Two weeks ago I left a company that I had been working at for three and a half years. For my leaving party the Managing Director gave me an unexpected, but very intriguing, challenge. He said “we know that you like wine and most of the people in the company would like to know a bit more about it; why don’t you run a wine tasting session for us?” Well, as you would expect, a flood of thoughts crossed my mind. I’ve picked up all the knowledge that I have managed to acquire thusfar through going to wine tastings and reading about wine on Twitter and through the blogs that I follow here on WordPress (thank you guys!); I’ve only just started taking my WSET Level 2 – could I really take a group of people on a wine tasting?
I am not exactly the shy and retiring type, something which I’m sure that those who know me will testify to, and I am always up for a challenge. I’m also a firm believer that the best way to develop and learn is to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. As Nietzsche said: “that which does not kill us, only makes us stronger”. With this in mind I took up the challenge and started planning.
I decided that the best way to run this was to make my job as easy as possible. I wanted to make the differences between the wines as explicit as possible so that the people trying the wines with me would be able to appreciate just how wide, varied and complex the world of wine is. With this in mind I sought to show three white wines and three red wines with vastly differing styles. I consulted with my wine guru, Jason from Theatre of Wine, who took my ideas “a fruity, floral, complex Gewurtztraminer” and translated it into an actual bottle of wine. I ended up with the following profile of wines:
- Muscadet (2012 Luneau-Papin Muscadet Terre de Pierre)
- Gewurztraminer (2012 Leon Boesch Gewurztraminer Zinnkoepfle Grand Cru)
- Chablis (2011 Hubert Lamy St Aubin 1er cru En Remilly)
- Beaujolais (2012 Jean Foillard Morgon)
- Cahors Malbec (2008 Berangeraie Cahors Cuvee Juline)
- Napa Cabernet Sauvignon (2010 Silverado Vineyards Solo, Stag’s Leap)
The wines were delivered to my office around lunchtime which gave me plenty of time to prepare. About one hour before the event was due to start I opened all of the red wines and decanted the Cab Sauv (I had been promised that it was a rather special wine and I thought that the best way to go would be to allow this one to breathe). I had stashed all of the white wines in the ‘fridge at lunchtime, but got these out ten minutes before we were due to start – I didn’t want the whites to be too cold to taste properly. We’d got some assorted nibbles and snacks to accompany the wines, but the wines were supposed to be the stars of the show.
All in all, there were about twenty people present and it was only as I sat down and looked out to the room that it really sunk in, “oh, I’m actually meant to run a wine tasting now.” So, time to do what I do best, waffle, bluster and generally hood-wink people into making them believe that I know more than I actually do… (the churlish amongst you would probably say that I am destined for a career in politics; unfortunately I have far too many skeletons in far too many cupboards).
I would say that the first part was the hardest, explaining how you should look at, smell and taste wine. This is something that I am still learning and I realised how difficult it was to convey these techniques and sentiments to people with limited experience. Fortunately, the group were inquisitive, asking lots of questions and in general I was pretty well prepared to answer the questions that got thrown at me. Once we started actually tasting the wines the evening started to relax a little (me included). The wines did what they should have done – they were so different in style that people really could see the range on offer; as is so often the case, the Gewurztraminer was a revelation for some people, whilst others really didn’t like it. Naturally, I didn’t have time to write my own reviews of the wines as I was trying to provide information on the wines, answer questions, discuss people’s assessments and manage the pouring of the next wines – all at the same time. Difficult stuff! I did have a mild panic when I was told that one of the bottles was corked, but it turned out that it wasn’t – it just needed a little time in glass to breathe.
The event was, I believe, well received. I must say that it was a tremendous eye-opener for me. The chaps and chapesses that run the wine tastings I’ve been to really do make it look easy; but, managing the crowd, keeping the event moving, facilitating and encouraging discussion without letting it getting too unfocussed, providing the group with useful and interesting information, really are difficult skills to simultaneously master. Clearly I was never going to run an event perfectly first time. If anything this experience taught me that I do know something, maybe even several things, when it comes to wine; but there is a lot more to learn yet.
However, that is also the exciting part.
I must thank the Managing Director for throwing me this interesting challenge, and also Jason for his support and guidance.