Wine tasting made easy – by one of Australia's great wine characters
How to taste wine by the late Len Evans, AO, OBE
By Robyn Lewis
It’s the cover of this book that gets me in. A deceptively simple profile of the late Len Evans by artist Fred Williams, a mere four lines capture and summarises the man – energetic, opinionated, flamboyant, deeply knowledgeable and full of humour. How can so little say so much?
This book is Len Evan’s final legacy to the wine world. Completed shortly before his sudden death in 2006, it puts many other wine books to shame – firstly, for its brevity. The foreword by esteemed wine critic and author Hugh Johnson quotes Winston Churchill’s apology for writing a long letter: ‘I didn’t have time to write a short one’. “This is Len’s short book; it took him time, fifty years or so, to perfect his technique, collect his thoughts and refine them into this nugget.”
And so it is with art, design and philosophy “learn to know what to leave out”. Len certainly has done so in How to taste wine, a slim paperback just over 100 pages long. His ample credentials summarised in the introduction, he states his thesis: that wine is to be enjoyed, and – like music and art – the more you know about it the more you can enjoy it. One page alone covers the tasting technique; if we all remembered just that single page (21, for the curious), we’d be far better wine tasters. ‘And enjoy it more’ as it concludes.
Then to wine assessment; from colour, nose and entry through middle and after palate to the finish. Less than 50 pages of distilled knowledge, every one a gem. The total novice might not realise what has been omitted, but he or she will be none the worse for it. What remains is the essence of wine tasting, and opens many doors to further knowledge, for those who seek it.
A whole chapter is devoted to the wine show judging system in Australia. Why? Because it has been immensely valuable in improving the quality of Australian wines over the past four decades, and provides the ability for winemakers to have their wines impartially assessed against others in their class, free from the personal likes or biases a sole critic may possess. Len officiated at over 50 major wine shows, and was proud of his legacy in guiding the new generation of associates and judges, which continues today in the Len Evans Tutorials.
The last section entitled Reflections describes magnificent dinners accompanied by wines most mortals can only dream of – one included no fewer than fourteen bottles of the great French vintage of 1929, including a Romanée Conti and two first growths from Bordeaux. The book concludes with some of Len’s theories concerning the taste profiles of different varieties and his 10-point ‘Theory of Capacity’, which can be summarised in the adage “life is too short to drink bad wine”.
They say you can’t judge a book by its cover. But the parallels are extraordinary: a man, his profile and Welsh nature, his character caught in this simplest of portraits, and the book itself, capturing the complex subject of wine tasting in deceptive simplicity. A wine-lover’s life is too short not to own and use How to taste wine. Thank you, Len.
How to Taste Wines by Len Evans AO, OBE was published by Barbara Beckett Publishing (Sydney 2007, sc)
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