Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Calm before the storm

Pouring some Excellent winesImage by Ryan Opaz via Flickr It has been a little quiet around here, and that isn't JUST because it took me a while to recover from twittering about wine until 2 am on Friday.

Firstly, I've been working on some thoughts on monetisation for wine bloggers which are being posted on the European Wine Bloggers Conference site (part 1 is live now, the next parts go up over the next day or two) as are part 2 and part 3 - part 4 is our discussion at the conference which I will report on after the event.

Secondly, the conference takes place this weekend in Rioja, in both Logroño and Briones (at the Dinastia Vivanco Museum of the Culture of Wine) from where we hope to be able to bring you some Live Blogging!

Unfortunately our internet connection will probably not support live audio/video streaming, but our friends from Vinus TV will be putting the materials recorded during the day live as soon as possible (I do hope Gema comes to the conference!)

A few of us will be trying to keep you updated through the use of Cover It Live, but as it will be my first chance to use it, I have NO IDEA how effective it will be, but head on over to the EWBC site and check it out if you can on Saturday.

I may be offline for a day or two, but hope to keep you updated here, or on the EWBC site, as to the build-up of the event, some of the wonderful wines we taste and the new friends I make.

Wish me luck!

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Ooh! I'm all a-twitter [updated]

I've finally gathered myself together enough to be able to post a round up of last night's Live Twitter Tasting & marathon food matching adventure.

It was a real experience!

First, I need to thank my key partner-in-crime; Andrew (wine_scribbler). Andrew was the one who had received the Hugel & Fils samples in the first place, and also the one to come up with the ideas for the food matching menu (below). Thanks so much!

So, the story: The second edition of the Twitter Live Tasting took place last night as planned, and as we European participants had to wait until midnight for the tasting we thought we'd do it over dinner and tweet later. So Mex helped me to put together a stellar line-up of social media savvy guests to join the fun. We all wrote our thoughts separately and compared notes later - hard work, but fun.

[click here for more photos - thanks everyone!]

So, to the matches and my thoughts:
1. Hugel Tradition Gentil (aka Les Fleurs d'Alsace) 2006
Match: Scallops pan fried with white wine, ginger, garlic and chilli
The Gentil was a "palate tingling" experience. An interesting complexity of fruit flavours and a crisp finish that partnered very well with the delicate, yet spicy dish. Excellent!

2. Hugel Tradition Pinot Blanc 2006
Match: Red Onion or Asparagus Tarts with baby leaf salad (I bought these, I must admit)
I must admit that this was my least favourite of the wines as I found the nose and the palate rather muted. However, the wine coped incredibly well with the lovely tarts despite the egg, and in fact was all the better for the food match. Not bad but there was better to come, and I think there was a consensus to this effect between all of us.

3. Hugel Tradition Gewürztraminer 2006

Match: Fois Gras Mi Cuit with toast and fig chutney
The foie gras was lovely, and worked well with the Fig chutney. However, the Gewurtztraminer, with its rich, spicy, ginger and wild honey flavours, amplified things further. This wine and match was the star of the night I think. Interesting that the Gewurtz would be selected by those who had never drunk it before as you'd expect it to be one of the most challenging as it is SO different to the Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio most UK drinkers are used to. I found this very inspiring and I look forward to sharing more unusual varieties with my friends in future. 5-star excellence!

4. Hugel Riesling Jubilee 2004
Match: Pork Medallions with Mustard Mash, Apples and Cider Reduction
I'm afraid I made everyone wait for this as I had been busy eating and drinking and not preparing, but it turned out OK and I'm grateful for my patient guests. The Riesling divided the table. Those of us who are familiar with Riesling, and the uniqueness of Alsatian Riesling in particular, I think really enjoyed it's "petrol", floral and hints of something rubbery and spicy at the same time. A classic Riesling for me. However, some were not as fond of this, and found some of these aromatics a little off-putting. I can understand that, but I have hopes that over time they'll come around. The wine was very good, but maybe I should have decanted it earlier as Etienne later suggested during the Live Twitter, however it matched the dishes rich reduction and hints of sweetess well.

5. Hugel Gewürztraminer Vendage Tardive 2001
Match: Coconut Maccaroons [supposed to be accompanied with fruit salad]
By this stage the final train home loomed, so we missed the salad and jumped straight into the wine. Gorgeous wild flower honey richness and wonderful cleansing acidity and superb length. This was a great wine.


Once the others ran off to their train and get home in time to participate (what stamina!), Andrew and I logged in to join the simultaneous tasting across the world. I know I chatted with people across the US, Spain, South America (?) and even China (hi there StrongTiger).

We did attempt a live video chat too with Yahoo Live! which was an absolute disaster, although amusing at times as we attempted to communicate without audio using signs and whiteboards. I'll never do THAT again. Apologies to all those who were forced to listen to me alone as it seems I was the only one with working audio.

Lots of comments, feedback, differing views on wines and questions for Etienne which I think he handled pretty well considering the time delays and the occasional Twitter Fail Whale.

I will attempt to post some of the conversation here in a few days - I'm working with some friends on a solution.

A bit of chaotic fun and hopefully a bit of encouragement for readers out there to try some Alsatian wines with a variety of foods.

Twitter was a very important ingredient in this event, but not, I guess, in the way we might have expected.

Everyone wanted to experience this sort of event using Twitter, and this alone brought people on board who might not be as interested in wine alone. It also meant we could let people know about it, reach out to get more participants, build some excitement and coordinate our events. But the actual tasting on Twitter is a little too chaotic and complicated by refresh delays and limited space.

I wonder whether in future we need a separate platform alongside Twitter to conduct the Q&A section of the tasting, using Twitter to reach out to a broader audience?

Other, more personal 'learnings':
1. I need to plan the food more in advance so I can join in the conversations and not keep running away
2. We need to organise a separate UK/European edition at a more convenient time so more of our followers who cannot taste the wines themselves can follow the event
3. Mex knows EVERYONE! If in doubt, ask her for advice
4. Get more Moo cards! They are such a conversation topic of nothing else

Thank you ever so much to:
Andrew [Review 1], [Review 2]
Niamh [Review]
Lea [Review]
Kai [Review]
Annie [Review]
Sandrine [Review]
Jeremy [Review]
Lolly [Review]
James [Review]

And of course, a BIG thank you to Bin Ends Wine and Hugel & Fils for putting this event on.

See you all again soon I hope

Update 24/08/2008: I've added links above so you can read lots of other reaction from those present as well. Thanks everyone

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Twitter Live Wine Tasting - UPDATE

This is becoming very interesting!

First of all, Springwise has selected this event to be featured on its site for trend spotters and entrepreneurs everywhere.

Second, the little dinner alongside the tasting that Andrew and I were going to hold, is turning into a 5 course banquet of delicacies for a group of 5 or 6 "movers and shakers" in London's digital world. Identities are currently being protected to stop the groupies, other than mine, mobbing my front door :)

Lastly, I have found a few more sites that you might want to check out if you are thinking of joining in at all:

http://twittertastelive.com: set up by binendswine as the home of the events, presumably

Twitzu Event page: register your twitter ID here so we all know you will be taking part

1 Wine Dude's Yahoo Live! Broadcast: unlike my event, Joe Roberts will be broadcasting his dinner party and tasting live (assuming all this twittering activity does not crash the whole internet)!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hugel Wines and Twitter

I'm a sucker for wines from Alsace. I love the variety of styles, the rich flavours and the amazing expression that can come from just one small (albeit beautiful) region of France.

When I discovered that wines from Alsace would be featuring in an upcoming rather unusual live wine tasting, I thought I'd do my best to be part of it - and I'm glad to say I succeeded because this should be quite an experience!

These will all come from Hugel & Fils (www.hugel.com):
What makes this tasting different from 99.99% of all other wine tastings happening in the world right now is that it will take place live, in Europe and the US, using Twitter and also, because it can happen simultaneously anywhere in the world, we are going to be able to be joined by Etienne Hugel himself.

[If you are not familiar with Twitter, it is a web application that basically is a cross between blogging, sending an SMS and instant messaging/chat. Very addictive! It should make the comments, and tasting notes, a bit of an entertaining challenge.]

The tasting will start at 00:00 UK time on the 22nd of August (that's midnight folks!) because we are joining in with our US friends who start at 19:00 Eastern on the 21st).

I will be trying to stay awake and post my thoughts on the wine (and the food we will match them to) along with Andrew from Spittoon (see below) both on twitter and on this blog.

If you want to follow the tasting live you'll need to sign up and 'follow' me (add me as a contact) and some of those below. My username is thirstforwine

Other that will be participating include (and there will be plenty more I'm sure):
binendswine (USA) http://www.binendswine.com
(the coordinator of the event)
wine_scribbler (UK) http://www.spittoon.biz
catavino (Spain) http://www.catavino.net
gabriellaopaz (Spain) http://www.catavino.net
1winedude (USA) http://1winedude.blogspot.com
dalecruse (USA) http://drinksareonme.net
winecast (USA) http://winecast.net
richardpf (USA) http://passionatefoodie.blogspot.com

If you are a fan of Alsatian wines, or maybe you want to learn more about them, you can join us live, or look out for the report of the event. It promises to be a fun experience and a new way to share the fun of a wine tasting without the pressure

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Airship Photos

I'm working on a post with some thoughts about beer marketing (you won't be surprised it stems from my recent brush with Stella Artois marketing efforts) but in the interim, I thought I'd post a link to my photos so I can share them with those of you who have been following my attempts to get airborne, and those I met on the way that I promised this to.

Click here for the full set (click on the slideshow button for the full effect)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

When good things come from bad

Well, another aborted attempt to soar like an eagle through the skies of London (well, more like a weather balloon than an eagle I suppose) on the Star Over London, but more on that when I've finally managed it - hopefully tomorrow.

As I had to come back through London, I stopped off in Spitalfields market as suggested by Eating Leeds and tikichris, to taste Sherry and Tapas. I admit, I love sherry, so I don't need to be convinced. However, younger consumers in general are yet to be fully convinced, and words alone will not change their minds. So what will?

Well, like the recent Tapas Fantasticas event, the Sherry Institute has decided to get glasses into consumers' hands and set up a bar in the middle of the City, in Spitalfields market.

Not only are they making it accessible, but they've been able to get Heston Blumenthal (yes, that chef!) involved to develop the menus.

Now, food is much trendier in many ways than wine. There are a hundred times more column inches and TV minutes dedicated to food rather than wine, and there are plenty of TV chefs, but very few TV winemakers, tasters or critics. Shame!

So, great food, good endorsement, easy to get hold of, it must be a winner, right?

Well, I must admit that although I didn't mind having to pay to get a sample, I think that £6 is quite an investment for someone unsure about the wine in the first place. However, for my £6 I did get three samples of sherry AND 3 interesting little 'tapas' (not a portion most Spaniards would be accustomed to however!). There was a £3 option for a full glass of sherry as well if you wanted, and that was pretty good value compared to a local winebar.

Since the menu had to be limited (this is a tent in a middle of a square after all) and the sherry was matched to the food, the choice of sherries was limited.

The fino, I must admit was nothing special although reasonably pleasant, and I can't say I'm a fan of Cream sherry (however good quality). Being a fan, I KNOW what I want, and that's an aged, dry Amontillado or Oloroso, or my personal favourite, a Palo Cortado. However, the sweeter style of Oloroso that they served was very nice and I shall be looking out for this bottle again.

I congratulate the Sherry Institute for organising this event, and I wish them well. We need more people trying sherry and realising that despite the common misconceptions about sherry, and the appalling way it is often served (warm, oxidised and in tiny glasses) that it is a fabulous drink worth exploring.

It is rather last minute, but if you are around the City on Friday 15th August, check out the Sherry Bar outside Patisserie Valerie.

Oh, and if you are there in the late afternoon (after 5pm) look up in the air and I will try to wave from the Airship/Zeppelin as I fly over.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Crowdsourcing Wine

Ever heard the term "crowdsourcing"? If you haven't check it out! It is a great idea, perfect for the "social networker" in all of us - either as a producer looking to create new products, or a consumer eager to get involved in shaping new solutions.

From Wikipedia:
Crowdsourcing is a neologism for the act of taking a task traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people, in the form of an open call. For example, the public may be invited to develop a new technology, carry out a design task, refine an algorithm or help capture, systematize or analyze large amounts of data (see also citizen science).

The term has become popular with business authors and journalists as shorthand for the trend of leveraging the mass collaboration enabled by Web 2.0 technologies to achieve business goals. However, both the term and its underlying business models have attracted controversy and criticism.

There are loads of examples of crowdsourcing happening around the world, taking full advantage of the benefits of social networks to get the word out, and involve lots of individuals all over the world.

I came across this example of a crowdsourced cafe today, called Elements.

Members share ideas of what to call the project, choose its logo, what to serve, why, how to communicate its values - even what those values are. All the while, this group is creating a loyal community that will hopefully turn into loyal customers in future.

So, who is doing this in wine?

You could argue that the clever chaps over at Crushpad have started this sort of thing, allowing groups of virtual winemakers to create their own wines, from choice of grapes and how to 'make' the wines, all the way through to packaging design.

These wines are, therefore, available only in limited quantities and are expensive. I should admit I'm involved in one Crushpad group being run by Tim Elliott but, in an example of the limitations of taking these virtual projects into the 'real world' it may be legally impossible, and financially impractical, for me to ever actually drink this wine!

But, are any of the big brands in the wine world working on something like this? It would seem ideal territory. Who knows, maybe we'll hear something exciting in the not too distant future.

With thanks to Springwise for the tip about Elements

Site changes

I thought I should warn you that over the next few weeks you may see a few changes around here.

I've used the Blogger platform since the beginning, and I would recommend it for anyone starting out in the world of blogging, but if you want to develop your own ideas further, there are other alternatives that are more flexible.

I am working on the second generation of The Wine Conversation (with the help of some friends) and hope this will roll out in the near future.

In the interim, I may test out some ideas and features. Today's change was the addition of Google AdSense. My intention is not to turn this blog into an advertising vehicle, but as I'm writing an article on how wine bloggers might become more professional and earn a living from this craft, I thought I'd get some first hand experience of the features and management of this now, fairly ubiquitous, solution.

Hopefully the new ideas we are working on will be of use and interest to you, so if you mainly follow me in your feed readers, do keep an eye on the site from time to time.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Wine, Sport and the Olympic Ideal

This weekend I was watching a great deal of the Olympics, as were around a billion other people. I wonder how many people were considering the link between the Olympics and Wine?

At first it seems a strange thing to compare, but on Saturday morning I turned on the television to watch the excellent BBC coverage with my daughter.

She is just over 3 and therefore this is her first Olympics. How exciting is that? Your first chance to see all these sports; these wonderful sights of humans achieving such heights of physical strength, skill and sportsmanship. What better education and model for an impressionable mind?

So what does it have to do with wine?

Well, after a bit of rowing, and her wonderment at the gymnastics, coverage turned to ... boxing.

Who would want a 3 year old to watch boxing? Two men in a ring doing exactly what we tell kids not to do. "No fighting!" "No punching!" "Play nicely together!"

I almost turned the channel to watch one of the dozen channels dedicated to MORE cartoons. Then I stopped. First, I wanted to watch it (there are a couple of very good British boxers). Secondly, it is an Olympic sport too, so why should I shield my daughter from it more than any other?

It occurred to me that allowing her to watch boxing is similar to be being prepared to allow her to see me drink wine (I should point out that I am only talking of AMATEUR boxing).

Both alcohol and violence are "wrong" in a general sense, but we are talking here about a controlled, ritualised performance. Amateur boxing is not ABOUT the violence, and wine is not ABOUT the alcohol, but they are part of the package.

The boxers have spent years developing themselves physically and their skills, and the judges are not there to decide how much they hurt the other contestant, but how skillful they were at landing a punch. Of course, people do get hurt, and it does still involve pain and physical damage (no question about that), but all those involved are aware of this and have chosen to take part.

Alcohol is a damaging substance, and winemakers are "alcohol pushers" - but they are not doing this to hurt drinkers. Wine is an expression of the skill of grape growers and wine makers, and a way of experiencing this personally for those of us not directly involved in the production process.

My daughter didn't like the boxing (naturally) and after I explained why they were doing what they were doing, she was still worried about them, but at least understood that this was friendly competition. However, so far it is one of the few sports she has seen that she doesn't want to grow up to do (she does want to row, become a gymnast, dive, lift weights and sail).

There are those who would ban boxing just as there are those who would ban wine, or at least tax it out of existence.

Banning or hiding wine is not going to stop some people abusing much stronger and damaging alcohol any more than banning or hiding boxing will halt street violence (or worse, the horrible kinds of atrocities in Georgia/Russia/South Ossetia that I also had to explain to my daughter).

In fact, I believe that a certain amount of escapism or "letting off steam" is important to humans everywhere. Cultures that manage to find positive ways to do this through responsible consumption of alcohol, or responsible attitudes to sports are more at ease with themselves. This is one of the best things we can learn from the Olympics, as the ultimate expression of this in sport.

On that note, I was very affected by seeing two competitors sharing a hug and a kiss on the podium. One was Russian, another a Georgian. There was something very symbolic about the fact that they had been competing in a shooting discipline. There was also something symbolic about the fact that those who could take this positive, conciliatory attitude were women.

I'm glad my daughter is learning valuable lessons like that!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Making money by blogging about wine

Well, that's a headline guaranteed to bring in the masses!

In fact it is just a tease. I'm working on an article on this topic as part of the UNconference over at the European Wine Bloggers Conference.

I have a few ideas of HOW it could happen, but I wondered if anyone had any ideas of IF this has happened?

If anyone has any concrete examples of promotions going on out there (past, present or future), I'd love to hear about them as I hope the article will act as a major discussion point for a good while.

If anyone has a blog out there who has made money, or a service they want them to know about, get in touch.

I recently came across this example from Berocca which I thought was pretty cool, even if it doesn't pay the rent, and of course there are networks like FoodBuzz and VinoClic.

But are any wine brands, of food brands, spending their marketing budgets and arranging media placement on wine blogs?

Please let me know in the comments or by email: thirstforwine@gmail.com

(oh, and I'm trying to keep this a Stormhoek-free discussion - we've all read about that one already)

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Terroir: Idiots, Elvis & Sex

I'd love to give you a summary of this article, but I can't. The BEST thing, by far, that I can do is three short quotes. If these don't make you want to read the rest, and make you want to explore the concept of "terroir", then I'll drink a bottle of Gallo!

The Shakespeare of Terroir - Alder Yarrow at Vinography quoting Terry Theise

There are two types of people out there. There are those who understand that the soil makes the wine, and then there are those who are idiots.

Saying weather acts upon terroir is like saying some years Elvis was skinny, some years Elvis was fat. Elvis was still Elvis.

I like to say that Grand Cru vineyards are the earth's erogenous zones. They are special places that tingle when sunlight hits them.

I particularly like the last one - full of potential for elaboration!


Oddbins chain sold to ex cellar

Oddbins put up the "SOLD" sign yesterday (see here, and here). Really, for those who have been following this (including me), it was not a surprise. What might be a surprise was who bought it. Ex Cellar.


Well, I can't claim to be clued up about all the businesses out there, but this one is pretty small, with only 2 outlets BUT ... it has a particularly powerful motivator, the kind of thing that might be needed to turn around the performance of a business like Oddbins. The family name.

Ex cellar is run by the son of the founder of Oddbins, Simon Baille.

I come across a phenomenon regularly both in my professional life and my personal experiences. The businesses that impress me most are those where everyone I come into contact with are motivated to make the 'relationship' with me (the customer, or supplier) a success because it is good for the business, and for them personally.

I'm sure that seems like common sense, but how many times are you served in a restaurant by someone who obviously is there only for the money and really is only doing the bare minimum? Instead, think how you feel when you walk into a small business and are served by the owner who does everything to please you and make you feel important - because you are.

The best larger businesses manage to engender that feeling even when you are being served by an employee, not the owner, but that employee is fully committed to the business and to the relationship.

Oddbins USED to have this. There was a camaraderie, a pioneering spirit and a sense of fun that was shared amongst all stores. Even though they were not running a small, independent local store, you still felt like it was, but still got the benefit of great buyers sourcing interesting stuff from all around the world.

When it lost that sense of fun, that commitment, it lost its USP and it became just another retailer. Even the mightiest can fall at this hurdle (Starbucks is on the retreat, and McDonalds has been for some years too).

I hope that the new owners can use the family link to recreate that personal commitment from the staff to the business that will make Oddbins a great source of wine again. It is not going to be easy, but all of a sudden, there is at least the potential for this to happen.

If I could make a suggestion though, I would suggest that the developers of the ex cellar website do not get the job of redesigning the Oddbins site! If you need contacts, let me know!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Cooking with left-overs - with a difference

I don't know about you, but I think there is a lot of wisdom in the motto of the late Len Evans:
People who say “You can’t drink the good stuff all of the time” are talking rubbish. You must drink good stuff all the time. Every time you drink a bottle of inferior wine, it’s like smashing a superior bottle against the wall. The pleasure is lost forever - you can’t get that bottle back.

Whilst I can't afford to follow it to the letter, I do believe that in my life I can only consume a limited number of alcohol units. I do enjoy myself, but not to excess.

In this case, I consider that most non-wine alcohol units that I consume are like smashing that proverbial bottle against the wall - I could have used them to drink more wine instead.

I do enjoy a whisky from time to time, and the very occasional G&T, but I almost never have anything else.

However, as a good host I keep a stock of other drinks for when others are visiting, or bottles that have been gifted. These sit, in silent slumber, in a drinks cupboard in the kitchen. Unloved.

When I first heard about "Cooking with Booze" I thought it was a spankingly good idea for a cookbook, but now it occurs to me it is even better than that. It is a way to use my "left-overs" in a creative way.

One additional reason for liking this book is that the author has "done the web 2.0 thing" and actually made the whole content available free on the internet on the site in recognition of the fact that there are a percentage of us willing to pay for the convenience of having the book at home, and that making the content free will hopefully attract loads of different people, increasing sales. I hope it works!

(It does for me)

So, if you happen to be invited over chez moi in the near future, look out!

(p.s. In case you were wondering, I shall probably skip the chapter on cooking with wine and drink it while I cook with everything else)