How would you describe a wine tasting, what goes on? If you've never been to a tasting, what do you think happens? I suppose you could say that it's simple! After all, it's in the title 'Wine Tasting!'
For those of us in the trade there are two main types of tastings. First you have the big shows hosted by a particular body. Producers, suppliers alike all turn up to talk to people in the trade from buyers, press and such about their new vintages. A load of technical stuff gets thrown about that is interesting, but really doesn't have a place when selling to the general public. These can be hard work, especially when all you want to do is taste the wine, write your notes and get out without being accosted by an overzealous delegate. I adopt a black ops approach to these. I don my fatigues, sneak between people, pour a splash into my glass and retreat quickly to the backbeat of 'Mission: Impossible.'
The second is the self-pour tasting, more noted for PR companies and suppliers to showcase their portfolios. These are generally more relaxed and sedate afternoons. Here you can catch up with colleagues you haven't seen since the last tasting, yesterday, and discuss the ways of the vinous world, most tend to be like this. A bit of a love in, nice! This is my preferred style. You walk in, grab your complimentary tasting book and glass, work your way round the tables and sip away hassle free.
If you do this too many times, it can get boring, unless you find that rare tasting. What do I mean? A tasting where virtually every wine you sampled is new to you, a revelation even or the event organisers have gone a wee bit left field to make it interesting. These don't happen to often but when they do, they are a lot of fun. Recently I attended one at Devonshire House, London. The event was presented by Spier Cellar Master and winemaker, Frans Smit.
Spier wines are from Stellenbosch, South Africa, about a 20 minute drive from Cape Town International Airport. The winery sits within the backdrop of the Jonkershoek mountains and has a history dating back to the late 17th century, making it one of South Africa's oldest wine farms. Spier currently produces 28 different labels, adopting all key grape varieties to their range, which are widely available in the UK.
During a whistle stop to the UK, Smit hosted a lunch-tasting for a small band of UK wine professionals but, with a twist.
Three wines were lined up for tasting followed by a vertical of Spier's Creative Block range from five previous vintages (vertical is a term where you try the same wine but from different vintages). I'll get to some of the wines tried in a moment. Upon completion of the tasting we were given the opportunity to partner up with another guest, blend our own wine using the three grape varieties of the Creative Block; Shiraz, Mourvedre and Viognier. Frans would judge the best combination, and a winner would be announced. Horn tooting time, me and my partner won with a delightful wine we called 'The Tempest.' If you thought the fun was over, think again, we were then given the task of creating a piece of art using wine as paint. Felt like being back at primary school but with adult juice. All our completed pieces were taken back to South Africa where they will be framed and returned to us at a later date.
Spier has long been a supporter to the arts; here the winery has a fully functioning art gallery on site. The Creative Block came about as an idea to help support the South African art community. Artists are invited to create pieces of work on wooden blocks. Later the best are selected, bought by Spier and sold to collectors worldwide. More information is available at www.creativeblock.co.za.
The three sampled were from the Creative Block Range. The number in the wines title indicates how many grape varieties are used.
First up was the Creative Block 2, 2011, Sauvignon Blanc - Semillon. The influence of the Sauvignon Blanc was easy to pick up on the nose, with soft, green herbaceous aromas followed by oily tropical fruits. The palate had a nice youthful, lively spritz feel about it, concluded by some white pepper and good, fresh acidity.
Mike's rating, 7-10
RRP - £12.99, Wine Rack
Next up we had the Creative Block 3, 2008, Shiraz - Mourvedre - Viognier. In the trade we refer to this as a 'Rhone blend'. All three varieties are key ingredients to the classic wines of France. Soft black fruit, cassis and savoury leather aromas on the nose. These will fill out if left to breathe. The palate is a mix of black fruit again with noticeable amounts of black pepper and juicy forest fruit. For a four year old wine this wine is good to drink now but can't help thinking that there is more to come.
Mike's rating, 7.5-10
RRP - £14.99, Wine Rack
Finally we finished with the Creative Block 5, 2008, Cabernet Sauvignon - Merlot - Cabernet Franc - Petit Verdot - Malbec. Black fruit, liquorice and tobacco are what dominate for me here, a sign of good oak interaction. Huge levels of spice initially govern the palate, ceding to blackcurrant and fresh juicy acidity before you are left with a long pepper finish. This is a wine that need some time for those spicy notes to calm down. This is another four years old bottle. All the signs are there for me to suggest we haven't seen this one at its peak yet. Give it another 2-3 plus and this should turn into a very good, rich and full red wine.
Mike's rating, 7.5-10
RRP - £17.99, Laithwaites
Wine should always be about fun, taking the pretence out and allowing everyone to enjoy it. Spier uses this format whilst running tastings back home in South Africa. It's a great, imaginative way to engage consumers and members of the trade, regardless of experience. So get your easel, canvas, brushes out and get painting. How often do you get to consume your tools after you've finished?
For more information on the wines at Spier visit www.spier.co.za
Prices correct at time of publication. Subject to availability.
All reviews are my own. I am not paid for any reviews I write. I will always give an honest assessment of the wines I taste and review.