I am a wine geek. I am totally fascinated by the fermented, fortified and distilled. I’ve been studying wine in various guises through travel, gastronomy, tastings, vineyard visits, books and courses for over ten years now and the bug has not abated.
Apart from the fact that I really enjoy drinking and talking about wine, I got completely hooked the subject when I realised how broad a topic it really is. To have a rounded knowledge of viniculture and vinification (the processes of growing grapes and making wine) you find yourself studying history, culture, geography, agriculture, politics, business, marketing, anthropology…the list goes on.
Two weeks ago I graduated from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust in London with a WSET Diploma in Wine and Spirits. It was a long and nerve wracking wait for results, having passed my final exam in January 2019. The Diploma is a globally recognised qualification, infamous for the amount of self-study needed to pass…only the brave need apply!
My partner Rob and I moved to Tonbridge from London just over three years ago. We decided to move after a trip to see Ben and Kirsty Sulston whom Rob has known for over 20 years, having cooked with Ben as young chefs starting out in Cambridge.
At the time we moved I had just started studying for the diploma as a night school student. I have a demanding day job in the city and lots of personal commitments, so it is with gruelling first-hand experience that I admit to my naivete in starting this journey part time. The learning scope for this course was beyond anything I had ever encountered with a recommended minimum of 600 hours of study outside of class and excluding your written assignment. The course touches on every aspect of the wine and spirits world and you will sit 11 hours of examination by the time you’re done…that’s if you pass everything first time (I did not and had to subject my friends and family to copious amounts of sparkling wine to prepare for a resit. They suffered graciously). This is not for the faint hearted and I admire and respect anyone who embarks on this journey.
I am incredibly fortunate to share my life with an equally obsessed and dedicated Chef who has encouraged me to push myself that bit further further at every step, in the same way he has approached his career and learning in the culinary world.
Rob and I have worked on many collaborations over the years and towards the end of 2019, after hosting a number of events together, we decided to start a supper club in Tonbridge as an outlet for our creativity andthat focused as much on the drinks parings as it did on the development of the food.
We held our first Super Natural Supper Club event in TOFS development kitchen last November. Inspired by the fantastic produce and Game available in Kent, we developed a menu to showcase the best of the season. Reaching out to local producers we were able to source some beautiful duck, pigeon and venison from Chart Farm in Sevenoaks and work with local fresh fruit and vegetable wholesaler Seasons by Nature. Having such a innovative and varied menu to work with gave me the opportunity to get creative with the drinks pairing, finding wines that would not necessarily be an obvious choice but would would compliment the menu at each stage.
We kicked off the evening with a venison tartar dish served with a Kentish sparkling cider made by Charringtons, a fantastic cider producer based 10 minutes away in Matfield. Being able to visit the orchards and get in depth information on the growing and production of their cider and apple juice has definitely been a highlight of starting a local supper club.
We paired a feinherb Riesling from Germany, which had just the faintest amount of residual sugar, with a Duck and Beetroot dish. A dry Madiera wine was served with Pigeon and turnip and an elegant, full bodied Cabernet Savignon, Malbec and Cabernet franc blend from Medoza, Argentina, paired with venison and celeriac. The herbal notes in this wine worked amazingly well with pickled blackberries on the dish. We finished the menu serving a Reserve Tawny Port with both the cheese course and the following dessert of chocolate and pears and ended the evening with coffee and brown butter madeleines.
We had such lovely feedback from our guests and so much fun preparing and hosting the Game event that we held our second supper club in December. This was a great success, serving a menu and drinks pairing inspired by our extensive travels in Spain.
Our Supper Clubs are a labour of love and we aim to give the absolute best value for money and service possible while delivering innovative food and wine that is unique and exciting. Our next supper club will be held on February the 7th and 8th at TOFS development kitchen and is inspired by the forefathers of gastronomy, french cuisine.
When Ben invited me to write a post for this website I wanted to take the opportunity to introduce myself and the Super Natural Supper club that Rob and I have started but also to share a little wine info. I had so many geeky wine ideas to write about that I didn’t know where to begin.
So I reached out to friends and asked … what would you want to read about in wine blog? They responded enthusiastically and here are a few of their questions…
Is there a wine that goes with anything?
For me, the wine that can be pared with practically anything would be a good quality sparkling white wine. Whether this is champagne, Cava (my personal favourite for taste and value for money) or English sparkling wine you will find this doesn’t offend the vast majority of dishes. It can be drunk alone or with sweet dishes. It can be paired with bar snacks, cheese, fish or meat. It stands up to spicy food and strong flavours and works beautifully with vegetarian dishes. If in doubt, choose a sparkling white wine.
Can you really get a decent bottle of wine at a super market for less than £10?
Yes. It is definitely possible although I always encourage people to think about what can actually make a wine a little more expensive (outside of Burgundy which has set the price level astronomically high). Fair labour costs, hand harvesting, natural and ethical farming methods and distribution will all add to the cost of your wine. In much the same way that it effects other consumable products that we buy. However, there are some gems out there. I am particularly fond of Toro Loco organic tempranillo from Aldi at £4.99 a bottle (we came across this wine for the first time in Spain) and Waitrose Classic Cotes du Rhône at £6.99 is a decent bottle from a spectacular wine producing region that is home to some of the most expensive wines in the world.
Is Aldi wine really as good as the media makes out?
Some of it is really pretty good. Particularly wines from smaller producers. I mentioned Toro Loco earlier at a very reasonable price, there is also a nice range of organic sparking Italian wines from Castellone Organico. At a little higher price range you can find Amarone Della Valpolicella DOCG £12.99 and Jean-Paul Seguin Sancerre £15.99 that are both very nice wines. Its a good place to start trying different styles of wine to see what you like without spending a fortune.
What grapes should I look for if I want light red wines?
We are big fans of light red wine at home and although the wine making accounts for a lot in the style of wine there are some general guides – Pinot Noir is the queen of light red wines – the cooler the climate the grapes are grown in will usually give a lighter wine but I would also recommend looking for the Gamay grape if you like light and fruity wines. Beaujolais are the most famous Gamay wine and readily available. Saniovese which is the grape used for Chiante also fits the category and try to seek out natural wine producers making young wines for something interesting. There are some great suppliers on line. Check out pullthecork.co.uk
Does an older wine mean it’s a better wine?
This is a huge topic to cover and depends very much on the specific wine as ageing wine will definitely change it but not necessarily for the better. Some varieties are generally considered more age worthy that others – Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Nebbiolo to name a few. This has a lot to do with the tannic structure of the wines that breaks down slowly over time and make the wines more approachable. That said many wines are not meant to be laid down for decades and will be most enjoyable drunk young.
Wines labels grand reserva will most likely be subject to minimum ageing requirements, for a red Rioja wine this is two years in barrel and 3 years in bottle minimum. These will be more complex and refined than younger wines from the same region but not necessarily better depending on your taste.
If you intend to spend a large amount of money on a very old bottle or case of wine this should come with certification of how it has been stored – even the most age worthy wine can be ruined by light, temperature and humidity
What’s the best way to store wine at home?
The key things to remember when storing wine at home is light and temperature. Wine hates fluctuations in both! A cool constant temperature and protection from sun light will keep wines happier for longer.
What makes a wine vegan?
Traditionally, some fining agents used to remove particles in wine that are too small to be removed by filtration can make a wine unsuitable for vegans as they can contain egg and certain proteins derived from animals, however, contemporary vegetable based products are becoming far more popular. It is more likely that a wine is vegan friendly than not and while producers are starting to add this information to wine labels, especially as vegans diets become more popular, there is currently very little legislation globally that requires this information to be noted on the bottle.
The answers above are my opinion and are brief, there is always more to say and I will be discussing these subjects along with a bunch of other food and wine related topics on the Super.Natural.Supper.Club website when we launch later this year.