Fun and games with wine
A new Devon-based wine school is on a mission to make wine accessible to everyone. Orlando Murrin discovers some fun ideas for the season ahead
October saw the launch of an exciting new arrival on the local food and drink scene – South West Wine School. According to co-founder Jonathan Reynolds: “There’s so much interest in wine now – and the South West is very much where things are happening. As well as having great wine producers on our doorstep – who are starting to make their mark internationally – we have a long association with fine wine, and hospitality in general. If you’re interested in immersing yourself in this endlessly fascinating subject, you couldn’t be in a better place at a better time.”
The School has the imprimatur of our region’s top wine names, including Liam Steevenson MW, Rebecca Mitchell DIPWSET and Telegraph drinks writer Susy Atkins, and courses are available for wine enthusiasts of all levels. According to Susy: “Wine courses used to have a reputation for being serious and crusty, but we’re doing things differently. We want to bring out the fun side of wine, and help people expand their knowledge in a relaxed environment.”
Devon-based Liam, who became the youngest Master of Wine in the world at the age of 29 and now travels the world to select and produce fine wines, believes Christmas is a great opportunity for wine lovers to start exploring their adventurous side. “Christmas food presents us with such a broad – almost chaotic – range of flavours and textures that it’s almost impossible to pair wines in the traditional way. Far better in my opinion is to push the boat out and offer a selection of characterful wines – including wines that are new to you, or a little bit different. Make the wines you serve a conversation piece. My Christmas table will certainly include a wine I produce myself in SW France, called Immortelle, which goes beautifully with the dense flavours of turkey and all the trimmings.”
Rebecca finds this is a time of year when many people are feeling playful, so she has developed a couple of amusing wine games. For ‘Guess the Grape’, cover up a couple of bottles (either with foil or proper blind tasting covers from wbc. co.uk) and get everyone to guess the grape variety and country of origin; you can do this as multiple choice. To up the ante, she unleashes her formidable ‘Sniff Challenge’, in which friends are invited to identify 54 aromas (in groups of flora, fruit, vegetal, spice and other) from the Le Nez du Vin masterkit. (The masterkit costs 300 euros and makes a fabulous gift for a wine lover; more affordable sets are available.) “I find personally that very often women score better than men,” comments Rebecca.
Jonathan Sutton, of Michael Sutton’s Cellar near Dartmouth, goes one step further and plays ‘Call My Wine Bluff’ – great for a large group. Choose three wines and conceal the bottles. Write a short tasting note accurately describing Wine no. 1 (for instance, “This is a French Malbec, full bodied with intense liquorice flavours”), and two incorrect (such as, “This is a light bodied wine with gooseberry undertones from Germany”). Do the same for Wines 2 and 3.
Now pour out tasters of Wine 1 and get three guests to talk/ bluff about it, using the notes you prepared. Everyone else confers to try and guess which panellist is telling the truth. Do the same for Wines 2 and 3. After which, a congratulatory drink all round.
If there’s a seriously competitive wine lover in your life, you might wish to give them a wine game as a Christmas gift. While some on offer are no more than thinly disguised drinking games, Wineiq (available online, £18.99) includes everything you need for a wine quiz night, and Corkers Wine Game (£24.99) is a classic board game in which you earn grapes and acquire vineyards. If all else fails and you feel like collapsing in front of a film, check out Game Night. It’s a helter-skelter comedy with more twists than a scenic railway, and even if it’s not actually about wine, the protagonists usually have a glass in their hands. Simply hilarious washed down with a glass of something bubbly. southwestwineschool.co.uk @swwineschool