Wine is many things to many people: a luxury, a treat after a long day at work, a celebration on a special occasion. Wine can also be mysterious and sometimes even intimidating – especially the subtleties of wine etiquette.
This last week has seen the Creation sales force treated to a very special outing to Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, just outside Gansbaai in the Overberg. Grootbos is an exclusive venue boasting beautifully appointed accommodation in a pristine Fynbos Reserve. It attracts visitors from across the globe with a reputation for offering bespoke experiences.
Upon arrival Eben Bezuidenhoud, Sommelier at Grootbos, invited the attendees to learn more about some of the finer points of wine service in a fun and interactive training session which was enjoyed by all. (You can follow Eben on Facebook at Eben The Wine Guy.)
Etiquette when presenting and serving wine is important not only because of the tradition associated with it, but also because of the atmosphere and emotion that a seamless experience can produce. The training session started with a talk on the importance of understanding style and preference – wine is all about personal taste and it is part of our mandate as ambassadors of Creation to expertly assess and fulfil the needs of our clients. This requires a broad understanding of both local and international wine styles and the ability to interpret the relevant information and offer the best example from our broad range of premium estate wines. Eben encouraged everyone to expand their frame of reference by tasting as many wines as possible from as many areas as possible and distilling this information into an easily accessible mental rubric that would allow us to best accommodate the tastes of our visitors. Once a preference has been established the presentation and serving of wine is central to its enjoyment: wine service should be effortless, unobtrusive and yet comprehensive.
One of the most interesting observations was that the handling of the product itself should convey adequate respect for the passion and hard work that have gone into the production of any bottle of wine. Estate wine like that produced at Creation is fascinating because it encompasses all the aspects of taking a raw natural product, processing it with the gentle touch that is required to produce something expressive of its origin, and then packaging and selling it to the end user. To guide wine from grape to glass is a long and difficult journey curated by individuals of rare passion and talent – a light touch and gentle handling of the wine should convey the love that goes into making every bottle.
Another revelation was the correct way to complete the seemingly simple act of detaching the foil or capsule from the neck of the bottle so that the cork can be removed. The correct procedure is to cut the foil below the lip – a tradition which may have its roots in the dangers of wine coming into contact with now defunct lead capsules but which has relevance in modern times due to its implications for hygiene. That stray drop that slides between glass and foil can very often emerge when pouring the next glass, which is something to be avoided at all costs.
Wine should always be presented to the host of the group before opening – first to confirm that the correct vintage and wine is being offered, but also to ensure that the wine is to their taste. As the wine is poured, the label should never be obscured and always directly visible to the guest.
Decanting wine is also a ceremony with certain points that need to be observed. Both young and old wines may benefit from decanting – but for different reasons. Oxygenating young wines serves the dual purpose of volatilising aromas (often referred to as opening up the wine) but oxygen will also help to soften the tannins of a particularly structured young wine. This is also observable in the way that a wine evolves as it sits in your glass over the course of a meal. Older wines need to be decanted as they can throw sediment – in this case the wine is ever so gently decanted up until the point where sediment is observed at which point the remainder of the wine is left in the bottle, and the wine is served from the decanter. When the wine has been poured the decanter is covered with a service cloth to prevent any ingress of insects or other unwanted objects.
To experience the combined effect of these pertinent facts, the Creation team was then invited to enjoy a truly spectacular three course meal prepared by the inspired chef and to practise some of the new tools we had acquired to elevate the experience on offer in the Tasting Room at Creation. We would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Grootbos, Eben and his team for their hospitality and for sharing the secrets of a sommelier with our sales force, so that we can continue to learn, grow, and offer our clients the very best service.