Match the right bottle of wine to the right meal or appropriate occasion and you’re a man of class and sophistication, but take it too seriously and frankly you’ll end up looking just like a swishing and spitting plonker.
We sat down with Luke Batchelar, Managing Director of Batchelar Fine and Rare Wine., to find out how the average guy should best approach the delicate art of wine appreciation.
Luke Batchelar is a Kiwi who has spent the last 14 years abroad, sampling delights from some of the world’s greatest wine regions and squeezing in time to graduate with a Diploma in Wines and Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) in London.
What are you particularly enjoying drinking at the moment?
I drink quite a lot of white wine as it is really varied, refreshing and versatile. I often have a couple of glasses of white before a meal and also eat a lot of seafood, chicken and pasta. Whites also go really well with the Asian and Fusion foods that are pretty popular in New Zealand. Lately I have been really enjoying wines that are blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon – the Semillon just rounds the wines out more, makes them less heady, perfumed, pungent and acidic than a straight Sauvignon Blanc. Two absolutely awesome examples are Pegasus Bay from New Zealand and Cape Mentelle from Western Australia (Cape Mentelle is the sister company to New Zealand’s world renowned Cloudy Bay). On the red front, for a really special occasion, try and get your hands on Esk Valley – The Terraces…. New Zealand’s answer to the best of Bordeaux!
How do you consider New Zealand’s wine to stack up overseas?
We are incredibly lucky here with our natural resources and highly skilled and innovative people. In the UK, New Zealand wines generally have the highest price-point of any country on the shelf and that does reflect the quality of what we are producing. This is amazing in a world where they have been talking about a “wine lake” and many French vignerons are being paid to pull up vines! We need to be very careful not to let our standards slip as one or two bad references could really affect the whole scene. What we do, we do really well and all the classic French varieties work here so well – as everyone knows NZ Pinot and Sauvignon blanc are world beating. I think it will be really interesting when some of the new Italian varietals being planted around the country start to get onto the shelves!
So where should an aspiring wine enthusiast start then?
Get tasting! A lot of wine merchants and regional bodies hold regular tastings to show and promote their wines. Also, wine and food festivals are a great way to sample a number of wines to get a comparison of varieties and styles.
What are some ways to learn more about wine, apart from the obvious.. er..regular sampling?
Hop on the internet, go down to your local wine merchant or visit a vineyard. There are millions of blogs, articles, online magazines and wine pundits waxing lyrical about wines. Most independent wine merchants are also bursting with knowledge about their products and truly want to help you select and drink great wine. A wine course or tutored tasting is also a really fun and informative evening out – something you can do with your friends or workmates. You get to have a drink and a laugh but it also lets you practice evaluating the wine in a little more detail.
Once you’ve got the basics varieties down, what next?
Start to familarise yourself with regional varieties- most European wines are characterized by their region of origin rather than having grape varieties listed on the label. You will have a lot more confidence when you know the basics of the regions such as Bordeaux and Burgundy. You also need to be aware of certain “grading systems” in place, particularly with French wines where they may categorise a wine as “village wine”, “premier cru” and “grand cru” – kind of like the first second and third division. These are often (but not always) the key indicators of quality.
How important is the price of a bottle?
Unfortunately, price is often (but certainly not always) a pretty good indicator of quality. Purposely low grape yields in the vineyard, hard harvested and sorted grapes, new oak and long maturation times in barrel (and bottle) add to the quality but also the price of a wine.
But there are bargains to be found if you know where to look?
Of course! Not all expensive wine is good and not all inexpensive wine is bad. You need to remember than wine appreciation is subjective and flavours vary between palettes. Do your research and you’re sure to come across an under-valued little gem. I have been drinking the odd bottle of a $12.99 supermarket Sauvignon Blanc over the summer and it is awesome… easy drinking, fresh and delicious. I’m really into an Aussie producer called Gemtree, they make really good Shiraz that should be $70 per bottle – but for some inexplicable reason is it mid to low $20’s!
So how do I start to form my own delicious collection then?
Start buying at a level you can afford, be it by the bottle or by the case. If you don’t have the means to source or cellar your wine safely then you can also “outsource” your wine buying and cellar management to an expert. Remember that wine is to be enjoyed, so don’t get so hung up on collecting that you forget about the drinking!
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