As we inch towards the season of goodwill and festive entertaining, I thought it pertinent to introduce a philosophy that has been part of my psyche for as long as I can remember but which will probably only be part of yours if you work in hospitality.
Planning is one of my many annoying traits, although I would not give up this often naggingly persistent sector of my brain if you paid me. Whether this means making a packing list ahead of a holiday, which has proved helpful on occasion, or keeping a fastidiously detailed diary, I have found this habit very useful while writing about wine, training sommeliers, and helping readers to buy wine. Even if you are a part-time ‘planner’, everyone could benefit from running through a simple checklist when they sit down for dinner at home or in a restaurant. Suppose you turn this notion around and possess the skill of planning and anticipation. In that case, you can train your brain to work most advantageously if, for the sake of argument, you are a restaurant manager or busy wine waiter.
By thinking ahead on behalf of your customers, you can sell more effectively.
By extension, these skills are highly beneficial if you sell to the hospitality industry – a cornerstone of any winery’s activities. Everyone in sales needs to plan ahead of the planner! When I read a menu, I scan ahead to ensure that my order is balanced – starters, main course, cheese and, if the occasion arises and no one is watching, pudding. I mirror this menu planning by scanning the wine list, with one eye on my ‘perfect set’ of wines to pair with my order and the other eye on the direction in which my guests are travelling. This may or may not alter the ‘perfect set’, but planning and scanning the entire wine selection allows one flexibility and can bring a sense of completeness and evenness to the bottles you drink. Rather than ordering just one bottle at a time in a restaurant, I make sure I have a few alternative suggestions up my sleeve, having read ahead in case one person on a tableful of fish eaters changes their mind and orders steak.
When you write a wine list professionally or place an order with your local wine merchant for home consumption, the same sense of completeness means that you endeavour to cover the bases of your chef’s menu or home cooking talents. Everyone requires a basic range of winey flavours at their fingertips, and I call this ‘Starters, Main Course, Cheese’. It is well understood that writing a short wine list is much more challenging than writing a long one because each bottle on a short wine list is called upon to multitask. Ergo, the finest wine lists I come across are those with the largest proportion of multitasking wines.
If you train yourself to plan ahead from a wine sales perspective, you can mentally prepare a handful of essential wines that work with a multitude of occasions, cuisines and dishes. As the seasons change, your patter can adapt such that these wines become multi-talented food-pairing superstars with more occasions to drink them than anyone could have imagined.
You become the maître d’, who anticipates every desire, staying one step ahead of the customer, ensuring a seamless experience. Wines that possess flavours that can adapt to multiple situations are the most useful from a restaurateur’s planning perspective and a home consumption point of view, too. These are the ultimate ‘starters, main course, cheese’ wines, and if you don’t make wine like these, you should. At the very least, you should think deeply about every occasion when your wine might reasonably be enjoyed and use this information in your schtick.
If you work in hospitality and don’t stock SMC wines, you are limiting your potential. And suppose you don’t buy them for your collection at home. In that case, you will inevitably be narrowing your gastronomic repertoire while at the same time isolating some of your pals’ palates! Here are three of the best wines in the country that conform to my SMC theme this month.
2021 Riverview, Crouch Valley Chardonnay, Essex
There are a decent number of bright, clean, accurate Chardonnays in the UK. These wines stick to the old-school Chablis silhouette, and I drink this shape of dry white wine more than any other.
If you take one step up the Chardonnay ladder, you find yourself in a place that I call ‘Chassagne village’. These are textural, silky, enchanting wines that are, or at least used to be, mildly oaked and hypnotic with a little more intensity and intrigue. This is a much more difficult wine style to conjure up in our climes because you need a particular sort of ripeness to carry just the right amount of oak nuance without your wine appearing woody or peanutty. Those wines that overstep the mark appear too clumsy and upholstered, lacking freshness and cadence.
Only 900 bottles of 2021 Riverview Chardonnay exist, and this rare wine possesses undoubted gravitas in balance with brightness and bounce. The oak nuances come across as white almond details, perfectly matching the white peach hints found in the core of this thrilling wine. I can think of a million reasons to drink this wine, and Riverview only needs 900.
NV Langham, Rosé
Goodness me, this is a downright brilliant wine.
The current release is based on the 2019 vintage, and it is 59% Pinot Noir (of which 7% is red wine), 36% Chardonnay and 5% Pinot Meunier, with 18% reserve wines in its make-up. A hint of old oak is used, and the dosage is a neat and tidy 2g/L, so there is nothing particularly noteworthy about this recipe, but it is worth clocking the price before we continue because whether you are in a restaurant or dining at home, this is a fiercely competitive wine.
My challenge is to think of a dish or an occasion that does not work with this utterly delicious sparkler. I can’t even think of a person who might take exception to its flavour. It does the trick of being stunningly commercial at the same time as ticking every wine expert’s wish list in terms of perfume, flavour, and finish. This makes it a must-buy, or if you are a restaurateur, a must-list wine. I cannot think of many sub-£35 sparkling rosés that have these credentials. No, correction: I cannot think of any apart from Langham.
This is the ultimate starters, main course, cheese wine and I take my hat off to this winery. There is always a little magic in the bottles at Langham, and you cannot put a price on that!
2021 Giffords Hall, St. Edmundsbury
I once read that value for money is based on the price of a purchase set against its efficiency and effectiveness. Well, St. Edmundsbury is highly effective; I know that first hand having very much enjoyed drinking this wine.
It is also devastatingly efficient – it hits one’s taste buds dead centre, with volley after volley of mouth-filling, complex, blackberry and spice notes. If you play the time-honoured wine trade game, ‘Guess the Price’, you will get this wine wrong, perhaps by a factor of two.
So, having proved that the value for money afforded by this spectacular wine is not just a matter of opinion, but fact, I cannot recommend this 50% Pinot Noir, 50% Rondo blend enough. You do not need a special occasion to open this wine; any occasion will do because it is generous, harmonious, and fresh enough to enjoy without food, as well as regal enough to romance even the most complex of dishes and that makes it a benchmark SMC wine.