Tasting Wine & Drinking In Bars

Two very different activities.

Tasting wine an exploration, a sensory adventure or interrogation. Drinking in bars more of an opportunity for social observation.

A couple of weeks back, I received an invitation to the Royal Queensland Food & Wine Show 2012 Exclusive Wine Tasting Evening. I was so exhausted from reading the title of the event, that I had little energy to refuse such a generous invitation. It goes without saying that I’d spend a Friday evening drinking wine, so it seemed logical to taste wine and try something new, all in one convenient package.

Some minor misunderstanding about the order of events saw us arrive part way into an engaging speech from Iain Riggs, chief winemaker at Brokenwood and advocate of the wine show system. A more punctual audience appeared in no particular hurry for this formal part of the evening to conclude, which was a pleasant change to the crowds at some other large wine tasting events. The drawing of some lucky door prizes saw us free to redeem a tasting glass and work out how to approach the massed wines before us.

Almost 2,000 wines were entered into the show, and then judged in classes which are based on variety or style, age and production volume. Panels of judges award scores out of a 100 to each wine, with upper ranges of scores bracketed into Bronze, Silver and Gold. Additionally, trophies are awarded to stand out wines and producers. A full list of show results is available here.

I must admit, I would have happily stopped without heading over to the table of Gold medal winners. I enjoyed having the opportunity to taste different styles and different regional expressions side by side and completely at my own pace. I seemed to be breaking a lot of seals, and we had little competition in the non-Gold medal tasting area. That these wines weren’t Gold medal winners doesn’t mean there wasn’t some fantastic wines on offer. In fact a few of my favourites were there, some languishing at the no-medal end of their class. There was also plenty of wines I’d read about or thought about buying and one or two that I couldn’t spit quick enough. All part of the experience.

The sheer number of wines in some classes surely makes it hard for some of the quieter wines to stand out, and additionally some wines entered in 1 year old classes would surely do better entered into mature wine classes in a future show, and in a few cases, vice versa. The judges undoubtedly have a challenging task and its natural to question how valid results can be reached through the process, though equally difficult to reimagine another process that would be fairer and yet still logistically achievable. To his credit, Riggs had addressed these challenges head on in his speech earlier in the evening.

Whatever you think of the show system, this event was highly enjoyable and my only complaint was that it was over too soon. A quick sweep of the Gold medal winners, presided over by a rather fierce fellow, and a generous glass of fortified poured by a cheeky older chap who smilingly ignored him, and we were out on Gregory Terrace waiting for a cab, with our fellow tasters, or drinkers, rosy cheeked in the mild Brisbane evening.

Saturday evening and I found myself at my neighbourhood bar of choice, Super Whatnot. Brisbane’s still a pub town, and there’s very few purpose built bars in the CBD. Hotel bars just aren’t the place to be when it’s your own town. There needs to be interesting beers on tap, good wine by the glass and people behind the bar who know their way around serious cocktails. Maybe some whisky too. Oh, and I don’t want to feel like I have to dress up too much to be there. And small plates of salty, snacky things that aren’t peanuts or those Indian crackers. So really, I’m not picky. I’m also unlikely to help the venue lure in other patrons with my stunning good looks and on-trend fashions.

There’s no gimmicks about Super Whatnot. It’s in a laneway, and indirectly the result of a previous government scheme to inject ‘life’ into the CBD by supporting small venues and flexible licensing. Sounded great on paper but fizzled as other more pressing matters came along. Much has been written about its former life as a beauty school storeroom, but it’s a place with its own personality, through clever design and finely crafted details. The hexagonal motif of the Super Whatnot logo is subtly carried through to coasters, tiles and even the spigots as taps in the bathrooms. It’s a mixed crowd, loud backpackers, middle aged couples checking out that place they read about before they head somewhere else for dinner, awkward people on dates, groups of young mums and dads out on a leave pass (in separate never-to-mix groups, obviously) and representatives of one or more social stereotypes. What could be finer than sitting back, something good to drink in hand with the best view of humanity in town? Tickets to the show are free with the purchase of any drink.

The craft beers and wines by the glass change regularly, and on my recent visit I found the ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ dark ale and the Le Petite Mort chardonnay both pretty easy to drink. The ‘American style’ bar food is full of direct flavours, with Cubano sandwiches, quesadillas and a mean black bean dip some of my favourite food in town.

The other thing I keep reading about Super Whatnot is that it has a ‘New York vibe’ and I can only assume these things are written by people who haven’t been to New York. Because if we were in New York, the overly sweet drinks would cost three times as much, the music would be ten types of awful and the patrons at least twice as crass and homogenous.

Super Whatnot is a small, well-realised and original venue. The eclectic musical selections have you ordering another drink just to see what’s next. You might have guessed that I kinda like it. In fact, I’m even thinking of dressing up for my next visit. I feel I owe it to the place.

Many thanks to the RNA for their invitation to the Royal Queensland Wine Show and to Michelle Levings of Foxed Glove for making it happen.

Thanks also to Super Whatnot for helping that 30-something guy at the next table get a chance with a very patient lady last Saturday night.

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