Sunday, 14 June 2009

Celebrity Wine Tasting with Oz Clarke

This weekend I joined around 150 wine enthusiasts at London’s Vinopolis for a celebrity wine tasting, hosted by Oz Clarke.

For those that don’t know, (and I confess I didn’t) Oz is best known for his recent television wine adventures with James May.

As I’d not seen his television appearances, I didn’t know what to expect. What I quickly discovered was a wine expert who gets his message across via a not so subtle blend of directness, wit and audience banter, combined with an expansive knowledge that spills out in unique rambling non-pretentious monologues that had the whole audience gripped from the moment he began talking.

The session, during which Oz focused on five wines selected from his new book, was only meant to last one hour. An hour and a half later, audience members were still asking questions, eager to press another story from this walking wine encyclopedia.

So what did I learn? Well, amongst other things, I discovered:

Dom Perignon did not invent champagne:
In 1662, almost 40 years before the Benedictine monk, an English physician called Christopher Merrett presented the Royal Society with a paper in which he had documented the addition of sugar to a finished wine in its bottle to create a second fermentation. This is the method for making champagne.

A Chilean Merlot is a safe bet because it’s not really a Merlot:
It’s a Carmenere (at least its blood-line stems from former French Carmenere vineyards used to make fine vintages such as Rothschild’s Chateau Lafite.)

In 1850 the valleys around Santiago were planted with vine material from Bordeaux including a lot of Carmenere mixed in with Merlot. After phylloxera wiped out most of the French vineyards, the French opted to replace Carmenere with the more robust Cabernet Sauvignon or traditional Merlot, (Carmenere ripens several weeks after Merlot and often produces yields lower than Merlot and the French were desperate for guaranteed harvests).

Chile meanwhile was relatively isolated from international wine markets. Carmenere to the rest of the world became an old forgotten or extinct wine grape.

As more Chilean 'Merlot' found its way onto the world markets during the past 20 years, someone noticed the 'Merlot' had stronger and spicier flavours than Merlot from anywhere else in the world. In 1994, Professor Jean- Michel Boursiquit of Montpellier's school of Oenology identified the Chilean 'Merlot'. Using DNA mapping he showed the world the Chilean 'Merlot' was really Carmenere and was identical to Carmenere vines found in France.

The difference between Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay:
Sauvignon Blanc is recognisable by its green flavours such as pepper and gooseberry. The Chardonnay has a more golden colour, possessing more oak, mature flavours such as nuts and honey.

I also learned that Oz Clarke is a fantastic orator and would be ideal for after-dinner speaking. If you'd like to discover him for yourself, he returns to Vinopolis on Saturday 10th October for another celebrity wine tasting. For more information visit

This is Oz explaining why we no longer drink Chardonnay:

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

The British Music Experience at London's O2

For anyone that hasn't yet made it down to the British Music Experience, here's a case study I wrote for Visit London after the O2 staged an evening to showcase the Bubble's latest interactive exhibition along with its Finale events space.

What was the event?
On Wednesday 13 May, more than 150 corporate planners flocked to London's newest events space and interactive exhibition, the British Music Experience (BME) within The O2 entertainment complex.

How is the BME set up?
Hundreds of artists feature in the exhibition from The Beatles to Iron Maiden, from Cilla Black to Elastica, and from David Bowie to Motorhead with in-depth looks at musical genres from Skiffle to Reggae, from Rock n' Roll to Blues, and from Punk to Grime.

The BME uses RFID technology throughout, meaning that traditional tickets are replaced by a Smart ticket which allows visitors to activate the interactive elements of the exhibition and also to register further interest in specific features.

The exhibition is split into nine zones around a central core that explores, amongst other areas, the history of playback, transmission and dance music.

The core's Dance the Decades feature allows guests to learn one of 12 dances from the past 70 years including The Twist, Disco, The Loca-Motion, Voguing and even Rave. A virtual dance instructor shows off the moves and a swipe of the Smart ticket on the Smart ticket sensor point outside the booth, allows guests to record their own choreography and become a virtual dancer in their own video.

Around the core's perimeter, the zones are split into music decades beginning with 1945-62 and going right through to 1993 to present day and a glimpse of the future. The Gibson Interactive Studio, also situated on the core's perimeter, offers visitors an opportunity to play on various guitars from the Gibson family, Singerland drums and Baldwin digital pianos, plus a mixing desk and vocal booth. Visitors are given step-by-step video tutorials on beginner, intermediate and pro-tutorial settings.

How would the BME work for event planners?
O2 Head of Sales Caroline McNamara explains: "When event planners hire the 347m² Finale Space, their guests get to tour the phenomenal exhibition before ending up in the events area. Within this Finale Space, we can host 288 people on round tables, 350 people for a conference or 400 for a standing event. The audio-visual technology available allows corporates to create a special visual experience across the walls of the space, and we also offer a BME corporate or individual exhibition membership scheme."

What happened during the showcase evening?
Guests gathered for a drinks reception in the Finale Space, which is available to hire seven days a week and can be transformed into a variety of set-ups in just one hour.

Food was provided by Compass Group and guests were treated to an introductory speech by Curator Paul Lilley before heading off to explore the exhibition.

Lilley said: "Britain has been at the creative forefront of the worldwide music industry for well over half a century now so it's always struck me as strange that there has never been a British music museum. Popular music is often thought of as something disposable, great entertainment or escapism. It is all these things but it's also something more, a part of who we are and our history. This is why it gives me great pleasure to introduce you to the British Music Experience, here at the world’s most popular music venue.

"Museums collect, preserve and interpret. We have collected and preserved iconic memorabilia but, where we differ to other museums is in the interpretation. The BME is an experience and its Smart ticket system allows guests to get involved with many of the exhibits and take a part of the experience away with you when you leave. You can download your guitar playing or singing. As you go around you can learn dance moves or explore music time lines. You can interrogate the Thatcher years or look at how music playback and broadcast have changed over the decades. It is a combination of the most cutting-edge memorabilia with this high-end, state-of-the-art interactivity. What a perfect backdrop for an event."

What did the corporates think of the BME?
Reaction from those client event planners who attended the BME open evening was overwhelmingly positive. Jennifer Campbell, Senior Consultant at Style de Vie Unique said: "It's an excellent venue and I loved the fact that corporate hire of the Finale Space included access to the exhibits. It is a fantastic space for live events but also stylish and effective for private hire - just the type of venue we'd be interested in using from a bespoke perspective."
Linda Wadkin, PA to the Chief Executive of Courthaulds said: "It's amazing, I don't want to go home. It's really interactive, I love the smart tickets and I can't wait to recommend it to my bosses as an events space."

For details on hiring the O2 Bubble featuring the British Music Experience for events click here