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On Tasting
The Five Secrets of Stylish Women Applied to Drinking Wine
Tuesday, 12th February, 2013  - David Farmer
"Anders Ousback (1951-2004), Restaurateur and Artist, was all class

An article, 'The secrets of stylish women', Paula Joye, Sydney Morning Herald, April 25th 2012, caught my attention as I thought these secrets can be reworked and applied to the wine business. Style after all does not stop at fashion and I have noticed over the years how some consumers with only a small budget spend it rather well and what they buy and how they serve it shows style. They have a knack to produce, just at the right moment, a simple, inexpensive wine which is just perfect for the occasion.

So let's see if the ideas of Ms Joye can be applied to serving and drinking wine in a stylish manner and indeed whether they help in developing an approach to tasting wine.

1. 'Less is always more'. This is the great truism of fashion and food. For wine it has several meanings. The best fabric and the best cut translate into restraint and refinement in wine, a taste that always hints at revealing more. Still to make styles of wine true to this secret may require the winemaker to move from a warm climate to a cool climate. Elegance, restraint and refinement are what you can get from cool climate winemaking and with white wines by taking only the early free run juice. Rieslings embody this principle which is perhaps why they are consumed so often by those who have developed tastes in wine. I might add as someone who lives in the Barossa that many times I like a lot of flavour in the glass so this fashion tip has its limitations.

2. 'Effort equals elegance'. I read that stylish women never drop their standard which means they look terrific all the time which requires effort from the constant maintenance to maintain their look. Yes this applies to wine, as great wine requires a great deal of grooming which starts in the vineyard, moves to sorting tables before fermentation and passes on to maturation in the winery. To make a great wine takes a great deal of maintenance. As for consuming wine please do not think for one moment that when handed a glass you will know instantly whether it is great. You will have to train yourself to spot the style of great wine. The danger is dismissing a wine which shows style because you just don't get-it. Tasting Champagne is the trap for all players not just the occasional drinker. A lot of very poor sparkling wine is given a high rating. Thus while I would love to say about great wines, you will know it when you see it; you probably won't. Hugh Johnson in his masterful first book simply titled 'Wine' relates a story to the contrary but I beg to differ.

3. 'Trends fade fast'. I think Ms Joyce is saying here that buying the best of a new trend, the new seasons fashion, does not make you stylish. Style comes from within and must be learnt. With wine, wealthy consumers try to buy style and do this by paying a lot for the accepted big names. They drink well but this is not true style as without seeing the label and knowing the price they are all at sea. If you wish to show style why not begin with a glass of fresh Manzanilla at your next lunch. Ms Joyce goes on to discuss developing a signature style but this is not the correct approach for wine as this means you drink certain things all the time. The Glug way is to have it all.

4. 'Fit is everything'. The telling comment that applies to wine is; 'Spending a little bit extra on quality and cut goes a long way to improving the end result. It is better to have fewer good things and wear them well than lots of pieces that don't work'. You will never know wine if you are not prepared to spend. To depart this world without understanding a bit about Burgundy or not having drunk a few bottles of Krug would be a shame. Otherwise I run into conflict with this statement as a cupboard full of clothes of your fit and style equates to a cellar full of wines which you consider are just right for you. My teaching about wine is to avoid favourites and have it all (see above).

5. 'Bravery is style'. 'Something quirky or unexpected that makes the whole outfit perfect and special'. This is a hard one but basically it means at a lunch or dinner you might serve the unexpected or novel though unless you know what you are doing, heaven help you. If I was selecting wines for a table of six the wines would be conventional with this pattern broken by a wine from say the Loire or the far south island of New Zealand. If you need help the top sommeliers will know exactly what to suggest. When eating out you will also have to come to grips with another Farmer rule which you may find hard to swallow. You must serve a variety of wines which means you will not drink them all. So be it, order some by the glass, then just pay up and do not worry about walking away from half consumed bottles.

I won't push the analogy with fashion any further and have touched on the making of wines but the interesting comparison is more about how you approach what you drink and how you serve wine. Not the sequence or the matching of wine with food which often makes little sense but how you make an event interesting as this requires style. Favouring one variety or being fixated on one region will never do.

Here are a few people who have impressed me with their understanding of the 'style' of wine and food; Len Evans showed it and had many other great qualities; from the food and wine scene a great is Gay Bilson; another was that American in France, Richard Olney; and for a sommelier, when practising in his younger days, Anders Ousback was all class.

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