. There is, however, some of worlds best wine made by the biggest names in the business being sold at its cheapest point…which I would argue might is actually more exciting than a time-travelling geezer with a dodgy haircut, but I suppose that’s just me. Bordeaux Primeur is, simply, wine being sold while it’s still in barrels, before bottling.
The whole Primeur situ (quite rightly) has a lot of fuss surrounding it, particularly since timing and tact are essential. In the first week of April Bordeaux descends into a wine-induced frenzy (though not quite the same wine-induced frenzy I should think most of you are familiar with). At the beginning of the week our little triumvirate comes together to taste the most recent vintage (i.e. in April 2019 they’ll be tasting 2018) of all the Grand Cru Chateaux (in other words the ‘big dogs’). Admittedly ‘little’ could be slightly understated given that there are about 400 chateaux and 5,000 merchants, brokers, importers, experts and journalists in the mix. Come the end of the week, after they have all tasted till there little hearts’ are content and the scores and tasting notes come in from the scary critics and journalists, the ‘en primeur’ prices are released.
‘But why!?’ Yes, I can pretty much hear you think – scary right? Primeur means the chateaux are selling their precious grapey goodness at a lower price than if it were bottled, so it would be easy to assume that a) the chateaux loose out and b) all in all, it’s just a bit of a silly system. However, the logic works out: selling the wine before it has been bottled creates a cash flow for the chateaux, which means they can get cracking with work on the next vintage, which is obviously pretty essential.
As an overview, I think (/hope) that should cover it…I also don’t really want to send you all to sleep/scare you away forever, so I’ll leave it there. I might only have been in the office for 2 weeks, but I’ve already learnt a huge amount and am hugely excited for all that is to come over the next few months. It’s true that my current status is definitely minnow, but every piranha’s got to start somewhere…!
Until next time,
For the past two weeks I have been working in the winery at Chateau Mauvesin Barton, witnessing the next stage in a grape’s life. Here, they predominantly use machines for harvest – hence the above tragic tale. The grapes are shaken from the vines by a machine that isn’t dissimilar to a combine harvester, they are then transported by trailer to the winery where they are met by even more bits of snazzy kit. They are emptied from the trailer onto a grape escalator (terminology has never been my strong suit), then dropped on to a vibrating table that acts as a conveyor belt. Here a small team stands to fish out the undesirables: leaves, stalks, spiders and snails…newly homeless snails I might add. However, it seems that being homeless is the better of the two outcomes for these guys. I won’t go into the details of the other result but I’ll leave it at this: snail intestines are absolutely as disgusting as they sound.
To any vegetarians/vegans out there; I can confirm the wine making process is not exactly in keeping with your habits. So unless you’re one of the well-I-do-occasionally-eat-bacon types then you might need to reconsider your stance on wine I’m afraid. Or better yet, your stance on eating (just saying).
In terms of the various processes of vinification I witnessed, during the early stages while I was there, there were 3 predominant daily procedures:
Come the end of the day, the last trailer load usually coming in at around 5.30pm (on a good day), the cleaning operation then commences. I say ‘operation’ because frankly brain surgery would likely be both an easier and quicker procedure. Not joking. To put it in perspective, between 400-500 hectoliters of juice is produced each day. Generally speaking, between 130-160kg of grapes produces 1 hectolitre...seeing as I’ve entirely had enough of numbers I think it therefore suffices to say that it is an inordinate number of grapes. Now, grapes are a little like sand, they have a habit of getting in every nook, cranny and unbelievably irritating, far-fetched gap possible, so when that is paired with complex pieces of machinery worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, really it’s no wonder that ‘nettoyage’ (cleaning) is rarely completed in under 2 hours (I’m now also extremely adept with a hose-pipe).
My next adventure starts next week in the city center of Bordeaux itself, where I’ll be working in for a wine merchant. I think going from the ‘chais’ to an office will be quite the adjustment but I can’t wait to get stuck in, so let’s hope I’ll be able to form some comprehensive French sentences over the coming days!
Until next time,
The harvest, or ‘les vendanges’ as it is called here, started at Chateau Léoville Barton last Friday, just 2 days after my arrival here in Bordeaux. Admittedly I had no real idea of what to expect, but it’s safe to say that the experience has created not one but two new ‘curves’ in my life; one in my learning, and another in my back – I feel you Quasimodo, really I do.
The first morning held that first-day-at-school vibe, with the apprehension to match, only in this case the age range easily spanned over 40 years. And so, the world’s most eclectic bunch of stragglers went off to work; spindly teenagers, stern-looking French mothers, Moroccans (with whom I got on extremely well once we established that marriage wasn't an option, camels or no), boules-playing grandfathers, Martin the Chinaman and one baffled looking English girl. We were bussed off to the vines, handed a pair of sheers and a bucket, put in a numbered line and promptly told to ‘allez!’. So down I crouched (the grapes are at about knee height when standing) and to work I (cluelessly) went.
However, when placed in a long line with a task ahead of them, for some unknown reason human beings seem to think the entire process is a race. Those of you who know me also know my feelings towards speed, but for those of you who don’t it goes something like this: speed is both a little unnecessary and a lot exhausting – generally speaking it’s something I tend to avoid (unless when in a car; that’s a different story entirely). So on realizing that happily snipping a way in my own time was not an option I swiftly adapted (just because I don’t like speed doesn’t mean I can’t manage it on occasion), and Speed Pruning quickly (there I go again) became the name of the game.
Technique is key you see; find the stem and the rest is a piece of cake – or in the case a bottle of wine I suppose? Which sounds irritatingly simple having written it down, but in reality ‘finding a needle in a haystack’ hasn’t got anything on ‘finding a stem in a vine’. Truth.
It might not quite be a case of ‘blood, sweat and tears’ but it turns out that 'spasms, sweat and grape resin’ really isn't that far off. Harvesting is a mammoth task, and those that undertake it can only be described as ‘proper’ people; they couldn’t care less about ‘hints of wet stone’ or how ‘racy’ acidity levels are, they’re not wearing starchy suits or sporting overly gelled hair and they’re certainly not whipping out their thesaurus to try and find the 37th option for ‘fruity’. But good Lord, do they know their wine. They are also immensely 'fière' (proud), as they often tell me, to be part of a process that they know will produce an outstanding product.
The harvest has put into perspective the fact that, at its core, wine is a product of farming, science and an inordinate amount of hard working – backbreaking-ly hard work. So, the ‘pompous’ label that so many seem to have stuck on this industry is not only unfair, but also completely wrong: of the 100 or so people that are part of the process of making a bunch of grapes into a product that is sometimes worth thousands of pounds undoubtedly some of them will be morons. Really, that goes for life too though. And it doesn’t take a genius to work out that characterizing an entire industry by the behaviour of a minority of its participants is equally as moronic as the aforementioned morons.
So the next time you open a bottle, before you chug it down like a fresher on a mission, maybe take a moment to consider what it actually is that you’re drinking. Smell it. Taste it. Enjoy it. Because the many, many people involved in that bottle’s journey have worked themselves into the ground to make your judgment a favourable one. I think the
least they deserve is you taking the time to form an opinion of the (fermented) fruits of their labour. So give it a whirl and channel a little Jancis Robinson, who knows what might happen?!
Until next time,
Okay, first post; deep breath, let’s go. With the risk of sounding like I’ve just escaped from the Sound of Music (blame my Austrian heritage) I shall start at the beginning, since it is of course ‘a very good place to start’.
Well, the beginning of Vino and Veritas is this: what you are currently reading – I know, you’re clearly very with times, congratulations to you. This little blog of mine has one simple mission: to de-pomp possibly one of the most pompous industries in the world, that of course being wine. I see you now raising a skeptical eyebrow, but I’ve never been able to resist a challenge, so let’s do this:
For the average human being – not that I’m calling any of you average (I wouldn’t dare) – wine comes in three simple categories: red, white and pink. And fair enough, the powers of observation are a wonderful thing. But, funnily enough, when the vintners are slaving away on the vineyards, working to concoct what they inevitably hope to be their best vintage yet, their aim goes beyond just making it a pretty colour. I know, shocker. We learnt to distinguish colours when we were two year olds, so perhaps it’s time we take a note out of Wine’s book and learn to mature with age (I know that’s more of a problem for you Boys, but I’m sure you’ll manage)…let’s broaden the horizon and let Smell and Taste join the party.
I could be verging on tool-territory now but hear me out: wine, just as any product that has been given time, thought and love, is not dissimilar to a form of art. It therefore deserves to be appreciated accordingly. Quite why in the past said appreciation took on a whole new level of wince-worthy pretentiousness I have no idea. But isn’t it time we set the record straight and give this grapey goodness more of a chance?
Stereotypes are a dangerous thing. Yet, ironically, we live in a world that is full of them. You might think that ‘dangerous’ is an ever so slightly ridiculous exaggeration, but I beg to differ. The Wine World is the perfect example of the perils of pigeonholing – both people and objects. I don’t think it would be unfair to say that for many, though they inevitably enjoy drinking wine, they find the notion of critiquing it totally absurd. And with comments like ‘ah yes, I’m detecting hints of wet stone’ or even ramblings about ‘racy levels of acidity’ they really can’t be blamed. However, writing off an industry, or even an appreciation of an industry, just because someone’s got a little over-zealous with the Thesaurus isn’t really fair, is it?
So here goes: an attempt to break with the status quo. And by status quo I mean ridiculous jargon, even more ridiculous adjectives and a weird affinity with the PH scale. To put it bluntly, I love wine. Admittedly 90% of the student population would probably say the same thing. Equally that same 90% believe it to be synonymous with little more than three words: ‘let’s get boozy’. True, it’s a refreshing change from adjectives so pompous they wouldn’t look out of place with a monocle and a deerstalker. However, ‘refreshing’ is generally in line with a cool, lightly sparkling water - not an ice bath, and the student approach is definitely in the latter category. So maybe we can find a happy medium? Vino and Veritas will be a place to show a little vino appreciation, but from a different point of view: a student’s view, a clueless view, an honest view.
‘Rebellion’ sounds a little exhausting, so let’s call this a ‘Revolution’. Vino and Veritas will be ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ about wine itself, the industry and all that comes with it. Embarking on my wine-filled journey in Bordeaux I’ll be going in a little blind and a lot daunted. I’ll be learning as I go, straight in at the deep end. There’s a huge amount to be learnt and I can’t wait to get going, so I hope you’ll be part of my adventure. This is going to be a boozy ride, so buckle up and pass the corkscrew.
Until next time,