First Published in Costa News Group, February 2011

VINOPOLOS

EXHALTED SEAT OF WINE LEARNING

OR LAND-LUBBER’S BOOZE CRUISE?

 In December 2009 I reported on my visit to London’s Vinopolis, the huge wine experience venue. I’d been invited by the then Managing Director, Rupert Ellwood, and was given the VIP treatment normally reserved for journalists of greater stature than me!

 Rupert had made some changes during his tenure and it was clear that he’d

Vinopolis 2009

 taken some tough commercial decisions. The result was that Vinopolis had morphed into a different animal from that which had enjoyed a fanfare opening with resounding applause from the wine writing fraternity some ten years previously.

 Whilst the basic tenet of relaxed, fun wine-education remained in place the original philosophy, under Rupert, started to lean a touch more to the fun side of the equation. Vinopolis was promoted as a venue where people could learn a little about wine and how to appreciate it, whilst enjoying a good few drinks along the way. The very popular Comedy Night concept was installed, and Stag/Hen parties were encouraged to book the venue. (I wonder what occurred when frolickers from the two met head on!).

 But that was then. When I visited just before Christmas 2010 it was a year on and Rupert has left, headhunted in fact by the Waitrose Supermarket Organisation. So what changes, if any, have been made by the new incumbent?

 It wasn’t made clear to me who the new MD was. The lady I eventually dealt with was clearly in charge, but I’m not sure of her title, but no worries, when we arrived at the appointed hour two top of the range tickets had been left for us!

 Groups embarking on the tours are taken firstly to a small circular cage, actually, for a tutored tasting. This short, mostly enjoyable session is designed to teach techniques to clients who are not conversant with the mechanics of tasting wine. It was accurate and useful, I’m sure, to our fellow tasters but didn’t allow for the possibility that there may have been some there who already knew the basics, or who were quite experienced.

 It wasn’t a problem to us but the delivery, unfortunately smacked of the alcohol that the presenter had been taking in during the afternoon (I think she said that this was the third tasting she’d presented with not a lot of time between).

 However, more disappointing than the presumption that we were all novices was the obvious supposition that in fact we were really only there for the alcohol! This rather unfortunate theme raised its head a number of times in the two hours we were there, leading me to the conclusion that too often it is the fun element that is the driving force, perhaps at the expense of those with a genuine desire to learn more about wine.

 That’s not to say that there weren’t several tasting tutors who took wine tasting seriously and, in a mostly enjoyable way, imparted their knowledge of the wines for which they were responsible. A highlight was the Spanish lady, in fact at the Champagne tasting station, who was clearly passionate about the three Champagnes she talked us through!

 It was fascinating also to see and hear so many different nationalities giving out information and tips about wine. Vinopolis in this respect is a veritable United Nations with any differences of opinion being settled over a good glass of wine. Would that our politicians were able to do the same!

 And there are for sure good wines at Vinopolis – the best for me were two from the Lebanon, talking of uniting nations!

 PS We are revivig our excellent wine tasting evenings with classical music and gourmet dining. The first of this year will be in April. Please watch this space; visit www.dolcedivas.net ; and my website for details.

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