JWL Issue #018: Ordering from a Restaurant (Rituals)

September 4, 2018

As you read this I’ll be out on the road, recording interviews for my forthcoming podcast on English wine. I’ve met some incredible people so far and can’t wait to share the podcast properly. Expect it mid-October.

Harvest has begun for some vineyards in England. The heatwave this year prompted the hottest summer since 1976 (or many years further back depending on how you measure). Plus, we’ve got infinitely better winemaking capacity than we did years ago. 

All in all, this should be a very good vintage for English wine indeed.

Trying to get any winemaker to say so though is a different matter: superstition is strong with this lot.


There’s a few picks I’ve had from Waitrose that are worth scouting out. As a supermarket, they do a lot for supporting English wine. The stores near to wine producing vineyards might stock the local wine, which then also gets added to their website online. A few of the bigger London stores usually have a wider selection too (like the flagship John Lewis store on Oxford Street). 

Stopham Estate’s Pinot Blanc is an interesting white at £15.99. I’m always amazed to find tropical fruits in English wines, but they feel in abundance here. It’s still a cool climate white, though, so drinking with food is advised to combat the acidity. 

The Morgon la Chanaise, is a great supermarket display of Beaujolais Cru. It’s far earthier and richer than most Beaujolais you might be used to. I managed to snap it up on offer for about £11, which if you can do the same, I’d highly recommend. Otherwise, you can get it for £14.99 at Waitrose. 


Ordering wine a restaurant: part three (the tasting ritual)

This tradition stems from a time when many more bottles of wine were off than they are today. Now, bottling is better, and many bottles are screw tops, which gets rid of many risks of the infamous cork taint. 

So why do we still do it? Part of it is ritual. Rationalist amongst you may see this as pointless, but ritual and tradition are huge contributors to our pleasure of wine, so shouldn’t be discounted. For me, there’s three primary, rational reasons for the process:

  • Check the bottle. Make sure it is what you ordered. Make sure the vintage and producer line up. You might see a more expensive wine or likewise cheaper than you wanted.
  • Check the wine’s temperature. Red wine should not be served at a summer’s room temperature. They should be cooler than that. Touch the bottle. Or check the temperature in your mouth. Red wine that is too hot will taste more alcoholic and flatter.
  • Check if it’s off. The key here is sniff once before swirling. Swirling brings out a lot of wine’s more pleasant aromas. A quick sniff, pre-swirl will show you the off ones predominantly. If it smells of cardboard, mould, or vinegar, there’s potentially a problem. 

If there is a problem, raise it. Ask “is it supposed to be like that, it seems a bit vinegary/fizzy/cardboardy.” Some wines, especially given natural wine’s growth have imperfections to them. It’s a huge ritual, and for 99% of wine, it’s going to be fine, but run through this quick checklist if you want to look for something.


Noble Rot

Certain weather conditions lead to funghi growing on grapes, one of which is called botrytis. Typically, this wouldn’t seem like a good thing, except that the effect this has on some grapes can lead to delicious sweet wines, such as Sauternes or Tokaji.

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