Just 134 more things….

At the end of last year I did something rather whimsical. Or at least I thought it was.

I’ve had my eye on the Vinitaly International Academy certification course. It’s basically the most intensive, complex and thus prestigious course you can take if you want to specialise in Italian wines. It’s five days of lectures and tasting that culminates in an exam which if you pass allows you to call yourself an Italian Wine Ambassador. Ever since I first heard about it I’ve wanted to apply, but I missed the deadline last year by a few weeks and having just started my diploma figured I’d dodged a bullet.

During the Christmas break I discovered that applications were being accepted again and I thought “why not?!” Then I realised they only take around 50 candidates a year. Which actually made me feel better. I could apply, with no pressure as there’s no way I’d be selected, get feedback on my application ahead of next year and not have to worry about adding another really serious pressure to my WSET diploma and full-time job filled life. So on December 27th whilst my husband was washing up, I put together my application, sent it off, and then for a month I sort of forgot about it. I mean, not really, I still manically refreshed my email, but in the “waiting for confirmation of my rejection” sort of way.

Then on Monday January 30th I received the email. Congratulating me on my acceptance to the course. Ah….

This means that in April I’m flying to Verona to learn about 134 key grape varieties in Italy. Two months before my diploma finals. What could possibly go wrong? I’m hoping that you’ll join me in this space along the way to find out.

Adulthood

There are times when being an adult can be a real drag. Like when you have to get up for work at 6am everyday, or when those bills come through the letterbox, or you’re cleaning up an ex-mouse from outside the bedroom door that the cat thought you’d appreciate while the aforementioned animal excitedly tries to trip you down the stairs and kill you. 

But to balance those things are the moments, like this afternoon, when you realise that it’s total legit to enjoy a cocktail in the garden at 4pm on a Friday afternoon with some completely inappropriate appetite-for-dinner-destroying carb-y snacks, just because it’s Friday and the sun is shining and you fancy it. 

Cheers everyone! Happy Friday! 

Peaks and troughs

I don’t often talk about work on here, (unless it’s to commiserate about having once again found myself out of a job!) but I had a day last week which I found rather amusing, and thought would illustrate a bit of truth about working in the wine industry.

I should have know that this day would be unlike any other as it started with an hour of in-depth cigar training. Not something I ever thought my career would give me, and not something I have any experience off, except a brief visit to a cigar museum whilst in Cuba when I was actually counting down the minutes until we could start drinking rum in their bar, rather than paying attention to the different sizes, strengths and smoke lengths. IMG_3908

As we were packing up from this session a colleague rocked up proudly toting four bottles that he had enjoyed the previous evening. Very kindly he’d saved a small portion of each bottle for us to try and I was incredibly excited. Tasting wine never gets old for me, and working in an industry that is constantly changing and evolving you can never know everything. So it’s taste, taste, taste to learn, learn, learn. Your palate is a muscle and it needs practice to be at its best. Already I’m discovering that my palate is vastly improved from when I started out, but that it has a long way to go. Which is why I’ll never turn down the opportunity for a taste of something new. (Perhaps one day I’ll talk about the difference between tasting and drinking, there is a difference, honest!).

I sipped and sloshed, and spat my way through the four wines, desperately trying to commit them to my sense memory and fighting to pick out the nuances of each. It’s not everyday that you get to try such exclusive and expensive wines. It was a wonderful start to the day.

But it was all downhill from there!

It’s not all cigar training and tasting impressive wine. I continued my morning by washing up around 100 tasting glasses from the weekend. Whilst I rinsed and polished my way through a mountain of ISOs, another colleague unearthed a selection of samples that had been conveniently forgotten about. IMG_3906

These were the antithesis of our mornings offering. Foil-topped plastic glasses with detachable stems in “white” “rose” and “red”. Just peeling back the tops made us nervous despite the rep having assured us that they were “actually very good” (the “actually” says it all I think.) Duty bound we poured a small amount of the white into tasting glasses, and begin the swirl. We soon stopped as the smell wafted towards us. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a collection of wine professionals spit so quickly.  Although the red did elicit the high praise of “well, that’s borderline below average” I can say with certainty that these particular wines won’t be on offer to our customers.

And so my glamourous wine life is revealed. Whilst those hundred pound bottles do appear from time to time, it’s mostly washing glasses, shifting boxes and tasting things that are “borderline below average.” When I got my new job I went out and bought three new dresses to bring some glitz to my everyday life. So far I’ve only worn one and I very nearly ruined it when a colleague smashed a bottle of rosé in my vicinity! The reality is that you need comfortable smart casual clothing, shoes that won’t hurt your feet after 12 hours of standing, and a sense of humour for when you’re shown the plastic glasses with foil lids!

Drinking my way around Paris.

There are two things that are absolutely certain when we visit Paris. Firstly that despite all my protestations, denial and good intentions I will buy yarn. I don’t need more, my stash is overflowing with pillows of colourful skeins, and yet I will be powerless to resist when faced with bundles of new potential in the stunning yarn stores of Paris (more on this later).

The second absolute is that there will be wine. I mean, it would be rude not to partake in what the city of light has to offer on that score. Now, although we didn’t actually make it to any of the new wine bars that are on my ever-growing list of “must visits” in the city, we did frequent some old favourites and branch out with the wine we enjoyed whilst dining and as a result I came home not only armed with a list of tasting notes, but also with four bottles of wine to enjoy in the upcoming weeks. IMG_1535

I won’t bore you with ever sip I took (at an average of three wines a day over six days I did a lot of sipping and a far too much glugging!), but I did want to share three highlights from the trip, including a complete wildcard that blew me away.

First up is a spicy little number we had at what is fast becoming one of my favourite restaurants not only in Paris, but possibly the world, Les Papilles. Tucked away on an otherwise unremarkable main street in the south of the Luxumbourg area of Paris, this is a wine bar restaurant that never fails to impress. They do a set menu that changes daily. Four courses, usually a soup, main, cheese and dessert, and for the wine you can either take the recommendation of the burly rugby-obsessed owner, or pick your own choice off the shelves that surround you. They are arranged by region, priced to buy and take away with a €9 corkage fee if you’re enjoying it with your meal. On previous visits we’ve bowed to suggestion as it was lunchtime and we really wanted to get it right. This time, with four of us dining in the evening we knew we’d get through more than one, so picked our own to start and took a suggestion to finish.

IMG_2733My pick was Les Laquets 2010, Domaine Cosse Maisonneuve. A Cahors wine, and therefore a Malbec, with a bit of ageing under it’s belt which I was hoping would have rounded out the tannins just a touch. I wasn’t disappointed, this was a stonkingly good wine, especially with the rich and creamy cauliflower soup starter, and the braised beef cheek that followed. It is a rich deep wine as you’d expect from a Malbec, with high tannins that had indeed been softened ever-so-slightly thanks to the vintage. It was spicy with dark fruit,  a slight tobacco note and a long finish. It was cold that night and this wine couldn’t have been more suited to a hearty meal with good company. Definitely my favourite of the reds enjoyed on the trip.

IMG_1574Next up is a sparkling wine that we picked up from our favourite wine merchant. We’ve become regulars at his little spot on Ile St Louis. L’Etiquette is a tiny cave a vin that specialises in natural biodynamic wines from independent producers. It’s proprietor Hervé is generous with his tastings, dismissive of any wine not on his shelves and has the wonderful catch phrase of labelling wines as “top of the pops!” Each time we visit we leave laden with just one more bottle and this trip was no exception. With a birthday celebration that evening we slipped a bottle of sparkling into our selection.

Le Naturel Vouvray, non-vintage from Sebastien Brunet. A delightful natural Chenin Blanc from the Loire, this really surprised us. It has a gentle sparkle and a soft mouthfeel, a little heavier than Prosecco, almost creamy, yet without the yeasty biscuit notes you get from Champagne. There was a hint of sweetness, but only a touch which made this slightly pear-droppy wine a real winner. Into the bag it went, then the fridge and then it was gone before it really touched the sides and I’m wishing we’d stashed a second bottle in our case.

IMG_2763Finally I want to talk about my wildcard entry to this trips degustation. A sweet white Bordeaux. Whilst finishing off dinner at Josephine Chez Dumonet we asked the waiter to recommend a dessert wine for the table and he brought over one that none of us had heard of. Chateau Le Guyonnets, Sainte-Croix-Du-Mont white Bordeaux blend. I was blown away. I’ve never been much of a fan of sweet wine, but I think that’s because I’d never really indulged properly or taken the time to get to know them. My parents-in-law like a good Sauternes, but I’ve never been fussed and am more likely to move straight to the Calvados. Not anymore! This was a fabulous wine, rich mouthfeel yet somehow light, full of complexity, and not cloyingly sweet. It had the perfect balance and everyone at the table agreed that it was the ideal end to the meal. If you can get your hands on some (I haven’t managed to yet), firstly let me know, then snatch it up before I beat you to it! IMG_2766

So there you go, my three stand-out wines from the trip. We also had some nice Cotes Du Rhone, and some lovely Crozes-Hermitage, but these three were my top picks and if you get the chance to try them I heartily recommend it.