It’s nearly upon us! Despite one housemate’s scrooge-like insistence that he would throw decorations out of the window if he saw them before December, the rest of us have bravely decked the halls and welcomed in the festive season with our first batch of mulled wine and a raucous rendition of Fairytale of New York.
Amelia Singer is entirely responsible for the early start.
On 16th November, we headed to her house for a festive wine tasting session and I’ve been eating and drinking like it’s Christmas ever since.
Host of ITV’s The Wine Show and now wine columnist for Waitrose magazine, Amelia is a wine educator first and foremost. She’s been in the industry for the last eight years, has completed the WSET Wine Diploma and worked in wineries all over the world.
However, one of the things that helped her make a name for herself when starting out was the fact that she frequently opened the doors of her own home to total strangers and hosted wine tastings.
Years on, she’s still throwing the events at her home and anyone who’s interested in learning about wine is welcome. You usually taste between 10 and 12 wines throughout the course of the evening, accompanied by a series of canapés to enhance the flavours of each.
On this particular occasion, it’s fair to say that Amelia got a little carried away. This became apparent when, along with our welcome glass (or two) of Pedrino – a moreish new cocktail of PX sherry and tonic – we were handed our fact sheets for the evening, which listed no fewer than the 18 wines we’d be tasting. (Get in!)
Amelia always starts by diffusing any first time nerves with a quick explanation of how to taste – complete with an unapologetic slurping demonstration, which puts everyone at ease. It’s clear to see why her teaching style is celebrated. The enthusiasm with which she talks about wine is so infectious and the language used is accessible and unpretentious.
The evening was split into rounds. We’d start by gathering for some quick signposting and an explanation of the chosen wines, before casually making our way through the Kaelo coolers dotted around the room – each stocked with a wine to correspond with our list.
Now for the important part. What were we drinking?
[Disclaimer: Making your way through 18 wines doesn’t bode well for detailed note-taking, so I’m going to give you the highlights, which are indicated by the little hearts I lovingly/tipsily scrawled on my fact sheet.]
The fizz round was incredibly diverse, from an unusual sparkling shiraz to the savoury brioche-iness (definitely a word) of the more traditional Champagne Castelnau Brut Reserve.
My particular favourite was the latter and I put this down to the fact that I’m a massive marmite fan. That might sound strange, but I’m always drawn in by sparkling wines that have spent a little longer on the lees (dead yeast cells) giving the finished wine a delicious umami/savoury flavour. At £28 I would definitely buy this wine for a special occasion like Christmas.
For a more wallet-friendly option, my close second was the Vertice Cuvee NV – a brilliant sparkling wine from Douro, Portugal. It’s a beautiful balance of crisp citrus, toasty brioche and the soft mousse-like bubbles that you associate with good Champagne. Plus, Nuno at Vinterest will part with a bottle for only £16, which is an absolute bargain – just email him at email@example.com.
The clear winner of the white wine category for me, which is very clear from a special peppering of heart doodles, was Lady of Lemberg 2014 from Lemberg Wine Estate in Tulbagh, South Africa. Amelia explained that wines made from a blend of grapes often get a bad rap and that wines like this prove that it’s unfounded.
The blend of Viognier (52%), Semillon (21%), Hárslevelü (16%) and Sauvignon Blanc (11%) works so well here. It’s unusual, complex and stimulates every iota of your tongue. I particularly loved the notes of white peach, which it owes to the Viognier, and will definitely be looking into buying it for Christmas. It’s only £11.35 if you follow the link above.
Next up, the star of not only the reds but potentially the whole evening: Christo Lot No. 3 (2016) from Marietta Cellars in Geyersville, California. Another blend, this time of Grenache/Garnacha, Syrah/Shiraz and Viognier. With a full body, plenty of fruitiness (particularly of dark fruits like black plums and cherries), a good level of tannin and above average ABV at 15.3% – this wine would be a good candidate for ageing.
It’s delicious as it is, and you’d certainly enjoy it if you cracked it open this Christmas, but it might be worth buying a couple of bottles so that you can indulge in it again next December to see how it develops. Peaty, juicy, spicy, tobacco-y goodness: perfect for warming you up after a bracing winter walk.
And we’re finally onto the sweet stuff. As someone who’s inclined to choose the cheeseboard over a dessert, I find that a good dessert wine pairing makes a lasting impression on me because it’s not something I’d naturally go for.
Far from being cloying (meaning sickly sweet), if a sweet wine is paired cleverly with a dessert it can really refresh your palate and balance the sugar content of the pud. A perfect example of this was the Chocoholic Pinotage 2015 paired with dark chocolate truffles, which was a total triumph. And the best news? It’s available for £9.99 from the Co-op, whose wine selection I’ve raved about in the past.
You can read about some of Amelia’s more risqué choices for Christmas here.
Probably the best thing about the format of the tasting was that you were constantly chatting to new people about their preferences and opinions of each taster. It seemed as though everyone had been disarmed by the casual setting, Amelia’s warm introduction… and I guess maybe the alcohol had something to do with it too.
It’s great to see that, despite having her profile elevated by a career in television and her success as a wine writer, Amelia’s fundamental aim has remained the same: to counteract the snobbery around wine by empowering people when it comes to making wine decisions. We can certainly get on board with that.
Click here to check out Amelia’s website for news of her upcoming tasting events in 2018, which will be released in the new year.
To find out more about Amelia’s wine tasting lunches at Leiths, click here. A minimum of four courses, created by the Leiths chefs, each paired with a unique wine of Amelia’s choosing!