Wine – is a little knowledge a good thing?

Wine – is it worth learning the difference between grapes, regions and climates or just go for what is reduced or most expensive?

Most of us have had that moment of panic. You are with a group of friends for a meal; the waiter hands you the wine list and everybody says that you should choose. You have no idea what people will be eating – does it matter? Do you go for the house plonk and look cheap? How about the expensive one at the end of the list – too flash and bound to cause an inquest when the bill comes. My wife maintains that she has never had a poor glass of wine from a bottle with a nice label, but wine lists rarely come with pictures of labels – Livin’ Italy being an exception to this rule. Maybe somebody there works on the same theory. Asking the waiter to recommend something is fine in theory but, in practice is fraught with risk. They may be even more clueless than you and could easily push you towards that bottom end of the list – dangerous territory. The obvious cop out is to pick a red and a white at random from somewhere in the middle of the list and cross your fingers.

Wine - Go by the label?
Wine – Go by the label?

There is another way. Just a little knowledge can go a long way, the rest you can fake. So, you want to learn enough to get by, where do you start?

Whatever the subject, my first port of call tends to be the excellent Dummies series of books and, as you would expect there is Wine For Dummies. This covers all of the basics of wine varieties, regions and how to get the most out of tasting.

If you want something a little more sociable, wine is meant to be enjoyed with friends after all, why not try an organised class or wine tasting session? The Yorkshire Wine School run regular events at both the Radisson Blu in The Light and at Livin’ Italy on Granary Wharf. The Radisson sessions include lunch and introduce the world’s major wine growing regions and grape varieties. You will learn how to taste like a professional and where to buy. Best of all your tutor will guide you through tasting twelve wines As you would expect, two hour sessions at Livin’ Italy concentrate on the wines of Italy and how they pair with different foods. It is worth attending for the nibbles alone!

Wine - Livin Italy - The Deli
Livin Italy – The Deli

My advice with events like this is to drink water as well as the wine and take notes. The memory can prove a little unreliable after a few glasses. Some years ago, on a visit to London, my wife and I spent the evening at Vinopolis, described as a “wine experience” – they weren’t wrong. The huge building near London Bridge is a series of tasting rooms, each dedicated to a particular type of wine. After an introduction where you are taught the basics of tasting, you are armed with a charge card and let loose with detailed tasting notes. A swipe of the card and a machine dispense a small glass of your chosen wine. You then rinse and repeat as often as you wish, touring the worlds wines in the maze of arches beside the Borough Market. Afterwards, you can enjoy a meal in the restaurant and order any of the wines that you tasted earlier – very civilised. After starting out very seriously, reading the notes and comparing the warm and cool climates we started to sound as if we know what we were talking about. As the evening progressed, the notes seemed to be printed in a smaller font and unaccountably caused giggles. There was big talk of hitting the Absinthe room once the wines of the world were exhausted but for some reason we never made it. We did however enjoy a great meal and a terrific night out. We both remember to this day the difference between warm and cool climate wines but after that it is still a bit of a blur – remember to take notes!

If all this fails, you could always try buying what is on special offer at the supermarket! If this is your strategy, why not at least use an app such as Vivino to record your thoughts. It will help you remember what you like (and don’t like) as well as getting the views of others.

So, is it worth learning the basics? Yes, without a doubt. Just as you would with a sport, painting with oils or cooking. Grasp the basics and you open up a world of experiences.

As for that panic moment, with a little knowledge, you will realise that you can’t please everybody. Ask a few questions – do people want something light, fruity or powerful then set your new knowledge to work. If that fails – simply choose something that you will enjoy – the others can please themselves.


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Can Leeds a big city without a Premier League team?

Can Leeds be classed as a big city without a Premier League team?

Bridgewater Place
Bridgewater Place in evening sunshine

I always had a very hazy view of where Shropshire was. My knowledge of geography was largely based on following the exploits of Leeds United in the seventies. So, whilst I knew that Ferencvaros was in Budapest and Juventus played in Turin in Northern Italy, Somerset was a complete mystery, with no football league team. There was the odd non-league impact in the FA Cup but, largely, Somerset may as well have not existed. Maybe it didn’t exist – who knows?  My knowledge has now widened, thanks to life experience and getting lost on the way to Devon, but also, Yeovil were admitted to the league in the nineties. There are other counties without teams – Cornwall at least and who knows what else is lurking down south? The point I am gradually rambling towards is that the perception of a large section of the UK population and, these days the rest of the world, is based on weekly TV coverage of the Premier League.

So, can Leeds be classed as a big city without a Premier League club? The obvious competition is not encouraging. Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool all have two each, whilst London has six, admittedly including QPR and Crystal Palace which will probably prove temporary.  As you would expect, these top four cities in terms of population dominate the league. Leeds is fifth, followed closely by Sheffield, Middlesborough (Teesside), Bristol and Bournemouth – all outside the Premier League. It is only Stoke at 11 that has representation. Punching above their weight are Hull (24th in population), Burnley (43rd).

Kasabian at Leeds Arena
Kasabian at Leeds Arena

I admit that my view may be a little narrow. How does Leeds rate on other facilities associated with big cities?  As a music lover, the most glaring omission was a large concert venue. Of course, the Arena has more than made up the shortfall in that area. Some of the biggest names in entertainment (and McBusted) have been drawn to the superb venue. As a result, large numbers flock to the city to spend their money rather than the flow being to Manchester, Sheffield and even Nottingham.

There are many wonderful places to eat in Leeds but not a single Michelin star between them. Obviously, the list is dominated by London but Bray boasts four, albeit with a rubbish football team.  It is probably in one of those counties that doesn’t exist.

Grand Depart
The Grand Depart as Leeds puts on a show

I could go on and quote numbers of museums and the like but, you know what, I don’t care! The very essence of what makes Leeds special is that its size is manageable. I can walk across the city centre and be anywhere in 20 minutes – try doing that in Manchester or London. I like the fact that I can walk into bars and restaurants and be greeted by name – you don’t even get that in most workplaces in the capital. The city is vibrant and constantly changing – just look at the number of cranes on the skyline. A large student population keeps it young at heart with a lively live music scene. We still have a thriving, independent retail sector, not relying on the large chains that make most town centres replicas of each other. We need to cherish places like the Corn Exchange and make sure it sits comfortably alongside Trinity and Victoria Gate. We know how to put on a show – just look at the Tour De France. Think what kind of show we could put on for the European City of Culture. Leeds Loves Food, Live At Leeds, Leeds Festival, The Waterfront Festival – all firmly established as part of the calendar alongside many more.

It is not perfect, far from it. Manchester’s tram system would be great, but would it be worth the years of disruption to achieve? Rather than a headlong rush to be the biggest, let’s embrace what makes Leeds a great place to live and, until United allow us to live the dream again, maybe the Rhinos and Yorkshire cricket will continue to fly the flag. (As a lifelong Bulls supporter that last sentence was really difficult.)


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The new entrance to Leeds Station takes shape

The ambitious project to build a new entrance to the train station in Leeds is taking shape.  The £17.4m project kicked off in December 2013.

Concrete blocks
Concrete blocks arrived in December 2013

The first sign of activity was the arrival of dozens of huge concrete blocks. Part of the area on Granary Wharf was fenced off and we were underway!


Pontoon on river Aire
Part of the pontoon that emerged in the spring

It was a quiet start but, by April, a huge floating pontoon was in place on the River Aire. The pieces are all delivered to an area out towards Asda’s offices, then floated up river to the site at Granary Wharf.

The Dark Arches were built between 1866 and 1869. Cutting into the base of the structure must have been a nervy moment.

Cutting stonework
Cutting into the base of the arches

This was taken in May, by which time, some impressive kit was assembled on the river.

The pontoon is starting to look impressive









Piles driven into the river bed
Piles driven into the river bed

By the end of May, a series of piles for the foundations have been driven into the river bed.

Foundations growing steadily
Foundations growing steadily



As we entered July and Yorkshire focussed on the Tour De France, starting a few hundred yards away, the foundations were growing steadily.

Work continues underwater
Work continues underwater


By the end of the month, work was progressing underwater!




The concrete starts
The concrete starts

Three weeks later, a concrete base has been added to one of the giant supports. A steel cage is then built like a huge meccano set.


Both bases in
Both bases in

This week, almost a year since building started, the two  giant, concrete bases are in place. The project is really taking shape now. More work is going on under the arches but behind closed doors. The project is due to complete next summer. Once open, around 20% of passengers at the country’s second busiest station outside London will use the entrance. I will continue to take photos over the coming months and post again as it nears completion. There is a great time lapse film of the construction here.



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