Our experts are back with advice for the indecisive imbiber…

In a perfect world, there would be (among many other things, like a three-day weekend, perhaps) a tester bottle on every shelf at the wine merchants or supermarket wine aisle (imagine how that could transform the weekly shop). Just like when selecting a new perfume, you’d get to try before you buy, and see if the contents live up to the expensive-looking bottle they’re concealed within – because, in both cases, they all too often don’t.

Unfortunately though, the world we live in is far from perfect, so in most cases we must still commit to buying wine without having much of an idea what it’s going to be like. Although we all look forward to testing the fancy-looking vino we picked up for dinner, when you have a big event pinned on a wine you’ve never tasted or even heard of before, a little reassurance wouldn’t go a miss. We’ve cornered our two favourite wine experts again, Tristan Darby of Bristol Wine School (@Bristolwineschl) and Laura Atkinson of Berry Bros & Rudd (@berrybrosrudd) to discuss what to look for when perusing the wine aisle.

Decisions, Decisions…

Laura gets that people don’t want to part with a considerable amount of hard-earned cash for a less-than-sound investment. She suggests getting on the right side of your wine merchant, so you can build a relationship and get personalised advice (we hear they like chocolate biscuits and BMWs…).

She says, ‘Myself and the fine-wine team at Berry Bros & Rudd take the time to visit wineries in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, Spain, Italy and Champagne to speak to the producers and taste the wines. For a wine merchant, quality is paramount, so it is important to have trust in their advice so you can be comfortable with your purchases.’

Berry Bros & Rudd even offer free wine advice and a private account manager who will get to know your tastes and ensure their recommendations will be suited to you – no confectionary or car-based wooing required.

Do it Yourself

Bristol Wine School, meanwhile, offers one-day courses so you can learn all about your favourite tipple without having to commit to a string of lessons. These one-dayers cover a lot of ground: they concentrate on busting the wine jargon, teaching you how to taste wine like the pros and offering an insight into the study of viticulture. Tristan explains, ‘The main aim of the course is to give our students more confidence in how to choose wine by using key information, and perhaps to give them exposure to wine styles that they might not normally explore.’

Their food and wine-matching masterclass is even more in depth, helping you to make decisions based on what you’re planning to eat while quaffing your vino.

Just (for) Desserts

Think you have your whole dinner covered with just one expertly selected wine? Think again. We asked Laura whether it was really necessary to choose a different wine for dessert. She didn’t hold back:

‘Yes! It is much more important to change wines between main course and dessert than it is between the starter and main course. The two most important considerations when matching desserts to wines are sweetness and weight – the wine must be just as sweet, with as much body as the food.

‘For nuts, coffee, dried fruit, rind or chocolate flavours, think of Maderia, sweet sherries or Tokaji. When it comes to cream or creme brulée, Sauternes and Barsac are refreshing against the rich cream without being cloying. For fruit puddings, think Chenin with apple, riesling with lime, gewurztraminer with lychee, for example. When in doubt, Sauternes, German rieslings and muscat can balance with most fruity flavours. Don’t forget, many dessert wines can also be a pudding substitute in their own right.’

Well, if there’s anything we’d agree to skip dessert for, it would be wine…


We asked our experts what wine-buying question they get asked the most, because we thought we’d probably want to know the answer too. Tristan gets approached a lot to give his view on one of the biggest debates of the wine world: screw-cap or cork? He says, ‘The short answer is that there is nothing wrong at all with screw caps.’ (Hurrah!) ‘With wines designed to be consumed at a young age, they help it keep fresh in an airtight environment, and avoid the possibility of cork taint, which imparts musty, mouldy characteristics to the wine.’ What a corker of an explanation (sorry).

Laura, on the other hand, is often asked what her favourite drink and food combination is. She admits that the answer is not always the same, but on this particular afternoon she felt rather partial to a Rioja with roast lamb, or cold glass of fizzy Champagne with fish and chips. We certainly wouldn’t say no.

Alfresco Drinking

One of our favourite things about summer is definitely being able to dust off the barbecue and enjoy a (usually slightly overdone) chargrilled feast. But what to wash it down with? Here’s what Laura had to say:

‘There are many delightful pairings for the barbecue, which match the seared, juicy meats and the charred barbecue taste we love. Plump and fruity red wines with gutsy, full-bodied flavours work best – I would choose a peppery shiraz or a spicy zinfandel to stand up to the smoke.

‘Hearty reds are a classic with sausages, steak and burgers, but refreshing white wines, particular those aged in oak and therefore with more of a rich, smoky character, provide ideal flavour partnerships to poultry and fish. Try chardonnay from California or Southern French whites. For a white all-rounder, New World (New Zealand, Chile and Australia in particular) sauvignon blanc is hugely flavoursome and refreshing on a warm day and enhances most dishes, from salads to Mediterranean flavours, grilled prawns to barbecued vegetables.’

So there you have it – now you can go forth and tackle that wine aisle head-on. If you still feel you could do with a little more info before you brave it, however, then booking yourself on to a course at BBR or Bristol Wine School is highly recommended. Or, if you’re further north and don’t fancy the long drive home after one too many ‘tastings’, try a course at The Wine Academy in York, Harrogate or Leeds.


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