A Matter of Taste

The most consistent line we hear at staff wine training sessions is ‘I don’t like red wine’ which lays down a marker and proves a tricky obstacle when conducting a tasting, especially when held around 5pm without the help of a serious food offering. In truth, it is hard to disagree with my staff on this matter, the majority of which are aged between 16 and 25 years old. It took a while for me to enjoy and appreciate the nuances of red wine and I am still learning and changing habits. I think this also applies to most food and drink. Some is down to childhood memories, liver and bacon and fish for me, budget (given £2.64 of a £5 bottle of wine is tax) or simply palate development as well as regression.

In my twenties I wanted blockbuster reds from Australia or America featuring Shiraz, Merlot or Zinfandel. I drank pints of simple sweet ‘smooth’ Yorkshire ale and rich, peaty, smoky malt whiskey. I distinctly remember a boiling hot summers day wallowing in Australian artificially oaked chardonnay by the bucket….the next day was painful! But as my career progressed I was exposed to more grape varieties, producer and fresher fish, ways of cooking, eating at different times of day (in our industry lunch is around 11.30am and dinner either 5.30pm or whatever is left at midnight) and obviously wanting to learn.

So our training sessions include getting our staff to appreciate the suitability of each drink we sell, the different times of the day or week they are making recommendations for and the food they are being asked to pair it with. We also try to avoid saying ‘NO’ to guests who might ask for a Merlot or Rioja by the glass or ‘ANYTHING BUT CHARDONNAY’. To us it is a marker to what sort of flavor they are seeking and a challenge to say this can be as enjoyable as any Merlot or guess what, that glass you just finished WAS chardonnay.

Of course taste is subjective but seriously anyone who says ‘I don’t like Italian wine’ must have had poor luck given the odd 350 grape varieties or so and thousands of different producers! I’ve served Pinot Grigio to guests who have left convinced it was Grand Cru Chardonnay. And the groans we get when the Guinness question is asked soon dissipate once the first few sups of Black Isle Stout are taken and there is change from a fiver. Of course it’s not Guinness but its stout, just not as you know it.

So the next time you’re shopping or out and about, give something you don’t recognise a taste, you never know when you’ll be surprised and there will be far more highlights than duds.

What I’m drinking this month:
Autumn means game so French and Australian Pinot Noir, Sicilian Nerello Mascalese, old Rioja and South African Chenin Blanc from bush vines.
Beer wise, loving The Wild Beer Company’s Madness IPA (Somerset) and Anchor Steam from San Francisco, USA.

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