By Richard Household
A very warm welcome to this my first wine article for The DatebooK. I have been a wine merchant and wine educator for more than 25 years. In fact, if you include the visits to my grandparents’ vineyard in Somerset, then wine has been in my blood (both literally and metaphorically!) for most of my life. It should be said, however, that although my grandparents were almost pioneers in terms of English wine production in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the resulting wine was …. well let’s just say that it was not world class and leave it at that!
It was only when I went to stay with a family in Bordeaux when I was 17 that I realised how good wine could be. This family had a wine bottling facility in a rather unglamorous suburb of Bordeaux but it was here that I first explored Bordeaux wines and the food that was and is such an important part of wine appreciation. It was my ‘Road to Damascus’ moment … I loved it. Tasting all these wonderful red and white wines and visiting local markets, including the fish markets in Arcachon, to buy food for the huge lunches they produced every day for the workers in the winery I was well and truly hooked.
I set up my first company in 1996, wholesaling wines mainly to the catering and events industries. I am always looking to learn and continue to explore the world of wine. Last year I completed the WSET Level 4 Diploma and I am an Approved Programme Provider for the WSET. I own Brompton Wine Ltd, which is a London Wine Merchant, and I also own Wimbledon Wine School which runs winemaker dinners, vineyard trips and offers WSET approved courses to the wine and hospitality industries as well wine enthusiasts from the general public.
Here’s a quick guide that might help you get a bit more from the wines you choose. Firstly, be brave! I know it can be risky when you are in charge of selecting a wine for an event but you can make a great choice which will still appeal to almost everyone. So, there is more to life than Prosecco – for the same cost you can find many great methode traditionelle sparkling wines which are far better (both in terms of taste and quality) than the vast majority of Proseccos. Sparkling Saumur, for example, is a lovely party fizz.
Secondly, don’t always go for Sauvignon Blanc. Sauvignon tastes great on its own but often falls short with food, unless there is goats cheese in the dish. Try a Pinot Gris from New Zealand, a Grillo from Sicily or a Godello (better than Albarinho) from Galicia and yes, you can drink Chardonnay! As you will discover, I never try to dictate what people should drink. Wine is a wonderfully individual affair – there are no rules to tell you what you should or shouldn’t like. However, Chardonnay has had a bad press due to some styles that are very heavily oaked; we’ve all been there. There is no doubt that Chardonnay takes to oak well. It can make every style from the clean crisp Macons through to the huge oily, oaky monsters that used to be produced in California and parts of Australia. There is a place for all these wines. The point is that Chardonnay is amazingly versatile and (I promise you!) there is a Chardonnay out there to suit all tastes. It is a superb food wine.
For reds – be bold. Choose a wine that has layers of fruit, spice, warmth and will marry with the stronger flavours we enjoy in the winter. Think Cotes de Rhone with its layers of jammy fruit, spice and savoury deliciousness. Argentina and Chile are also good choices.
The main piece of advice is to always think about what food the wine is being matched with. Tasting wines on their own does not give the full picture. A white with a little more acidity or a red with more pronounced tannins may taste a little aggressive without food but as soon as the wine is enjoyed with food, it sings. The edge of acidity and tannin is lost and then the layers of fruit can express themselves. If the wine tastes too easy on its own …. then beware!
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