I was recently at a supermarket press tasting, and one of the buyers – new to the game – commented that he was surprised how well we (the wine journos) all got along. ‘After all, you’re competitors,’ he noted.
I was pleased he made this observation. We do get along. But it hadn’t really occurred to me that we should behave any differently, and I don’t think of my fellow wine writers as competitors. We all (perhaps with one or two exceptions) co-exist really well, and attending tastings feels like mixing with your colleagues at work. As a freelancer, it’s nice to feel that you are part of a bigger community.
How is this cohesion maintained? It’s as if there are some unwritten rules for wine writers that we all strive to abide by, and which keeps the community together. They would be something like this:
- Be collegiate. Be nice to your fellow wine writers and behave as part of a team. When you go on press trips, join in – have a drink at the bar at the end of the day. Show interest in others. Greet fellow writers with a friendly smile, a kiss, a hug.
- No prima donnas allowed. I know we are each managing our own media brand, but we need to remember that in the grand scheme of things, none of us matter, so let’s keep our egos in check.
- Don’t lie. In your self-promotion, don’t exaggerate your readership figures or your webstats, or do silly things like buy twitter followers.
- As much as it is humanly possible, share in the joy of others’ success. Your turn will come.
- Don’t be a dick and behave competitively. Show other wine writers respect on social media and don’t be unnecessarily argumentative. Don’t have a thin skin if others rib you.
- Follow the basic rules of being a nice human: always think the best of others, be kind where you can, and forgive people quickly if they offend or hurt you.
- Be supportive and welcoming towards newcomers, and younger writers. We don’t want to be a closed club. We want to avoid cliques. We need new, young, talented writers to keep us on our toes!
- Don’t sell out, and don’t behave parasitically. If you wanted to get rich you should have gone into the financial world. Keep your integrity in the face of £££ or you will be letting us all down. And don’t keep trying to take money from wine producers by various schemes. They have a bad enough time with supermarkets and major retailers coming after them for cash (‘promotional support’). Don’t muddy the water for the rest of us.
We wine journos are in the middle of press tasting season at the moment, with all the major supermarkets showing off their ranges. Buying standards for UK supermarkets are very high, but what makes life difficult for the buyers are their margin requirements, especially in the days of 25% off entire range special offers. So they end up paying relatively little for the wines they list (did you know that on average supermarkets will pay producers less than 3 Euros for a wine they list at £9.99?). So what we are faced with at these tastings tends to be well made but dull wines that lack real personality. There are exceptions, though. Here are just a few of my picks from the Waitrose press tasting last week.
Feiler-Artinger Blaufränkisch 2013 Burgenland, Austria
Biodynamic viticulture, clay limestone soils. Juicy, bright and fresh with nice raspberry and cherry fruit with a bit of grip. Very stylish and appealing. 89/100 (£11.29 Waitrose)
Tikveš Aemelia Shiraz/Vranec/Petit Verdot 2013 Macedonia
45% each of Shiraz and Vranec with the balancing 10% Petit Verdot. 13.3% alcohol. Beautifully floral blackberry and blackcurrant nose. Sweet, ripe, pure textured palate with amazing purity of fruit. Quite delicious. 90/100 (£8.99 Waitrose)
Stemmari Pinot Noir 2012 Sicily, Italy
Normally I wouldn’t expect much from a Sicilian Pinot, but this is rather good. From chalky soils at an altitude of 250 metres, it’s juicy, bright, berryish and very tasty, with supple red cherry fruit and some leafy notes, as well as plums and spice. 88/100 (£7.99 Waitrose)
Terredora di Paolo Aglianico 2011 Campania, Italy
13% alcohol. From calcareous soils, just 7 days on the skins. Juicy, bright and mellow with nice spicy, grippy structure under the red berry and cherry fruit. Quite stylish: a lighter interpretation of Aglianico. 90/100 (£12.99 Waitrose)
La Rioja Alta Viña Arana Reserva 2006 Rioja, Spain
This is just classic Rioja. Sweet berries, cream, coconut, spice and vanilla notes all merge together to form a coherent whole, with some nice fruit meshing with the secondary characters very well. Mellow and delicious. 93/100 (£22.49 Waitrose)
Escarpment Kupe Pinot Noir 2011 Martinborough, New Zealand
Beautifully silky and textured, yet really well defined with black cherry and plum fruit. Real substance here with layers of flavour and good structure, and some floral, meaty overtones. 94/100 (£32.99 Waitrose)
Ghost Corner Pinot Noir 2013 Elim, South Africa
11 year old vines. This is fabulous stuff, and shows the potential of Elim. Pale coloured with lovely fresh, subtle, leafy red cherry fruit. Nice texture and some fine spiciness. This wine has real finesse and elegance. 93/100 (£19.49 Waitrose)
Château Rahoul 2010 Graves, Bordeaux, France
I do like good white Bordeaux, and this wine falls into that category. 65% Semillon, 35% Sauvignon Blanc, pressed with inert gas and fermented and aged for 8 months in oak. Very fresh, fine and linear with citrus and pear fruit. Real finesse and delicacy here. 92/100 (£16.99 Waitrose)
These wines were recently tasted at a rather fine lunch at La Trompette, which is a great restaurant. It went on a long time, as you can imagine. I’m always struck by how well older bottles of top Bordeaux show in these situations, and how inconsistent red Burgundy can be. And the Rhône can be very strong, when it’s the right people making the wine.
François Cotat Chavignol La Grande Côte 1992 Loire, France
This has aged beautifully. Lovely grapefruit, herbs, tangerine and some sweet crystalline fruits. Still very bright and precise with nice maturity. Fabulous stuff. 94/100
Chapoutier Ermitage Blanc De L’Orée 2003 Northern Rhône, France
Mature, toasty and creamy with nice texture to the pear and peach fruit with some bold melony richness. Quite mellow with richness, texture and a spicy finish. 93/100
Faiveley Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru 1995 Burgundy, France
Lovely aromatics: taut, spice blackberries and black cherry fruit. Grippy, spicy, vivid palate which is tannic and bold. A fresh, intense red Burgundy that’s detailed and taut, but not ready yet. 93/100
Ponsot Chappelle Chambertin Grand Cru 2000 Burgundy, France
Rich, warm and spicy with real density, and some subtle savoury soy sauce notes as well as hints of tar and spice. Grippy and fresh, and quite savoury. 93/100
Rossignol Trapet Latricières Chambertin Grand Cru 1998 Burgundy, France
Very appealing with meaty, spicy characters alongside elegant cherry and raspberry fruit. Detailed with hints of iodine, meat and spice under the sleek fruit. Very interesting. 94/100
Château Pichon Baron 1988 Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
Slightly lifted nose with lovely gravelly, spicy, blackcurrant fruit. Fresh and gravelly with lovely fruit. So stylish and detailed: a beautiful wine drinking well now. 95/100
Château Haut Brion 1988 Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux, France
Superbly elegant with supple blackberry and black cherry fruit. Really elegant with supple, smooth black fruits and some gravelly structure. Real finesse and depth. 96/100
Château Haut-Bailly 1995 Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux, France
Gravelly black cherry and blackberry fruit with nice spice and grip. Lovely weight. Nice grip and some blackcurrant bud character. Rich. 94/100
Chave Hermitage 1997 Northern Rhône, France
Iodine, blood, minerals, black cherries and plums. This is just so northern Rhône in character. Really fresh red fruits with lots of detail and a hint of pepper. 95/100
Domaine de Solitude Châteauneuf du Pape Reserve 2000 Rhône, FranceWarm, spicy and earthy with some tarry detail. Smooth and sweet and quite complex with nice grip and lovely fruit. Very stylish. 94/100
Clos des Papes Châteauneuf du Pape 2000 Rhône, France
Fresh with lovely black cherry and plum fruit as well as some savoury, bloody, meaty notes. Nice freshness with some savoury grip under the sweet black fruits. 93/100
Loosen Wehlenher Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese 1989 Mosel, GermanyVery fresh and intense with bright citrus fruit. Nice precision to this stylish, rather delicate wine with herbs and pith notes. Still pretty youthful. 93/100
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Apologies for being a week without updating this blog. Normally I update daily, so this has been very uncomfortable for me. It was a technical issue to do with the maximum permitted size of my database. It was
It got too big. I updated my WordPress install to the latest version and this pushed the database far enough for me to be locked out by my hosting provider. So the blog was still active; I just couldn’t make new entries.
So, I had to upgrade my webspace, and wait for the upgrade to come into action, and then the server path for perl changed, so I had to edit my cgi scripts, and I had to dig around the wordpress php files to find out what database version is related to WordPress 4.0 and then go into my sql database, find the right line, and edit that to match. And I’m not a tecchie, really. So it was a bit scary. Other people pay people to do this sort of stuff, but since the beginning (hand coded html) I’ve always wanted to do everything myself. That’s how you learn.
So rather than agonize about my blog situation, the week off blogging has given me a chance to think about future directions and how I might do what I do better. Which areas should I focus on? How can I earn more from my web stuff so that I can devote more time to it?
I have some ideas, but I’d love to hear from others what they like about what I do (if, of course they don’t), and what they’d like to see more of. I’d also value constructive criticism (but go easy and don’t be mean, I’m only a think-skinned real person and I prefer my hard truths to be sugar-coated).
Here are some of the articles I have added to the main wineanorak site in the last week:
An amazing tasting of Veuve Clicqout older vintages in different formats
Matello: the first producer write up from July’s Oregon trip
Heaps Good: stylish Slovenian wines from a Kiwi expat
Vina Caric: lovely wines from Hvar, Croatia
Now this is an interesting wine. It’s a Semillon Gris from Swartland (South Africa) stars Mullineux.
This is what Andrea Mullineux says about it:
Sémillon Gris is historically significant in South Africa, not just for the old vine aspect, but for its previous popularity. In the early 1800s, 80% of the vines in South Africa were thought to be Semillon. By the mid-1800s 50% of the Semillon had gone through the natural mutation and turned into Semillon Gris. This variation of the variety only happens slowly, vine per vine, after the vines are at least 30 years old. My vineyard, planted on Paardeberg decomposed Granite in 1959, is 55 years old and has only partially turned gris. I would say 70% of the vineyard is now Sémillon Gris, so it is hand picked to ensure that ONLY the gris bunches are picked.
Although this CAN happen in other parts of the world, it is extremely rare and rarely recorded. That is why it is so special for South Africa. It has proven itself to have adapted to our terroir and does very well, even in the extreme Swartland.
What happened to all the Semillon Gris? By the late 1800s most of the Semillon had been ripped out to make way for newly popular plantings of Palomino and Muscadel, then to Cinsault and Chenin, and eventually Cabernet and Chardonnay. There is not a lot of Semillon Gris around these days.
The grapes were pressed whole bunch to neutral barrels where it aged for one year. The label alcohol is 13%, pH 3.2, TA 5.8g/l.
The wine is really distinctive, with lots of personality. It’s only being released as an auction wine in the Cape Winemakers Guild Auction (which takes place today).
CWG Mullineux The Gris Semillon 2013 Swartland, South Africa
Very interesting nose: really mineral and spicy with a hint of reduction and some subtle marmalade notes. The palate is complex with sweet pear and ripe apple characters, with mineral undertones. Fresh, precise and beautifully balanced with a supple personality. Good acidity, beautifully integrated into the rest of the wine. 94/100
In Jerez. For the first time. Can you beleive it? I’m quite a sherry fan, but it has taken me ages to actually get to visit.
I lucked out: for my first trip to the region I’d been invited by Gonzalez Byass to blend the 2014 release of the Las Palmas sherries, perhaps the ultimate expressions of Finos. I arrived Tuesday night and was met by Martin Skelton, MD of Gonzalez Byass in the UK, and we nipped out for a quick bite at a small neighbourhood tapas bar, where I was briefed on the program for the next couple of days.
Wednesday was an in-depth immersion into sherry. We began in the vineyards, looking at two of the famous pagos (the term used to describe the small hills in the region on which the best vineyards are found). Sherry is very much a vineyard wine, even though what happens in the bodega is obviously important. The white albarizo soils (limestone with a bit of clay) are really striking.
Then it was off to the cellars. Gonzalez Byass is one of the largest sherry producers, so they have a lot of cellars, containing a lot of barrels. We tasted through the current portfolio with chief winemaker Antonio Flores, and lunched well at Arturos.
Today was the big day, though. The task? With Antonio, we tasted through three different old fino soleras to pick the wines that will be the una, dos and tres palmas wines of 2014. It meant looking at lots of casks, selecting the best, and then retasting samples from them in the tasting room. Then we looked at four casks of very old amontillado for the quatras palma wine, of which I had to choose just one.
It was a great experience. And they really did let me select the barrels I liked the best, which was super cool! I’ll be writing it up in full soon.
El Cellar de Can Roca is one of Spain’s most celebrated restaurants. Run by the three Roca brothers, Joan, Josep and Jordi, and based in Girona, it has the full complement of Michelin stars, and in the last couple of years it has been number 1 and then number 2 on the world’s 50 best restaurants list. So maybe it would be fairer to say that it’s one of the world’s most celebrated restaurants. And a bunch of us got to eat their food because the brothers came over to cook at Mas Rabell de Fontenac for a lunch hosted by Miguel A. Torres. It was memorable.
Miguel A Torres
The food was a wonderful combination of the novel and surprising, and more traditional Spanish cooking. It avoided being gimmicky (although the stuffed olives with anchovies served on a bonsai olive tree was heading that way), and was solidly delicious all the way through. After 9 ‘snacks’, each of the 7 courses was served with a different Torres family wine.
Vegetable broth with diced scallops, pine sprouts, grapes, flowers, lemons and laurel
Sea bass supreme with chardonnay sauce
Mandala of lamb with eggplant, pepper, mint and eucalyptus
Iberian pork with mole cocoa and carrob, figs and infusion of roasted red peppers
The best: veal shank cooked for 72 hours with chantrelles and truffled board
Marimar Estate Albariño 2013 Russian River Valley, California
Bright and focused with fresh citrus fruit with a bit of pear richness. Very bright and pure and quite delicious. This works. 90/100
Torres Milmanda Chardonnay 1996 Conca de Barbera, Spain
Lovely mature wine with nuts, pears and some peach notes, as well as delicate toast. Very stylish with real finesse and none of the heaviness you might expect from a wine of this age. Honey, marzipan, hazelnuts and baked apple notes add interest. Lovely. 95/100
Manso de Velasco 2006 Curicó, Chile
A Cabernet Sauvignon from 100 year old vines from Torres’ estate in Molina, harvested at 4 tons/hectare. Rich, concentrated, ripe yet well defined with grippy blackcurrant fruit. Dense and grippy with some blackcurrant bud notes. Showing cedary richness, and a little bit of evolution. Very effective in this ripe, dense style. 91/100
Jean Leon Vinya La Scala Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva 2001 Penedès, Spain
Dense, spicy and savoury with hints of earth as well as grippy structure. Complex with a nice savoury side to the sweet berry fruits. Warm but elegant with lovely structure. 94/100
Torres Reserva Real 2000 Penedès, Spain
A Bordeaux-style blend from the Les Arnes vineyard. Structured yet fine with lovely aromatics of cherries, plums, blackberries and spice, with an attractive green hint in the background. The palate is generous yet fresh with chalk and gravel notes adding savoury interest. Lovely precision here. 95/100
Torres Mas Borràs Pinot Noir 1996 Penedès, Spain
Herby, spicy and a bit earthy with some cedary notes together with soy sauce characters making this a mature, quite savoury wine. Dry and earthy. Quite evolved, but with a lot of savoury complexity. 90/100
Torres Nectaria 2009 Curicó, Chile
A botrytis Riesling aged in oak. Remarkable stuff: sweet, intense and with aromas of apricot and marmalade. Some grippy, quite pithy citrus notes on the palate as well as lots of sweetness. Well balanced and complex. 93/100
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So it was Monday evening in Barcelona. Fiona, Trevor, Treve and I headed down from the hotel to the Plaça Catalunya, and from here down the tourist-infested but still very attractive La Rambla. Then, up a graffiti-encrusted street right just after the opera house we came to Cañete Barra, which had been recommended to us. It was everything you’d want from a high-end tapas bar.
Trevor and Fiona
We sat at the bar, the best place to be, and went through a succession of beautifully executed small plates. Considering the bustling nature of the place – full to the seams, even on a Monday night – service was really good.
My favourite dish, apart from the fabulous padron peppers (which is always my favourite), was a Spanish take on a corn dog. I’ve never had a corn dog, and Treve says that I don’t need to go out of my way to try one, but this was really tasty – a thin chorizo sausage fried in a pancake coating. It was delicious.
We had lots of fried things. There’s something immensely comforting about food that has been fried, although you can have too much of a good thing. So we had some vegetable dishes too, including a brilliant riff around the theme of green beans.
To drink? Beer to start. We were hardly hungry, having finished a gazillion course three-michelin star-type lunch at 5 pm, so beer seemed a good beginning. Although they didn’t have a proper beer list, just a couple of average St Moritz beers on tap. Then we went to Cava, and from there to the Petalos Bierzo: comfort Spanish red wine for me.
The Cava was a new one to me that came highly recommended: Juve y Camps, and it was really good, in a pure, bright, fruity style. The Petalos was its usual generous, balanced, fresh fruity self, and both were relative bargains in the mid-20 Euros, if I recall correctly (actually, the Cava might have crept into the 30s. Whatever).
Such a fun evening, and it was testament to the quality of the Cañete food that even though we had arrived pretty full, we still managed to eat lots over a prolonged period.
The Primum Familiae Vini are an association of top European wine domaines, and we were treated to a tasting of some of their wines, presented by Christophe Brunet, wine ambassador of the PVF and Fiona Beckett, food and wine journalist. They were providing the chat, with Fiona’s brief being suggesting suitable pairings for the wines. She did really well: it’s not a task I’d envy. Fiona’s suggested matches are here.
Champagne Pol Roger Vintage 2004
60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay. Lively, complex nose with white peach, citrus and subtle cream notes, as well as some ripe apple and a bit of toast. The palate is lively, powerful, fresh and complex, combining delicacy and finesse. So pure with fabulous focus. 94/100
Drouhin Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot ‘Marquis de Laguiche’ 2011 Burgundy, France
From a 2.5 hectare plot, this is ripe but restrained with nice textured pear fruit and some brighter citrus notes as well as some stony, mineral character in the background. Creamy and with some delicacy. 92/100
Egon-Muller Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett 2013 Mosel, Germany
From a tricky year with the lowest yields since the 1940s, this is wonderfully lively with a mineral, citrus and melon nose. The palate is beautifully detailed with crystalline fruits and some spicy notes, as well as lemon and grapefruit freshness. Fresh and intense, a proper kabinett. 94/100
Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto 2012 Tuscany, Italy
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, aged in small oak of which half is new. Tight, fresh, vivid and spicy with firm tannins and dense blackberry and blackcurrant fruit, as well as some cedar notes. Completely closed for business. High quality but a bit international? 91/100
Marchesi Antinori Tignanello 2011 Tuscany, Italy
Youthful, sleek and quite polishhed with sweet black fruits and some grippy structure. Hints of tar and herbs. Still quite youthful and tight, this is already nicely complex with a slightly wild side. Great potential for development. 93/100
Château de Beaucastel 2008 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône, France
Ripe, sweet, but really well defined black fruits nose with complex notes of meat, liquorice and floral black cherries. So expressive with lovely balance between the sweet ripe fruit and the more savoury olive and meat characters. From a cooler vintage, this has a touch of the northern Rhône about it, and it is fabulous. 95/100
Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5 Ano 2010 Ribera del Duero, Spain
Dense, youthful and rich with bold primary fruit and notes of spice and vanilla from the oak. Taut, ripe blackberry and cherry fruit dominate with lovely coffee and chocolate complexity. Still primary, pure and incredibly dense this needs time to come together, but it could be a 30 year wine, and it’s fabulously good. 95/100
Château Mouton Rothschild Petit Mouton 2005 Bordeaux, France
Hmm, old fashioned Bordeaux, and quite bretty, which is a real suprise. But it sort of works. There’s a wild animal edge to the dense blackberry and blackcurrant fruit, with some grippy structure and a bit of spice. It has appeal, but not for everyone. 92/100
Torres Reserva Real 2010 Penedes, Spain
In 1995 the King of Spain visited Torres. He was in love with Bordeaux wines, so Torres promised to make a small-production Bordeaux-style wine for him from a small 1.5 hectare vineyard with dark grey, clay-like slate soils. Just 200 cases are made in a typical vintage. Fresh, vivid blackberry and raspberry fruit here. A dense wine with good structure and well integrated oak. Quite primary, and not at all over-ripe, with hints of coffee and spice. Real potential. 94/100
Hugel Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive 2007 Alsace, France
Really exotic nose with sweet grape, lychee, honey and melon notes. Powerful, concentrated oalate with lovely lychee and spice characters. Richly textured and almost jellyish with sweet fruit. 93/100
Dow’s Vintage Port 2000 Douro, Portugal
Ripe, sweet and dense with nice leather and herb complexity. Beginning to develop interesting complexity. Still tannic with direct fruit beginning to turn mellow at the edges. Grippy, fresh and detailed with lots of potential. Warm, spicy and intense. 94/100
Ferran Centelles presenting at the Wine & Culinary Forum
So here are more highlights from the Wine & Culinary forum here in Barcelona. You can read Part 1, here.
Victor de la Serna
Noted Spanish wine journalist Victor de la Serna interviewed Asia’s first MW, Jeannie Cho Lee, about the future for wine in the far east. There were a number of insights. Jeannie thinks we should look at Japan, which she reckons is usually a decade or a generation ahead of the rest of Asia. Here, consumption of wine has levelled off over the last 10 years. Is there a danger that wine consumption in China could level off after such an explosive growth period? But she still thinks mainland China is a key target market, simply because of the numbers and interest in the first, second and even third tier cities.
What about wine with food, asks Victor? Could this be key to growing Chinese wine consumption? She says yes and no. In the leading cities, the top restaurants have become more wine friendly. They have wine lists, and increasingly they have food plated in courses, served in sequence. But even top restaurants still have the tradition of gan bei, where a toast is made and you have to down your glass, even if it’s full of high-end wine.
In homes? Well, there’s just no room for wine. Jeannie thinks the real room for growth is in after dinner drinking venues, and she’d like to see casual wine bars opening – ‘Starbucks for wine.’ In the far east people tend to eat faster, get out of the restaurant, and then linger somewhere else.
Ferran Centelles delivered a really cool presentation, with some taste demonstrations, looking at impossible wine and food pairings. One of these is artichokes.
Artichokes contain two compounds – cholorgenic acid and cynarin – both of which are reported to alter taste in a large proportion of the population. For many, they modify the palate, making subsequent tastes seem sweeter. In a few cases, however, they make things seem more bitter. This is challenging for wine matching. However, a lot depends on how you cook the artichoke, and of course your biology. Centelles’ demonstrated match with artichoke drew a mix of responses from the audience.
Another difficult match is vinegar. ‘Let’s forget about the idea that vinegar and wine don’t mix,’ says Centelles. ‘It’s not as terrible as we thought.’ He demonstrated this with a gherkin paired with a red wine, which wasn’t disastrous at all. His third supposed ‘no go’ food was egg, but – once again – the taste test showed that it’s a finding that should be revisited.
Montreal-based François Chartier has developed a reputation as one of the top experts in food and wine pairing, and he led a session involving three chefs (Mexican, Indian and Quebecois), titled ‘The end of the geographic barriers in taste.’ This was a cool session with some lovely dishes matched with wine.
Chartier’s big idea is that by putting aroma molecules into related families, he can devise surprising, synergistic pairings by means of focusing on the core aromatic molecules shared by different foods and drinks. ‘If we work with aromatic molecules there is a greater impact than with working with tastes,’ he says. ‘We should combine ingredients linked with the same aromatic molecules, looking for an aromatic synergy greater than the sum of its parts.’
One molecule Chartier chose to illustrate his point was sotolon, which is widely found in foods and even some drinks. It’s one of the products of the Maillard reaction (which occurs when sugar groups are exposed to heat in the presence of amino acids, also known as the browning reaction), and is found in maple syrup, mushrooms and curry (methi is high in sotolon), and barrel-aged white wines, for example.
The three chefs, Vineet Bhatia, Stephane Modat and Daniel Ovadia, all did demonstrations and we got to try their dishes with appropriate wines. It was a really good session, and I’m going to read Chartier’s book and look into the theory behind matching based on aroma families.