Can you imagine sharing a bottle of wine, over the internet with good friends?
Well, Phillip Lowe can and does.
He is delivered three masked bottles of red wine by a courier each fortnight and then on the appointed time, he sits down in front of his iMac to continue a fortnightly ritual called Wine table.
A tessellated screen congregates him and his companions at a virtual wine table.
It even becomes more complex in that his companions have identical masked bottles of wine. This is not a quaff. It is the continuation of simple pleasure and it’s a lot of fun.
Phillip explains …
“A very good friend, at one dinner party, said ‘Phillip, you enjoy good wine, why not come to a wine table where I’m the convener. It’s over lunch in a good restaurant and we meet fortnightly’. I was very apprehensive, but he assured me that some of the other table guests were just like me, retired or working part-time and that it was not serious, just a bit of fun. He explained the rules – only Australian wine, only red wine, and with some age, say 5 years or older. That I should take a bottle masked so that no-one would know what it is. When a bottle is opened, the group, in turn, pour a sample, and in turn, try and assess, ie. guess, the grape variety, the vineyard area where grown, and the wine’s age.”
The challenge of staying at home meant a creative solution was required.
Philip explains the solution. Zoom.
“In this COVID shutdown, we’ve had to go virtual; on line. For our last Zoom meeting, the convener shipped masked bottles to all participants for the meeting. It was great to still be in contact with fellow members and enjoy their company”.
So new a new ritual was born.
Phillip relates the journey that brought him to this august table.
“Over the years I have often visited vineyards when touring and on holidays. If I’ve had a tasting then I feel obligated to buy a bottle or two, usually of their premium wines. Over the decades a cellar has gradually been built, on the philosophy of ‘I know what I like, and know what I don’t like’. These wines were only ever uncorked at a dinner party if there were folk who would appreciate fine wine. I have never taken a wine appreciation course.”
He explains that he is not puzzled by the absence of female members.
“The members are all male, about sixteen in total. The average attendance is about six to eight, depending on peoples’ availability. We have had tables of twelve on some occasions. We also have had ladies brought along as guests. Somehow the ladies are not interested in joining. I wonder why. We do have some very knowledgeable members and it’s from these that the rest of us try to learn something. No one gets carried away with the sort of description you see on a wine bottles back label.“
Phillip shares “Doing it my way.
“So over the years, I have learnt a little bit of how to evaluate a wine.
“Firstly is the ‘nose’. This to me is the primary source of finding the grape variety. Shiraz and Cabernet are quite different when young but in aged wine, they become very difficult to tell apart. The lighter wines such as Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Grenache can be distinguished from the heavier tannic varieties, sometimes not easily.
“Secondly, the colour, is it red, or purple, or brown? Once again lighter wines tend to be lighter in colour than the tannic wines. Tipping the glass will highlight any brown colour at the edge and give an indication of age. Finally is the taste, but even before then one has probably formed some sort of opinion. For example, if you think it’s shiraz does it have typical shiraz pepper taste. The most difficult, for me at any rate, is the grape’s origin. Is it high country cold climate or lower altitude warm climate? This does require a knowledge of Australian wine-producing areas. If one thinks it’s a good quality Cabernet Sauvignon one could place it in the Coonawarra, renowned for quality cabernet. Or Shiraz from the Barossa. etc, etc.
“At the end of the day, the whole exercise is to have a natter with like-minded souls, over a good lunch with interesting wines, and solve the world’s problems. In this Covid-19 era, we think it’s important to keep the camaraderie going. So to Zoom meetings where we do the same as at our normal meetings. The convener has shipped the same three masked bottles to all participants duly labelled so that we take turns to assess the wines.”
Phillip puts it into perspective.
“So we don’t judge a wine, we just assess them. And mostly we get it all wrong. But we do drink some very nice wine, and have a very nice lunch.”