When it comes to buying wine a la supermarché I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. Ordering wine in restaurants is easy because there’s usually only one of each colour that I can afford. But the supermarket is a minefield of sneaky offers and pretty labels and end-of-aisle “look at me!” displays. The last time I bought a bottle I couldn’t see any particularly tempting offers so I panicked and bought one with a picture of a cat sitting on an egg.
I have long been jealous of my friends and, conveniently, downstairs neighbours for their wine acumen. When I pop down in my jim jams to watch some telly or help them eat a Sunday roast I always know I’ll be presented with a large glass of something nice; invariably much nicer than my absurdly-labelled offerings. And because I am always saying how overwhelming I find the wine buying experience, they suggested I come along to one of the wine tastings that they regularly attend.
Elwood Wines is an independent wine merchant, and holds tastings at various lovely Brighton venues. I went to one at the Old Ship Hotel where they have a very atmospheric wine cellar come 17th Century smugglers’ tunnel. It’s a perfect setting for an intimate event such as this one, with a long candlelit dining table. The evening took us on a tour of Spain, with two sherries, a cava, two whites and four reds. Tour guide Karl Elwood (I just made that title up – he didn’t have a badge or anything) clearly knows his stuff and gave us the information in a way that held the interest of the seasoned wine drinker as well as I, the ignoramus. We sampled the wines alongside various tapas dishes to complement and enhance the flavours. The wines were tasted in pairs and we were encouraged to use our little maps of Spain to see how the flavours related to the regions and their climates. We covered the various ageing processes and grape varieties too (tempranillo featuring heavily for the reds). Though much of what I learnt went in one ear and out the other, I did fill in some notes on the tasting sheets provided. These notes start off in a pretty informative manner but quickly descend into expletives as a means of describing fervent appreciation.
It was rather nice being completely surrounded by wine glasses and felt a bit like experimenting in a medieval laboratory. I am the sort of person that usually dives straight into any food or drink put in front of me so it made a welcome change to inspect the clarity, colour and aroma, let the wine breathe, and savour it with the bite size accompaniments.
The prices of each bottle weren’t revealed until after we’d tasted each one and formed our opinions, with surprising results. I was pleased to find that between a £25.75 and £45.50 bottle I preferred the cheaper one and pleased further still to be told that that’s perfectly okay. I have come away with new vocabulary of aromas and flavours to add to my standard repertoire of ‘tastes red’ and ‘winey’. It’s great to find some evening entertainment that is, well, a bit grown up really. It’s informative and enjoyable in equal measure and at £25 it’s really very reasonable.
These are my favourites from the evening:
- Cava Brut Reserva NV, René Barbier (£9.00) – very good value and particularly good with chorizo and manchego skewers
- Casal Caerio Albarino 2010, Rias Baixas (£14.50) – a nice fresh white with peachy acidity, good with seafood
- Ribero Tinto Meses 2009, Ribera del Duero (£10.25) – this red has quite an unusual flavour with hints of liquorice. I loved it but there were definitely divided opinions on this one
- Pedro Ximenez Triana, Bodegas Hildago – La Gitana (£15.00) – sherry to die for, goes marvellously with chocolate