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Since starting the Drink What You Like blog over three years ago, I’ve learned a great deal about wine and have had the good fortune to meet a lot of fellow wine enthusiasts  —  from budding oenophiles, Sommeliers, Masters of Wine, to a host of other wine professionals.  A consistent theme amongst the friends I’ve made through blogging is a pure passion for wine.  One such passionate wine professional I recently met, at the  European Wine Bloggers Conference in Brescia, Italy, is Wink Lorch, writer and owner of Wine Travel Guides.  When I learned that Virginia wine would be featured at the Circle of Wine Writers Holiday Party in London, I asked Wink to share her thoughts on the event.  Below is a guest post from Wink…

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At a historic London venue, Virginia wines show off to a distinguished group — by Wink Lorch

London is full of interesting, historic buildings, and one of the many privileges of living in London and attending many wine tastings and events is that one gets to see inside so many  of these buildings. The party that the Virginia Wine Board, together with the Virginia Tourism Corporation hosted for the Circle of Wine Writers on December 5th was remarkable in so many ways, including the amazing and apt venue of the Old Hall in Lincoln’s Inn.

Inside the Lincoln’s Inn in Covent Gardens. (photo credit: Steven Morris)

Lincoln’s Inn is one of the four Inns of Court to which barristers of England and Wales belong to, and it dates back to the 15th Century. Although extensively remodelled in subsequent centuries, notably in the early 19th century, the Old Hall building was erected in 1489 before Christopher Columbus set sail for the New World. It makes me wonder if any of the Jamestown settlers or even Thomas Jefferson ever step foot in the building. Wikipedia reports that “As well as its use for revels, moots and feasts, the Old Hall was also used as a court…. It is now used for examinations, lectures and social functions.” And, what a social function this was in such a beautiful hall!

The Circle of Wine Writers is an association of professional communicators in wine, based in the UK, but with members in many countries of the world. I have been a member for about 20 years. The idea of the Circle of Wine Writers’ Christmas party (In the UK we always refer to Christmas, not ‘the Holidays’)  is for members to celebrate the season along with guests, who are mainly those working in the UK wine trade and public relations, invited in gratitude for their help to us during the year. The host of the party is generally a wine-producing country rather than a region, who often receives us either at that country’s Embassy or the Ambassadorial residence, but other venues in recent years have included the House of Lords and the National Gallery. This year, Italy was due to be the host, but had to pull out due to their financial difficulties – Virginia stepped in, relatively last minute, for which we members of the Circle are all very grateful. Those of our members who took part in the vineyard visit to Virginia in September 2010 obviously made a good impression!

There were almost 150 people present including 47 Circle members, 11 people from Virginia and the rest, our guests. We were welcomed to a really Christmassy scene with the hall suitably decked and even the tasting tables arranged around the edges looked truly festive. Although traditionally we have wines available to taste from the host of the party, this event was notable for having a) a really comprehensive tasting booklet and b) many producers of the wines present to greet us and to explain the wines.

Virginia wine delegation: left to right - Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore, Rachel Martin of Boxwood Winery, Amy Ciarametaro of the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office, Annette Boyd of the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office, Mark Parsons of Philip Carter Winery, Chris Parker of New Horizon Wines, Patrick Duffeler & wife of Williamsburg Winery, Chris Blosser of Breaux Vineyards, and Luca Paschina of Barboursville Winery (photo credit: Steven Morris)

In-between socializing I was able to meet with just a few wine producers and tasted a small selection of the wines offered. I confess to not having experienced a big tasting of Virginia wines since the very first one in the UK five years ago, which was organised by Chris Parker of New Horizon wines. Chris is responsible for obtaining retail and restaurant listings in the UK since that time, and for establishing the fine relationship that Virginia wines has created with the Circle. Some Circle members and their guests that I spoke to were tasting Virginia wines for the first time at this event.

Annette Boyd, Secretary of Haymore, Chris Parker of New Horizon Wines, and Chairman of the Circle of Wine Writers / wine critic Steven Spurrier (photo credit: Steven Morris)

In my short time at the tasting tables I enjoyed especially the surprise of discovering that Barboursville has an Old World winemaker from Piedmont, Italy (I should have known, realizing later that the winery belongs to Zonin), the delightful Luca Paschina, and loved the Viognier Reserve 2010 and the Cabernet Franc Reserve 08, confirmation that these are worthy signature grapes for Virginia. Boxwood Topiary was an excellent example of a Bordeaux blend and it was great to meet the enthusiastic Rachel Martin. I loved the Breaux Vineyards Viognier presented by the genial Chris Blosser, and am kicking myself now for not having found the time to go back and taste the Nebbiolo and Nebbiolo Ice.

While Annette Boyd was making sure everything was going smoothly, Amy Ciarametaro of the Virginia Wine Board was looking after a table of various wines, and I especially enjoyed the Prince Michael Petit Manseng and the White Hall Pinot Gris she served. Finally, I made it to try three wines from Williamsburg, the very well balanced 2009 Acte 12 Chardonnay, the varietally distinctive 2007 Burgesses’ Measure Merlot and the excellent  Cabernet Franc-based 2007 Virginia Trianon . The overall buzz about the wines was generally extremely positive, the only doubt being about price in our very price-sensitive market. More detailed tasting notes were made by a colleague, Tom Lewis, the Cambridge Wine Blogger.

Annette Boyd and Amy Ciarametaro with Oz Clarke (photo credit: Steven Morris)

Speeches near the start of the event were kept brief, given by our chairman Stephen Spurrier, who emphasized our thanks to Virginia for stepping in at short-notice, and by Virginia Commonwealth Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, Todd Haymore. Secretary Haymore first said that when he took office, he had been warned never to speak at a wine reception. Ignoring this advice he eloquently told us a little about the very proud and expanding wine industry of Virginia, as well as telling us the industry appreciates the ongoing relationship with the Circle of Wine Writers. He stated that the industry was continuing to learn, and was getting ready to unveil a new competition. He finished with greetings from the Governor and thanked in particular Chris Parker. More details of his speech can be found in this Drinks Business article.

After the speeches, some delicious finger food circulated that had evidently been carefully thought about to reflect generous north American hospitality. Sweet potato chips, mini-burgers, prawn fritters, and mini roast beef and Yorkshire puddings were amongst the offerings. The generosity and attention to detail of our hosts was sincerely noticed and appreciated by all with whom I chatted afterwards.

Through this blog post, I would like to express my own thanks to Secretary Haymore, to Annette and Amy of the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office and to Chris Parker of New Horizon Wines in the UK for making our party such an educational and enjoyable one. Members of the Circle of Wine Writers pay to attend the party with their guests, and the money is donated to a charity nominated by the host, in this case FeedBank (Central Virginia Food Bank).

For additional photos of the event, see Jims Loire Blog:  http://jimsloire.blogspot.com/2011/12/circle-of-wine-writers-2011-christmas.html

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Wink Lorch is a wine writer, editor and educator based between London and the French Alps. Her writing specialities include Jura and Savoie, and she owns the Wine Travel Guides website with on-line guides for independent travel in France, Italy and Spain.

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Questions, Comments, Complaints, Random Observations? Contact Me Here

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