A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine

news: A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine

THE KING of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar (604-562 BC), was probably the first person to have a wine list, which incidentally is still in existence. Over the years, I compiled many wine lists for restaurants, hotels and clubs, and I always included bin numbers. These are very important, especially if there are 10 different Chardonnays on the list.

If you just order Chardonnay and the sommelier doesn’t ask you which one, then you will get whichever one he wants to get rid of. But if you order by the bin number, you will get the one you want. Another problem arises if you order Muscat and the sommelier thinks you said Muscadet – you will get a very different wine to the one you wanted. Always order by bin number.

In a restaurant, the host should order the wine and not the wine buff. If you pretend to know about wines, you could finish up like the Mitchells when they dined at The Petrus Restaurant in Knightsbridge. They ordered a bottle of Margaux, costing 160 pounds sterling (230 euros). They obviously couldn’t read a wine list, but they saw the word Margaux, ordered it knowing it meant something, but didn’t know what.

There are 20 other Margaux wines classified in the village, but there’s only one Chateau Margaux. I wonder which one of the 20 the Mitchells ordered. It certainly wasn’t Chateau Margaux. The waiter advised them to cancel their choice and have the Chateau Margaux 1966. They were shocked when they got the bill and saw the price – 800 pounds sterling.

I don’t know why they were shocked. Even a wino down on skid row would realise that a First Growth 1966 Medoc would cost around that in The Petrus. I wouldn’t have refunded the money like Marcus Wareing did. If people want to be snobbish, then let them pay for it. Realistically, they should go on a 10 week course and learn something about wine.

This is a perfect example of people thinking they know about wines and, when they get it wrong, they blame the restaurant. If you can’t read the wine list, ask for advice. Avoid selecting a middle priced wine – they are not always the best value. If you don’t know the wine, don’t order it.

In the same paper, there was an article by Michael Winner. I don’t know how he heard about the Mitchells, but he sympathised with them, saying they could have bought 12 bottles of Margaux 1966 for 776.28 pounds sterling at Sotheby’s in 2000.

Yes Michael, they probably could have, but was it Chateau Margaux? He openly admits he knows nothing about wine, so why does he write about it? He couldn’t believe a bottle of wine could cost 1,000 pounds sterling, but about eight paragraphs beforehand he commented on a wine costing about 8,000 pounds sterling.

He says 1961 Chateau Latour should breathe for three hours before drinking. Yet, his friend Carol at The French Horn opened a Chateau Margaux 1961, which he tried immediately and tasted like nothing he had ever drunk. If I had ordered either wine, I would have done so the previous day. Then it could have stood for 24 hours, been opened and decanted long before I got my main meal. Carol obviously didn’t feel that a 32-year-old First Cru Medoc needed decanting, so served it in the bottle. Maybe she should have stayed longer at Wheelers.

Incidentally, 1961 and 1966 were both excellent vintages in the Medoc, so why was Mr. Winner complaining about 800 pounds sterling for a bottle of 1966 in 2003 at The Petrus, when his friend Carol was charging 1,000 pounds sterling for a 1961 in 1993, at The French Horn? Maybe he doesn’t like The Petrus. He certainly doesn’t understand wine lists.

Digressing, Mr. Winner pays 200 pounds sterling (290 euros) for a bottle of single malt whisky and then puts a nip into his coffee. He is not sophisticated, he is crude. He wouldn’t use a Chablis Grand Cru in a spritzer, would he? Maybe he would! Why pay that price for a malt whisky to mix with coffee? You can get very good single malts for around 25 pounds sterling (35 euros). Even a 20-year-old can be bought for less than 100 pounds sterling. He knows as much about malt whisky as he does about wine. Zilch! Mr. Winner, you contradicted yourself many times in that article and gave such bad advice to diners that if I were you, I’d stick to commercials.

Recently, Les Dennis on Majestic TV said, “life is too short to drink cheap wine.” The Spanish wine taster agreed with him. But the saying is, “life is too short to drink bad wine”, not cheap!

There are always good bargains to be had and recently I bought a Portuguese wine in the Algarve for 99 cêntimos. It was an Estremadura VR, the main grape being the Periquita. It’s never going to be a great wine, but it was such good value and so easy to drink that I went back and bought another 12 bottles! Sorry Les…

Congratulations to Ridgeview Estate of Ditchling, East Sussex, for being named the world’s top sparkling wine producer with their 2002 Meret Bloomsbury. I look forward to trying it when it gets to Portugal.

Next issue: Are wine offers in magazines good bargains?

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