If there’s one thing I learned about wine tasting tonight in this year’s installment of the Art Institute of Vancouver’s Wine Professional Challenge (part of the annual Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival), it’s to trust my instincts.
I signed up after seeing the link next to my WSET Diploma registration information, and thought it’d be a great way to test myself and kick off the next level of my wine education. Was it ever!
After a fun but challenging Round 1 of blind tasting four wines, we were asked to identify the country from which all the bottles originated. Having already deduced a steely, limey Clare or Eden Valley Riesling and powerfully ripe, spicy Syrah or Zinfandel-like red out of two of them, I was convinced that the wines must be from Australia.
The more I read into the possible sum of all parts as well as other people’s reactions during our intermission, however, led me to guess Spain – after all, a chalky Rias Baixas Albariño and juicy, berry-filled Tempranillo certainly couldn’t be too far off the map, plus it’s this year’s theme region at Playhouse!
Alas, when the winner was announced (the most deserving Jay Whiteley, sommelier for Hawksworth Restaurant), it was revealed that it was Australia after all.
Moral of the story: Don’t second guess!
In any case, it was great fun to take part in this challenge, my first-ever blind tasting as well as professional wine competition, and I look forward to the day when I can be 110% sure about my palate-based choices!
The judges were, naturally, a heavy-hitting “Fab Five” of industry veterans in British Columbia, including organizer and WSET instructor, Mark Shipway; sommelier extraordinaire Neil Ingram; wine educator Michaela Morris; Barbara Philip, Master of Wine; and John Puddifoot, owner of fine retailer Puddifoot, for which the wine challenge’s Puddifoot Award is named after.
As for the wines? The Aussies were a delicious quartet of Hunter Valley Semillon, Barossa Shiraz, Clare Valley Riesling and Tasmania Pinot Noir.
I celebrated my hard work the good ol’ Canadian way… With an ice-cold beer.
Lessons learned in Round 2: Wine labels, customer service, food pairing and wine accessories
- Read the entire label before talking! I was waxing poetic to Michaela about a Gran Reserva wine, when I noticed – a mere 45 seconds before my time was up – that it was actually not from Rioja at all but halfway down the country in Valdepeñas. Oops.
- The customer is always right. White wine with steak? Why not? My pick was sparkling wine (i.e., Champagne or Cava), the rationale being that it would be a nice refreshing palate cleanser in between big, beefy bites. It worked!
- Be adventurous! Play with enhancing or contrasting flavours when food pairing and you can easily come up with one or two very different suggestions for each course that can cater to varying tastes. This was a fun topic and I feel I held my ground quite well. I guess having a food and wine blog helps!
- When in doubt, joke! I could have probably earned a few extra points had I actually said to John what I thought about the Wine Shield, “It’s like a diaphragm for wine bottles that keeps oxygen from impregnating the liquid – complete with a handy plastic applicator!”
After all, wine doesn’t always have to be dead serious, right?