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Wine tasting in Kensington

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It was a cold evening in January and I was at a wine reception full of academics sipping red wine. My friend went to get me some wine and asked me whether I wanted a red or white one. I told him, in an emphatic offended tone, that everybody knows I don’t like red. Fast forward to the end of July and I’ve nearly bought a bottle of red and it wasn’t a present for someone else.

Last night I ventured to The Sampler in South Kensington with a friend who, on top of being a beautiful tall slender stereotypical French girl, is a wine expert.

It was a frightening prospect and I definitely need to learn a great deal more if I want to spare myself a faux pas or two at every social occasion I host, but I’m already getting the hang of it.

The way sampling in this shop works is amazing, you top up a sampling card and buy your desired quantity of as many wines as you like from a rather numerous selection, and the location is very handy for the crowd of young traditionalist Catholics that populate the pews of the Oratory (such as ourselves).

We shared a cheese platter (Comte, Bleu de Bebris, Pur Bebris and Chaource) and some rough foie gras on lovely bread and sampled 10 wines, spreading equally between white and red without doing it on purpose.

I started with a Careme Vouvrai, an interesting wine from Chenin Blanc grapes that seems to work really well with strong cheeses as it balances them with its delicacy. I then moved on to an elegant Gavi, made of Cortese grapes, a much lighter and refreshing choice that we think would suit seafood more than cheese and tastes like a holiday in the Riviera. The following wine was a more familiar territory, a Chablis: the best outcome of Chardonnay grapes in my opinion, it worked quite well with the more delicate of the two sheep cheeses. I’ve then sampled a very traditional Sauvignon Blanc which I’m told is from the vineyard of a friend of hers (!!!) and a Chardonnay which was delightful but not the most interesting choice of the evening. As the Bleu de Bebris is very similar to the Roquefort in looks and taste I’ve decided to make a good use of the sampling and try a light red, following my friend’s suggestion. After all, if I was still not keen on reds it’d be gone in no time and I could go back to plenty of whites to choose from!

The lucky first attempt was a Coyam. It’s a blend of different grapes, very light and very fresh. It encouraged me to carry on trying red wines, I’ve even tried the ones my friend picked for herself (which I mostly did not like, as predictably more austere and oh-so-much-tannins). My second red was a Grenache, which complemented the foie gras very nicely. A Santenay and a Beaujoulais followed, both decent, although the former is my least favourite among my choices. To conclude our evening we went for a 1983 Moulin Touchais my friend, and some velvety Port myself, a very nice finishing touch.

In addition to offering one of the best options for a night out, by providing choices from wines for under a tenner to rare bottles for over 2000£, this is definitely a wine merchant that caters for every need, and the location means a clientele more varied than you’d see in St James’s, which makes buying wine from a dedicated shop more hip and casual than you’d normally think. Also, the option to buy single bottles or mixed boxes of 6 makes it particularly appealing to those like me who rent a room in a shared house and don’t have the luxury of a cellar like their mothers (basically most Londoners).

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