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South London Wine School: Wine and chocolate night in Greenwich
I’ll let you in on a little Alan Partridge-esque secret about me. I like wine.
When I was 15, I drank eight bottles of the stuff that my dad had stashed in the garage (with the infallible plan of replacing them before my parents came back from their hols obvs). That wine was worth £85 a bottle. I enjoyed it though, but what my dad seemed most annoyed about was that I didn’t know what the hell I’d been pissing up the wall.
Sadly for him, I’ve remained true to type. Over the years I’ve realised I like big, fruity French reds and extremely dry whites, but that’s about it. I’m also not proud, so the “3 bottles for £15” sign isn’t always the warning it should be in my house. Recently though, I decided to do something about it. And by that, I mean that I decided to drink loads of wine at once. Fortunately, South London Wine School were there to make sure I learnt something while I did it.
South London Wine School (or SLWS, as I shall now lazily be referring to it) run quite a few different tasting nights, at various locations dotted around – you guessed it – South London. From single evening Gin-tastings to eight-week courses. I wasn’t sure full sommelier training was quite the right fit for date night, so I signed my wife and I up for a shorter, more fun-sounding event: Wine and Chocolate night. At £30 each with at least six wines guaranteed, it sounded like a bargain as well.
We found our host Julia setting up in the back room of The Mitre, a pub in Greenwich that you may have passed as you were swept along by the market crowd on a Saturday. It’s a nice old boozer, which is good because we arrived half an hour early and had to nip off for a pint first.
In the event, eight wines were on offer, each with a matching chocolate. Unusually, we were offered a lot of desert wines (alongside a couple of drier options, a port and a sherry), which while not my first choice in Oddbins, were well-selected and made for interesting drinking.
I’ve listed four of the more interesting ones below, because let’s face it, you don’t want to read me banging on about wine like I know what I’m talking about. Let’s just say that I was genuinely surprised by how nice Sherry can actually be, and will be adding it to my diet more often in future.
At this point a note on our host, Julia. She’s lovely. I’ll feel bad if she reads this but she had just the right mix of nerdy enthusiasm to really grab your interest. It was also nice that no prior knowledge was expected. My wife has far better wine chops than I do, but for the most part we were treated to a cavalcade of interesting stats and facts about the history of wine, complete with an actually not-boring slideshow full of maps.
Anyway – onto the booze itself!
Chapel Down English Brut Rose with White Chocolate
We’re kicking things off, interestingly enough, with a bit of fizz. And it’s English fizz at that. A Chapel Down Rose with white chocolate. English Wine still gets a bit of a raw deal, but there’s some excellent stuff going on down in Kent, which benefits from the exact same soil as Champagne itself.
The wine is light and frothy, full of raspberries and has that great toasty note you normally only get with a good Champagne. I can’t help thinking it would have gone well with a bit of smoked salmon – ideal for a Sunday brunch piss-up – but with the white chocolate brings out the fruit and sweetness. Essentially I’m drinking a trifle, which isn’t a bad way to start the night. Waitrose will do you a bottle for £25 as well, just a tad under that Krystal you’re usually guzzling.
Milk chocolate with sweet Banyuls Grenache desert wine
Banyuls is an unusual one, but luckily I’ve learned a bit about it (I went on a wine course, did I mention that yet?). The brewing process is really interesting. The wine (made from Grenache grapes) is allowed to ferment until it’s about 6% alcohol. Wine gets less sweet as the alcohol level goes up (because the sugar turns into booze), so at this point the Vintner adds some pure grape spirit to up the booze levels while keeping the wine very sweet. This is known as Mutage, and was apparently discovered by an alchemist called Arnaud de Villeneuve back in the 13th century.
Mystic arts aside, it goes very well with a variety of chocolate, which bring out it’s thick, fruity flavours. Cherries come to mind, and there’s a lovely bit of orange rind in there as well. It’s certainly not subtle, but it is less gloopy than most desert wines, meaning you could probably sit down with a bottle of an evening quite happily.
You might be able to track this down at a good wine shop, but if not, The General Wine shop has it for just under £15.
Low percentage dark chocolate with concentrated Valpolicella Ripasso
Now we’re talking.
Ripassos are big, broody bastards. Coming out of Italy full of alcohol (about 15%) they are made by passing (‘ripasso’ means ‘repassed’) the wine through casks that contain the skins left from brewing Ripasso’s big brother, Amarone. Unlike Amarone though, it won’t cost your entire pocket money to try it out. The dark chocolate we tried went well with this, but as the wine has something of a dark, bitter edge to it I couldn’t help thinking maybe something lighter would have made a nice change.
You couldn’t get through a lot of this, but it would be damn good with barbeque. Grab a bottle from Morrisons and stick some steaks on
High percentage dark chocolate with robust Bordeaux
It’s Bordeaux. If you drink wine, you’ll know what this is. It’s from France, it’s rich and fills the mouth, and comes with tons of fruit and a bit of sawdusty-ness that dries the mouth out. Another wine-fact that I picked up: tannins are different from ‘dryness’.
Take some wine and hold it in your mouth. Look out for that weird tingling on the front of your tongue. That’s residual sugar. Tannins meanwhile are herby, and the dry your mouth out because… well, imagine licking a teabag.
By this point I expect to be slightly pissed, but while I’m relaxed and enjoying myself, the wines have been chosen carefully so that you won’t be stumbling out of the place at the end. The information flows as freely as the booze, and guests have little sheets to make notes. We’re also presented with a list of the wines we’ve tried and pleasingly, all of them are available locally.
If you’re keeping score, the others we sampled were:
- Kuhlmann-platz gewurtztraminer
- Truffles with an aged Tawny Port
- Caramel chocolate with a sweet Muscat desert wine
- Nutty chocolates with an Oloroso Sherry
As dates go, it was a great success (My wife totally allowed me to buy her a nice dinner and give her a chaste kiss goodnight before returning to my kennel), although there’s not quite as much room for talking among yourselves as you might think, so possibly it’s not a first date winner. It’s also not worth turning up with the intention of getting rat-arsed. We took it easy, found it interesting and had enough room left for a bottle of fizz over dinner later on.
SLWS runs a whole bunch of interesting courses, I’m definitely signing up for cheese next! You can check out all of them on their website.