Competition – Nick Orwell

Nick Orwell describes himself as 'a Scottish man with three incredible (but almost teenaged...) children. He lives near Glasgow but spends a lot of time in London and beyond pursuing his main passions – music (playing guitar and piano in various bands), long distance running and wine!' His unedited entry in our seminal wine competition follows

When I was a kid, my father often went to see a singer called Loudon Wainwright III, who for some reason, I imagined as a singing member of the German aristocracy, flouncing through Glasgow with an acoustic guitar flung over his shoulder.

It transpired he was actually from wealthy Westchester County just outside of New York City, (albeit the acoustic guitar part was accurate), and as an adult I discovered an excellent album by his son, the inimitable Rufus Wainwright.

That album started a great love of the singer and in 2011 my wife and I travelled from Scotland to London to see Rufus perform at the Royal Opera House. In need of dinner beforehand – and with a wife who generally makes seafood a prerequisite of any dining experience – we made a reservation at the horseshoe shaped bar of the theatre-land institution, J. Sheekey Oyster Bar.

We were young, and resources weren’t unlimited, so whilst I enjoyed wine and knew the difference between red and white, my experience of wine lists and food pairing was minimal. So as we took our places at the bar and watched talented staff shucking oysters and preparing beautiful plateau de fruits de mer in front of us, I had to quickly choose between an order of blustering bravado or an admission of naivety and semi-ignorance.

Luckily, I had a loving wife to please, rather than a judgmental date to impress, and even more fortunately, we were introduced to an extremely friendly and welcoming sommelier who did exactly what a good sommelier should; he made us feel at ease.

In a reversal of previous experience, he didn’t ask what we wanted, but ‘what we liked’. No assumption of knowledge, no judgement, and in an instant the often exclusive, even elitist, world of wine began to transform into a charismatic and captivating playground.

I knew enough to know that I enjoyed Sancerre and that it would work with seafood but surprisingly found none on the list. As alternatives we were offered a Chenin Blanc and a Picpoul de Pinet, and provided with a short backstory on each. Best of all, and in an act of utter generosity, he poured two generous samples, invited us to try both free of charge, and follow up with a bottle of the victor!

That evening the Picpoul was the clear winner and we both revelled in how its stony minerality and lively citrus finish worked perfectly with the fine de claire oysters, the roasted garlic razor clams and the early evening London sunshine we watched through the windows across the bar.

As we ordered two more glasses and enjoyed people watching from our ideal perch at the bar, we became aware that stage time was fast approaching and with sadness, we settled the bill, said goodbye to the friendly sommelier and headed off to our seats at the theatre.

I didn’t take any notes so can’t recall the name or the vintage of the wine, however that now seems unimportant in the context of an experience that perfectly combined the best aspects of food, wine and customer service. Perhaps that lack of definition even added an air of mystery and propelled me faster down the road of the vineyard as I sought to fill the gaps in my memory.

As I now prepare to embark on my first wine qualification with WSET I often recall that night and how it helped open my mind to the concept of wine as an experience rather than a product, and to how certain environments can bring people together to revel in that experience. That evening was the beginning of my romantic interest in wine and my introduction to a world where the contents of a glass brim with stories. My aim now, is to learn – and to take part in – as many of those stories as I can.

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