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Grape expectations

Growing up in Finland in the 1970s-1990s, meant that I was not massively exposed to different wines.. Sure there were those more sophisticated who knew their claret from their Burgundy,  but where I come from, any alcohol consumed with dinner tended to be lager. There wasn’t a vast variety of wines to choose from in my home town and people often chose their drink based on the prettiest label or affordability, rather than the content of the bottle. 


There is a scene in the latest Aki Kaurismaki film “Fallen Leaves” where the main protagonist offers her date a glass of sparkling wine from a miniature bottle they share. The man asks “What is this?” to which she replies: “They call it an aperitif”. Those of you familiar with this master filmmaker’s deadpan style, will realise this is not meant as  a depiction of modern Finland, but rather an affectionate nod to the past. And yes there are still plenty of those who would not opt for a sparkling, or any wine for that matter.

(Things have moved on since I left in the mid-nineties and these days a great variety of wines from all over the world are being consumed in this arctic, grapeless land). 



And, of course, England was not traditionally a wine country either. It’s only in recent years the wines in the south, particularly sparkling,  have gained international recognition; partly due to unfortunate reasons (global warming) and partly because the soil is identical to the one in the Champagne region. The beer culture in the pubs is still strong but people are now more interested in wine in general, and the ‘wine with dinner’ culture has existed here somewhat longer than in the Nordic countries, mainly due to exposure to different cuisines through migration and travel. 


Then there is also the question of matching wine with local food. Whilst it makes total sense to your palate to have a Loire Sauvignon with a local goats cheese, as the wine has been developed alongside the food, it’s trickier to start from scratch in countries where wine was not traditionally grown and consumed. Traditional food in Finland was basic (but often delicious and made from fresh ingredients), and, to this day, it still makes more sense to  have a lager with your herring and mash. However, if you do prefer wine (as I do), I’ve found that, for instance, it’s best to consider what type of fish would closely match with the flavour profile and texture of herring. And, since sardines are closely related, something like VInho Verde is a good option. 



I was not always into my wines. For many years I made do with the “two for £5” basket in my local corner shop. It’s not until I was in my thirties, and we visited Vinoteca restaurant in Soho where I had my epiphany.  It was the first time that I went with the recommended wines with each course. Not expecting much, I left the restaurant a changed man! No longer was I willing to sip down a glass of something that clashed with the flavours of the food so that all you could taste was alcohol. And yes, I did go a bit overboard, wanting to spend any spare penny on the right type of glass to match each grape (nowadays I have just two/ three favourites that I tend to drink from no matter what the grape, but I’m still (sadly) proud of my collection). We’d also inherited some wine books (including numerous Hugh Johnsons's annual pocket books) from Rachel’s late father, who had had a wine business. I started spending hours reading them, meticulously  inspecting the maps of the wine regions and learning about the grapes (you soon realise there is just way too much to know and that you will never be able to list the 10,000 existing grape varieties in a quiz). Yes, I got obsessed. I learnt loads but forgot loads too. I have calmed down since but I’m glad I invested that time as I now have some solid, basic knowledge that has allowed us to enjoy some amazing food and wine moments. And each time the flavours match, I do a proverbial high five with myself. 


These days my books tend to be dusting away on the shelf as the internet has so many great websites and resources. I enjoy watching the wine bits on “Saturday Kitchen" and have learnt a lot from Helen McGinn  and Olly Smith. I follow websites such as https://www.decanter.com/  and Fiona Beckett’s https://www.matchingfoodandwine.com/ (I would highly recommend the latter to anyone interested in food and wine pairing). 



Nowadays, to me drinking wine  is more about the quality, not quantity, and I’ve learnt quality does not always mean a hefty price tag. Drinking wine with dinner is not right or wrong and it’s absolutely fine if it’s not your thing.  But, if like me, you do enjoy a glass or two with your dinner, please check out our wine recommendations on our menus (on mobile view they can be found under the ingredients of each dish). 


Cheers!


Terry 28th January 2024


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