Barolo and the Bourgeois

It was a cold December night and the evening service in a new, upmarket east London restaurant was in full swing. 

The talented sous chef could be heard expediting orders while the rest of the kitchen team shouted “oui!” as a sort of tribute to the classic French chefs who inspired the style of food they were proudly making. The bar was full and the belly laughs of loud obnoxious men in suits echoed through the room. It’s safe to say that everything was going smoothly. 

I was a member of the front of house team and my section was filling up nicely. Mid-way through service I had a table of six Americans (New Yorkers to be exact) sit down in my section. They were very nice people but what happened next summed up everything that I believe to be wrong with wine culture.

One man, who definitely wasn’t shy about the fact that he had a few dollars, had assumed the role of group leader. He looked over the wine list and I could see him skimming through it until he saw an expensive bottle that he recognised. He looked up at me and, amidst all the bravado, his face was clearly lacking in confidence.  He unconvincingly said, “We’ll take the Barolo.”

I took the bottle to the table, let him taste it and asked the gentleman if he would like me to decant it. He hesitantly said, “Yes please.” This was a heartbreaking moment for me and I will explain why.

First of all, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with ordering a £100 bottle of Barolo and asking for it to be decanted if you believe the wine requires it and that’s what you want. There’s also absolutely nothing wrong with not knowing something about a wine list and asking a waiter or a sommelier to help – that’s exactly what they’re there for.

In this instance, the gentleman clearly wasn’t confident while reading the wine list and didn’t want to seem ignorant, so he played it safe and threw money at the situation, then went through the motions of what he thought would be the correct protocol. I’ve seen this happen so often and to me it removes some of the principle purpose of wine, which is to drink and enjoy it!

Wine all too often is seen as an upmarket drink, especially in certain areas.

I grew up in South Yorkshire and, to this day, my best and oldest friends still mock me because I sometimes opt for a glass of Cotes du Rhône over a pint of Guinness. Enjoying and knowing about wine shouldn’t be reserved for the middle classes and, if you’re working class like myself, you shouldn’t be ridiculed for liking and possessing knowledge about it.

It is such an amazing drink: it changes from year to year and, depending on the weather/climate, the same type of grape can be harvested in a different place and will therefore make wine which tastes completely different. It is truly fascinating!

This blog is a guide to wine for the everyday person, the person who has a student loan and an overdraft; the person who doesn’t have time to go to a specialist vintner to buy wine, the novice or the seasoned wine-lover. It is a celebration of wine and how it should be accessible to everyone.

I find it weird that, in the UK, wine is deemed posh. A winemaker is essentially a farmer – they get dirty and work in the outdoors. Growing and harvesting grapes and then producing wine isn’t glamorous, it’s hard work! Also, if you ever visit a small wine producer’s cave/tasting room – which I highly recommend you do – you’ll see exactly how unpretentious it is.

I visited my friend Serge in Alsace, France, the other month. When he came to greet us, he was in wellies and covered in mud. His dog came bounding up to us and we proceeded to do a tasting in a small barn that wasn’t much bigger than a shed. The whole day was a far cry from the swanky bars that his wine normally ends up in.

It was almost what I would call the perfect wine experience. Just a few people enjoying a glass or two on a crisp Sunday afternoon. Serge explained things about the terroir of the local area and we asked questions. No ‘wankiness’ to be seen and we didn’t feel embarrassed if we didn’t know what he was talking about.

This blog is a tribute to that experience. We want to celebrate wine for everything it is and cut through the pretentious bullshit and misconceptions. At its very best, we’d like to encourage people to delve into the world of wine, even though they may have been apprehensive in the past.

– James

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