Wojtek Cyran (a.k.a. Vinnie) is Pernod Ricard Wine Ambassador. He spent the last 10 years gaining his wine experience working and training in France, Australia, Spain and Great Britain where he got his WSET Diploma in wines. If he had to choose only one bottle to take to a desert Island it would definitely be a bottle of well-chilled Jacob’s Creek Chardonnay.
Pernod Ricard will be launching a selection of their wines into the Kenyan market but before that happens, I sat down with Wojtek to learn as much as we could about wine, specifically Jacob’s Creek, Campo Viejo and Brancott Estate wines.
Why a Chardonnay as opposed to a Sauvignon Blanc?
To be honest it really depends on the weather and how I feel. For the Kenyan weather, I enjoy a well-chilled Jacob’s Creek Chardonnay but a Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc would go well too. Choosing between the two is like trying to choose which parent you prefer when they each have their strengths.
So how would you pair each with food?
When it comes to food and wine pairing I think what is important is not to be afraid of pairing because as someone once said, rules are made to be broken, so there’s no need to act like pairing food and wine in a ‘wrong’ way is a bad thing. There are some rules we can follow though so let’s say you should pair light wines with light food because the most important thing with pairing is the balance. It also depends on what you’re having. I attended a dinner where a dark chocolate dessert was paired with the full-bodied Jacob’s Creek Double Barrel Shiraz instead of sweet wine as the normal pairing guide would call for. If I am having avocado salad, I would go for Sauvignon Blanc from Brancott Estate. If I am having salmon, there’s nothing better than Jacob’s Creek Chardonnay.
You mentioned a double-barrel Shiraz, could you explain what that is?
It’s an amazing wine. So a few years ago the Australians thought let’s take the iconic red wine that is Shiraz, age it in oak barrels for 18 months then age it some more in former whiskey barrels. The whole double-barrel process makes the wine taste richer, deeper and smoother because it has a more delicate level of tannins.
What about the Campo Viejo?
The most iconic Spanish wine region is Rioja where the Campo Viejo bodega is located. The winery is one of the most modern in the region, in fact, we were the first ones to get the carbon-neutral certificate so even though we are the biggest producer of Rioja wine, the winery is sustainable. We have an amazing quality of fruit from which we produce 4 wines. The two wines that will be on the market here are Tempranillo and Reserva.
What is the difference between the two?
Tempranillo is a type of grape that they call the King of grapes so it is usually used as the base of most wines in Spain. Reserva means that the wine has to be aged in oak barrels for at least 12 months but at Campo Viejo, we age it for 18 months then we keep it for a couple of years in the bottle before releasing it to the market. So the Reserva has different aromas because of the way it is aged. It is oaky, you might get some characters of dried fruit, coffee whereas the Tempranillo is all about fruit, it has a lovely fruity character, you’ll get a lot of strawberries, cherries with a hint of oak.
I’m sure as a brand ambassador you have travelled to all the vineyards. What was that like, seeing where wine begins its journey?
It was amazing because I got to go for training in Australia, New Zealand and Spain. Along with other brand ambassadors, we were taken to meet the winemaker in Barossa Valley so that we could see how the wine is made. I’ve met wonderful people because I know the winemakers at Jacob’s Creek as well. It’s not that I read on a brochure that this person makes wine, no I have met the guy and drank wine with him (Brock Harrison) we swapped stories over more than one bottle of Chardonnay, he is a great guy and an expert at what he does so that gave me the confidence. It was the same in New Zealand we went to Brancott Estate and they showed us the first place where they planted Sauvignon Blanc in Marlborough. In Spain, we met Elena, the chief winemaker at Campo Viejo, and other winemakers so that was brilliant. Being a brand ambassador, you go from place to place and talk about wine which is a great job, I can’t complain especially when you work with wonderful wines. One of the main challenges, though, is all the food that is paired with the wine so you really have to keep in shape!
Besides travelling to new countries and immersing yourself in different cultures is there anything else that keeps the job interesting?
What has been interesting is that in wines you can discover different flavours of different fruits. Wine is always made from grapes but during the fermentation process, different compounds are created so for example in Chardonnay we can get aromas of peach, citrus, some tropical fruits. However, every country is different. I know that in Kenya, for example, peach is not really popular so when you talk to people and you’re trying to pass on the knowledge of each wine instead of talking about peach that is more popular in other countries it’s easier to mention pineapple, mango, melon. Sometimes it might be challenging but that’s also what keeps it interesting.
Clearly, wine is an everyday thing for you!
Yes, I love wine. I love to treat it not as a luxury but as a part of the day or as a part of a meal. I think that’s also the philosophy of Jacob’s Creek, we don’t want people to think wine is just for the connoisseur that you need to have taken a wine class or that you have to be special to understand wine. We like to be inclusive, open-minded and welcome everybody to Jacob’s Creek. It’s something that’s supposed to be shared with friends so if you buy a bottle of Jacob’s Creek, you can invite friends over and have a meal together. It’s a part of a new philosophy we call Bring Your Australian with ‘Australian’ being a synonym of this open-mindedness. Often when I talk about wine, people are afraid of it because they think that you really need to know a lot. However, when I do tastings I like to bring in humour as I explain the wine. I want to show people that it’s fun especially when you combine it with food. I think that’s important to show that wine can be enjoyed by many people.
Wine can seem a bit snobbish but it’s great that you point out that it can be enjoyed by anyone. Are there any other misconceptions you’ve encountered?
People think that the older the wine, the better it is. 80-90% of all wine is supposed to be drunk within 3 to 5 years after production. Not many wines have ageing potential. If you look at the Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc, its all about freshness so if you try to age it, it will lose that freshness and the different aromas you get. For high-quality Chardonnay like the Jacob’s Creek Reserve while it is still young you will get the fresh fruity aromas of mango and melon however with age you will get the aromas of honey and nuts.
You’re a professional in the world of wine now but what was your first experience with wine like?
When I first tried wine properly, I was a student on exchange and we were tasting wine in stages. We took in everything slowly then eventually drank the wine and spat it out. That was a surprise for me because for 15 minutes you’re talking about wine only to end up spitting it out! But through that I learned that wine is not just alcohol, alcohol is just the by-product. Wine is a history, it is a story, its a place, it is heritage, it is culture. For example, in Barossa Valley, there is a vine that is over 100 years old. When it comes to making wine, there are the people who make the wine so there is craftsmanship, there are people who pick the grapes so there is labour involved, there is a lot more going into the final product than people realise. I think the best saying is “every bottle is a bottle of poetry” which is very romantic.
I notice that New Zealand and Australian wines come with screw caps. What is your opinion on screw caps verses corks?
Wine has been closed with corks for centuries. The problem with them is that it tends to spoil 2-3% of wines with a disease caused by a substance called TCA that gives the wine a mouldy or wet paper smell. We call this type of wine corked. This is actually why in restaurants, they pour you a little bit of wine so that you can smell and taste it and see if you get the right aroma or if you get that wet paper smell. That’s why in New Zealand and Australia, they came up with screw caps so that wine wouldn’t get corked. With screw caps, the wine is the same quality. Some people like the ritual of opening a bottle with a cork and that is fine even in Spain they prefer to use corks because they say that is part of the DNA of Rioja so if the wine gets corked that is fine. You know, each to their own.
Well let’s say I have purchased some Jacob’s Creek or Campo Viejo, how should we store it?
Wine doesn’t like changes in temperature and it doesn’t like the sun that’s why most wine cellars are in basements because that is where there is the least change in temperature. I would suggest keeping it in the coolest place in your house, it doesn’t have to be in a fridge. There is nothing wrong with storing it in a vertical position especially if it has a screw cap. Usually wine would be stored in a horizontal position to keep it in contact with the cork which you can do for the Campo Viejo. When you’re ready to serve your roséor white wine then you can chill it. Red is usually served at room temperature but the recommended temperature is 18-20°C.
Let’s end this interview with a takeaway about wine from you.
Wine is people. It is meeting them, having a good time with them which includes great conversation. I think all that makes the wine taste better and where there is good wine to be shared there is good food as well.
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