Scotland is adapting to the changing art-and-craft associated with winemaking. Apparently we're a nation fast becoming more discerning in our choice of tipple, with our growing fondness for the grape right up there with the amber nectar.
This became clear when Glenfiddich award winner Dr Jamie Goode gave a sell-out Scots masterclass. The widely-travelled international judge and panel chair, renowned for his series of books including Wine Science
and website, Wine Anorak
, gave a highly engaging talk in Edinburgh's Assembly Rooms. It coincided with new statistics which revealed our enjoyment of wine is fast approaching that of the perhaps more traditional imbibing of whisky.
The rest is taken up with other spirits, beer and, to a much less extent than myth would have us all believe, Buckfast. This particular fortified tonic wine, often linked to delinquency, violence and subject to political crusades against binge drinking, is described as gaining an unearned reputation as an 'unfairly maligned drink' by Oxford's oldest student newspaper, Cherwell
. Interestingly, the Oxford English Dictionary
lists the term 'sherry party' as having been coined by the periodical. Cherwell
was launched in 1920 with notable contributors including Susan Cooper, W H Auden, John Betjeman, Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh.
First, a bit of history – or rather geography. While the land would allow for grape production, our climate is just too cold for large-scale wine production (the grapes cannot ripen to anything like efficiently high enough levels). Scotland boasts fertile soil and plenty of agricultural space and is more kind to (elder) flower and (oak) leaf wines. Meanwhile, forward-looking wine purveyors continue to import the finest wines from all over the world. As wine authority, Jamie Goode, alluded to in his talk, the science of wine production does not stand still. Especially in this digital era.
Scots head chef and proprietor, Jonnie Cook, who trained under the Chez Roux brand and has run an AA rosette restaurant in a five-star hotel, alerted me to the forward-looking approach of Jamie Goode. When it comes to wine, he says the best way forward is to be 'intuitive', making things more interesting, adventurous and experimental. Jonnie runs family-owned Whiskers in Edinburgh's palatial Stockbridge, where he splits the wine list into two main categories. The first is dedicated to quirky and less well known producers, with varieties hand-picked, choosing the most delicious tipples and investing in the particular wine producer's story.
The second focuses on a more classical selection with some of the best known names finding a home in Scotland. The best way forward is to 'evolve and rotate' by the glass, offering up the opportunity to navigate through multiple regions and styles. The wine aficionado is encouraged to 'get out of their comfort zone' by exploring new regions, grapes and styles.
Above all, Jonnie and his colleagues reckon it is high-time we say goodbye to the 'haughty bow-tied sommeliers' who tend to make us all feel clueless for not knowing about a wine. Instead, 'wineloverism' is wrapped up with food full of great quality ingredients, and based on seasonality and simplicity.
Jamie Goode is anything but your average wine connoisseur. He has a PhD in plant biology and, after working as a science editor for a time, now contributes to Harpers
, Sommelier Journal
, Grape Talk
and World of Fine Wine
. He has been described as 'geeky', which he appears to not mind in the least, and freely describes wine as a complicated category with many thousands of wineries – or is it hundreds of thousands? Such is the profusion of styles and quality levels, it can all get rather confusing, even to the experts.
He told Winemag
the 'chief sin' of most wines is that they are neutral or boring, red or white. Wine Anorak
is interesting as, unlike other blogs, it focuses on natural and what is described in the trade as 'low intervention' winemaking. Jamie Goode covers lesser-known wine regions and grape varieties, highlighting through in-depth profiles winemakers reputed for the more unusual grape varieties, plus comments on the latest trends especially when it comes to natural and organic wine production.
As an aside, The Browser
website alerted me to a highly readable book by Polish journalist, Witold Szablowski, called How To Feed A Dictator
. Apparently, when it came to wine pairings, Saddam Hussein often drank Mateus Rose. Fidel Castro drank Rioja in his youth, switching once in power to Algerian reds. Elsewhere, various websites declare that Trump is reputed to be teetotal, consuming around 12 cans of diet soda daily, yet it's also claimed he likes bourbon when watching Fox News
, although that could be fake news. Another US President, Richard Nixon, cooked up his next double-dealing enterprise while sipping Chateau Lafite Rothschild but offering his guests a cheaper wine.
Dictators apart, apparently the current POTUS Joe Biden prefers sports drink Gatorade known for its electrolyte content to keep him going. Nelson Mandela and Angela Merkel shared a white wine. Barack Obama, while President, preferred a fresh glass of ice-cold beer – I'm confident he would like a Scots-brewed gold award winner.
Master Brewer Amy Cockburn and assistant Lisa Matthews run the all-female Harvieston Brewery, famous for their Schiehallion craft lager with its elegant head, fresh crispness and lingering grapefruit finish. They use local ingredients, with a unique yeast input employing the same 40-year strain. Amy told The Times
that this specifically relates to a barley field 15 miles away and sourcing soft water from the Ochil Hills. Two new limited edition products are due to be released later this year celebrating the brewery's 40 years in business, along with a limited edition lager and 40-year-old expression of Ola Dubh whisky. Could wine be next?
Former Reuters, Sunday Times, The Scotsman and Glasgow Herald business and finance correspondent, Bill Magee is a columnist writing tech-based articles for Daily Business, Institute of Directors, Edinburgh Chamber and occasionally The Times' 'Thunderer'