Joe Wadsack revisits some early advice on how to compile a wine list and finds his approach has changed substantially.
In one of my earliest articles in Class magazine, some five years ago now, I gave advice on how to put together a concise and effective wine list for a city bar. Although all the advice I gave is still pertinent and useful, things have changed, a lot. The world has changed, and the people in it. Hamish, our illustrious leader here at Class, asked me what, if anything, I would change if I had the chance to write the article again. The answer is quite a lot, actually.
First, lockdown has had a profound impact on the people who would otherwise be frequenting the cities’ finest bars and cocktail haunts. Home consumption completely changed, increasing hugely in most cases, and bar goers turned their attention and interest to the wines and spirits that they consumed at home. Wines that ordinarily would have been confined to page 120 on a posh restaurant wine list became cut-price curiosities for those bored of drinking the same things, bought from wine merchants that depended on the same restaurants for their profits. Second, social communication became inseparable from social media and the very screens on which we watch our news, buy our shopping and conduct business meetings.
All these factors combined to make the affluent public more aware of world events, ecological issues, city pollution and consumer waste. Even our weekly applause to the frontline carers every Thursday evening appeared to make us much more open to helping those who needed it wherever they may be. Remember the giant explosion on August 4 last year that took so many innocent lives at the expense of a hugely corrupt government in Lebanon? Perhaps that was the moment you decided to try a Lebanese rosé or a claret-styled Lebanese red wine with your Sunday roast lamb for the first time. Perhaps this was also the moment that you discovered Lebanon makes damn fine rosés, as good as those from Provence, and that the red wines offer amazing value when compared to Bordeaux or even Argentinian wines.
South Africa, meanwhile, has been in similarly dire straits, with its president banning the domestic sale of alcohol. There was a call to arms to help our winemaking friends in the Cape winelands sell their wine overseas instead, with promotions and virtual Zoom tastings everywhere. South Africa’s weak exchange rate and the exceptional quality of its wines of late didn’t make them a hard sell at all, and dramatically increased South Africa’s market share during lockdown.
Everything is in a state of flux, and wines that weren’t popular 12 months ago are now the next hot thing. In fact, some of the most obscure episodes of the YouTube channel that I started during lockdown (The Drinks Coach UK) had the most interest, including Lebanon, Bulgaria and even Japan. Finally, excess packaging is increasingly recognised as a no-no. We are also getting over our prejudices for canned wine, in the same way that the craft beer scene is ringing the death knell for most bottled beer. So, here are a few of the best examples of wines that reflect the past 12 months.
Chateau Ksara Gris de Gris 2019 £11 approx. Imported by Berkmann Cellars.
Racy, fresh, pale rosé with an aroma of wild strawberries and cherry. Very pretty.
Domaine des Tourelles Rosé 2019 £12 approx. Imported by Boutinot Wines.
Ripe, creamy rosé with bags of strawberry and cherry fruit. Juicy and soft.
Château Héritage Nine 2018 £12.50 Imported by Amathus. Brilliant value unoaked spicy red wine with silky tannins packed with red fruits. Perfect steak red.
Château Ka Fleur de Ka 2007 £29.99 imported by Alliance Wines
A dead ringer for a Cru Classé Bordeaux in a warm vintage. Baked plums, liquorice and harmonious, vanillary oak.
Copper Crew Rosé 2020, South Africa £4.25/250ml. Imported by coppercrew.co.uk
Part of a delicious range of well-presented cans that are just as nice straight from a can outdoors as in a glass at a bar. My favourite is this dry, slightly savoury rosé.
The Curator 2020 Red, Swartland, South Africa £4.25/250ml. Imported by swig.co.uk
Made by South African wine guru Adi Badenhorst from grapes grown in the exciting district of Swartland. One of a brilliant range of canned wines, including a Rhône-styled white and a serious rosé, this red is gorgeously textured and feather soft in the mouth, and a match for any lamb curry, or even a ham sandwich. Almost all the wine you’d ever need.