Have you ever looked at a wine list and found yourself staring in ever-increasing panic at words and numbers that may as well be written in Russian? Do you deliberately avoid asking the sommelier to recommend a wine for fear that he might reveal the gaping holes in your knowledge of wines or, worse still, the gaping holes in your bank account?
If so, all is not lost. According to Thierry Thomasin, owner of Bayswater bistro Angelus, ace raconteur and former chief sommelier at Le Gavroche, it’s perfectly possible for a total novice to look like a seasoned pro when faced with even the weightiest wine list.
With a hefty dose of common sense, some advance planning and an on-side sommelier choosing from the wine list should be “a smooth dance” says Thomasin, who is sharing the secrets of successfully negotiating the wine list in a series of evenings at Angelus. Each of the three evenings – the first for men only (handily timed for the week before Valentine’s day), the second for women and a third mixed event – includes a three-course menu with accompanying wine, champagne and Thomasin’s irreverent take on the art of dissecting a wine menu. As you would expect from Angelus, the food is excellent, the wines perfectly matched and the setting – the private dining room in the restaurant’s cellars – exceptional, but it’s Thomasin’s no-nonsense advice that’s the real draw.
Square Mile – more awkward shuffler than smooth dancer when it comes to reading the wine list (and, as it happens, dancing) – joined Thomasin for a preview of the event and can share just some of the Angelus boss’s wisdom (you’ll have to go along to the event to hear the rest). Use it wisely…
Thierry Thomasin’s top tips for negotiating the wine list:
- Do your homework. You can check the website or call ahead and ask to be emailed the wine list and ask advice on wines within your price bracket. You want to be spending your time during the meal talking to your date rather than the front of house team.
- Avoid going for sticky cocktails or heavy cocktails before a special meal out – a glass of pink champagne is the perfect aperitif for Valentine’s day. A glass of champagne waiting on your arrival will always raise a smile, so order this ahead of your arrival.
- What coffee does he or she like? There’s a similar correlation. A palate that would choose a double espresso over a latte would tend to like a rather strong, meaty red as opposed to a soft white wine.
- Interact with the sommelier (if there is one). Look at the sommelier and maitre’d as a friend rather than the source of a potentially embarrassing conversation. Ask confident questions and feel free to direct the sommelier to a price on the menu and ask for a wine of a similar quality that would work with your chosen dish – without voicing the price.
Men’s evening, Tuesday 7th February; ladies’ evening March 2nd. Places at the dinner are priced at £75 a person, including three courses with wines chosen by Thierry Thomasin. angelusrestaurant.co.uk