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London
United Kingdom

07789264333

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

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Blog

Because every sip should be special...

Memory lane

Megan Gray

My first sip of wine was a red Bordeaux. I remember thinking how different this thing was that I was tasting. My mouth was experiencing things it had never experienced before. I detected flavours - many many flavours - and I knew I recognised some of them, but I couldn’t figure out what they were. I can't say I loved the taste of the wine straight away, but I was certainly instantly fascinated by it. For that reason, the particularly complex nature of a good Bordeaux will always be an exciting and evocative taste for me.

I grew up very much a red girl. My Dad introduced me to a range over the years, and every so often a particular wine would take me further into my love of wine. The two most memorable for me were the discoveries of Carmenere - with its brambly richness - and Amarone - with its intense, heavy, velvetty, oh so indulgent black and red fruit flavours. 

It was only when I moved to London and started working at Vinopolis that I gave white wine a fair go. I would try and swap shifts to be on the premium wine counter where, because fewer people had tickets for those particular wines, I could sit and sample and make notes and read labels and ask questions to all my senior colleagues there. That was a very exciting time. There was a Californian Viognier (I think the producer was 'Cline') that I could not get enough of - the intense florality dancing on top of soft luscious peach and apricot. But the real discovery for me was German Riesling. Just like I had with that first sip of Bordeaux, I thought “what a wonderfully strange thing I am tasting”. Mineral, petroleum, plastic. I was reminded of surfing - salt and rubber - not flavours you expect to love in a wine, but I did. For me, that’s what’s great about Riesling. (It’s what’s great about love in general.) And adding to my appreciation was the knowledge of how generally under-appreciated these wines were... still are. 

Someone at a tasting once asked me what my best wine drinking experience was - what an excellent question that is. Ask me to name my favourite grapes, and I say Riesling, Viognier, Carmenere, Rebo... but my favourite 'experience'... Was it that first sip of Bordeaux? The introduction to Viognier on the Premium Wine table? The sunny surfing memories conjured up by those rieslings? 

Nay - I’ve thought a lot about this, and I keep coming back to a moment involving an altogether less remarkable/ impressive/ interesting wine:

April 2011. My friend and I had spent several (wonderful, but) exhausting weeks in a campervan in Australia, and several (less wonderful, and) exhausting hours in an airport before boarding a flight to Auckland. Upon arrival, we were warmly welcomed in to the family home of a friend of a friend of a friend. They drove us back from the airport, and we had our first proper shower in a while, lay down and rested on our first proper bed for a while, and as our hostess prepared our first proper meal for a while, we were invited to climb into their outdoor hot-tub, with views out to the sea, and given a glass of Villa Maria New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc - my first sip of wine in a while. Right there and then, it was as if I was drinking pure sunshine and happiness -- I think you can tell from my face :)

 

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A-Marone Christmas... (And a Happy New Year!)

Megan Gray

In the heart of the Highlands of a very stormy Scotland, my family and I enjoyed our traditional Christmas of good craic, good food, and good wine. Having slightly overdone it on the plonk at the office Christmas do, I'd stuck to cocktails and ginger beer for the remainder of the party season, so it was a joy to dive into the selection box of wines we'd chosen specially for the Christmas holiday.

There were several gems in there. On Christmas morning we went for a sparkling Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, £20/bottle from Avery's. Instead of the richness of the traditional champagne, we had the citrus, apple and grassy notes of this New Zealand classic, now fizzy and fabulous, dancing on top of some lightly lemoned smoked salmon. The delicacy of the pairing was lost amongst those who added bagels and cream cheese into the mix, but since I always prefer my salmon naked, I had no complaints. Staying down under, an excellent Central Otago Pinot Noir - Chancet Rocks, £16/bottle from Avery's - accompanied the Christmas lunch. Light and fruity, with just a touch of earthy grip, it added plum, berry and subtle oak to the assortment of flavours already delighting our palates from the festive repas. For dessert, an 'unofficial' (from the vineyard, just not labelled as such) Chateau d'Yquem was sweet and sophisticated and perfect with the Christmas pud, and at a fraction of the usual price of the Sauternes star (just £25 from Berry Brothers and Rudd), it was a real treat.

For me, however, the real champion wine of the box we drank on Boxing Day, with Christmas Dinner number 2 - the Leftover Edition. An evening meal this time, we went heavier than the pinot of the previous day... much heavier, to the Musella Amarone, £29.99/bottle from Virgin Wines. I have spent some time wondering how to adequately express how good this wine is, and here's my best attempt: Bam - you're hypnotized by the intense, sweet, red fruit aromas; Bam - your tongue is massaged by the thick velvety texture; Bam - the solid tanins squeeze your tongue and palate and then BAM - you become lost in the brilliantly infused whirlpool of oak and cherry and eucalyptus. At the end, you're left with a finish so sublime you have to stop your conversation, hold off on that next forkful and just savour. Bam Bam BAM, this wine is big, bold and beautiful, and at 16.5%, certainly not for the faint hearted!

Amarones are, by their very nature, fundamentally remarkable wines. Taking the ripest of the Valpolicella crop (made up of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes), Amarone is made by spreading the grapes out on mats in a cool, dry room for 3-4 months. As they shrivel, the juice becomes concentrated. This juice is then fermented until dry and aged in oak, producing a typically rich, heady, robust wine which usually takes at least 10 years to fully mature. It's a real winter wine which goes best with roasts, game, and mature cheeses. Over the past 2 years, I've had more and more people asking me about Amarone. Big, thick and fruity, it seems particularly appealing to the British palate. But higher demand has inevitably led to that curse on quality - overproduction. Time was you wouldn't have been able to find an Amarone for under £25/bottle retail. Nowadays there are some down in the £teens, but for the real showstoppers, you have to add in that extra tenner. It's a lot I know, but as the Musella so dramatically reminded me, it is so worth it.

Christmas may be over, but winter rolls on, so if you're looking for a very special treat to snuggle up with on a windy weekend evening, I have 4 words for you: Amarone. Bam. Bam. BAM.

No no Tesco

Megan Gray

A couple of weeks ago I stood behind a lady in the queue at Tesco who was buying 10 bottles of Gavi - a medium bodied white from the north of Italy made with the Cortese grape. Clearly she was having some kind of party.

I wanted so much to stop her buying them; to tell her I had some Cortese in my bin end sale which I could guarantee would be so much better; to discourage her from ever even considering Tesco for her wines in the future...

Fast forward two weeks and I’m on a buying trip in Italy, chatting to the producer of excellent quality, excellent value wines about the pressure he is under to change the way he makes his wine because of the way the market is changing. “Supermarkets-” he told me, “they think first, price, second, quantity, and only then, they think about the taste of the wine.”

I hadn’t said anything to the lady in Tesco. I was there in my tracksuit bottoms and flip flops, and even if I had had my business cards with me, I doubt I could have convinced her I was the wine professional I was claiming to be. But she had made me think, and in Italy, these thoughts became an idea. Now, it's a fully fledged mission.

My website tells you how The Dancing Vine seeks to enhance its customers’ every wine-drinking experience, and I’m always thinking about new ways to do that. Well, here marks the launch of the Wine List campaign - a series of public tastings to demonstrate the range, quality and value of wines on offer from smaller, more specialist retailers. I want to show people the wines beyond the supermarket shelves; beyond even the shelves of the big high street chains. 

We have a whole army of these small-scale retailers professionals sourcing out the best wines from all over the world, and they do a really fantastic job. Importing smaller amounts, they get special wines; unique wines. They find smaller wineries, and they build relationships with those wineries. They get the stories, the history, the families, and the lifestyles, and when they import the wine, those relationships are there in the bottle as well, and they pass these on to you, the customer. You can taste it.

And it’s not just the wines themselves that make these retailers special. The service is personal. Tell them what you like, and they’ll recommend you something personal just for you. Need a big order for a party? Ask them for a good deal, and they’ll give you one. Want something special for a dinner party? Tell them your menu, and they’ll help you decide. You get all this because the person selling it to you has passion. They love the wine, and yes, that love comes in the bottle to you as well. You can taste it.

You don’t have to take my word for it. We’re launching our series of Big City Wine List tastings just next week, kicking off in the capital, at the beautiful Elysee Restaurant and Roof Garden in central London. Come along and have a taste. Meet the people who’ve sourced the wines. Find out what makes them special. Trust me, you’ll never look back.

Visit http://www.dancingvine.co.uk/the-london-wine-list.html for more information, and to buy your tickets.

Meg xxo