It is a truth universally acknowledged that when you drink in a tent, you often end up gazeboed. Such was the case at the York Food Festival Wine Fair, where both supermarkets and independent producers gathered to show their wares; on Thursday, I ventured out into the cool September evening, accompanied by one of York Vision’s esteemed editors, with the sole purpose of tasting some wine.
People have a tendency to tie themselves up in knots over wine: if I had a pound for every time someone said to me “I don’t know what to order”, “oh, you choose”, “do I have to sniff it” or some variation of those phrases, I would have five pounds. Five whole pounds! Enough for two Budweiser’s at Wetherspoons, but more on that later.
The key to wine is: do you like it? If the answer is yes, drink it. If the answer is no, don’t. There are a huge number of things to know about wine, if you want to. Is it a single grape varietal, like a Burgundy, made from Pinot noir grapes, or a blended wine, like a Bordeaux, which is a mixture of several grape varieties? Where is it from? Is it a grand cru, a premier cru, or does it not have an AOC designation? What age is it? Was it matured in a barrel? What is the terroir? If it is sparkling, what method was used to carbonate it? Is it ‘Old World’ or ‘New World’? Why is it that none of the previous questions are without numerous caveats? I could go on, and on, and on, and on; luckily for all of us, I won’t. There are many thousands of published wine critics whose various ramblings range from concise and unpretentious to snobbish and infuriating. In case you were looking for a place to start, Jancis Robinson’s ‘The 24-Hour Wine Expert’ is an unfussy overview of some complicated topics. Don’t get too het up about whether you can taste ‘tobacco’, or ‘bergamot’, or the ‘inside of a 1992 Ford Cortina’s roof-box’, though – such pretension will almost certainly develop over time.
The truth is, you don’t need to know much, or anything, to enjoy wine. Just get to know what you like. And that is why a wine fair is a good thing: you can go around, tasting different things until you start to get an idea of what you love and what you hate. Start with the basics: red, white, rosé. It may be best to start with the white wines first, though. The reason for those colour differences, if you were wondering, is this: white wine is fermented without the grape skins, and red wine is fermented with the grape skins – rosé keeps the skins for just a day or two, but can also be made by blending, or another way that I have forgotten (again, we are about to disappear down a rabbit hole of winemaking minutiae). Don’t listen to the critics at first: there was, until recently, a rule amongst certain people of the utmost pretension called ‘ABC’ – “anything but Chardonnay”. Chardonnay got a bit of a bad name, with many wine snobs believing that it was too easy, too accessible, too popular: but let us not forget that Chardonnay is an important component of both Champagne and that finest of white wines, Chablis, not to mention a grape that produces some fantastic varietal white wines. Again, my point is: treat critics and experienced drinkers, but particularly wine snobs, with amused forbearance until you can proffer your own full-throated disagreement with their opinions.
Anyway, I must return to the Wine Fair or I will rant about wine snobbery, and in so doing, delve ever-deeper into inaccurate wine snobbery myself – such traps are very easy to fall into. The event was entirely hosted under two large tents, with a handful of stalls, all with a few wines. Spittoons were present, but I have always felt that they are buckets for the inherently cowardly. One of the most interesting (read: unusual and enjoyable) wines I tasted was a sparkling Picpoul made by Jean-Claude Mas, the son of famed winemaker Paul Mas, in the south of France in the Languedoc (which has now been consumed by Occitanie). The Côté Mas Frisante, as it foppishly styled itself, was very light on the palette, with a big hit of citrus led freshness. The wine was found on the stall of the owner of Melton’s, a fine-dining restaurant in York, and the wine selection on that stall was very thoughtful and curated perfectly for their tasting menu. Other enjoyable wines included a Gavi from the Love Cheese stall and a South African Chenin Blanc from SPAR. There were, I am certain, other wines worthy of comment, but some parts of the evening faded from my memory a little earlier than I would have liked.
For a while I stood chatting to the head beer maker at Yorkshire Heart, who suggested using a beer carbonator to carbonate their sparkling wine, replacing the traditional turning method of Champagne. The thump I heard to my right was a wine expert hitting the deck, the shock of such a suggestion (tainting wine with beer, imagine!) evidently too much for his refined and delicate constitution. I jest, of course, but I cannot overemphasise the importance of not letting a lack of knowledge or fear of the experts stop you from enjoying wine, or going to such events.
As regards the organisation of the event, I think there were slightly too few stalls: each stall had a decent selection of wine, but the five stall format felt a little bit bereft in the achingly large marquees. There was a Champagne bar (£6 a glass, although it was Taittinger), and a few nibbles were produced as well. Perhaps a little more could be done with the event next year, with a few more stalls, and perhaps some more food options. The entrance fee was not, after all, terribly low, at £22.50. Nevertheless, it was an entirely pleasant way to spend an evening, with some nice, unpretentious chat, and some good wine. And yes, the evening concluded with both of us completely schnockered in the Postern Gate Wetherspoons, drinking beer. Such class.