MWWC9: What would come out of the wardrobe for you?


If you’re not already familiar with the magical world of Harry Potter, a Boggart is a shape-shifting creature that assumes the form of whatever it thinks will most frighten its victim. In Harry’s Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson taught by Professor Lupin, the werewolf-professor supplies a Boggart trapped in a wardrobe for Harry and his fellow students to practise their Boggart-banishing skills.

So, in response to this month’s Monthly Wine Writing Challenge prompt selected by two-time Challenge winner the Drunken Cyclist, the question I am asking myself (and you) is “what shape would your Boggart take when coming out of the wardrobe?”

I have several possibilities:


1)      A really scary sommelier, sneering at my wine choice.  I know, I know, the sommelier is there to help us to make us make the best selection to maximise our wining dining pleasure.  Maybe I’ve been scarred by an experience when I was much younger and knew virtually nothing (as opposed to now knowing only slightly nothing) about wine.  I was on a work away day with my team (Intellectual Property and IT lawyers) to “bond” and think big thoughts about Intellectual Property and IT law.  It goes without saying that a three-course lunch with wine was essential to this process.  One of the older, wiser members of the team claimed to “know about wine”, striking awe into our hearts and taking charge of our order.  The wine arrived, my colleague tasted it and pronounced it corked.  The sommelier tasted it and pronounced it fine.  Everyone else (myself included) sat in embarrassed silence (we are British) and pretended it wasn’t happening.  I don’t remember how it was resolved; I’ve blocked it from my memory.

2)      A spine-chillingly bad Chardonnay, the sort that tastes like the taste that a wombat (? according to Wikipedia) must experience when chewing its way through an oak tree.  I know, if you’re going to drink wine by the glass in a pub, you take your chances.

scary tree

3)      Opening a Champagne bottle.  OK, I know this one is really pathetic, but I just don’t like it.  I think that it’s the anticipation of an imminent explosion close to my face.  Apparently it’s a pressure of about 5 or 6 atmospheres, which is equivalent to double-decker bus tyres.  I’m feeling less pathetic now.

4)      A WSET Level 4 exam.  Having completed Level 3, it seems logical to take it to the next level, but it sounds really tough.  I enjoyed reading Connoisaurus’ recent post about starting the Diploma, but look at that pile of books!

5)      While the items referred to above give me the heebie-jeebies, I can (more or less) deal with them.   The real fear that I’m battling at the moment isn’t directly connected to wine.  Back in January, I resolved to join a local writers’ circle.  I phoned the guy who organises it to find out a bit more.  He explained that everyone takes their turn to read out something they’ve written, then the other members of the group give them feedback on it.  Believe me, putting my girlish thoughts out there for others to read is scary enough when hiding behind an internet pseudonym and a photo of my much-loved but sadly deceased cat.   The idea of reading them aloud to a roomful of writers and listen to them tell me to my face (my own face, not a furry bewhiskered face) what they think makes me feel physically ill (much like a glass of bad Chardonnay).   Confession time: when I entered the MWWC for the first time (also in January) I published my entry, but didn’t do anything else with it, hoping that no-one would find it.  However, Jeff, using some form of dark art internet wizardry, found it.  And people were really sweet (like a glass of bad Chardonnay) about it.  Thank you.

When confronted with a Boggart, you need to speak the charm “riddikulus” and force it to look amusing. So, how would I tackle my line-up of Boggarts?

To deal with the sommelier, the answer has to be: transform him into the gorgeous Sherlock Holmes (as portrayed by the delicious Benedict Cumberbatch) disguised as a wine waiter with un accent français horrible in order to surprise Dr Watson, who has spent the last two years mourning his best friend, but has bounced back sufficiently to be on the point of proposing to his girlfriend.  With a good bottle of Champagne.


For the Champagne, I was trying to imagine a kind of screw-top bottle that would release the pressure slowly and calmly. That’s got to be easy, right?  Although I guess it would take some of the impact out of Grand Prix celebrations.  Then I realised that if it was that easy, someone would already have done it.  So I thought, the obvious answer is to face my demon head-on and perfect the noble art of sabrage.


How to see off the WSET Diploma (incorporating the scarily big pile of books)? This requires a spot of reverse psychology.  Firstly, convert the pile of wine books into this:

Law Books

In comparison, the wine books look so inviting that I will dive in and gladly stay up until the small hours reading about the difference between a pot still and a continuous still. Gratuitous diagram:

pot still

The bad Chardonnay, I was about to give this one up as hopeless. Then I thought: beavers eat wood, don’t they?  Hopefully Connoisaurus or one of her fellow Canadians can confirm.  But I thought that I’d end with a cute picture of a beaver eating a tree.  I just hope that none of my fellow Monthly Wine Writing Challengers has a fear of Castor Canadensis. Enjoy!



Did you hear the one about Napoleon, the Duke of Wellington and the king of the gypsies?

Last week we had the pleasure of sampling a range of Hidalgo Sherries at a tasting organised by Portland Wine, presented by Cathy Smith and held at Gastronomy restaurant in Hale. Sherry, after spending the last 25 years or so as the butt of jokes about being a drink for grannies (my gran certainly had a Harveys Bristol Cream habit), is currently staging a major comeback.  I’ve tasted quite a few sherries before, but I’m always keen to taste and learn more about the different varieties.

Cathy opened the event by giving us a brief overview of the history of sherry. For us Brits, a major influence on our long-term love affair with sherry is our erratic relationship with our European neighbours.  When we were at war with France, we stopped buying claret from Bordeaux and drank sherry instead.  When King Henry VIII divorced Catherine of Aragon, this damaged our relationship with Spain, and sherry fell out of favour.  Henry was succeeded by “Bloody” Mary, who banned sherry due to her preference for vodka and tomato juice-cocktails married Phillip of Spain, which reversed sherry’s fortunes again.  When Mary died and the Protestant Elizabeth I took to the throne, Phillip was so unhappy that he sent in the Spanish Armada.  Fortunately for British sherry lovers, Francis Drake (most famous, but probably incorrectly so, for finishing his game of bowls before seeing off the Armada) managed to seize 2,900 barrels of sherry, which kept us going for a while.  Anyway, we’re all friends now.


We started our tasting with 2 different Manzanillas, which is a Fino-style sherry, aged under a layer of yeast called flor, which gives the sherry a fresh, yeasty, almond flavour. Manzanilla is aged in the seaside town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, where the high humidity gives it a particularly tangy, salty flavour. The first was La Gitana (aged for 5 years), which was beautifully light and fresh, zesty and tangy. However, we preferred the Pasada Pastrana (aged for 7-8 years), because it had a deeper and nuttier flavour.

La Gitana

Next up was the Amontillado Seco Napoléon.  Amontillado starts its life as a Fino, but displays a deeper, nuttier character and is then aged oxidatively (in partially-filled butts, without the layer of flor) to develop these characteristics.  This was darker and richer and tasted of coffee, toffee and hazelnut.

The standout sherry of the night was Palo Cortado Wellington (VOS).  “VOS” stands for “very old sherry” and is at least 20 years old.  Palo Cortado is made by blending Manzanilla and Amontillado, creating a complex and rounded mix of the fresh flor flavours of the Manzanilla, plus the nutty oxidative flavours of the Amontillado.

Palo Cortado

Next we tasted Oloroso Seco Faraon (Faraon means king of the gypsies).  Oloroso is fortified at an earlier stage, so ages oxidatively from the start, so no flor develops.  This sherry is aged for 7 years in cask, giving it a deep walnut flavour.  It had a good length, but I thought that it was less interesting than the Palo Cortado.

We moved into sweeter territory with the Oloroso Abocado Alameda.  This is Oloroso with added Pedro Ximenez for sweetness.  My first impression was that it tasted a bit “retro”, like the sweet sherry I used to feel really grown-up for drinking before Sunday lunch at my uncle and aunt’s house.  However, this all changed when we were served little canapés of blue cheese and walnut to eat with it.  The flavours complemented each other perfectly and I enjoyed the sherry much more with food than by itself.

We rounded off the evening with the Pedro Ximenez Triana, which is made from sun-dried grapes and aged in American oak.  This was intensely sweet and bursting with flavours of figs and raisins.  We drank it with vanilla and malted ice cream, which was another lovely combination.

Cathy helpfully handed out a sheet of suggested food matches for each of the sherries. Combinations that I want to try: Manzanilla with scallop sushi and Palo Cortado with blue cheese.  I’m less sure about the Eccles cakes with Oloroso Alameda!  (Note to my international friends – an Eccles cake is a delicacy from the North of England made from flaky pastry and currants and sometimes referred to as “squashed fly cake”.)

Thanks as always to Paula from Portland, Cathy Swift, Gastronomy and our fellow tasters for another delicious and educational evening. I hope to see some of you at the Spring Wine Fair on 16 May!