Running out of Winter into Spring

Running out of Winter into Spring

While winter has its beauty - cold, crisp days, and from a wine drinkers point of view, plentiful excuses to snuggle up at home or in a cosy bar with a glass of rich, warming red to hand - I love the spring which brings with it the sense of new life, the opportunity to spend more time outside and, if we’re lucky, to cook and eat under the sky.


The Japanese, who seem to have their priorities right on so many things, have the ancient tradition of hanami, gathering under blossoming cherry trees that flower from March to early May, to share food and wine and enjoy their brief beauty. 


And it is becoming increasingly well known that being in nature is beneficial for mental health. A recent article in The New York Times highlighted the growing number of therapists moving from their practice from the couch to the country, finding that their clients are more relaxed and open in a less formal environment.


What has all this got to do with wine? As a wine professional (which sounds like it should be an oxymoron but honestly, it is work!) I find that where I taste wine does have an impact on my perception of what I am tasting. While I do attend quite a lot of trade events where there are hundreds of wines available to taste, I find them very sterile and just a bit stressful. 


Trade fairs are fine for catching up with colleagues, getting the gossip and tasting comparatively (trying so and so’s Muscadet compared to another growers) but so often you need sharp elbows to get to the front and tasting so many wines while coping with a crowd does not make me feel relaxed and receptive. More like edgy and eager to escape.


What is best for me is tasting wines in situ, at the winery, surrounded by vineyards and with the grower who has spent energy and love farming their land and making the wine I am drinking. Unfortunately that’s not something even I can do that often. Next best for me is eating and drinking outdoors, even if that is just in the garden, whenever I can. The food and wine seem to have an extra dimension of flavour and the world tastes better. 


Some restaurants also manage the trick of making me feel similarly chilled and its not just because I’m not having to do the cooking or washing up. And so often it’s not the decor or even necessarily the food or a fancy wine list either. There is a reason why it’s called hospitality - it’s supposed to make you feel welcome and that almost always comes down to a magic mix of people and place. The team working the floor are key. It’s a much undervalued skill.


My recommendation to you, if you have a special bottle to drink, is to choose your environment carefully. Don’t make too big a deal of having exactly the right glasses, or the perfect food match, or having to drink it on a particular day or to celebrate some great event. You need a time and a place that makes you feel mellow.


Open the bottle when you have good company to share it with, a place where you feel comfortable and relaxed and the time to give the wine your full attention, whether that is on the beach, in the garden, on a picnic or at your dining table with a meal that hasn’t made you stressed to prepare and won’t take days to clear up. I guarantee that with more space and time, you will enjoy your wine a whole lot more. 


So this spring as nature wakes up and the trees being to bloom, choose a special bottle that perhaps holds some memories for you, gather a few friends, and hold your own hanami  celebration. 



Two to try: here are two wines that hold special memories for me. No doubt you have wines that remind of people or places you would like to re-live.


Domaine Achillée, Pinot Blanc, Alsace, France - My first wine job was working for a grower in Alsace, an experience that has shaped the rest of my career and I remember very fondly. The Dietrich family has been making wine in Alsace for over 400 years but is forward thinking and innovative in their approach. They have been farming organically and biodynamically since 1999 and recently built a new, bioclimatic cellar, the largest self supporting straw bale building in Europe. This is a dry white perfect for drinking with a picnic of cheese and ham and good bread.


Cascina Zerbetta, Barbera del Monferrato, Piedmont, Italy - Paolo Malfatti has just four hectares of vines in the Monferrato area of Piedmont in North East Italy, and three of hazelnuts (Nutella, the fabulous and famous chocolate hazelnut spread is made nearby). I am fortunate to have visited the region a few times but have strong memories of my first visit there one November where I was blown away by the paring of a rich, full bodied red like this one with home made pasta with an indecent amount of white truffle shaved over it, served at a large plain table in a farmhouse kitchen. Simultaneously gloriously simple and truly decadent.

This article was written for and first appeared in My Shrewsbury magazine,