So on Thursday night I had to face one of my greatest fears. Wine.
Maybe “Fear” is a bit extreme but you get the idea. I have never been a fan of wine. It always seemed like one of those things, like coffee, that I would eventually develop a taste for when I became an adult. At twenty three, I’m still waiting for it to happen. (The adult thing, aswel as the taste thing, but thats a conversation for a different post). Naturally it was with no small amount of trepidation then that I looked forward to our first (of many) wine evenings here in Cooks Academy. The very distinguished looking gent to the left there is Liam Campbell. He is the main man in Cooks Academy when it comes to the wine and trust me, if there is anything about the grown-up grape juice he doesn’t know, it isn’t worth knowing. We started off the day by whipping up some incredibly interesting canapes that Liam would be pairing for us that evening. Once they were all made we sat down with our guests and let him take us through the world of wine.
The first thing that immediately jumped out at us was that we were indeed in safe hands. Liam is incredibly relaxed and welcoming when he first started speaking to us. Like most people who are truly passionate about their craft they want to share that with others. The image that comes with wine these days can quite often be a very negative one. On one end of the scale you have the cheap as anything bottles of vinegar that most supermarkets try and ply you with at the end of every aisle like some dodgy watch salesman. The other, the super luxurious, elitist “Oh, you don’t know the best year for red wine to come out of the Loire Valley since Napoleon?” Neither approach is particularly enticing or inclusive. Liam’s goal is to break down those walls as best he can. The key is knowledge, the more you know, the better wine consumers we will be. For instance, he was telling us that most wines will indeed go with most foods. This makes sense after all, lots of different flavours go with lots of other flavours, there’s not usually just one thing to be paired.
The other big one is that wine gets better with age. Yes, certain wines do get better the longer you leave them to mature. But lots of wines are best when first bottled. An easy way to tell is the top. If it has a cork, it would be better aged. If it has a screw cap, it’s better drank as soon as possible. 96% of the wine purchased in Ireland is consumed within twenty four hours of purchase and a further 96% of that is consumed within three hours of purchase. Clearly we are an impatient lot when it comes to our booze. The first wine we came to was a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc from 2013, clearly not a mature wine (though age and maturity are two vastly different things, as he cared to point out to us). When introducing us to this wine he talks about grapes taking on a personality. The wine will take on the flavours of the region it is grown in. If you have Chardonnay for example, it will have a flavour of the crisp, fresh green apples of the cool climate of northern France for example. He also mentions that wine is a natural thing. A gift from the world that we Humans get involved with. I have met clergy less devout that this man.
Wines like this were introduced to Irish palates as a way to tap into a new market. Before the cheap wine revolution we are currently enjoying, wine was seen as a special occasion treat. One bought without knowledge or care, simply for the image of having wine at ones parties. When the wine companies wanted to open up the Irish market the best way the saw of doing that was with light, sweet, easy drinking wines to wean us off Coca-Cola and 7-Up. The man makes a lot of sense. I know if I was starting for the first time, I would be looking for something of that ilk.
I definitely feel very differently twords wine then I did only a few days ago. Since then I have had a class or two and have been a lot more accepting of my erstwhile enemy. Wine now seems like less of a giant mountain to be climbed and more in the whelm of a deep vast cavern of information to be mined and explored. I suppose it is exactly in keeping with the course as a whole. Start from the bottom and let everyone find their feet and begin at their own pace. Every little taste of a new skill or an odd ingredient just makes me hungry for more! Stay tuned for all of the upcoming action.
~ Mark O’Brien