This weekend was the annual Taste of London festival in Regent’s Park. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s a collection of all sorts of foodie greatness and weirdness (a surprisingly large Lithuanian section, for example!) and some booze thrown in for good measure.
I had a good trot round all the stalls with some friends, tried some Thai wines – safe to say I would stick to the rather more excellent Thai beers in future- and generally we ate our body weight in foods that were delicious and often bonkers.
I also had two totally contrasting wine experiences. Taste of London wine hell was delivered by Shawbury Vintners, an indie wine merchant who sell by the case and with whom I had one of my worst ever wine customer experiences. The stall was pretty much empty of festival goers when I approached the World’s Surliest Wine Merchant (WSWM, we’ll call him for now).
LWG: Hi there! What have you got that’s particularly interesting today?
WSWM: Um everything really.
LWG: Oh right! Er, so what’s selling particularly well?
WSWM: Everything really.
WSWM: Yes. Do you even buy wine by the case?
LWG: Yes. I love wine and I do often buy by the case.
WSWM: (Looks incredulous about my case-buying. Doesn’t speak. Pulls out a bottle and pours me a thimblefull.)
LWG: Oh thanks. What’s this?
WSWM: It’s from New Zealand.
LWG: Oh, is it a Sauvignon Blanc?
WSWM: (Nods perfunctorily.)
LWG: (Drinks her thimble of the world’s most average Sauvignon Blanc.) From Marlborough?
WSWM: (An even more perfunctory nod.)
LWG: How much does it sell for?
LWG: (!!!!) OK, well thanks for letting me try it!
WSWM: (Stony silence while he scans the crowd for someone “better” to talk to.)
I don’t even know where to begin with this one. Granted, I am a girl, I am quite young, and I am enthusiastic in the face of wine merchants, no matter how surly. But to deliver quite such an appalling, unfriendly experience, at a fair for foodies where surely the whole point is to showcase your wares is unforgivable. Unfortunately, there are still wine peddling dinosaurs who assume that younger women are just not fine wine buyers – and while experiences like this one are accepted, that’s unlikely to change: wine can be intimidating enough without this sort of snobbery. I did a bit of Googling, and it seems I’m not the first person to have this experience, either. Disappointing.
At the other end of the scale in wine heaven, the Laurent Perrier masterclass delivered by LP’s UK MD, David Hesketh, was everything missing from the Shawbury Vintners experience: approachable, interesting and designed to showcase the premium product to it’s full ability.
Highly, highly recommended: and there’s a lesson here for you, WSWM – there wasn’t a “typical wine customer” in sight at the LP tent, but I’d put money on people having left with a new favourite champagne!
We tried the brut non-vintage, the 2004, 2002 and the properly lovely pink champagne, too – all well-described by an expert with attention and enthusiasm.
Remember to vote with your feet if you encounter your own version of the WSWM – because buying wine should be fun – and thanks for reading,