“On went my hat of pretension as I cleaned my palate with water, alas no bread or crackers to ensure I started fresh with neutral flavours,” writes wine columnist RICHARD CALVER
HOW did I get my first gratis bottle of wine to review?
When I was placing an order with Capel Vale, a prominent WA winery, I asked the sales team member who took my order if they would like me to review any of their wines.
And, lo, when I opened the box that my order arrived in, there was a bottle of 2016 Regional Series Mount Barker Riesling tucked away in a corner. A sweet note accompanied it from one of Capel Vale’s business development managers indicating that I “might be interested in reviewing” the wine.
Not of a religious mindset but steeped in a tradition where Sunday school was a feature for a few years, I recalled Matthew 7:7: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you”. And, in this instance, it was the cellar door.
Perhaps infused with the biblical, my mind first turned to avarice. I searched the Capel Vale website and found that the wine could be purchased for $24.95. My next step was to determine the best way to review the wine and make it relevant to Canberra. I chose one of the fundamental characteristics of journalism: conflict. Someone struggling with an issue or against another is at the heart of many a story. So, I decided to compare the WA wine against a Canberra classic, a 2016 Mount Majura vineyard 2016 Riesling. The wine won a gold medal and trophy in the Canberra 2016 International Riesling Challenge. It was $29.90 at Vintage Cellars in Manuka. It started as the odds-on favourite.
The next step was to eliminate some of the personal bias in the comparison. I asked a friend who comes from WA and my son, who is loyal to this town, to be, avec moi, the tasting panel. They were asked, as usual, to just tell me if they liked the wine, if so why and which one of the two rieslings they preferred and why. To eliminate any bias based on geography, they first tasted the wine blind: this meant that no labels were disclosed rather than a preceding bacchanal.
To my surprise, they both liked the WA wine far more than the local. Comments were that its finish was cleaner and fuller. The Capel Vale is much more fruit driven, more tropical fruit than the Mount Majura that has a citrus element with a slaty finish. I liked them both but my son and my friend did not like the Mount Majura.
When we moved to dinner, there was still plenty of wine left. I’d cooked chicken with a lemon sauce and the bigger lycee-like flavours of the guest from the West went better with the food. The Mount Majura citrus element, like the rind of a lime, was considered by the panel as clashing with the sauce that dominated the palate rather than harmonising with the lemony flavour.
At the end of the evening, sitting back in my chair, swirling the Capel Vale in my glass, I thought: “I could do more of this reviewing stuff, it’s like I’d never really tasted wine before” and I heard the lyrics of that cheesy Kenny Loggins song “For the First Time”:
For the first time, I’m seeing who you are
I can’t believe how much I see
When you’re looking back at me…
For the first time.