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Luckily I do have some magical friends I can call on at the last moment to act as stand-ins. The fact that wine was involved was, I trust, immaterial. A guest post then by Jeanne aka cooksister. Photos by her too. (Quite good aren't they?)
"Are you here for the Naked wine tasting?" asked the gentleman at the door. "Steady on, Tiger," I replied, "usually I like to drink a few glasses first before getting to know you better!"
The basic premise of the tasting is as follows:
- Gather about 40 enthusiastic wine drinkers in a room.
- Present them with 30 wines spread over three tables.
- Group the tables according to price (Table 1 - £5.99 and under per bottle; Table 2 - £6-£9.99 per bottle; Table 3 - £10-15 per bottle).
- Group all the wines into pairs that share a common style.
- Make the guests taste all the wines blind and choose their favourite out of each pair.
- Based on the votes, pick a winner in each price range.
We started with Table 3, reasoning that we needed to try the good stuff while our palates were still fresh. Highlights of Table 3 included the 2005 Hamm Riesling Winkler Dachsberg (Rheingau, Germany) with its classic kerosene nose and perfectly balanced dried apricot palate; the surprisingly delicious 2005 Casa Marin Cartagena Pinot Noir (San Antonio Valley, Chile) which was round and surprisingly packed with ripe berry flavours for a pinot noir; and the indulgent 2008 Two Hands Angels Chare Shiraz (McLaren Vale, Australia) which instantly identified itself as a New World wine with its lush, peppery nose and seductive, spicy blackberry palate. All three were definitely worth spending the extra cash on.
From there it was on to Table 2 where the very first white already wowed me. The 2010 Bill Small Sylvia's Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, NZ) is the antithesis of everything that used to annoy me about Sauv Blancs, packed as it is with full, rounded gooseberry fruit flavours to counterbalance the green pepperiness that always puts me off. Another lovely white, the buttery 2008 Seifried Winemaker's Collection Barique Fermented Chardonnay (Nelson, NZ) reminded me of just why I love oaked Chardonnays with its rounded citrus favours and luscious mouthfeel. My first reaction when I nosed the NV Chalk Hill Penance (McLaren Vale, Australia) was "hot" - it was undeniably from a hot country and the palate was as densely fruity as a dark berry crumble. Totally gluggable and instantly appealing. But if the Chalk Hill was a case of instant chemistry, the 2007 Santalberto 2007 Toscana (a Sangiovese/Cabernet/Merlot blend from Italy) was case of a slow, smouldering build-up of passion. It is an intriguing blend that defied our guesses at its provenance's far more balanced and subtle wine with its green stemmy notes to balance out the exuberant fruit. Beautiful.
And then it was on to the cheapie table, Table 1. I was mystified but yet attracted to the 2010 Calicata Sauvignon Blanc (Mendoza, Argentina) with its attractive green apply flavours. Among the reds, I liked the lovely Finca La Cruz (Spain), a bargain at under £6 with its raisin flavours, port-like notes and soft tanins. Another totally different winning bargain red was the 2008 The Last Stand Shiraz (McLaren Vale, Australia) that announced its new World provenance with astonishingly dark colour, heady vanilla nose and enough tannin to balance its explosion of dark jammy fruit. But the wine that I fell hardest for at this table was the 2010 Arabella Cabernet Sauvignon (Robertson, South Africa), proving conclusively that your palate always knows the way home. Despite not having a great colour, it was adorable in every other respect with deep raisiny flavours and a medium body. Close your eyes and pretend you are drinking an expensive pinot noir.
According to the vote tally, the most popular wines of the night on each table were the 2010 Calicata Sauvignon Blanc on Table 1; the NV Bill Small Sylvia Sauvignon Blanc on Table 2; and the 2008 Two Hands Angels Share Reserve Shiraz on Table 3. And the overall vote-winner of the night was Naked Wines - congratulations! And thanks very much for a most enjoyable evening.
And after a glass of purely social sipping on the rather divine Seifried Chardonnay, it was back out into the chilly London night - fully clothed!