Posted in Cheese and Wine on Friday, 20 September 2019
My first ever wine tasting… I didn’t quite know how to feel. I was excited, naturally. The promise of sampling some wonderful Italian wine was certainly going to go down as one my better days at work! However, I was a just a little bit nervous. I liked wine, though my knowledge was somewhat… limited… When buying wine my thought process consisted of selecting something cheap with a fun-looking bottle. Would I be out of my depth? Could I even drink the wine, or did I need to sip and spit? I was wearing a white shirt… was I going to spill my glass of Valpolicella all over myself?
The threat of spillage was fair. I am, with all due respect to myself, a clumsy human being. With reference to my other worries, it became apparent very early on that I had nothing to worry about. We were going to learn and we were going to have fun, but nobody was in danger of feeling left out or left behind.
I entered the V&C Caffe Bar a couple of minutes prior to the start of the event and there was a real buzz about the place. There were 30-or-so attendees; a mix of ages and a range of wine experience. On one end of the scale there was me, a novice if ever there was one. At the table next to me were a couple who were evidently very well versed in the wine tasting world, taking extensive notes throughout the evening and asking astute questions throughout.
We took our places and absorbed the grandeur of what was in front of us. The table was set out with three place mats, each with the numbers one-through-six in a semi-circle – a tasting glass filled with wine placed atop each number. In the centre of this plate was a plate of Cicchetti.
I was not aware of what Cicchetti actually were prior to the tasting. This was soon rectified, however, as I were informed that they were Venetian snacks. There were pieces of focaccia bread wrapped in speck (a cured Italian meat). There was a taster of mushroom pâté on toast and arancini, a ball of rice and cheese in breadcrumbs. There was a slice of Ubriaco cheese, and most intriguingly of all, a chocolate brownie.
The temptation to wolf down this delicious looking platter of food was high. Really high. As was the desire to sneak a sip of wine. I looked around the room and saw that everybody, while captivated by the gorgeous set up, were behaving like adults. Begrudgingly, I did the same.
The tasting began and, as mention earlier, I was put at ease straight away. The terminology used was simple to understand for a novice like myself without ever verging on being patronising and the pace of the event was seamless.
The tasting event began with the host, Valvona & Crolla’s shop manager and wine buyer Francesco Cardinale, giving an evocative description of Veneto, which encompasses stunning mountains and lakes, as well as the timeless cities of Verona and Venice. Francesco discussed the importance of the climate and the significance of Garganega and Valpolicella.
After this introduction to the region, the actual tasting of the wine began. First the whites, then the reds – three of each. Garganega 2018 Valvona & Crolla, Soave Classico Calvarino 2016 Pieropan and Capitel Croce 2017 Anselmi were the first three to be tasted. We were instructed the best way to experience the wine was to swirl it in the glass before breathing it in and only then were we to pour it from glass to mouth.
With each wine we were given a rundown of its origin; the vineyard, the appellation, the history. Then we sipped it and experienced the flavour ourselves before Francesco would describe the subtle flavours that we could and should be picking up on.
After each wine he would ask the audience if there were any questions, to which there was little reply early on, but by the halfway point the hands shot up and discussion arose. Some questions asked were obviously put forward by seasoned wine connoisseurs, while others were easier to follow. My personal favourite was a question asking if wine producers knew in advance of drinking if the wine was going to be exceptional or poor. The answer was that they cannot know for sure, nor predict too far ahead of time, but by looking at the conditions from previous years and comparing them to the current year, a highly educated hypothesis could be put forward.
With the crowd much more engaged, the second half began. The red wine on offer being Valpolicella Rio Albo 2017 Ca'Rugate, Valpolicella Ripasso 2017 Torre D'Orti, and the star of the show, Amarone Classico 2015 Brigaldara. All three were given the same level of due care and attention by Francesco, who conveyed facts and opinions with the passionate performance of someone who truly knows and loves his topic.
I held true to my word and elected to act like an adult, nibbling away at the Cicchetti rather than gobbling it all down in one go like the child that I am at heart. Part of this restraint was on account of the order in which I wished to eat. Francesco had suggested eating the focaccia alongside the first couple of whites, and I had taken it upon myself to have a piece of the Ubriaco with each with a sip of the reds (a truly fantastic decision).
The final element of the Cicchetti was the chocolate brownie. This was something that had been building with suspense all night, as Francesco had asked us all to take part in an experiment of sort. He wanted to know if the silky, oaky spices of the Amarone worked well with the rich, sweet flavours of the brownie. It was mentioned at the very beginning – presumably to dissuade gluttonous people like myself from scoffing the brownie straight away. When the moment of truth came, the room was split in to two camps – the "I love it" group, and the “it’s okay but nothing special”, group.
I was firmly the former. The moment that the rich brownie was followed by that full-bodied Amarone, the taste sensation was nothing short of magical. The whole evening was a pleasure from start to finish and to end on a high like that was nothing short of magical. This may have been my first ever wine tasting, but it most certainly won’t be my last. In fact, you can count me in for the next V&C tasting on October 3rd - Tuscany Cheese & Wine Tasting.