BY THE time you read this I will have enjoyed a Girlies’ Night In, with yours truly in charge of a wine-tasting challenge.
Other entertainment was to be one Girlie playing tunes on her ukulele.
My plan: To disguise all bottles in tin foil and to ask the Girlies questions, including guessing the grapes. I will have given tips beforehand, not least to stock up on hangover cures.
So it feels timely to share some wine-tasting tips from award-winning Australian winemaker Neil McGuigan.
I asked him what he’d say to people who feel a little embarrassed swirling and sniffing wine and if it really made any difference.
He explains: “I recommend that people focus on the wine as soon as it goes into the glass for 10 seconds – look at the colour, have a sniff, have a taste – this will help you to form a memory and relate it to the grape variety. Then just enjoy!”
On a red, what would be the sensory checklist?
He tells me: “Before we start on senses, something to remember – if your wine is a screwcap, then you can be pretty sure that the wine is fresh. If it is a cork closure, you just need to be aware that cork can impart a character to the wine.
”Look at the colour, make sure it is not too brown (for red wine). Smell – it should be pleasing to your senses. Taste – hopefully the wine exhibits the variety indicated on the label and it is flavoursome and enjoyable for you.”
It can be daunting if you want to discover wines.
I asked how Neil would encourage someone to step out of their comfort zones. He says: “Consumers must be confident in their own palate.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for advice – tell people what style you like so you can get recommendations on alternatives. Look at the taste descriptors on the bottle labels and think about what you like – and don’t like – to give you an idea of what to try.”
McGuigan Wines come from the Hunter Valley, which Neil says is “a unique grape growing area – in my opinion it makes the best wines in the world”.
But I asked him what sets grapes grown in Australia apart from others grown in France say, or elsewhere in the New World.
Says Neil: “What we’re able to do in Australia is keep and show the purity of the fruit and varietal differentiation thanks to our climate and techniques that help us to retain characteristics and flavour.”
Neil says he is excited about new things at McGuigan; embracing new varieties and making fresher whites and more voluptuous reds.
But have our wine tastes changed?
He says: “It is constantly evolving and we evolve our wines to suit this change. Chardonnay is the prince of white grape varieties. Australia lost focus on flavoursome but refreshing Chardonnay, but now we have got that right.
“Aussie Chardonnay is a fantastic drink.”
“Our aim is to make better wine today than we did yesterday. For us, wine is the hero.”
McGuigan is giving people the chance to win a trip to Oz and enjoy lunch cooked by John Torode.