Hooray, I’m old!

I turned Nearly 40 on January 2nd. Because most people are still hung over on that day, SWMNBN and I celebrated with a nice Italian meal at Ealing’sOsteria del Portico. Super, as ever.

Today, we gathered with PC and AK for a combination happy-birthday-Tim and welcome-to-2008 at the Builders Arms pub in Kensington. We’d been here once before with PC, and it’s a really nice pub. Nice area, comfy inside, lots of choice on tap, and good food. The service was a bit slow today because of some problems with the kitchen, apparently, but we had it better than those who showed up later than us. I saw the bar staff chew out the cook, and at least one customer asked for their money back.

In any case, everyone’s well, we caught up and had a laugh, had some grub, and I got some birthday swag (mostly books, and quite nice ones). It was a good use of a lovely Sunday afternoon.

There will be one more birthday celebration: later this month, a joint party with our neighbour.

I don’t mean to wine, but…

She Who Must Not Be Named got me a wine-tasting course for my birthday. I attended it today. It was really excellent.

It was run by the London Wine Academy. She chose the Old World Workshopfor me. This is good, since I generally prefer to like old world wines. Also, the many centuries of quirky labeling and naming make understanding these wines more difficult.

It was 5 hours long, and held in a room above a pub in Fulham. The leader was a nice guy, a Kiwi who’s been a sommelier, worked at a vineyard, been a wine merchant, and writes for Decanter magazine. He gave us lots of background on how wine is made. He described the wine regions of France and Spain and Italy, and what the different wine appellations mean. He gave us simple methods for tasting and classifying wine. He talked a bit about what foods go well with what wines. They served us an excellent lunch. We tasted 12 wines from France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Portugal. I met some nice people. The best part was learning a bit about white wines, which I almost never drink.

It was a really fun day. It was nice to learn something about something I already enjoy, but don’t really know anything about. I feel like I might want to learn more about this sort of thing.

Things I learned today:

  • Old world wines go better with food. New world wines can be drunk on their own. This makes sense, and I think I sort of do this anyway, although I’d never thought about it explicitly.
  • White wines are paler when they’re young, and become a bit more golden as they age due to oxidation.
  • Red wines fade as they age.
  • Your wine’s legs don’t matter at all. All that does is indicate viscosity, which is related to alcohol content, which you can more accurately detect with taste.
  • Younger wines taste fruitier.
  • The average price for a bottle of wine in the UK is £3.89. There’s a lot of cheap wine being sold.
  • Fifty years ago, the average annual win consumption of an Italian was 150L; the French were just behind. Now, it’s about 50L for the Italians, about 40L for the French. It’s about 15L for Brits, and about 8L for Americans.
  • Spain is set to explode on the wine scene, largely because of improved methods of temperature control and marketing.
  • A cool climate produces lighter reds; a warm climate produces darker ones.
  • Thin grape skins also produce lighter colours, and higher acidity.
  • 2002 was a crap year for Italian wine (except for Sicily) because it rained all summer.
  • 2003 was a crap year for most European wine because it was really hot (the exceptions are Portugal and Greece, where it’s hot every year anyway).
  • 2005 was a good year for European wine.
  • Burgundy produces some of the world’s best – and worst – wines.
  • “Montepulciano” at the end of an Italian’s wine name indicates it’s from the region of the same name, and is probably good. If it’s at the startof a wine’s name, it indicates a type of grape, and is mediocre at best.
  • Sherry doesn’t deserve the reputation it has in the UK as granny’s sweet tipple: there are some excellent dry sherries from the south of Spain.
  • Many years ago the new world started calling wine made from Syrah grapes Shiraz. This is because it was thought that these grapes actually came from Iran, near the town of Shiraz. Recent DNA testing has proven that this is incorrect, and Syrah is one of the few 100% French grape varieties, from the Rhône valley.