A wine tasting with a twist – Tasting in the Dark with Laithwaite’s
My Grandfather has been buying Laithwaite’s wine for well over a decade. It has grown to become a household name in my family at least, and I’m sure many others too. So when I received an email from The Blogger Programme asking whether I would like to attend a wine tasting (with a twist..) at The Vintage Wine Festival in London courtesy of none other than Laithwaite’s, I couldn’t help but feel a little honoured! Having been on family holidays in France where wine tasting was on the cards, but having never been near either the legal age, nor age of interest (14 year old me surprisingly wasn’t too enthralled), this would make it my first proper wine tasting experience – and what a first experience it was! Plus…with the event being on a Friday, what better way to start the weekend?!
The event was held at Old Billingsgate, London – right next to Tower Bridge. It was my first time to this part of London not being cooped up in a car, and I can only imagine how beautiful it would be at night. Anyway, this was the 34th year of the Vintage Wine Festival – I had no idea it was so long standing and well established.
I mentioned at the beginning that it was a wine tasting with a twist. The twist? We were tasting in the dark. Pitch black. Why? The aim of the Tasting in the Dark is to show how influential our senses are when it comes to the taste and texture of wine, and food and drink in general. Enticed, the science geek in me wanted to know: could stimulating our different senses in different ways REALLY make that much difference?
It’s said that we eat with our eyes, and there is a whole lot of truth in that. Studying Nutrition at University, we had conducted our own colour blind taste tests, which showed some very interesting results of our eyes confusing our brains when it comes to colours and the flavours we associate with them. But, and this was news to me, it’s not just our eyes that influence our senses, but sound and touch, too. Now, I am no wine connoisseur for sure, but even I was surprised at the sheer differences in taste and texture of the exact same wines, simply by stimulating our different senses in different ways. And as it turns out, yes, it really DOES make a difference. And quite a significant one at that.
On arriving at the Vintage Festival, we were shown into the Tasting Theatre for our private tasting session. There were two large round tables covered with black tablecloths, and tall black boxes stood on top. We were asked to take a seat, and all was explained:
We were to put our finger tips on the edge of the table and our hands would be guided towards the correct glasses by our night-vision-goggle-clad helpers. Yes, that’s right, night vision goggles, in a wine tasting – if that’s not cool then I don’t know what is! Our Laithwaite’s speakers gave us insight into the science behind the experiments and the research behind it.
There were 4 blind taste tests:
- Blind Taste Test #1:
We were given two pinot’s – one pinot grigio, one pinot noir. Both originating from the same family of grapes, but obviously one being a white wine, and the other being a red wine. The aim of this was to make us rely on our taste buds, rather than our eyes.
Thankfully, all of the bloggers correctly identified one from the other, and for me personally, it confirmed that I definitely prefer white wine over red! Needless to say, all of the subsequent wines were indeed, red!
- Blind Taste Test #2 and #3:
For both tests #2 and #3, we were drinking the same wine, but each time we drank, we were listening to a different piece of music. And sure enough, as they predicted, each time, the wine tasted different. Most notably for me, was the first piece of music reminding me of Christmas, and the wine tasting both sweeter and lightly spiced than it did when the second piece was played.
- Blind Taste Test #4:
The one that amazed me the most by far. We had a piece of velvet cloth for our left hand, and a piece of sandpaper for our right hand. We were instructed to stroke each one whilst tasting the wine. The difference was honestly astounding. First, we stroked the velvet cloth, and the wine tasted smooth, a little tannin texture but nothing too harsh and relatively light for a red. Then came the sandpaper. And wow. The tannin was much stronger, it tasted a lot heavier and in comparison to the velvet – I found it quite unpleasant. Yet it was the same wine?! My mind was truly boggled.
After the taste test was over, the lights went on and we had the opportunity to chat all things wine and night vision goggles with the Laithwaite’s crew, and ask any burning questions we had – as well as trying the night vision goggles for ourselves! We were then free to enjoy the rest of the event at our leisure, with the tasting flowing as freely as you could possibly imagine. A highlight that had been featured in the likes of Vogue and Elle magazines, but was being tasted for the very first time at the festival, was the Windsor Great Park English Sparkling Wine (available to buy from their website). English sparkling wines are thought soon to be overtaking Champagne, so it’s no surprise how well it went down – it was voted as one of the top 2 ‘Wine’s of the Show’ for 3 of the 4 sessions across a two day period. And believe me, the selection of wines that were on offer was truly extensive.
Not to mention in among the extensive wine selection on offer, was the food. No, not just the water crackers to cleanse the palate, but selections of fine cheese, olives, chocolates (including an incredible peanut butter chocolate may I just add), dried and cured meats that the stall holders were only too happy for you to try. Not just your bog standard salamis – oh no. Duck, lamb, pheasant and chorizo were also out for the tasting panel. The duck especially was truly outstanding.
If there were two key things I took away from the event, firstly, it’s that throughout the whole experience, the genuine passion for wine, and the in-depth knowledge of their field the guys at Laithwaite’s has was incredible. Their enthusiasm and willing for you to taste was both infectious and welcoming. And secondly, I came away feeling like I had genuinely learnt something. Not only about the varieties of wine and grape, how they’re barrelled etc. but also a few tips on how to enhance your own food and wine…without having to change a thing, but just the setting and surroundings! We also joked that all disaster dinner parties and bad bottles of wine could be saved – just add a string quartet and a red velvet tablecloth! (Disclaimer: may not be appropriate for charcoaling a roast dinner.)
All in all, a brilliant event – well organised, more variety than you could possibly imagine of red, white and sparkling wines from numerous different parts of the world, with friendly, knowledgable, approachable and enthusiastic staff. And lastly, a big thank you to Laithwaite’s and The Blogger Programme for inviting me and giving me the opportunity to be a part of such an experience!
For more information about Laithwaite’s, The Vintage Festival, as well as a short video of the event’s highlights, head over to their website!