'The Evening Class Wine Appreciation' by Harvy McGavin
The first role of Kenneth Harry Putt's wine appreciation course is - no spitting. It might not fit with the stereotypical image but no one seems to mind. "We don't use spitoons", he says. "They always used to come back bone dry."
So, with seven generous glassfuls - two white and five red - lined up in front of them, the 20 people in Harry's class (everybody calls him Harry) start their wine appreciation in earnest.
Harry - a bow-tied bon viveur - encourages his students to comment on the colour, bouquet and taste of this week's selection of French regional and Rhone Wines.
Prunes and liquorice, honey and vanilla, even petrol and apricots are all invoked as the class attempt to describe the Bacchannalian delights before them. "First impressions are always best", advises Harry, who, with the rest, likes to confirm them with another swirl (to release the bouquet) and a slurp (to aerate the wines).
"Wine is so versatile, you can find one to suit every pocket and every occasion," says Harry, who pokes fun at the snobbery sometimes associated with wine-tasting by running a competition for the most outrageous description. "One woman said a wine reminded her of a New York taxi driver's aftershave."
Time for a refill. Harry has brought some cheese scones, ham and brie, and the gathering of professional thirtysomethings is pretty soon living up to its alternative billing as "Harry's wine and supper singles club".
Lisa, a researcher for the British Medical Association, is happily flouting company policy ("officially I'm a 14-units-a-week girl") while her friend Rachel, who works a 12-hour day in the City, is trying to make the most of her evenings. "I go out drinking anyway, so I thought I'd learn how to do it with some style", she laughs.
The Express - March 2000
from 'Jane'll fix it - Jane Asher's tricks of the trade'
Q: An ex-boyfriend, who fancied himself as a wine buff, used to insist on opening a bottle of wine by pulling the cork straight through the foil that encases the bottle's neck. He said that it was a snobby myth that you had to remove the top bit of the foil first. Every time I open a bottle now (it happens more frequently than I care to admit), I wonder if he was right. Do you know?
A: All I can say is it's a good job he's your ex. Mikhail Lumanov, tutor at the Wine & Food Academy says that the correct procedure is to cut around the top lip of the bottle using a knife or the blade on a corkscrew, thus removing a small disc of foil.
This originated because the foils used to be made of lead - and you wouldn't want your wine laced with that - and, although nowadays the materials used are harmless, any wines over 30 years old will still have lead-based foils. In any case, pulling the cork through the foil always leaves a jagged edge which tends to make the wine "splutter out", as Mikhail puts it. You should definitely not remove all the foil: this makes real wine buffs shiver in horror as the bottle appears naked.
The Academy runs courses and lectures on wines, so do give them a ring if you'd like to know more - just in case your next boyfriend is also a bit lacking in the foil technique department!
Wine Magazine - July 1999
extract from 'Learning the Ropes' by Elizabeth Petty
Kenneth Harry Putt, Course Director of the Wine & Food Academy, has a very different approach. Harry Putt is a larger than life character, who welcomed all his students like long lost friends. He believes that learning about wine is a "voyage of discovery". The aim of his course is "to be able to pick up a glass of wine, look at it and evaluate it confidently." There is also a strong emphasis on matching wine with food and the generous selection of home made dishes allowed tasters to experiment with a variety of combinations. The reason for the food-and-wine approach, according to Harry, is that "food dramatically affects the taste of wine." So with home-made pasta salads, French bread, cheese and pate, the class enthusiastically threw themselves into the task before them. The atmosphere was informal, the classes relatively small and many of the people seemed to be on their second visit, having already enjoyed a term of Harry Putt's flamboyant teaching. Nicola, one of the participants, was there because of her job as a chef. "This course suited me much more than some of the others I looked at because, as a chef, it is quite important to be able to match wines with food."
The Press Association - Summer 1999
'The Heights of Taste' by Georgina Pattinson
You've bought Australian, sampled Chilean and knocked back the South African, so what's next? Believe it or not, according to Vintners, Israel will be the next region to take the wine world by storm. Ironically, this 'new world' wine is from the oldest wine producing area in the world, the Golan Heights.
Not only have Israeli wines won several International awards, but wine expert Hugh Johnson has given one winery top marks. The Golan Heights Winery's Yarden label has earned three stars in his 1999 Pocket Encyclopaedia, the world's biggest selling wine book.
And supermarket chain Safeway now stocks six Israeli wines. Mikhail Luminov is an enthusiast of Israeli wine. "These are young wineries and have been producing wine only form the 1970s. Since the 1980s we noticed they were getting major international awards," he says. "Then in 1996, an Israeli sparkling wine won at the international Wine and Spirit Competition. This is quite a feat.
"The soil conditions and the type of irrigation and climate are perfect for the quality wines. The wineries have also had the advantage of technology from America."
Any new wine needs tasting before you can pass a judgement on it, of course, and that's where the Wine and Food Academy comes in. Run by gourmet Kenneth Harry Putt, this group of amateur wine tasters get together every week to pronounce on the latest Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon.
Putt says he came across Israeli wine when it began to win the prestigious awards. "I thought to myself a few years ago, I really must keep an eye on this wine.
"There's been a huge investment in Israeli wine in the last 20 years. Wine making originated in the Black Sea area and we know that when Moses was leading his people out of bondage, he sent his spies on ahead to look at the promised land - and they came back with a vine laden with grapes."
Notable wineries in Israel are Carmel SCV, The Tishbi Estate Winery, Binyamina Wine Cellars and Barkan Wine Cellars in Binyamina, Segal Wines and Efrat Wine Cellars.
The wines the group tried came from the Golan Heights Winery, which produces wine under three labels: Yarden Gamla and Golan.
The winery is high up on the Golan Heights and is also producing Galilee 2000 - a wine to celebrate the Millennium. The winery makes kosher wine - which means that only religiously observant Jews have come into contact with it.
The group tried a Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine, a Sauvignon Blanc, a Chardonnay and a Muscat white wine, plus three reds - a Mount Hermon, a Gamla Cabernet Sauvignon and a Merlot.
Each one of them got a resounding thumbs up from the group of tasters. The sparkling wine was as good as a champagne, they decided, and at £12.50, a reasonable buy.
The Gamla Sauvignon Blanc was fruity and drinkable - and reasonable at £6.75 - while the Yarden Chardonnay, although more expensive at £8.75, was rich, warm and delicious.
The whole group pointed out that the wines they were tasting were sometimes not as expensive as French wines - and possibly better value in some cases. The red wines were reasonable value: £6.75 for the Yarden Mount Hermon Red, £8.50 for the Gamla Cabernet Sauvignon and the Yarden Merlot came in at £9.95.
Special mention was given to the Muscat, a sweet wine that tasted of peaches but which did not cloy, which cost £6.40. The Yarden Melot won praise for its complexity - it was as close to a French wine as you'd get, the tasters decided.
The award-winning Tishbi brandy, which costs a hefty £25, was billed as delicious, without any eye-stinging aroma. It was warm, velvety and cosy.
"What is interesting is that these wines are in the style of classic French wines", says Lumanov. "They have their own distinction and idiosyncrasies that make them outstanding. They show a stunning amount of quality."
Throughout all the wines there was a particular identifiable strain, they were consistent. That is an important fact. "All in all, you're getting a very interesting wine, the quality is very good and it is at a very reasonable price. You can't always get the quality at that price for French wine. You can pay double that for a Bordeaux."
The problem at the moment is with distribution - the industry is still in its infancy and not much is produced. Lumanov will be travelling to Israel to discuss the problem with the Israeli wine suppliers at International Trade Fairs later in the year.
"Presumably because Israeli wines have gone to Jewish communities in the past and because they have been poor wines coming out of the country, generally used for religious purposes, they have had a bad press", he says. Judging by the enthusiastic response at the Wine & Food Academy, that reputation is no longer deserved. It could be time to impress your guests with something new.
For more information on Israeli wine and to place orders call Avery's of Bristol on 0117 421 4145 or House of Hallgarten on 01582 722 538. Other British stockists include Amazing Grapes in London (020 8202 2631), Soudry in Glasgow (0141 639 7730), and Selfridges in London (020 7629 1234) and in Manchester (0161 629 1234).
Safeway stocks Israeli wines, including a Carmel Dry White, 1997 and five red wines; Garmel Dry Red 1997, Palwin No 10 NV, Palwin 11 NV, Palwin No 4 NV, and Carmel Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1991.
Eikoku News Digest No. 774: January 2001: Translation from Japanese
'Taste of Heaven at this Wine Tasting!'
Can you say what the connection is between cabbage, coffee, and tobacco? Yes. All these words are used for appreciating wines. But I wondered what kind of wine tastes like cabbage!
So, I visited The Wine & Food Academy in South London to find out more. Here, they offer wine tasting classes, which consist of ten sessions each term, all year round. Students taste an average of 60 different kinds of wine per term. The classes cover various topics: knowing about grapes, comparing characteristic tastes of wine from various regions, matching wines with foods, and so on. Students are from various backgrounds too. Some are working in the food industry; some are enjoying wine just for fun. Some have already completed several terms, and some are absolute beginners.
In the beginning, we place our glasses of wine on a large sheet of paper for a white background, to appreciate and compare the colours. Then, the bouquet. Finally we taste them. Formally, you should spite out the wine, but never mind; I swallowed it like the other people did.
"This red wine has a deep ruby colour, and I feel the taste is a bit like blackberry." You don't have to worry if you can't explain how it tastes like an expert would. You own sense is most respected, even though you are a beginner. And through proper experiences, your sensitivity will be sharpened and get more sophisticated. Until then, maybe you will be able to find more suitable words to explain wines with different character. But most of all, the wines are there to enjoy!
Mr Kenneth Harry Putt, the tutor of the class, said, "Find the wine you really like",and all the people seemed to enjoy themselves a lot in a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere. The class puts emphasis on matching the wines with food as well. We first tasted the wines alone, and then the meal was served. I was surprised that my impressions of the wines totally changed when they came with the food. For example, a rich red wine went very well with strong cheese. To be honest, I didn't like the wine at first, but then when I tasted the combination with the cheese - it made a mellow harmony in my mouth and I liked it after all!
I learned a lot of new things on that evening too. One of the useful things is to make sure that you let your wine breathe well in advance before you drink. The air makes the wine milder, and you will taste the difference very clearly. On my way back home, I started thinking about a dinner with a nice wine at home for the coming weekend......
By Hiroko ABE-POULLAIN
The Wine and Food Academy : Wine Tastings, Courses & Events in London