The following essay is my submission for this months Wine Writing Challenge.
Just over a year ago, whilst idly browsing wine sites on the internet, I saw something that made me bristle with excitement – ‘The Wine Century Club’ (http://www.winecentury.com). Listed as a fun and adventurous approach to trying new wines and creating a record of your vinious experiences, the club was set up by Steve De Long of the De Long winery, and was open to anyone who has tried at least 100 different grape varieties. As I write this essay, it has over 1,600 members worldwide.
Researching what it was all about and when it was set up, my enthusiasm was slightly dulled by reading comments from people who didn’t seem to understand why you would participate. They were eager to point out that there was little reason as you didn’t really learn anything from the process and that there was no way that you could recall every variety that you had ever tried. They went on, stating that even if you took the most meticulous of tasting notes, the fancier or rarer varieties were likely to be miniscule parts of a blend and therefore unable to be singled out as having been ‘tasted’. Whilst these are valid points, I stuck to my reasoning that it encourages you to broaden your palate, actively search for something new to try, and I made a vow to actively study up on any new ‘finds’ that I may make in the process. In addition, aside of it being another way to make wine drinking fun, it was a challenge, and challenges are meant to be met.
I set about starting my list.
There are multiple tiers of membership (up to 500 varieties tried!), but when you go for your first 100 varieties you don’t need to list the specific bottle you have tried. Indeed the whole structure of the club is based on the honour system, in that you’re only fooling yourself if you cheat. May the wrath of Bacchus curse your palate, as the entry form states.
I went through the provided list of varieties, checking off the ones that there was no doubt that I’d drunk at some point – Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet, Pinot, Riesling etc. When switching between bottles in regular drinking it probably feels like you are trying a lot more different varieties than you actually are, and my list petered out at somewhere around 40 different types. Where could I go next?
Thankfully as a diploma student of the WSET (Wines & Spirits Education Trust) I had spent multiple weeks in a classroom environment trying flight after flight of wine, and part of the whole point was to ensure that you were well acquainted with a wide variety of styles and tastes. To further aid the learning process you were expected to take detailed notes and thankfully I still had mine. Scores more varieties hit my list and took me well over my 100 variety target, and I was able to start fleshing out my lists with the actual producers and vintage details which added more legitimacy to my application. Even allowing for things like disputes from synonyms (Zinfandel and Primitivo, for example) I had enough to join the club, and so I sent off my form. A good month later (the club is based in the US and I am in the UK) I was the proud recipient of a splendid certificate, and happy in the knowledge that I was only one of 30 people in the UK (who have participated, obviously) to have reached the 100 mark. Well, I was happy for a second, and then I was already working out how to reach the next rung up.
Trying 200 different varieties was a daunting thing, but this made me think all the harder about the task at hand. I dusted off the tasting notes from my wine club purchases which added a few more ‘off the beaten track’ varieties to the list, but it was time to up my game. In a moment of serendipitous timing, wine magazine Decanter announced that they would be hosting their first ever Mediterranean Wine Encounter, bringing together producers from stalwarts France, Italy and Spain, as well as up and coming countries like Israel, Croatia, Turkey and Slovenia. Looking through the event catalogue my eyes were alight at the number of varieties that were featured that I had never even heard of – Pavlos, Goustolidi, Callet, Krassato – and needless to say, I booked my ticket there and then.
I was now up to about 170 varieties when I hit upon the fact that, whilst exploring these far flung places making wine, there were plenty of English (aka Germanic) varieties that I hadn’t even tried. I set about scheduling up visits to numerous UK wineries (which you can read about in some of my earlier blogs). This added a few more obscure ones to the list – Rondo, Kerner and Huxelrebe to name just three, and my list now stands tantalizingly close to the all-important figure of 200 varieties tasted. I now actively (and excitedly) scan the supermarket shelves and wine lists online or in restaurants, looking to add to my expanding collection.
As Christmas approaches, wine season kicks in to gear here in the UK and I have several tasting events lined up over the coming weeks. Here’s hoping that they have a few new varieties to try alongside the usual suspects! The whole experience has been tremendous fun for me – why not give it a try for yourself?