Thursday, June 26, 2008

Wine, Food and The Muse

You may have experienced a different tone from the posts on this site recently. I have certainly felt the difference when trying to write posts. The main reason, I believe, is that I have not been drinking any wine (with one or two extremely minor exceptions) for the last few weeks because I may need to dash off to the local maternity ward at any moment, so need to be alert.

The excitement and stressful expectation of babies aside, I find that my Vinous Muse has decided to pack her bags and head off on a brief seaside holiday in the interim, and thus my motivation for passionate discourse has abated somewhat.

I'm considering setting myself, and anyone who cares to join in, a challenge: to spend a week eating and drinking ONLY (dinner) dishes & wine matches to be found on UK blogs

Even though I do not post tasting notes on the wines I drink, these wines do inspire me with questions, to do some research or elicit some sort of reaction, and without them I feel like I am missing out on something.

Not drinking, when I normally drink a glass or two most nights, is difficult enough, but not drinking and trying to write engaging content to inspire others to do so, is even more of a torture.

All will be resolved in the next few days (I hope) and normal service resumed.

I've been thinking about the kinds of wine drinkers again. I wondered whether it was just me that was really not interested in food & wine matching and tasting notes, or whether there were more of us? I totally understand why one would be interested in combining food & wine writing, but I have yet to be bitten by that bug.

I'm considering setting myself, and anyone who cares to join in, a challenge: to spend a week eating and drinking ONLY (dinner) dishes & wine matches to be found on UK blogs (it must be a blog!). It will require a lot more pre-planning and shopping than I'm used to, but it could be fun and I might learn to appreciate the art more.

Any suggestions on sites to use as sources gratefully appreciated. I already have my friends as Spittoon and Cooksister as inspiration. Any others?

(pictured: my attempt at food & wine matching)


"The Wine Conversation a proud supporter of both the 2008 American Wine Bloggers Conference and European Wine Bloggers Conference"

Thoughts on a European community

Gabriella asked me an interesting question regarding the European Wine Bloggers' Conference yesterday. We have focused a lot on getting bloggers excited about the opportunity of the conference, but what do our READERS think about it? Why should THEY care?

Admittedly we have not clarified that point very much, although it has always been part of our thinking.

Ryan and Gabriella were kind enough to post my response on their site, which you probably already read, but just in case, check it out here:

Why Should Readers Care About the European Wine Blogger Conference?

"In my view, the most important goal of the European Wine Bloggers’ Conference is to start a conversation between the European voices at this party. Readers in Europe, and indeed the rest of the world, want to hear a familiar perspective on wine and one that is relevant to them."

Monday, June 23, 2008

Blogger Profiles

In between posts on this site and my new Rioja blog at, I am also working hard with Ryan and Gabriella behind the scenes for the European Wine Bloggers' Conference.

One of the great things we have managed to do already is get all sorts of different bloggers, 80% of which you have probably never heard about despite them having around 100,000 monthly unique readers between them, to write a short biography on the site.

If you read nothing else, check out some of the biographies here and get to know a little more about the kinds of people that create wine blogs.

There are plenty more to come between now and the event, and hopefully we will have everyone covered before the big day so we all have a chance to recognise each other at the event.

You can read the latest post here, which happens to be about me (including a nice photo taken by my wife yesterday of yours truly having ignored the razor - again).

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Comedy, Love and Wine

If I may step down from my soapbox for a moment (I can hear your sighs of relief), I came across an interesting marketing concept only very recently.

[I tried to post about this yesterday, but their site was down, a technological hiccup that happens even to the largest companies as well as us little bloggers]

How to get younger people to learn about wine? One way is to combine it with theatre and comedy. I wish I had been able to do this when I was first learning about wine.

Hardy's (they of the mega-corporation) have launched a campaign called One Love Since 1853. Part of the campaign is a series of events around the UK being run by Chris Scott of ThirtyFifty (an innovative wine retailer/educator in his own right) which they are calling "sip-along theatrical productions".

The brief says:
Hardys, known for its straight talking, no nonsense approach to wine, has teamed up with ThirtyFifty to devise a world first in ‘educational entertainment’ - a series of interactive comedy shows to teach people everything they need to know about wine in just 30 minutes!

One of the jokes is that it takes 2 hours (according to the site) to learn "everything they need to know .. in 30 minutes", so I hope the other hour and a half is spent putting that knowledge into practice!

It is too late in the day to join in as the audience had to request tickets in advance, but one show is happening tonight (19 June 2008) in Manchester and there is a final event in Bristol (26th of June).

There could be tickets left, you never know, so head over to their sites and find out, or if you did attend one of the shows, please let us know how it was and what you learned.

[Update: Click here to read Eating Leeds' review of this event]

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Social Drunking

My last post despaired against law-makers for their approach to problem drinking.

I called upon them to think bigger thoughts and help shape a new common goal that might divert attention from day to day angst leading to binge drinking (oh, and help to save the planet in the process).

A couple of things have occurred to me since that post.

1. It will never happen. Such a movement will have to come from 'me'/'us', not 'them'. [thanks to my lovely wife for reminding me of my previous thoughts about this topic. In my 'red mist' I got rather carried away with utopian dreams]

2. I've fallen, once again, into the trap of thinking others are "like me" - "I thinking" in Mark Earls' excellent Herd Thinking work

I assume that others could/should think like me about alcohol (or anything) simply because I hold it to be true. But they don't. However much I try and explain the error of their ways.

Are we the same? After all, I drink alcohol. Binge drinking kids and young adults drink alcohol.

No, the actual similarity is that we drink to socialise.

I drink to learn and explore, in the main. I like to share that knowledge gained with others who like wine in particular (I posted on this some months ago)

Those that are the target for this sort of legislation drink to socialise too, but alcohol, drinking to the point of drunkenness, is the objective of socialising, not as a subject to be explored. I have now seen this called "Social Drunking" - a great term for a sad state of affairs.

I found this presentation, courtesy of my friend Andrew (who knows a fair amount about this subject and helps to bring solid research to this debate, not just my ramblings), to be very enlightening. It is worth reading through it just to see how these 18-25 year-olds think about alcohol.

It would probably be unfair of me to point out that wine plays no part in their drinking (except for the one woman who mentions it in relation to 'sensible' drinking at home). All of those involved in alcohol have a shared responsibility to do something about this problem, but it could be that there is something about wine, or how it is perceived, that differentiates it and that could help us improve drinking habits.

I would point out, however, that price of alcohol, or availability from off licences did not figure at all.

I still think that learning about CONSEQUENCES, whether for our planet, through our wasteful consumption, or short-termist commercial thinking impacting on the sustainability of jobs and culture, would also have an effect on people's attitudes to alcohol.

Certainly, one consequence of my own drinking is that I feel a responsibility to do something, however small, to try and encourage a sensible approach to alcohol - by young drinkers and legislators alike.

You never know!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Scotland and Binge Drinking

Although I consider myself to be "Scottish", I am really part of a substantial diaspora of Scots who feel quite passionately linked to the country whilst not having lived there much during our lives.

In my case, it was a visit to my family at least once a year for about 12 years, plus 4 years at University. I cannot therefore really comment on the day to day issues of alcohol abuse in the country, but I am quite aware that Scotland has major health issues associated with alcohol and drugs. Despite this, I think it is still important to speak up against decisions being taken that simply will not have any effect except to frustrate and inconvenience the vast law-abiding majority of drinkers.

You may already have heard that today the Scottish Parliament will be discussing the possibility of raising the age at which you can buy alcohol in the shops to 21 from the current age of 18. This will not apply in pubs and restaurants, only off licences.

To read more, click here for the Radio 4 Coverage (probably only available for 7 days from 16/06/2008) or here for the article.

I have already read a reasoned response from The Tasting Note which I encourage you to read as it prompted the following thoughts.

I agree with almost everything Peter says*. Why is it that politicians cannot think straight about alcohol? I posted something along these lines some time ago and it obviously needs updated. I have also mentioned my thoughts on binge drinking and taxation.

Education is key to this, such as the potentially useful developments at the Responsible Drinkers Alliance, but so is something else.

I find myself, maybe as I grow older (!), wishing that our country (Scotland or UK, whatever you identify with) had a shared purpose.

It occurred to me recently, listening to Bill Bailey on Desert Island Disks (see, told you I was getting old & fuddy-duddy) that in his past, as with many of the more creative personalities I happen to like that have appeared on this show, he was very much into punk music - it was liberating. It was an ACTIVE rebellion.

Now, the watchword is ... Whatever!

We have never been so ****** PASSIVE. And instead what do we do? We go out and get blind drunk, then vent frustrations, anger, anxiety and energy on each other.

Our politicians, of any political persuasion, need to find ways to engage all of us in something positive, not to fiddle around the edges with confusing 'initiatives' attacking the symptoms rather than the causes of this behaviour.

Education can start the discussion and even foster the conversation, but what alternatives are we offering people, whether they are children, young adults, or even disillusioned adults?

I realise this may not be the forum for this sort of topic as we are straying deep into the territory of political blogs, but I think it is part of the discussion.

If I was to suggest a possible path to follow, it would be to take the green agenda and REALLY go for it. We could make Scotland, or the UK, a real leader in this area and get everyone involved in recycling, living in a sustainable way and thinking of the implications of our actions.

There is no direct link with reducing binge drinking, but if we were engaging people, especially young people, and giving them opportunities to get involved in something they believed was meaningful, then I am certain it would be addressed.

The combined benefits to the planet and our society would be great, and we would have a tough, but useful, goal to share - and this could translate to all walks of life, including wine.

I sincerely hope that the Scottish Parliament will see that raising the legal age for buying alcohol is not the answer any more than simply increasing the price of alcohol through taxation or demonising the product itself.

For goodness sake, can we not have an adult conversation about this?

See also: CARDAS - Campaign Against Raising the Drinking Age in Scotland

* It is just a side issue, but one thing I am not sure about is the idea of limiting what individuals can buy. You'd easily get around it by buying from two shops and all it does (again) is annoy respectable drinkers wanting to buy alcohol. I do, however, think it would be a good idea to encourage ALL of those who buy alcohol to prove their age. Think 21, or 25 or whatever is fine, but it just makes everyone less uncomfortable and does make it easier to go after irresponsible retailers if necessary.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The thoughts of a Winefarmer

I've been meaning to say something about a blog I found some time ago (can it really be over a year?) but somehow I never knew how to put it correctly so I didn't, and now I feel guilty.

I feel guilty because Rob (that's him, not me) has a unique voice in wine blogging and I think we could all do with a dose of this reality.

So many blogs, including this one, dwell only on the consumption of wine. We agonise over how to rate a wine, how to share the drinking experience, where to spend our money, and maybe a little about those trips out to vineyards and to meet winemakers.

For most of us, that is our relationship with wine - as consumers.

There is a separate breed. Blogging winemakers. They know a lot more about the process of making wine and the real effort that goes into making those bottles we gratefully, or otherwise, consume and critique. But even these blogs are often removed from the toil of the everyday effort involved in running a vineyard.

How might we ensure we do not forget that wine truly is an agricultural product, a product of nature, sweat and toil? Read this blog! - Winefarmer's Weblog

Rob manages to convey some of the reality of working in the vineyard. It isn't a straight diary and it isn't philosophical musings. What it is, is the honest, uninhibited thoughts of an obviously very intelligent and creative human being who likes working with nature.

I admit to not being a particularly well read individual, so I probably shouldn't compare his style to other authors, but to me at least, there are echoes of John Steinbeck in his writing.

He covers organic farming, vineyard working practices, cultural issues he faces working alongside largely Mexican labourers, the tragedies of manual labour (some are very sad - read to the last section), and even astrology, astronomy and nature.

I urge you to take a look and subscribe. He doesn't update it very regularly (who am I to fault that?) so it won't overload your daily reading, but maybe help to give all the rest some context.

Thanks Rob!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

My, what fantastic tapas you have!

Excuse the cross-promotion, but as time is short and I suspect there are lots of people out there who have not yet heard of this, I thought I would point you to a post I wrote on my Rioja blog here:

Fantastic Tapas

The festival is an interesting event targeting consumers with food, wine and music in one event, and sponsored by a single wine region: Rioja.

I think that this sort of event will become a more popular way of reaching consumers, particularly younger wine drinkers, than spending vast amounts on advertising as it gets wine samples directly into the consumers' hands, and gives it a new context (in this case a range of authentic tapas).

If you do have time on the weekend of 28/29th June, why not come along?

Tapas Fantasticas
Ely's Yard, Brick Lane
29-29 June, 2008
12:00 - 18:00

Monday, June 02, 2008

Time for flying wine daters?

More perspective on two topics of interest to this blog: Wine Competitions and Wine Dating

... but this time in a new mashup from Bibendum worth reading:

Speed Dating in the Wine Industry