One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about this festive period is being able to convince people I know what I’m talking about when sampling wine. I’ve talked about ‘legs’ and ‘bouquets’. I’ve swirled. Heck, I’ve almost convinced myself that I know what I’m on about!
My newfound skills stem from my trip to Vinopolis earlier this year. My friend and I rocked up hoping they could turn our penchant for Pinot Grigio into an appreciation of fine wines.
We opted for the ‘Classic Tasting Experience’ with 12 tokens to exchange for samples of wine, champagne and spirits (samples vary in the amount of tokens which you need to redeem them, so if, for example, you want to sample a lot of expensive wines you might be better going for a package which offers more tokens, or purchasing top-up tokens during your visit).
The package also includes a short lesson in the art of wine tasting. We were handed a sample of white wine and ushered into an impressive lecture theatre to learn all the pretentious swishing and sniffing. Now when a waiter asks us to sample the wine we can at least look as though we know what we’re doing. But that’s just it. There are so many ‘this could mean this, or it could mean this’ caveats that it all becomes a little confusing. I won’t spoil the stages of the ‘perfect taste’ for you but I will tell you that when asked to smell the wine, whilst other visitors suggested aromas of ‘elderflower’ and ‘rose’ I turned to my friend and said:
“You know when you’ve had a house party and the next day you go downstairs and there is an over bearing smell of alcohol coming from the kitchen? That’s what I’m getting!”
Once let loose in the main exhibition and tasting halls we spend some time trying to understand how wine is produced but, again, there are too many ‘it could be this, or it could be that’s’ for our liking so we set to using one of the interactive games to make our own bottle of wine – neither of us do very well – producing something akin to Blossom Hill.
We swill our glasses and head to the champagne bar for our first sample and to set out our plan of action. Vinopolis is atmospherically housed in converted railway arches with each arch housing a different tasting experience. We settle on white, then red, followed by dessert wines and port and finishing with spirits.
With the exception of the champagne bar, the tasting experience is self- serve. Wines are split into categories (e.g ‘full bodied and robust’) with a description of each wine for you to read before you insert your card into the wine vending machine (beats the Kenco machine at my work!) and exchange your points for a sample.
There’s a useful interactive game in each area where, by answering a few questions on the types of food you enjoy, you’ll be pointed towards the sorts of wines you’re likely to enjoy. This worked perfectly for me in the white section and encouraged me to try some wines I wouldn’t have ordinarily opted for, but really enjoyed. I particularly loved the Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc, although annoyingly I’ve not seen this in any store since.
I was less impressed with the selection of reds, even the Chateau Neuf de Pape couldn’t excite me and I vowed to stick to my Little Penguin Shiraz from Sainsbury’s (originally purchased due to the cute label, fortunately it also tastes good).
We took the whole tasting experience very seriously; selecting our samples, swooshing, sniffing, slurping and reporting our findings to each other. I thought my friend particularly brave when opting to try a white that boasted flavours of lanolin.
You do know that’s from sheep’s wool?
I said to her.
Unperturbed and liking the sound of the other sweet flavours she dispensed her sample, took a sniff and declared
It smells like garden centres.
Something soon became apparent. Whenever we tasted the more expensive wines we were disappointed. We like cheap wine! Woo hoo! No bank account busting Bordeaux for us thanks. Something else became apparent. My sweet tooth is just as prevalent in wine as it is in food. I adored the Rubis dessert wine – a red wine with deep chocolate flavours. I enjoyed three samples (just to be certain) and even purchased some as a birthday gift for a fellow chocoholic and wine lover.
Having spent four hours in there (the average visit time for the Classic Experience is two hours) we’d worked our way around the wines we wanted to sample and decided to skip the spirits area. We emerged from the darkness of Vinopolis into some late afternoon sun, slightly tipsy, a little more educated and somewhat more confused. At least it’s given us the confidence to order something different when we go to restaurants now. I will certainly be keeping an eye out for Chenin Blanc and will try to incorporate dessert wine into as many meals as possible.
That evening we head to Chimichanga’s for dinner and order a bottle of house white. What’s the point, we think, we’ve already discovered that we don’t like expensive wine. As we take our first sip we exchange glances. You can totally taste the difference between this and some of the wines we were sampling earlier, the quality just isn’t there. Hmm. Perhaps we’re more into mid-range wines… what’s happened to us?
Fabulous rating: 3/5 – the ability to taste lots of different wines is great and is a superb way of pushing you out of your Pinot Girgio comfort zone, but the information is so confusing that the art of wine tasting will remain a mystery to all but the very dedicated.
If you’re in Oz, or travelling down-under and fancy trying some antipodean wine tasting why not visit d’Vine Wine Tours? Find out more here.
(Disclosure: Paid for link to d’vine Wine Tours. That said, it does look divine as the name suggests!)