Friday, July 28, 2006

Vinopolis!

One of the most fun things Mark and I did in London was visit Vinopolis, a wine museum located near the Tate Modern and the new Globe theater. I could tell you it was fun because I learned about the Georgian origins of wine, about how to estimate the age of a white wine by looking at it in the glass, and about wines being produced in lesser-known wine regions like Thailand and India. But really, I suspect the fun lies in the fact that by the time you leave Vinopolis, you've tasted a total of 15 wines, champagnes, whiskeys, beers, absinthes (more on that in a second), martinis and the like. Let's just say you leave in a really good mood.

The museum is organized by continent, with tasting stations set up at various points along the way. Our visit began with a "how to taste wine" session. Then we were turned loose in the museum proper, where we sipped various wines while taking in the exhibits. I learned, for instance, that the bubbles in champagne were originally considered a manufacturing flaw, but the public liked them and began demanding their wine with them.

Some of the exhibits were interactive, such as this one, which shows you what a wine with cork taint smells like:


One of my favorite wines I sampled was the icewine, which is made from grapes that are allowed to freeze on the vine. This extracts a lot of the water from the grapes, making them sweeter. (The end result is similar to late-harvest dessert wines, which develop a mold on the vine that extracts water and concentrates the sugars.)

Now, about that absinthe. Absinthe, as you probably know, was once rumored to make people go crazy. In the early 20th century, it became something of a scapegoat for all sorts of social ills, and several countries banned it. It's still illegal in the U.S., but perfectly legal in most of Europe. England, in fact, never banned it. When absinthe is improperly distilled -- as some of it surely was in its heyday -- it apparently can have elevated levels of substances you probably don't want to imbibe, but there's no evidence that the properly-made stuff is unsafe.

Anyway, because absinthe is incredibly strong -- 60% to 75% alcohol -- there's a fancy little ritual for diluting and sweetening it. Here's our tour guide preparing our absinthe, diluting it first in the fountain-like thing, where it then runs over a sugar cube sitting on a special slotted absinthe spoon.



You can read more about absinthe here. Our verdict? It was actually quite tasty. We were both expecting a harsh drink, something you'd have to down like a shot, but it was very smooth and sippable with a nice anise flavor.

If you're ever in London and you decide to visit Vinopolis, the perfect post-drinking dinner is a big bowl of noodles at nearby Wagamama. Try the cucumber-celery-mint-lime juice, too.

2 Comments:

Blogger Sarah said...

What a perfect place for a couple who got married in a California vineyard to visit on their honeymoon! Cheers.

4:03 PM  
Blogger Lisa B. said...

Doesn't this sound like a little slice of heaven!

9:26 AM  

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