Most LUSSO readers are bon viveurs and sybarites to a man and lady. That much is obvious.
You wouldn’t be reading now if you were some undiscerning peasant only interested in Jeremy Kyle reruns and the yellow sticker reduced to clear shelf at Lidl. However, we can’t all be Renaissance Men with total mastery over all aspects of culture. The truly knowledgable English wine lover is indeed a very rare breed. Whilst the high net worth individual (from any country) craves the very best, it never hurts to go back over the very basics. As someone who sells wine for Britain’s pre-eminent wine merchants, I’m here to give help sharpen up your inner oenophile.
So everybody knows about wine. It has always been the perfect father-in-law persuader that you were the right man for his daughter as long as you appreciated his half a dozen bottles of gunk stored in his bamboo wine rack. The reality is pretty simple really – it’s fermented grape juice.
Period. Don’t ever forget that. This is agriculture just like tomatoes and eggs. It’s only in Europe that we talk grandly about Chateaux and Domaines…talk to a South African and the vineyard is a farm. People seem to be gloriously unaware that it’s the quality of the grapes that counts and pretty much nothing else.
The UK is one of the most important markets for the world of wine and yet what is stunning is that the general populace have absolutely no knowledge of what they are drinking. Stroll through a small town in the middle of Maclaren Vale and your average Aussie will have a favourite winery and will be able to identify the leading grape variety from said winery. She’ll also know what makes the production better than the rest of the local producers. In the UK, consumers are more than happy to glug down chemically infused filth, and then turn around and quite happily chirp “I know what I like”….
Ladies and Gentlemen, if you are to buy in the high street, please may I lay down a few rules here:
1. Don’t ever believe half price offers in the supermarket – they cannot be true unless the wine has been grossly oversold before
2. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE use local wine shops. You will pay a bit more but you can ask questions and will get a pretty honest recommendation. As an ex-wineshop manager, I really miss chatting with customers about the right wine for their needs. Obviously, you can tell the shop what you like, but the context is everything. What are you drinking it with/for – it’s the whole point of a wine list.
3. Never be afraid to ask about the provenance of a wine, particularly in a restaurant…. where do the grapes come from? If the waiter(ress)/proprietor cannot answer this question, then ask for someone who does. If they don’t know, leave. (Alright, that’s just me.)
4. In a UK restaurant of any quality, NEVER buy the house wine unless you have had it before. The chances are it will be the cheapest wine the establishment could buy. Even with well-regarded establishments, you will be generally getting a crock of shite, with a trade value of sub four quid. Yes, you heard me.
5. Always chose wines further up the wine list and ask questions. “What wine do you like to drink from your list?” is a brilliant thing to ask your server. If they can’t respond properly, again ask for someone who can.
6. If it comes with a cork, ask to smell it. If it smells of moldy newspaper, wet dog, damp cloth, or damp basement, ask for a replacement. If they offer you the wine list, puff your cheeks and look suitably insulted. Ask for the SAME wine, but this time not corked. Incidentally, the chief cause of cork taint is the presence of 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA), and / or 2, 4, 6-tribromoanisole (TBA) from the actual cork. Trying to remember the names to bring your server into line is nigh on impossible.
It’s a real shame that culturally, in this country, the pairing of wine to food is still considered an afterthought. Jay Rayner, a restaurant critic who I really rate, will review a meal and give a cursory nod and a wink to the wine list and then quote a price (inclusive of wine) without discussing the beverage side. Even though this consists of half of the cost of the evening.
He is certainly not alone. My advice is be bold and be inquisitive. Ask for and demand quality and if you don’t like what you are offered, please say so (and why).
Drink decent wine. The hangover will be much milder, your food will taste better, and you will come away, though slightly less rich, certainly enriched by the experience. Chin chin.