Drinking with the pros is not for the faint hearted. And by pros I don’t mean a bunch of medical students who are trying to pickle their insides, or a group of military chaps about to go away on exercise. I mean the industry. The people who pick the wines you and I drink. The people who can describe wines with more than just … very drinkable. The people who, after they’ve tried 100 or so wines, can then remember them well enough to write something about them or order them into a shop or restaurant.
But the thing that really distinguishes someone who is in the wine industry is their amazing ability to spit, with accuracy. It’s quite remarkable. Whilst I have to bend forward to get my head well and truly inside the rim of the spittoon to dispose of my (very drinkable) wine, a pro can be upright, and a foot away from the floor standing device. Given this means the pro’s head is about a meter away from the rim of the basin, the result is a trajectory the North Koreans would be proud of.
Feel free to roll your eyes at me because I’m going to write that wine tasting is tiring. It takes stamina and concentration. Most normal people’s palates wouldn’t manage it, in these sorts of numbers. I’ve been tasting Croatian wines at the 4th UK Vina Croatia – trying not to show myself up with my spitting.
Because I’m a novice I try everything on the first stand I visit. Chosen because its the grape I know when I think of Croatian wines: Plavac Mali, powerful and full bodied reds, from the beautiful Dalmatian coast. Manageable at the start of an evening do, but this is 1045am, at a swanky Mayfair hotel and they are pushing 15% alcohol. Follow this with an eight wine masterclass of Dalmatian reds with Joe Wadsack and I am whacked. My teeth are also stained, not a good look.
I go backwards ( you’re meant to taste the lighter wines first) and vow to stick on the whites. I manage around ten more, some (very edible) lunch and a litre of water. I welcome three gentlemen onto my table and discuss the wines so far. It’s very clear they know their stuff. Which is good because one, I find out, is a Master of Wine and well known in the trade. My contribution: Croatian wines have a chance of avoiding the ‘fashion’ trap (talked about for a few years, but never actually making it in the UK market). It’s an increasingly popular holiday destination for Brits and word of mouth is the most powerful of all. BUT, Croatia need to sort out the poorer, entry level wines. If not people will be put off before they can afford the really good ones out there. AND they need to cross the language threshold. There’s very few people who will go into a shop and ask for some wine from a vineyard called Zdjelarevic, or Dingac PZ i Vinarija. You sound drunk before you’ve started.
Having hit my taste bud limit I ask my new expert friends to recommend my final wine. It’s refreshing to be shown a note reading, ‘Looks like old piss!’. “I like the wines to talk to me, rather than me talk to them”, he says. So below are a few of the wines that I think did the talking:
Bolfan Rajnski Rizling I tried both the 2011 and 2012. The first was better. But both are riper than a normal riesling, with a touch of pear. If you don’t like German riesling try this to show you the range of what the grape can do. You can buy in the UK from Theatre of Wine, (Greenwich and Tufnell Park), Volic Fines Wines and Spirits in W9 and Alfred the Grape in Marlow. Around £15.
Cattunar, Muskat bijeli I tried the 2010, but you can get the 2011 from Hennings Wine for around £13. Delicious dessert wine that made my mouth water big time. (Probably exaggerated by the tannic reds i’d been tasting.) Honey and elderflower, light and fresh. I could drink it as an aperitif as well.