At a time when everyone is looking at what they eat, where its from and how it’s made there is still quite a big gap in choosing what we drink. When you go to most retail sellers the shelves will be filled with co-operative productions, own-brand labels and recognisable names.
I admit I shamelessly enjoy the 19 Crimes range (don’t judge!) despite the headache the next day. But really I find the more artisanal low-interference wines more interesting – my sommelier team and I have really come to enjoy them.
So the question is, how do we get our guests to experience them and discover more upon each visit?
My view here is that we aren’t necessarily trying to convince everyone that this style of wine is the future, just to be brave enough to mix them in every now and then.
A big challenge I had when expanding the “natural wines” part of the list was that committing to a bottle was a bit tough for many people, especially given the ethos of some producers.
For example when away on holiday my number two decided to buy six wines from a producer in Austria, all low sulphur and unfiltered, one of which was amphora aged and bottled in ceramic. He meant well but my god it was awful.
In order to expand the view of our clientele we introduced two wine pairings. But we didn’t take the usual approach of offering four/six glasses or a normal/premium version. Instead we gave them a choice of Classics or Weird and Wonderful. This gave the guest the option of experimenting or playing safe. I expected most diners to play safe, but in fact it was about 60/40 in favour of weird.
There is, of course weird and WEIRD, and we kept it relatively tame. So no Jura wines or whacking on a flight of Gravner Breg Bianco (although it did feature once). Rather, we used the ethos of low maintenance production and intervention in wines that still expressed freshness and had some level of familiarity.
Success rate of the weird pairing was fairly high, if people were not getting it after the first/second wine I would always suggest we swapped to classic. After all, it’s their money.
But the majority of my patrons who experienced this selection of “healthy” alternative wines were surprised with the overall quality and diverse flavours as well as the fact they were still able to speak after eight wines in a row (I pour generously).
They even came to me at breakfast the next morning, surprised and delighted that their head was clear and pain free! Often the wines I used were natural yeast ferments and therefore low alcohol as well as low sulphur.
Some of our best matchings from the ‘weird and wonderful’ wine flight
Don’t be feared of the weird. It shows that people can be encouraged to go outside their comfort zone if you make it easy for them.
Occhipinti SP68 Bianco, Sicily
Stockist: Les Caves de Pyrenne £12-£17
Served with a fresh crab dish.
Aromatic fresh and lively style.
Pheasants Tears Saperavi, Kakheti, Georgia
Stockist: Les Caves de Pyrenne £12-£15
Paired with venison during the season.
Bold flavours, leather, spice, mushroom earthy and autumnal but not overbearing.
Akashi-tai Ginjo Yuzushu Sake
Stockist: Wine Service £15-£20
Served with earl grey sorbet pre dessert.
Basically a lemon punch in the face, completely resets the palate before moving on. It woke people up pretty good too!