’SMOOTH red wine is a deliberate stylistic choice by some winemakers, the result of very ripe fruit and low tannins.’
I always knew I liked smooth red wine but did not have the wine knowledge before to articulate why. This was until I was invited to St Mary’s Church, Hitcham Lane, Slough, for a wine-tasting evening with Katherine Dart, Master of Wine.
From the moment of meeting Katherine, I found her to be friendly, very engaging and knowledgeable.
As the evening progressed it did strike me that this was the best wine tasting I had ever been to and I've been to a few. This includes a wonderful and treasured trip to New Zealand about 10 years ago where my husband and I were let loose around the stunning vineyards of the Marlborough Region, cycling from vineyard to vineyard trying the best wines, purchasing a few - only to enjoy later in our camper van with a humble microwave meal!
The set-up was a bit more respectable this time, with our brilliant hosts Angela and Chris providing us with our plate of cheddar cheese, crackers and grapes - approximately 12 of us in number seated at tables in a “U” shape facing Katherine and within the confines of the cosy church hall.
We tried some new world wines, two red and two white, the first of which was The Francophile Chenin Blanc 2021, The Liberator. Katherine talked us through the appraisal process beginning with the colour of the wine which has a relationship to ageing and then onto the smell or “bouquet”. Fascinating that what might look to some as slightly smug ‘swishing’ is meant to open up the scent derived from fermentation and exposure to oak. Likewise the droplets of wine sliding back down into the glass from this process, “the legs” provides certain indications such as sugar content. The more sugar the stickier the legs and the slower they flow back down into the glass.
I enjoyed trying the first wine and felt like I was on the familiar ground until the evening changed, and by changed I mean it got even better, just like the fine wines being presented.
Katherine was great company and an excellent raconteur. There was no dreary slide packs just bright conversation. She was also a relaxed and intelligent responder to all our questions - taking us through everything from growers to importers, retailers, the effect of eucalyptus plants on the edges of one vineyard and how it affected taste, to the different types of corks and lids, to what is best regarding temperature ( she recommends chilling white wine - but not too much or it will affect the flavour so a solution being decanting into a carafe which will also open up the flavour). Katherine also touched on historically the purpose of lying wine down in racks rather than standing wine up, as well as the risks inherent in operating a vineyard business. The risks involved very much reminded me of betting on the Stock Exchange and financial concepts like ‘Long Tails’. Such a risky business it seems, including the unpredictability of Mother Nature, to me it also had echoes of the Amazon documentary Clarkson’s Farm.
There was a very engaging description of Katherine testing wines from as far back as the 1800s and a fascinating anecdote about her 104-year-old grandmother and how Katherine had tried a wine from the year of her grandmother’s birth and how extraordinary it was to do so.
I had thought the food and water provided with the wine was simply a lovely and appropriate touch, but it provided an education in its own right- demonstrating how fats and proteins can change or improve the taste of wine, likewise how eating fruit with wine might affect the taste, and that water cleanses the palate. Katherine herself admits that there are wines that she doesn't like so much in the form of a standalone drink but loves them when accompanied by food.
I was also stunned to learn that in her commercial job, Katherine can try 30 different wines until she gets palate fatigue and needs a break. Astounding really. Her palate is so refined that she can decipher what is a wine with good commercial value versus her personal preferences.
Little wonder I guess when you discover that becoming a Wine Master is a three-year course much more rigorous concerning the gateways for success than most other First Degrees I am familiar with. There are only 150 women in the world with this qualification and I’m extremely honoured that one of those is Katherine, who also happens to live in my hometown, Maidenhead.
I highly recommend you go to a wine tasting or contact her at her company Grapes and Nectar, and when you do - talking of First Degrees, please ask Katherine what lead her into her profession. It's a great story which you will enjoy along with your own fascinating and enjoyable wine experience.
By Nathalie De Juan
With thanks to Katherine Dart, Angela and Chris Berry.