A significant limitation in participating in a blog called Food and Drink in London is a lack of real understanding and appreciation of wine. Don't get me wrong: I absolutely love the stuff; can't get enough of it in fact. But present me with a wine list that requires more than the most basic of basics and I start to go all wobbly.
I'm not a total dunce: I can just about tell you what to expect from most wine regions - and even point them out if you give me a sufficiently small scale map. But the minute the discussion gets to the level of choosing an individual grower or vintage I rapidly start losing confidence. Fortunately there's usually someone close at hand – a wine-wise friend or a helpful sommelier – who can steer things in the right direction. It would be great, though, to go in with even just a little more knowledge.
The trouble is, of course, that every attempt to learn anything, however good my intentions, eventually ends up in memory failure. The trend was set back at university, when the tastings organised by the college wine society invariably descended into messiness just about the time we switched to the reds. It helped (or rather didn't) being friends with one of the organisers, who - bizarrely - only liked whites. More recently, annual trips to the Oddbins Wine Fair (also usually with Bernice, who I'm happy to say, now likes reds too) follow a well trodden path that seems to involve me arriving late and hungover, skipping the fizz, tentatively trying a few sherries and whites, confidently glugging too many reds before ill advisedly knocking back as many whiskies as possible before the shutters come down. At some point in the middle of all this I am in optimum receptive mode, chatting away to growers about all the important things, even taking the odd note or two... but by the end I'm frankly lucky if I can find my way home.
So when Alistair kindly offered me a spot at an evening of fine food and wine hosted by a top wine expert I was determined to take things a bit more seriously than usual. In the planning stakes, it seems I am both a man and a mouse...
The evening was a Telegraph Wine event celebrating wines produced by Christian Seely. Seely, as far as I can make out, has the best job in the world, managing wine-based investments for AXA. Essentially, this means buying vineyards that complement AXA's portfolio and are ripe for improvement. He currently oversees a Port producer in Portugal (where else?), several top houses in France and a Tokaj specialist in Hungary. We were treated to a selection from each.
The evening kicked off with informal drinks in one of the smartly appointed private rooms ate the St Martins Hotel. Here we were drinking a surprisingly light dry Furmint wine from the Tokaj producer (Disznókö). Some ten-year old Noval tawny was also on offer, which seemed altogether too quirky at this stage of the evening.
We took our seats in the room next door and the procession began. Tuna tartare was generous meaty cubes on a kind of crispy pancake and was paired with a 2005 Suduiraut Sauternes; tasty fried lobster parcels with vanilla and rum sauce came with a Castelnau de Suduiraut 2002 (I think this was the drier one, but don't quote me on that). Then came some delicious Cuban spiced chicken (above), which, I read, came with a Château Belles Eaux Ste Hélène 04 from the Languedoc; a good slow cooked hunk of pork with some fantastic 2001 Petit-Village Pomerol; and a fan of perfectly pink sirloin rubbed with five spice which was matched with a Pichon-Longueville Paulliac in suitably chunky magnum bottles. According to the menu we finished off with some "proper" Tokaj and some LBV Quinta do Noval, and presumably some solid desserts too.
After every two or three courses we were treated to a few words from Mr Seeley himself, who clearly has more than enough of the passion and knowledge you must need to become a successful Englishman making wine in France. He was brilliant, explaining the characteristics of the wines in the kind of language even I could understand.
And I don't remember a word of it.
Frankly the only thing I do remember was some advice from Alexis, the charming trainee dietitian I was sitting next to, who said that the best way to avoid a hangover (not getting drunk was not one of the options) is to drink a half pint of orange juice before you go to bed. Sadly, of all the information I could have taken in that night, I seem to have focused on the least useful. Let's face it, orange juice is the last thing you're going to pour yourself when you get in late at night. Glenmorangie-juice, perhaps...
So, once again, an opportunity to pick up some pointers on the mysterious world of wine fell by the well intentioned wayside. But who cares? I spent the evening learning and forgetting it all in some style and it was enormous fun: lovely food, fantastic wine and great company. Thanks again for sorting it out, Al. As one of my "wine-wise friends" I know you won't mind continuing to help out while my wine education lumbers slowly on.