Now I may be a Londoner born and bred but if I were to say that I know the streets of London like the back of my hand then I would be lying. In fact lets just say that my own geographical knowledge of our nation's fine capital ain't arf crap and I know this because a couple of weeks ago I decided it would be a good idea to walk from my office in Barbican to a pub in Battersea, all 5 and half miles by Goggle Earth's reckoning. A willingness to kill some time and get some fresh air prompted this exercise as on that particular evening I was on my way to a wine tasting come foodie social event at The Westbridge organised by Niamh of eatlikeagirl and Ryan and Gabriella, the wine bloggers behind the very comprehensive Catavino. I was fine until I got past Westminster but then soon realised that this undertaking was a bit further than I anticipated. Swearing soon commenced at Lambeth Bridge, heavy perspiration at Chelsea Bridge and by the time I reached Battersea Bridge, it felt like my plates of meat were on fire. I was in such a delirious state by then, I started to hope that perhaps there would be barrels of grapes to greet me on arrival and that I could plunge my feet into them, relieving the fires that were tormenting my soles (squish squish, squish squish, aah). Alas, when I finally arrived there were no such barrels to ease my pain. However there was wine, lots and lots of wine.
I hadn't done much in the way of actual tasting before apart from participating in the scrum at Vinopolis one Saturday afternoon and a summer holiday in the south of France where we did visit a fair few caves. And of course, I shouldn't forget my experience as a young office bod at a city PR firm where I was invited down to the meeting room to try some interesting reds that were to be served at a function that evening. Call it naivety but I had no reason to suspect the glass handed over to me was in actual fact a sample from the spit bucket. Luckily someone saved me just before taking the first sip, well it didn't occur to me at the time that wine doesn't have a head like beer does. I like to think that since then I know a little bit more about the ol' vino but the prospect of meeting people who really knew their stuff did fill me with some trepidation.
These fears were soon unfounded as I entered our designated private room with a pint of Sleemans I.P.A from the bar and bumped into Gabriella of Catavino. "Ah I suppose this is going to mess up my taste buds isn't it?" I said, holding up the glass sheepishly. "Ah don't worry about it", she replied "I've been drinking cider, it's not going to stop us from enjoying the wine now is it?" and with that I felt totally at ease. Better still, after a few speeches I could see that the emphasis of the evening was that it was to be a friendly, convivial event where people could just mill about and chat about food and wine. Looking over at a table laden with bottles of plonk to one side of the room with cheeses and charcuterie covering another on the other side, I remember thinking to myself "I should really do this kind of thing more often".
I'd spied one fella who was already making notes by the table, tasting with a concentrated look on his face and giving the contents of his glass a thorough examination so I decided that he should be the one to help me get this party started. I hope my tap on the back didn't ruin his train of thought too much but nevertheless Mr Dinner Diary was very helpful and suggested the Cava, a Chozas Carrascal Brut Nature Reserva no less, saying that a bit of fizz would help kick start the palate (had he seen me with the I.P.A I wonder?) It was indeed very refreshing, with tiny little bubbles that twinkled up my nose, causing me to sneeze. Perhaps I was a little overzealous trying to smell its bouquet but I was trying to look like I knew what I was doing. Still I managed to disguise my scrunched up face by morphing into some thoughtful repose as if I was making some mental notes, nodding sagely to myself. Luckily, Mr Dinner Diary had his head back in his notes so probably didn't even notice.
I decided after that to immediately remove myself to the cheese table and try some of the Tête de Moines, a hard alpine cheese from Switzerland which has it's very own twisty turney slicey thing called a "Girole".
A very cool little gadget this, I think the idea being that with one swift turn, you get a lovely delicate thin sliver of sweetness. However after my heavy handed first attempt, I came away with a great fat big wedge and felt quite embarrassed walking away with such a chunk of cheese but then I saw Charlie McVeigh, the owner of The Westbury, stuffing a huge lump of camembert into his mouth so didn't feel too bad. "Perhaps this was to be a bacchanalian feast after all", I thought to myself and with that launched myself back over to the other side of the room to where the wine was.
What followed was basically a montage of glug glug, chat chat, chomp chomp on a continuous loop for 2 hours.
"Ah I can't decide between the Albariño and the Riesling, they're both delicious"
"I can actually feel my arteries clogging after eating this Brillat-Savarin but it goes lovely with the Syrah doesn't it?"
"Holy shit, what kind of white wine is this?" "That's sherry Dan, you're drinking sherry"
My personal favourite of the evening came as a bolt out of the blue actually, a fruity white called Libalis introduced to me by Ricardo of Vintae. I normally stick to dry white wines but this one tasted gorgeous, packing a sweet punch at first before settling down with a more subtle, smooth aftertaste, it was really different to the others that I tried that evening. I think I was even more gobsmacked to have described it just like that back to Ricardo but the smile on his face suggested that I was making all the right noises.
Of course as the evening went on, with all this tasting I was starting to feel quite overwhelmed by it all. OK no scrub that, I was starting to feel quite pissed. The turning point came when I got started on the 5 year old Madeira and Andre Ribeirinho, founder of online wine community Adegga, came up with a warm smile and said "Hey take it easy my friend, that's strong stuff!". Two devils in the shape of Ollie Reed appeared on my shoulders and whispered in my ear, urging me to chuckle back "Really? Fantastic! Have you seen my mighty mallet?" but luckily I found some inner fortitude from somewhere and replied "hmm yeah I suppose I should call it a night". And with that gave my thanks to everybody involved for a super evening and departed without further incident, phew.
There was no way I was going to be walking anywhere after my earlier expedition so I hailed a cab before spotting Krista of Londonelicious at the bus stop and so asked if she needed a lift. After hearing the first 5 minutes of rambling, I suspect that she would have been happier taking the bus in the first place but she was very gracious in conversation, I just wish I could remember what we were talking about. When it came to dropping her off, I do remember us squabbling like a pair of grannies at a tea parlour over who should pay the fare. "I'll pay for it", "Noooo I'll pay for it" but like a true gentleman I insisted that I take the fare. When I finally got on the train, it gave me a chance to reflect on the night and make some more of those mental notes before I closed my eyes and began to dream of vineyards and cheese. Of course when I awoke, I had already gone 3 stations past my stop so had to hail another cab to get home. As I jumped in, I distinctly recall two thoughts going through my mind, the first being "crap I should taken Krista's money" with the second bubble repeating "I should really do this kind of thing more often".