Honey, I’m home: visiting Plumpton College

Posted By Chris Kaplonski on Jan 7, 2016

After a longer-than-planned winter break, I’m back to blogging. Earlier this week, I had the pleasant of an all-too-brief visit to Plumpton College, in Sussex. For those not familiar with it, Plumpton is the one place in the UK that offers degrees in wine business and production. The College more generally does various agricultural and ‘land-based’ courses (as their website puts it.) Alas, I did not get to see the kangaroos.

At any rate, I sat in on one course – part of the Wines of Italy – complete with having to dust off my analytic tasting skills. I was there to give a lunchtime talk, which went ok. It suffered, at least as far as I can tell, from the problem that most talks on works-in-progress suffer from. That is, it’s hard to have a conclusion people can grasp on to, precisely because it’s a work in progress. So there is no solid conclusion. Hopefully I at least gave people some things to think about in terms of the senses, sustainability and quality.

But what I want to comment on here was the tastings. We did three sorts. The first was a standard WSET-style analytical tasting. I’m glad to say I was in rough agreement with the student I was sitting next to on the various aspects – body, alcohol, acidity – of the three wines we did that way. The other two tasting approaches were much more interesting. The second was three wines where we were told that each wine had one unique characteristic about it, and we were asked to figure that out, and write something descriptive about that aspect of the wine. That was quite a bit harder, at least in good part because it wasn’t clear (at least to me) what was meant. So, for example, the thing I picked up on the first wine was its youthful, fruity nature. What the instructor had been looking for was that it was ‘attractive and friendly.’ So I wasn’t too far off, since youthful and fruity will probably be friendly. The second wine was ‘rustic,’ and so forth.

The third style of tasting notes was the ‘seven word wine reviews.’ They were exactly what the name says: a review of the wine in seven words. No more, no less. This was the most creative of the exercises, and ways I’ll return to momentarily, the most rewarding and useful, I think. It’s a lot harder than it might sound to write about wine in seven words, and be informative about it. Some people went for short versions of standard reviews – citrus, refreshing acidity, and so forth. Basically, some keywords. That’s fine. But I admire the students who were much more creative. ‘Honey, I’m home. I’ve got oily lemons’ was one description of a white wine, and where I’ve taken the name for this post. ‘Bathroom cleaner in a glass’ was a slightly less flattering and two words short review for another wine. Yet again: ‘Looks old, smells old, tastes old wine’. There were others, but those were the ones I made a note of.

I’m sure you could argue that ‘Honey, I’m home. I’ve got oily lemons’ isn’t the most useful description of a wine. And at one level, I’d agree, although you’d know to expect lemons, and some oiliness to the mouthfeel perhaps. But on the other hand, it is an extremely useful tasting note. If I was browsing in a wine shop, and came across that description, I’d be very tempted to buy that wine – just to see what they meant. It intrigues and it captures ones attention. It conveys a bit of emotion, even: the domesticity of the ‘Honey I’m home’ part. And to me, that’s much more useful than an analytic tasting note. I see the point of the latter, but I’m glad to see people aren’t neglecting the more creative type. So, to the students who wrote them: Thank You, and keep it up!

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