If you haven’t secured your tickets to events at The York Festival of Food and Drink then now is the time to do so. With wine, beer and tea tastings and even a chocolate and whisky matching session there is plenty to wrap around your tastebuds as well as providing the chance to meet some of the stars of the wine business.
Top billing goes to two star winemakers who are heading to York as part of their round-the-world tours. Quite often these big names stay close to London so we are privileged to welcome Larry McKenna from Escarpment in Martinborough, New Zealand and Tom Barry from his family wine business Jim Barry Wines in Clare Valley, Australia.
I visited Larry McKenna at his vineyard last January and, once I knew he was planning to visit the UK in September, I managed to extract a promise to put York on his itinerary. Larry makes some of the most stunning Pinot Noir wines to come out of New Zealand and he approaches his viticulture and winemaking with a passion that continues to drive quality up. One part of his vineyard doesn’t look like New Zealand at all and could easily be mistaken for a vineyard in the hallowed soil of Corton in Burgundy. The vines are close-planted, knee-high and have to be worked by hand, but all that care keeps yields low and concentration of flavours high. Not only is he a great winemaker but he is a thoroughly nice chap and an excellent speaker. He will bring along a range of his wines including some of his fabulous Pinot Noir to a tasting in The Mansion House on Thursday September 27 at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £20.
Tom Barry is the third generation of winemakers in the family wine business of Jim Barry Wines. Based in the Clare Valley in South Australia, Jim Barry Wines own vineyards in four distinct climate zones of Clare and other regions so that they can produce wines from Riesling to Shiraz which reflect the terroir of their vineyard. And they do this extremely well, gathering medals and accolades from around the world, but particularly in Matthew Jukes’ 100 best Australian wines 2012 where the Florita Riesling, which will be tasted in York, is described as profound and awe-inspiring. Also on taste in York will be The McRae Wood Shiraz which is festooned with medals from various wine competitions and two of the “cricket” series of wines which reflect the fact that Jim Barry bought the old Penola Cricket ground in Coonawarra. The pitch is still there, surrounded by vines, so fielding is a bit of a problem these days.
Tom represents the new generation of winemakers in this company, bringing enthusiasm and a fresh approach to the business. He will present a range of his wines on Wednesday September 26 in The Guildhall and the wine tasting will be accompanied something approaching an Aussie barbecue. With skewers of meat, and salads this will be an evening of fun as well as refreshment. Tickets cost £20.
Also in The Guildhall is an event which has become a favourite among wine tasters in York. Field and Fawcett, York’s best independent retailer will hold their Wine Fair on Saturday September 29. This is a walk-round tasting where you grab a glass at the entrance and wander from table to table selecting what to taste. There will be about 100 wines on show and the sessions last for three hours in the afternoon from 3pm to 6pm, and for two and a half hours in the evening starting at 7pm. It pays to be prompt for these events, so you can get round as many wines as possible – spittoons are provided for dedicated tasters. Tickets cost £15.
This year at the Festival, the Workshop area in St Samson’s Square sees the sommelier from York’s Hotel du Vin present a lunchtime Introduction to Wine on Monday September 24 with samples from the hotel’s list (£5). The following day local wine tutor Peter McKenna presents Wines from Spain (£5) and he is in action again on Wednesday September 26 with Wines from Italy (£5).
Jeff Evans, former editor of CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide will tutor two Yorkshire beer tasting sessions in the demonstration area of St Samson’s Square on Saturday September 28 (£5), while if you prefer to take a break from alcohol you can always settle down for a spot of tea-tasting on Sunday afternoon (September 29) in the workshop area of St Samson’s Square. Once you have your seat perhaps you should stay on for the chocolate and whisky tasting which follows (£6).
Grand lunches and dinners are always a feature of the York Festival of Food and Drink and this year the York branch of the Jurade de St Emilion will present a three-course lunch on Saturday September 22 in The Mansion House accompanied by the fabulous wines of St Emilion (£35). I really can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday lunchtime.
If you like to dress for dinner then there is a black-tie Châteauneuf-du-Pape dinner on Tuesday September 25 in the Guildhall (£60) presented by Karen Hardwick of York’s Wine Academy. The Yorkshire Post Taste Awards Dinner on Friday 28th is less formal and provides the chance to taste a Yorkshire-produced dinner and to congratulate the winners of the Taste Awards competition (£40). This price includes an aperitif and wine with dinner.
Champagne became a favourite of the festival many years ago and this year there is the chance to compare Champagne, Spanish Cava and Italian Prosecco as well as match them with canapés and desert in The Guildhall on Monday September 24 (£30).
Tickets can be bought direct from www.yorkfoodfestival.com which has details of all the activities. Once the festival starts there will be information at the festival site in the centre of York or on 01904 466687.