Wine O’ Clock? How To Choose The Good Stuff Every Time

Father and wine expert Ian Campbell on how to choose a decent bottle every time... STOP PRESS £10 off first order from Drop wine delivery with code MUMS

Since Will and I (Will is my business partner), opened The 10 Cases bistrot six years ago we’ve done our small bit to make wine a foolproof purchase. We do everything by the glass, so you can have a small taste of what you’re buying if you’re unsure.

You see, we know what a minefield the whole process can be. If life is a series of candid encounters and random events, we’ve been led here, to some extent, by our experiences.

I’ll never forget my first day as the newest member of the sommelier team at an upmarket restaurant in the City.

It’s Friday lunch and three flashily-healed ladies sit down in Pierre’s section.

He takes an immediate dislike to them.  If you close your eyes softly and imagine the snootiest, Frenchiest sommelier… Pierre is the garçon you are imagining.

They order, to his unflinching derision, an excellent bottle of vintage champagne. To know Pierre is to know that the derision isn’t there because he doesn’t like the wine the ladies have chosen, in fact quite the opposite – it’s his favourite.

But he doesn’t like the ladies, which means he has to face the fact that their choice is revealing of some disfunction within his very (Gallic) soul that he doesn’t want to, or simply cannot, acknowledge.

It’s a smart, old school French place – white linen tablecloths with backup black linen napkins for people who don’t want to get white lint on their black clothing; waiters in waistcoats; ice buckets around the room for the white wines, which absolutely won’t end up on a table for punters to help themselves.

As a sommelier, you are expected to taste every bottle you open before you give the customer (sorry, guest) a taste of what they have ordered. This is so you know what’s going on in the bottle before they do – forewarned etc…

Fifteen years later and I remember Pierre and that moment fondly. I know where he works, and carefully avoid the place.

In this case, Pierre presents the bottle of Vintage Ruinart Rose and returns to his station to open the bottle and taste it. To his absolute delight, it’s corked.

Delight because he now knows he can get one over on his ladies. It’s probably important to mention that if you send back a bottle of wine in a restaurant, the restaurant doesn’t lose out. That bottle gets marked and sent back to the supplier they bought it from. They in turn, will log it with the maker. (When they sign import deals, they factor in a certain percentage of Out of Condition bottles). This logistical titbit just to highlight Pierre’s motivations.

So off Pierre walks to meet his ladies again, this time clutching his ammunition. They taste. They correctly denounce the wine as faulty. Well healed yes. Foolish, no.

Pierre holds firm and begins his descent into the 8th circle of hell. It isn’t corked, Madame, it is simply a very old champagne and that slight musty smell is a distinctive nutty aroma that is highly sought after and much admired in this vintage. Overwhelmed, the ladies retreat and Pierre wins his little skirmish with the social fabric of society – a rare, crooked smile on his face as he pours the wine.

Fifteen years later and I remember Pierre and that moment fondly. I know where he works, and carefully avoid the place.

There are many more stories like it, and every sommelier has dozens of his own, but this one stands out, perhaps because it makes a vital point about choosing wine.

Regardless of how little or much you know, so much is going to come down to trust.

Do you know the person recommending the wine? Have you bought wine from them before? It doesn’t matter if it’s your local gastropub or a Michelin rated treat, the question is the same.  How do I know that the money I’m spending isn’t better off spent on another bottle?

It doesn’t matter how much you know about wine. If you know nothing, you trust that the somm or salesperson will help you out. If you know quite a bit and fancy a chat and start asking questions, how do you know the answers are correct?

This conundrum was at the forefront of our minds when we recently launched Drop, a wine delivery app for London (sorry). Drop is what you need to get that bottle to the dinner party ahead of time, ahead of your arrival even, on ice if needs be.

With Drop, you have to trust us, but not all the way. We’ll even take a bottle back if you’re visibly not enjoying it. It’s no trouble. What we’ve always searched for in our wines, what I suppose anyone searches for in anything, is some sort of originality. It’s not necessarily about over-pedalled notions of authenticity either. How much of this wine is made?

Did you forget to send a gift to your NCT friend who just came home from the maternity ward? Drop is there to help you.

Do they make as much as possible or can the shop owner only get his hands on a certain amount of it? Is it made by the owner? Or is it made by a team of oenologists on a career ladder? It’s a hard question to answer, but is the wine honest? Does it smell and taste as it should or has someone played with it, tried too hard to make it taste like something else?

Drop isn’t Pierre. We’ve chosen the wines on the app, so to some extent you’re in our hands. But you’ll get to choose what you want.

No lists, no Pierre on your shoulder telling you to go a little lower down the list, or that this vintage was a bit riper, this producer has a more mineral style. You don’t like the wine? We’ll pick it up again, no questions asked. What we want is for you to like the wine you drink and come back for more -of the same or something else.

Did you forget to send a gift to your NCT friend who just came home from the maternity ward? Drop is there to help you. Can’t run out for bottle of white because the kids are in bed and husband is out with his mates? Nice to meet you.  And the delivery cost is coming out of our end – we didn’t hike up the price to cover it. Retail price is retail price. Did I mention there’s a minimum order of 1 bottle?

Now that you’ve read this far and you’ve patiently read the little plug for Drop, I’ll finish with something that may actually prove useful.

My rules for choosing a bottle of wine on a list.  5 rules apply, in no particular order –  it depends on what’s important on the day.

If you just got paid, then the budget is less of a priority. If you’re in a place where you drank good wine before (trust again, you see?) then you can dare to be more adventurous this time.

  1. Set a budget before you look at the list (boring, but important)
  2. Countries that you didn’t know made wine, actually make great wine.
  3. I’ll take a dodgy label any day- if the winebuyer has made the decision to list it despite its label, it’s probably because he fell in love with the wine.
  4. Pay attention to the vintage. I’ll take a bottle that’s 12 months older over a bottle that’s 12 months younger 90% of the time.
  5. Don’t listen to anyone who thinks screw-caps are bad.

Enjoy.

  • Ian Campbell opened The 10 Cases in Covent Garden with his business partner, Will Palmer, after 10 years spent cooking, polishing, serving and pouring in London and France. Drop Wine is their latest venture, with another restaurant planned in October this year.
  • STOP PRESS!! £10 off first order from Drop wine delivery with code MUMS

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