I know restaurants like things that are different. Partly it’s a desire to set one’s list apart from the competition. If you have an in-depth collection of Dao reds or an unrivalled range of small Burgundian producers that gives your list a focus.
Yes, at times the quest for uniqueness might mean wines that can run ahead of what the customer wants. Even white Rhônes or German Rieslings, for instance, which are proving a big hit with tasters at our Sommelier Wine Awards this year, are decidedly outré for your average punter.
And, of course there’s only so many hand-sell wines that any list can tolerate.
But I totally understand and support this quest for The Different. As I write this, we’re about two thirds of the way through this year’s SWA competition, and I think the most excitement I’ve seen from teams thus far was when they tasted the Other Old World wines.
From places like Turkey, the Balkans, Greece, Slovenia and Eastern Europe, the wines (red and white) were a real mixed bag. Perhaps surprisingly, the overall quality was pretty sound, and the variation in styles was enormous. Tasting them was a real roller-coaster ride – but it was one that the tasters loved.
Shortly after that day’s judging finished, I dropped in on the Hallgarten Druitt and Novum Wines tasting, and popped by to say hello to Steve Daniel, former Oddbins buyer and founder of Novum Wines. Steve has a justified reputation for ferreting out unusual wines, so finding him on the stand of Gaia Wines, a Greek winery was pretty tame by his standards. But the wines – particularly the whites – were excellent. Not super-cheap, but not impossibly expensive either, and highly food friendly.
Right next to Gaia Wines was the stand of Grace Winery, from Japan, so I had a go at a couple of Koshu wines while I was waiting. They’re not the sort of thing you’d knock back on the sofa in front of Graham Norton on a Friday night, but as elegant, food-friendly wines they could hardly be bettered.
All in all, it was a stimulating few hours that gave me back my wine-world mojo.
Sure, you might not want to pack your lists with this stuff, but it’s these little nuggets of individuality that keep wine interesting. And it reminded me again just why so many of you see the chance to push left field wines not just as an opportunity, but as a duty.