The other day I met a friend for dinner in a pub. As we studied the wine list, she set out her rules. No Chenin Blanc of any kind. No Pinot Grigio. No Sauvignon Blanc unless it was a really full, fruity number. In other words, she didn’t like very dry wines and had decided these grapes were the worst culprits, denying herself the pleasure of, say, a Vouvray or a Pinot Gris from Alsace.
We settled for a fresh, apricot and vanilla scented D’Arenberg ‘The Olive Grove’ Chardonnay 2005. As we ordered, I caught myself thinking that it was a shame a few bad wine experiences prevented her from trying a grape she thought she hated, which had been grown in a different country or style. But then I thought – hang on, don’t I have my own wine rules? And don’t they make some people think I’m a bit picky when it comes to drinking? And just as my friend is unlikely to change her rules, I am as unlikely to change mine. Here they are:
1. Never drink out of a coloured glass, a thick glass or a plastic one
Why. Even. Bother. Just like eating, part of the experience of drinking a great glass of wine is seeing what you are tasting. Somehow, drinking out of a darkly-coloured, or even an opaque glass dulls the senses. Ditto a goblet of thick glass. And drinking wine – especially Champagne – out of a plastic cup or glass is just depressing. I know health and safety often requires this at events, but I just can’t do it anymore. I’ll just stick to lager or soft drinks instead.
2. Don’t drink the cheap, nasty stuff even if it’s the only thing on offer
We were out at a meal with a large group of friends with a set menu and wine. The venue was fantastic. The food OK. The wine barely drinkable. Overcooked red and tasteless white. And there wasn’t really an alternative on offer. So I stuck to water, while everyone around me got very jolly. I was, of course, the life and soul of the party… I just won’t waste my alcohol units on wine that has cost about 20p to make when I could be saving them for something fantastic.
3. Avoid taking a wine I’m desperate to taste to a friend’s for dinner
You can never guarantee that your friends will open your carefully chosen wine. They’ve either have carefully chosen their own to go with the menu or they’re not that bothered about what they serve and will grab the first bottle to hand which may or may not be mine. So I buy something nice, but for them, not me. But I do know that when people come to mine, they generally have put some thought into what they bring (even if I have said there’s no need). So I do try to ensure we all get to sample it.
4. Never drink wines on their own when they are designed to go with food
You’ll never get the full pleasure. Most Italian reds being a case in point. I could have cried when a Brunello was served on its own at a friend’s house rather than with the meaty main course we’d just eaten. By the same token, while Jurancon Sec does nothing for me on its own, it is great with a herby, garlicky roast chicken.
5. Keep a large bottle of Vermouth in the fridge for cooking
This saves ever having to buy bottles of white plonk for risottos, gravies etc – or using some of a fab bottle because I forgot to buy said cheap plonk.
6. Always seek the advice of the sommelier
He or she is your friend and can introduce you to wines you’d never thought of. I’ll never forget the sommelier at a Paris restaurant recommending Torrontes or one in London advising us to try a Swiss wine. Neither wines broke the bank. And we loved them.
7. Be wary of supermarket ‘bargains’
Read this article by Victoria Moore and you’ll know why.
8. On holiday in a wine region, drink local
This isn’t about air miles. But when I go to Australia, why would I want to drink Italian wines? (I’m sure I would if I lived there – but I don’t). I love the Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys in Sonoma, so why would I drink French wine when I am in Northern California? Especially when some of the really fabulous local wines are made in such small quantities, they may not make it past the state line. You might be missing an opportunity to taste something you really can’t anywhere else. I can have loads of it back home. Plus you can get to learn which wines really do work well with local dishes, especially in Europe.
9. Never just stick to grapes I know I like
Experiment. Experiment. Experiment.
10. Really, REALLY try to have at least two alcohol-free days a week
And **most** weeks I succeed. Honest.