Saturday, 15 April 2017

Viticulture: Is this the Best Wine Themed Board Game for Wine Lovers?

I couldn't not write about this one. I had the opportunity to play Viticulture very recently and I can't wait for my next chance to open that beautiful box. It's a strategy board game in which players are winemakers in Tuscany (love!) and have to go through all the process of wine-making and selling in order to earn Liras (money) or points (which ultimately wine you the game).

The Basics

The game has a main board with different spaces you can places your "worker tokens". Every player has his or her own smaller control boards which they place in from to themselves to keep track of their vines and wines. Certain activities can only be performed in certain seasons (you can't plant during the winter, for example). To make wine, you need to spend actions to buy vines, plant them, harvest them and finally, put those wines in the cellar to eventually sell them.

Just like in real life, you can decide to sell your grapes if you have more than you can fit in your cellar, and at the end of every turn (year), wines will age, improving their quality. 

Another thing that resembled a real vineyard that I loved was the fact that you needed certain technologies to be able to plant certain grapes, and that famous varieties such as Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon would give you more expensive wine than Malvasia, for example.

Also, in the "cellar" you could mix red and white grapes to make "blush" or "sparkling". Sorry if this review sounds like a lovefest but seriously! The only thing we were able to criticise was that some of the tokens were very similar so you needed to be very careful not to confuse them. But that's fine picking.

This is all resolved in a very straightforward way and, while the instructions took a good while to explain, they were easy to understand and once everyone got them, the game ran very smoothly.

Note: The game can be played between 1 (which is probably the most boring way, but hey, it's an option) to 6 players. We were a group of 6, all experienced board game players and wine drinkers. In fact, a few real life glasses were poured on the day, but that's another story.

Game Play

Every player has a certain amount of resources assigned randomly at the start of the game. People begin with a number of workers and each worker can perform "summer actions" and "winter actions". Obviously, the more workers you have the more actions you can have, but for that you need to "hire them" and "train them" and that costs Liras and a turn. 

Certain cards will give you bonuses, for example, a "Marketer", a "Teacher" or a "Guest Speaker". 

Each turn consists in a number of rounds in which every player places one worker at the time.

While the box says is a 90 minutes game, it took us nearly 3 hours, but in fairness, it was our first time playing and we were not particularly in a rush.

The Quality of the Pieces

Very good, the painted wood tokens were very pretty, the transparent drops of wine looked lovely on the boards and the card design was very well made and faithful to the topic. Even little details like calling the market "Mercato" (Italian) or using Liras (Italy's pre-Euro currency) instead of generic "gold coins" was appreciated it.

The game is available on Amazon, and at £45.30 is more than reasonable for the quality both of the design and of the dynamics.

You don't need to care about wine to enjoy it as a board game player, but if you do, you'll appreciate it in a whole different level, you can see that the people who design it (Jamie Stegmaier, Alan Stone and Moreth Monrad Pedersen) either knew their stuff or were very well advised.

Want more Wine Board Games: Check out my review of World of Wine.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Polly Wants Prosecco! How Parrot-like Speak Can Prevent you from Enjoying Wine your Way

I remember one story about a parrot that was rescued from a very dodgy bar by a person close to me. She told me that, every now and then, the bird would yell "Get him out, he's drunk!" and burst into what sounded like a maniac's laughter.

I think it's fascinating when a parrot learns human words and is able to repeat them even without really understanding what they mean. It's not so cool or impressive when a person is the one doing this. And yet people yelp slogans, sayings and other common places on a daily basis about any topic that touches our lives. Wine is not an exception.

True, you need to learn your one o' ones before you can question them, but in a world that changes so quickly, being able to recite the 10 Beaujolais Crus like a trained tropical bird is not as important as trying to understand what makes them special, even if you keep forgetting Régnié and no matter how many mnemonic techniques you come up with to memorise it, it just doesn't stay... You know what, Régnié, it's not me it's you (this may or may not be vaguely based in a real story of studying frustration).

Anyway, I'm all up for trying to memorise the universe, but when it comes to parrot-like behaviour and wine, there are some pearls of wisdom that I find particularly dated and borderline prejudiced. I'm not exempt of them and I have eaten my slice of humble pie, like the time I refused to touch kindly offered Sherry because I'm not really a Sherry person, thanks. Words of a younger and dumber me (let's not go into the fact that this happened barely a few months ago). But my point is that after talking to the right people and trying the right Sherry, I completely came around and yes, I won't be chilling a full bottle of Amontillado to sip while watching House of Cards anytime soon, but I'll be happy to take a couple of glasses with Game of Thrones on (yes, the show I watch influences the wine I like to drink on the sofa but that's another story).

This takes me to a news story about an inexpensive sparkling wine called ProGrigio launched this week in Britain. The name, portmanteau of Prosecco and Pinot Grigio is a marketer's dream, and the tagline If you like Prosecco, you'll love ProGrigio, is composed of the stuff that makes candidates win elections.

It kind of reminds me to that episode of The Simpsons in which Homer accidentally hybridises tomatoes and tobacco into a new vegetable also named with a very catchy word: ToMacco.

As usual, Lisa was the only one in the family who wasn't too fond of ToMacco. Image via simpsonsworld
It tasted weird, and the plants were fertilised with "chemicals" to say the least (including Plutonium from Springfield's nuclear plant) but everyone wanted more of it. In the words of Bart, "it's smooth and mild — and refreshingly addictive." I wonder if Bart's tasting notes on ToMacco could be extrapolated to this innovation.

But my point is, that even while it's tempting to assume it's going to be of a certain quality, this is just the type of situation in which parrot-like behaviour becomes evident. I will assume it's only a matter of time until this product goes global (it already went viral) and Ireland will probably see some sort of me too on the shelves. I actually look forward to try it, not because I think it's going to blow my mind or it's going to be awful, but because after all this fuss, I just want to decide for myself.

Anyway, all of this babble was actually an excuse for me to draw animals talking about wine. So, here's a little comic with real phrases we all have heard plenty of times, so many times in fact that they've become parrot-speak.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Mainstream Vs. Boutique Vs. Natural Wine Lovers: How They See Each Other

I recently found an illustration by Cinismo Ilustrado which made fun of how carnivores, vegetarians and vegans see each other. So basically, meat lovers will see each other as "normal", vegetarians as "bunnies" and vegans as "E.T." (or basically, aliens) and so on. I thought it's possible to make a similar graph comparing the way different types of wine lovers see each other.

So, while it's not all primary colours here, let's say there are three main groups:

Mainstream: People that love wine in general and will drink a good glass without worrying to much about the backstage process. If it's tasty, it's tasty, isn't it that simple?

-Of course it isn't- Said the next type...

Boutique: Wine lovers that will value craft and small independent houses that work in an environmentally friendly way. True, sometimes a bit of chemicals are needed but as long as you don't abuse it and take good care of Mother Nature, you are in the good books. Are they right or what?

-Wrong! They're part of the problem!- Said the next type...

Natural: They're to wine what Poison Ivy is to Batman. The only sane people if you ask themselves, complete extremists if you take anyone else's opinion. And while there are different categories among those who stand for natural wines, the 101 is that chemicals are bad and if you use them your wine is poisoned.

So, inspired by the aforementioned artwork, here's a little guide on how do different wine lovers see each other depending on which one of these groups they identify themselves with...

How Mainstream sees Mainstream: The beautiful, cool kids. Why not aim for perfection, right?

How Mainstream sees Boutique: Bunch of hippies, some of them are kinda Ok.

How Mainstream sees Natural: You might as well join a cult. They'll be less weird.

How Boutique sees Mainstream: The plastics. Attractive but zero personality.

How Boutique sees Boutique: Creative and kind, just happy to express themselves.

How Boutique sees MainstreamTheir hearts might be in the right place, but they're eccentric nuts.

How Natural sees MainstreamSkynet meets BP oil spills and puppy killers.

How Natural sees BoutiqueThey seem "green" but among them they're a bunch of hypocrites with lots to hide.

How Natural sees MainstreamThe saviours of Gaia.

Obviously, it's not so divisive in real life (although I've heard pretty judgy comments from all types), Agree? Disagree? Let me know!


Saturday, 4 February 2017

Cat's Piss, Wet Dog and Musk: Are we Tasting Wine or Playing Jumanji?

Every time I hear someone saying a wine smells like cat's piss I'm immediately taken back to memories of an understaffed pet shop I used to visit ages ago just to play with the kittens. My love for kittens, just as my love for certain Sauvignon Blancs *cough, Marlborough, cough* made me endure the pungent smell, but at the same time, it prevented me from staying longer or having a second glass.

And as funky as it sounds, cat's piss is not the only wine aroma descriptor associated with animals that is included in the common tongue -pun intended- of sommeliers and wine people. "Farmyard", "Horse-y", "Game", "Musk" and "Wet Dog" are among the smells mentioned in tasting notes that would be more appropriate when talking about a zoo in the summer or an overcrowded gym.

These are not arbitrary or chosen by the experts to troll you, but the result of the presence of Brettanomyces, a type of yeast associated with aromas that you'd expect from a cage more than from a bottle. Love them or hate them, they're legit.

But why stop there? Dust your childhood books and grow your vocabulary of critters and their aromatic qualities. In order to help, here are a few animal wine descriptors I think the world could benefit from having...

Just imagine it...

Oh, I sense a delicate scent of raccoon fresh out of a bin-
Absolutely, very ripe-

While I'm not a fan of Brettanomyces, or Brett, for the pals, I have to admit that life would be dull if everything we could find in wine was citrus and berries.

It's kinda like in that film American Hustle, where Jennifer Lawrence's characters is obsessed with her odd-smelling nail polish. "Flowers and garbage", she describes it as. Great fit for a film where the glamorous and the trashy blended so well.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Reasons why wine people need to have a good poker face 🍷 😐

I'm barely acceptable at Texas Hold'em (am I?) but I like to think that I have a decent poker face.
I've had to develop one so I can avoid rolling my eyes at the wrong bureaucrat, raise an eyebrow when I hear something shocking or laugh at the face of someone telling me Riesling is going to be the next Pinot Grigio. 

Which takes me to wine. Most of the time, socialising around it will bring the most sincere smile to my face, but for those few times when my left eye wants to twitch and my jaw wants to drop, it's good to imagine that I have a Royal Flush in my hand and I'm trying to pretend I'm debating whether to stay or fold.

Here's a little comic I drew about some of the moments when having a good poker face around wine will make your life easier.

Can you think of another occasion in which a good poker face becomes handy for wine lovers? Feel free to send it my way! I could draw it next 😁

Let me know!  

Sunday, 11 December 2016

World of Wine: A Board Game that Teaches you about Wine

My love for wine and board games is usually expressed by me drinking the first while attempting to win the second. Recently I found out about a wine themed board game called World of Wine Game and after a few emails "from" and "to" the game makers -Wine School of Excellence- were kind enough to send me a sample.

The basics

My first thought when it arrived was "this is bigger than I imagined" as I was expecting a box similar in size to Spyfall, Codenames or many other party games. The purple box with golden letters is about 27x27 and as my husband pointed out, it looks fancy.

The game's instructions couldn't be easier... You go around a board moving according to a dice roll. Once you arrive to a place, it's marked with one of eight different categories or, if you're lucky, with a "Pick Any Card" which will probably make life easier if you have a stronger area of knowledge.

There are the categories:

  • France
  • Italy
  • Spain & Portugal
  • Germany, Austria & Hungary
  • Australia, New Zealand & South Africa
  • The Americas
  • Fortified, Sparkling and Sweet Wines
  • General, Viticulture & Vinification

Game Play

This Trivial Pursuit-like mechanics come with an innovation: Depending on a player's level of wine knowledge, points can be given with three different levels of difficulty. The questions come with three possible answers, but if you play "pro" you don't get to listen to this part and have to answer correctly yourself. If you're "novice" or "getting there", you might get extra points if you answer straight away, but if you don't know the answer, you get to hear the three options and still get -less- points if you guess the right one.

As I took the game to a friend's house to test it, we found out this was key as it managed to offer a real challenge to wine geeks while giving newbies a chance to win the game and actually learn stuff about wine.

We noticed that the questions had varying levels of difficulty within the same category and that the game played in a very relaxed way. In fact, you can stop whenever you want so we agreed to play ten rounds. This is excellent if you are at a party and want to do something while waiting for other guests, or just to entertain yourselves for a while but don't want to commit to a super long board game.

Another thing, the dice roll and how far do you get in the board only had the function of have you landing in categories, as the points were giving for getting right answers and not for being the one further on the board at any given point. While no one minded, that'd be a bit of room for improvement, as the moving around was used more as a roulette to choose the category than as a way to mark progress.

The Quality of the Pieces

The board is thick and sturdy, and the colours are vibrant and the texture smooth. It feels like very good quality. The cards are neat as well, and even though the material is slightly thin, the paper is nice and the print work looks polished. The questions come with a "Nice to know" line at the bottom which is always interesting. We enjoyed reading this fun facts after every turn.

The only thing that wasn't up to the rest of it were the meeples -the little tokens- that represent each player on the map. Maybe it's just a personal preference, but they were plastic and hollow so it contrasted with the luxurious feeling of everything else. Wooden meeples or -maybe this is a logistic nightmare but I'm just putting it out there- meeples made of wine corks would have been so much nicer.

Overall Impression

The game will appeal more to people who want to learn about wine than to people that are used to playing more challenging board games. It's fun, easy to learn and you can play for as long as you want so it feels very casual and party-friendly.

You can appreciate it that the questions were made by someone that knows their wines -a certified wine educator actually- but they feel more like a game show than like study material, which is great.

If you and your friends enjoy gathering over a bottle of wine while playing something casually and talking, this will be a lovely thing to have, but if you enjoy sitting for hours to develop complex strategies and play with 3D-printed warrior shaped figures, maybe instead of World of Wine, you should check out World of Warcraft.

For more information or to buy it online visit

Want more wine board games? Check out my review of Viticulture.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Yes, We Won the Geographic Lottery but that Shouldn't Be the Only Thing to be Proud About for Venezuelans

Most people point to their own when asked to find the best country in the world. I don't think there is such thing, as every place has their strengths and weakness, but I often hear/read Venezuelans exalting ours as the top of the top (yes, despite the current crisis, as judging the country for what's been like during the last few years is like judging a person's health taking only into account that critical week they spent in intensive care after a car crash).
However, when asked why do they believe that, you'll hear them frequently mention the stunning Angel Falls, the beautiful white-sand clear-water beaches and the world's biggest oil reserves. All those things which just happened to be there before the country was even formed.
I decided to do an exercise and do a Google Image search on the "wonders" of several countries...

Here's France...

And Italy...

This is Ireland...

What's my point? Well... The last three screenshots of searches feature a mix of cultural, archaeological and historical "wonders", And it's not just something you'll find when searching European countries...

This is India...

And below, Japan...

Again, beautiful natural landscapes with iconic buildings that show their rich, interesting culture and history. 

But you don't need to go so far to find more examples...

Peru seems to have a favourite wonder...

And Brazil also has an iconic image, alternating with natural sites...

Mexico also has a mix of heritage and wilderness...

Now, a Google Image search of "Venezuela wonders"...

The green, the untamed rainforest, the waterfalls, the beaches, more beaches, more waterfalls... Beautiful isn't it? I am not denying how amazing all of those are, but it'd be nice to see a cultural or historical landmark, something human-made that is worthy of getting a nod on the first page of a Google Images search, modern or ancient.
It's not like there isn't any human achievement to be proud of, the work of painters, designersscientists and athletes born in Venezuela is top class, Hey! Simón Bolivar features as the 72nd most influential people of the MILLENIUM according to Biography by A&E Network.
So yes, be proud (and do your bit to protect) the green and the wavy, but also show some love to the work of talented people.
It's like when someone says they love a person, and it's thanks to their lovely face and beautiful body... what about their personality and their intelligence?
This is by no means a rant, just an invitation to value the work of people too. Next time you recommend stuff to a tourist, don't only talk about the natural wonders, send them to a museum too or to a historical site. Maybe if enough people did that, the Google Image search would be different.