I AM writing this in Austria where I am shut away for a week with 50 winemakers, buyers, writers, sellers and consultants from around the world.
We are all here on the first week of the Master of Wine programme.
This is an intensive programme of tastings, lectures and essay planning with a few excursions to brush up our techniques on how to prune vines and make wine.
This last session will be conducted in temperatures of around minus 5 degrees Centigrade and probably in snow, bearing in mind the weather forecast.
Just in case you think this might be the same as a one-week holiday with wine included, here is a taster of what is involved. Each day starts at 8.30 with 12 wines, presented blind and we have two hours to taste, analyse and write about them. Two hours sounds like a long time to taste, until you find that you don't have a clue what is in your glass, then you need to asses aroma, flavour, acidity, weight, balance, tannin and a whole raft of characteristics to try to place it somewhere in the world, along with its probably winemaking, quality and price.
Today was quite a good day in that I managed to identify the Sangiovese wines and got them in Tuscany.
In balance I managed to get a Chardonnay wrongly placed by a mere 7,000 miles.
The gratifying thing about all this is that, as a group, we are all good in parts and disastrous in others. The week will progress with more tastings; more opportunities to get it all completely wrong and yet more lectures on exciting topics such as EU legislation.
Fiendish wine quiz
Apologies to all those eagerly awaiting the results of the wine quiz, but I have had so many entries that I have not been able to wade through them yet. I mark each one, then double-check them just to make sure that only the completely correct entries go into Grapevine's magnum-sized ice bucket.
Full results and the winner will be announced next week.
Eight of the best... Thierry's Wine Services has launched a new wine range, Radcliffe's Regional Classics, to help wine novices pick their favourite grape.
Radcliffe's Regional Classics Collection, from 5.49, at Wine Rack and major off-licences nationwide. For more info, visit www.radcliffeswines.co.uk
YP MAG 29/1/11