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Bespoke wine tasting experiences for private parties and corporate events. Wine retailer, representing small independent suppliers. 

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Because every sip should be special...

Why every sip should be special

Megan Gray

I was discussing with a friend the nature of people - who we are and how we came to be that way and why - how the individuality that defines each of us is created by our own unique complex network of genetic and environmental factors, some of which we understand, and some of it not; some of which we have had control over, some of it not; some of which have made us stronger, happier, and some of it not; all of it making us who we are - a unique, amazing, beautiful, personal collage of colour and patterns of experience and thought and emotion. 

I smiled and thought, “mmm, just like wine.”

The most common question at my tastings ask “why”: Why is this sauvignon blanc different to one I had last week? Why does this wine smell of apples? Why is this wine better with cheese? In essence, why is this wine the way it is? I love those questions, because the answer is just the same as for why we are the way we are - a unique, complex network of genetic and environmental factors, some of which we understand, and some not; some which we have control over, some not; some of which have made the wine stronger, better, and some not; all of it making it what it is - a unique, amazing, beautiful collage of colour and texture and experience of aroma and sensation.

Or, to be more specific... the grape - the variety of the grape, the particular cutting of that variety used on the particular vineyard, the rootstock it was grafted on to; the environment - the way the vine was trained, the way it was pruned, when it was pruned, how densely it was planted, how tall it was allowed to grow, the angle it was planted it, the slope of the ground out of which it grew, the mineral content of the soil from which it grew, the size of the particles in the soil from which it grew, the drainage of the soil from which it grew, how much it rained, how clean the rain was, how much extra water it was given, how many extra nutrients it was given, how much protection it needed from pests and frosts, how much protection from pests and frosts it was given, how many days the sun came out during growing season, how long each of those day the sun shone for, how warm the sun made the vineyard, how windy it was, how clean the air was, how the grapes were picked, when the grapes were picked; the winemaker - the equipment used, the techniques employed, how long to macerate, how long to ferment, the temperature of the ferment, what to do with the lees, whether and what to add, whether and what to blend, how to clean the wine, how to preserve the wine, how to age, what to age in, when to bottle, how to bottle; and of course, the  final stage - how the wine’s stored, the conditions in which it’s stored, the way the wine is opened, the temperature it is served at, whether it’s decanted, the glass it’s served in, the food it’s served with... from beginning to end, every stage, every condition, every decision has an effect on how that wine will taste. 

This is what makes wine so wonderful and amazing. Wine is more than a recipe, and drinking it - even the most basic, everyday plonk - should be more than just having a drink. Each bottle, just like each person, has its own personality and its own story to tell. That’s a thing to be savoured; a thing to be appreciated. 

So here I am; back with that big ole beautiful word: appreciation, because that’s really what The Dancing Vine is all about. It's why my mantra in what I do is ‘every sip should be special’, and why I believe that there’s a lot of joy to be found in that. I wonder... maybe if we can learn to savour and appreciate the nature of wine for it’s many different styles and forms and stories and personalities, we can learn a bit more about doing the same with the nature of people...? Mmm, there's a thought that's making me smile :)

Dancing with the Vines

Megan Gray

People at tastings always ask me why I chose ‘The Dancing Vine’. My answer’s always different, because in truth, I can’t remember. But I do know that the name means a lot to me. I’m proud of it, because it says what I want to say about wine.  For me, wine is like dancing - from dodgy, out of time, inappropriate and overconfident, to exquisite, expertly crafted showcases of beauty and finesse, wine is fun, free, expressive, emotional; it’s personal... and I love it.

Wine is science, nature, geography, history. It has fuelled philosophical debate for hundreds of years; been a religious sacrament; boosted economies; influenced politics. It has jubilated the masses, and depressed the masses. It’s indulgence; it’s business. It’s the backdrop to parties and celebrations; and to solitude and introspection.  For me, the range of flavours that can be created from the unique combination of grape and ground is nothing short of magic. Furthermore, the range and quality of the wines we modern consumers have to choose from is testament to the human expertise which have been developed over hundreds of years of winemaking. Think I’m gushing? Well, Hemmingway agrees:

“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”

- Ernest Hemmingway

And OK, yes, I am gushing, because wine has been really important to me. It’s opened doors to new tastes, experiences, places, people, and thoughts (I do all my best thinking after a glass or two!). Someone told me recently that the key to being happy is recognising all the things you love, having them, and appreciating them. For sure, that’s easier said than done. But for me, wine’s a part of that. It’s a part of me. It’s a passion. And so my Dancing Vine message this Christmas is this... flavour makes life, so whatever your wine is, drink it. 

“One should always be drunk. That's all that matters...But with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you chose. But get drunk.”

- Charles Baudelaire

VineLine query: fish and chips... and wine

Megan Gray

A quick text from a customer asking an increasingly common question! I set out below a range of suggestions for the chippy's winelist...

Well, first we need to consider what we're matching here. There's the fish, yep. Then there's the batter, the chips, salt and vinegar, and, of course, the mushy peas.

The first thing to be mindful of is that vinegar and wine have a bit too much in common to get on. Vinegar is wine that has been acted on by a bacteria called acetobacter, which turns the alcohol in the wine into acetic acid and water (a process called "souring"). Because of this, most wines tend to taste spoiled in the presence of vinegar. So if you're going to have wine with your fish supper, go easy on the vinegar. 

My top choice pairing for this Friday night feast is Champagne. It's dry, acidic and bubbly, all of which work to cut through that 'deep fat fry' effect. Cava works too. A dry Prosecco would add a fruitiness as well as fizz, but with less of the rich, creamy quality of traditional method sparklers (as used for Champagne and Cava).

On the still side, for me, dry riesling wins every time, especially the super dry limey ones from Australia. If you're not sure about riesling (many aren't!), then another excellent pair would be a zingy citrussy white wine like a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. You could also try an Italian Gavi, or, if you can get it, an Argentinian Torrontes (a richer white, with a touch of herb and spice). An oaky Chardonnay would provide that creamy richness discussed above, and if you can find one with a good dose of tropical fruit in there too, you're on to a very good thing. 

An iberian rose wine would also work, as would the dry, light, delicate notes of a manzanilla sherry. And if it's got to be red, pick a light fruity style and chill it for an hour or so before - yes, I said chill...trust me! :)

 

Mindful Wine: Wine, Meditation and the big bad Alcohol Monster

Megan Gray

Appreciation

I remember very clearly the first time I meditated. I was sat on the floor of my living room with my friend Joe. He told me before we started how he thought of it as a kind of gift to himself, and it was that idea which I took with me into my first ‘sit’. When the bell rang twenty minutes later, I knew I had started something which was going to change my life.

Mindfulness is about being present and aware, and mindful meditation is the practice of conditioning your mind to be able to do that. In the same way that going for a 20 minute run a few times a week will ensure that you are fit enough to climb the stairs or carry a suitcase or run for a bus as and when you need to, regular meditation helps to ensure that your mind is calm and strong enough to handle those periods of extra mental and emotional demand which inevitably arise as part of our daily lives.

Similarly, just as exercise itself makes the body happier (thanks to those lovely endorphins), so does meditation make the mind happier (check out this article in ‘Psychology Today’ if you don’t believe me); and as the fitness achieved through exercise enables us to more readily enjoy the beauty of a cycle through a forest or a long walk into the mountains, mindfulness in everyday life as achieved through meditation enables us to more readily find the joy in the present and, fundamentally, to appreciate it.

As I have explained in previous blogs, the practice of appreciation is very much at the heart of what The Dancing Vine is all about. I have always loved and appreciated wine, but never more so than since I began to meditate. I was thinking about this a little while ago, and it occurred to me that the reason for this was that mindfulness improved my ability to taste wine, because wine tasting is a fundamentally mindful activity: a calm and steady focus on each aspect of the wine as it is received, first by the eyes, then the nose, then the mouth; awareness of which creates an appreciation of the unique range of aromas, flavours and tastes contained within.

Thinking on this I wondered… could wine tasting and meditation be paired? Tea meditation has been practiced for many hundreds of years – what’s the difference?

The difference, of course, is that wine contains alcohol; evil, nasty, poisonous, nerve depressing, hangover inducing, organ rotting alcohol. Boo alcohol. Boo mindful wine.

Silly idea Meg; put it to bed…”

… but hang on a minute…

Meditative wine tasting?

Unquestionably, drinking alcohol (which depresses mental function) works against the purposes of meditation (which are to focus and sharpen the mind). However, when tasting and considering wines properly the amounts are such that the actual ingestion of alcohol can be negligible, and if one chooses to spit as per the professionals, can be avoided completely. In fact, it is one of the most pertinent lessons of wine tasting that almost the entire scope of the pleasure a glass of wine contains may be enjoyed without even swallowing it. And even if a guest does choose to swallow, the total alcohol consumed across a 30 minute meditation amounts to less than 1unit, and as it takes at least 30 minutes for alcohol to be absorbed into the bloodstream, the presence of alcohol at a meditative wine tasting is not a barrier to the effective practice of the meditation itself.

‘Mindful Wine’

Of course, the idea of ‘mindful wine’ extends beyond the somewhat leftfield idea of a wine tasting meditation. As explained above, mindfulness is about practicing awareness and appreciation all the time, so it seems necessary to address the alcohol issue in this wider context as well.

Alcohol isn’t bad for us; being ‘under the influence’ of it is. Society demonises alcohol through its own unmindful excess (heck, drinking too much water can kill us – it just doesn’t happen very often), when in fact, in small doses and when produced under the right conditions, ethanol (the type of alcohol we drink) can actually be good for us (read this for more detail).

There is much to respect and appreciate about this pure, naturally occurring, organic compound. Produced in winemaking through fermentation of the sugars in grape juices, it oversees the complex chemical reactions which create the myriad flavours, then collects them all up and delivers them proudly to our flavour receptors for enjoyment (alcohol is a solvent for flavour and aroma – think perfume). All of this can be enjoyed without any detriment to our mental or physical functions, provided we are mindful.

The good news is that this is really easy. Because alcohol is processed by the body at the same basic rate in everybody, you can calculate the length of time it takes your body to process what you’re drinking using a relatively simple algorithm (check out this site which does it automatically). For example, I know that at my current weight it will take my body 66 minutes to process a 150ml glass of 13% wine. As long as my consumption rate doesn’t exceed my processing rate, I can drink and enjoy my wine completely without compromising my mental relationship with the present.

It means not getting drunk, which I know won’t sound too appealing to lots of people, but the other good news is this… all the things we like about getting/ being drunk, we can get even more through meditation, for free, and without the hangover.

So there you have it… that’s how wine can be mindful, how we can taste it in meditation, and how alcohol isn’t a deal-breaker.

VineLine query: Raspberry aromas in wine.

Megan Gray

I had a red wine last night (can't remember where from or what grape!) that had SUCH a strong aroma of raspberry - why was that? What grape might it have been?

Grapes contains loads of different organic compounds, the most important of which are of a type known as 'phenolics'. These act a bit like the wine's 'DNA', influencing it's appearance, body, aroma and taste. Raspberry aromas are created by a 'shikimate-derived' phenol called Raspberry Ketone, and the level to which the compound is present will determine how strong that raspberry aroma is. Obviously, the highest naturally occuring concentrations of Raspberry Ketone are in raspberries themselves. In a wine, the level depends on myriad factors surrounding how the grapes are grown and the wine is made (see my most recent blog for more on this!). Maceration, the process of soaking the grape juice or wine in the skins of the grape to extract compounds (including phenolics) from the skins and stalks, is particularly important, but even before that, the key factor influencing how 'raspberry-y' your wine is is the grape variety it is made from. So what wine were you drinking? Well, wines known for having a raspberry aroma include a lot of Italian varieties - Barbera, Brunello, Chianti - but it's also a feature in Beaujolais, Chateauneuf du Pape and Cabernet Franc. So the strong likelihood is that it was old world. The strength of that aroma makes me think it was a Beaujolais or a Chateauneuf , as these are more typically fruit forward styles. If it was very light, it was probably a Beaujolais; if not, I'll guess a Chateauneuf...do let me know if you find out for sure!