Growing up in South Africa I often enjoyed fortified wines such as sherry and port as an aperitif before or after a meal. These days I tend to associate port with pampering, perhaps because on long flights in executive class, port is usually offered after dinner, together with a cheese plate. I have never thought to question what type of port was being served on these occasions - just savored the richness of the wine on my palate and enjoyed the resulting relaxation that helped the flying time be more tolerable.
Then earlier this year at the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival I went to The F-Word Wine Seminar, to learn more about fortified wines. Among the fortified wines we tasted there was a Fonseca Guimaraens Tawny Port and a Quinta do Crasto 2008 Vintage Port, both of which appealed to my palate much more than the ultra dry Fino sherry that we also tasted there.
So when I saw the invitation from les amis du Fromage to a Blue Stilton cheese tasting paired with a tasting of outstanding Port wines, this was an opportunity not to be missed.
It would also be my first time visiting the East Hastings Street location of les amis du Fromage, as I had only previously shopped at the smaller location on West 2nd, near Granville Island.
Our taxi to the shop got there much quicker than we had anticipated so there was time to check out the wines before other guests crowded the tables.
About twelve years ago I took a basic certificate course on wine and wine tasting, and became fascinated with the history and science of winemaking. On trips to the US, South Africa and Australia, and visits to our Okanagan wine country [ (A Taste of the South Okanagan) and (Destination Kelowna)] I enjoyed visiting wineries and vineyards, and amassed quite a collection of tasting glasses from vineyards all over the world.
Sometime after I began my second career of on-line reviewing and writing, I realized that I needed, and wanted, to learn more about wine. Lacking the patience and discipline to attend weekly courses over many weeks, I signed up for the WSET level I intensive held over two weekend days, with the exam at the end of the second day.
Having had a lot of fun doing the level I and having learned just enough to realize that I wanted to know much more about wine, and needed plenty of practice in the art of tasting, I decided to take the Level II course. Again I opted for the weekend day long sessions.
When I first looked at the course workbooks which arrived by mail several weeks in advance of the course, I realized that this was not something I could take lightly, especially I chose to do the course over three full days rather than in three hour classes over 9 weeks. I visualized myself trying to remember which varietal was used in Burgundy and which in Bordeaux, while my brain was in an alcoholic haze from tasting wine. And yes, I know we are supposed to spit not swallow, but I remember being quite mellow after the level I course days. So I started reading early.
I also had to buy a set of the ISO tasting glasses - the glass has a rounded bowl large enough for swirling without spilling, tulip shape to concentrate aromas, and the stem so one can hold the glass without warming the wine. Which got me thinking about the stemless designed Riedel glasses that were supposed to be the new great thing in wine glass design a couple of years ago. The pouring size for tasting is 50 ml or just about 1 and 2/3 oz.
The third full day session of the Level II course was held on the weekend following the first 2 sessions. It was on the Sunday, and after the educational component, we were to write the multiple choice examination. Luckily at this level there is no actual tasting component. By this stage in the course I was feeling pretty good about white wines, but probably had no hope of getting through a red wine tasting.
I had planned on spending time during the week and and then all of Saturday studying for the test. At this stage of my life it takes more than once over for me to remember regions and towns, never mind which varietal is grown where. I had a general concept in my head, though some of the facts had been filtered through a slightly mellowing haze of alcohol from the wines I had not been able to compel myself to pour out rather than swallow. So Saturday I was going to sit down and pull an all-dayer since the days of all-nighters are long gone for me.
The Second Day: Wines by Region and Classic Varietals
Lynn had alerted us that the afternoon of the second day might be a bit challenging as the focus was on red wines. But despite the fact that I spent the previous night enjoying Richard III instead of studying my WSET manual, I hopped off the Canada Line and walked over to BCIT with a definite sense of optimism. After all we were starting the morning with two of my favorite varietals, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, I figured they would be a lot easier for me to write intelligent tasting notes about than red wines.
We started off with a Riesling tasting and a discussion of German wine regions and labeling. This was a familiar area to me because I have been enjoying wines from the Mosel, Rheingau and Pfalz for ages, through the Opimian Wine Club.
Aficionado Level - Grape Explorations
The Opimian wine society and BC Wine School
held at Simpatico Restaurant at 2222 West 4th
Since April, the local chapter of the Opimian wine society has run a series of short introductory wine tasting courses for Opimian members, in conjunction with the BC Wine School. The Novice level course - Romancing the Grapes covered six major grape varietals and consisted of two 1.5 hour sessions.
I decided to attend the Aficionado Level - Grape Explorations in which we would taste 6 varietals, a combination of classic and other major varietals from around the world in one session. Since I drink far more white wine than red I was keen to find out more about some of the red wines we would be tasting such as Malbec, Tempranillo, Carmenère.
The program notes for the seminar tell me that the F-Word in the context of this wine seminar stands for "fabulous and flexible flavours of fortified wines" - and the wines, with the food pairings, delivered on this promise.
Growing up in Cape Town in the seventies, I was accustomed to sherry being the usual offering as a pre-dinner apéritif, and port being offered with dessert and cheeses.
Perhaps because I enjoy the richness and complexity of sherry and port so much, the wild and wonderful concoctions dreamed up by our talented mixologists have not displaced my preference for sherry as an apéritif.
Other than having a vague concept that sherry was named for Jerez in the sherry producing southern region of Spain and port for Oporto in the Duoro valley in Portugal, and that I enjoy drinking both types of wine, my knowledge about the subject of fortified wine was very limited. So when studying the 2011 Vancouver Wine Festival brochure this seminar immediately caught my eye and I called early to make sure I could get a ticket.
It was obviously a popular topic. There must have been at least 60 people attending.
Well as a chronicler of a multi-course food and wine pairing, I obviously need to go into training well in advance of the next sipping and supping event I attend. Having been deprived of wine for most of the past 6 months - because taking analgesics for my severe back pain took precedent over drinking pleasure - I must have lost any of the tolerance for alcohol that I had carefully built up over the years.
Because, even though I sternly restricted myself to just the few sips of each wine needed to see how the food and wine pairing stacked up - well except for the Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé and Optima - I must have got a bit befuddled without realizing it until much later.
Or maybe it was because I was concentrating hard on keeping my dance-deprived body from fox-trotting round the tables to the terrific background music of the trio, whose names I have not yet found out. Whatever the cause here is what happened.
I have been a fan of German Rieslings for years. Raised eyebrows, quizzical or even somewhat patronising looks and comments about sophisticated palates and full bodied red wines would wash over me. I just smiled to myself as I picked up my Rhine or Mosel Riesling at the BC Liquor Store for a very reasonable price, and prayed to Dionysus and Bacchus (depending on whether I felt more Greek or Roman that day) that these wines would not become too "fashionable."
"Let them drink Chardonnay", I thought. And they did. And I bought my favorite Rieslings for a mere pittance.
Of course prices of the German Rieslings increased over time as with other wines but the idea that a preference for white wine indicates a lesser palate or ignorance of the "French paradox", still lingers in some circles. Yes I know about resveratrol and its possible health benefits but I figure I can get that anyway enough just by eating red grapes, skin and all. And fulfil a fruit requirement of the Canada Food Guide at the same time! So I continue to indulge in my preference for white wines and choose a Riesling or Gewürtztraminer over the ubiquitous Chardonnay every time.