5 things I’ve learnt from 10 years in drink

I’ve been writing this blog on and off for ten years, so I’ve now got a decade’s worth of experience as a drinks writer to share with you, dear reader. I’ve witnessed the rise of natural wine, I’ve seen the choice of gin in a pub go from two to 22 and I’ve watched the price of Scotch whisky go bananas. And yet I’ve got nothing interesting to say about any of them. Instead, here are my bits of wisdom:

Big brands can be good:

When I worked in the wine trade back before the internet or mobile telephony, we used to turn our noses up at people who asked for Moet. Well, I tried Moet recently and it’s delicious. Everything you want from an NV champagne. For a G&T, nothing beats Beefeater and Schweppes, the Johnnie Walker range is excellent, and ignore Stanley Tucci, ordinary Martini Rosso is great in a Negroni

You can cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink:

Oxidised wine, flat champagne, and tired port are all fine to cook with. Especially if you’re going to cook it for a long time. I’ve made boeuf bourguignon with dozens of wines and the biggest difference is always the quality of the meat. And that aggressively sharp white wine that someone brought round, it’ll probably be great for making gravy. 

Lemon ruins a Martini:

I had this epiphany recently, a spray of lemon oil totally obliterates the taste of the gin. Distillers spend time getting the balance right. Don’t spoil it with a massive wack of lemony oil. Have an olive instead.

Cheap reds are better than cheap whites:

I am sure someone can explain to me why this might be, probably something to do with flavour in the grape skin, but you know it’s true.

Just order the Beaujolais:

Unless you’re dining with fellow wine bores (or maybe especially if you’re dining with fellow wine bores when getting a drink can take hours as everyone wants to look at the list), don’t spend ages looking through the wine list for the perfect bottle to go with everyone’s food. Order a bottle of decent Beaujolais, it goes with pretty much everything and then you can get on with enjoying people’s company. The white wine equivalent is Macon. 


About Henry

I’m a drinks writer. My day job is features editor at the Master of Malt blog. I also contribute to BBC Good Food, the Spectator and others. You can read some of my work here. I’ve done a bit of radio, given some talks and written a couple of books (Empire of Booze, The Home Bar and the forthcoming Cocktail Dictionary).
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9 Responses to 5 things I’ve learnt from 10 years in drink

  1. Jyrgenn says:

    About the big brands: Yay to Johnny Walker — everything above the Red is decent, and above the Black it is good. Not so sure about the champagne; I was usually bored stiff by the big brands (Pol Roger, Veuve Cliquot, …), but am fascinated by a Devaux blanc de noirs for about the same price.

    Cooking with bad wine: Sure! In particular, a bottle of corked red is a sure sign we will eat a goulash soon. Never tried a Martini with lemon, am not so sure about the cheap reds, but Beaujolais! Yes! It is great!

    Also, I do love a Mâcon-Villages. Drank it near Mâcon together with a lovely girl, and an hour later we were out behind a hedge busy with each other. 36 years ago, though.

  2. Always excellent advice, and always entertaining, even when you don’t try.

  3. Miquel Hudin says:

    Choice advice all around.

    “Cheap reds are better than cheap whites” – I agree and would posit several favors as to why. The first is the most probably in that around the world, white yield limits are higher than red so right there you have a reduction in concentration which, when talking about a cheap wine, for sure, the producers are pushing this limit.

    Second, with the exception of Burgundy and a few others, white wine minimum alcohol is always lower than red and let’s face it, what makes wine tasty, is the booze.

    Lastly, yes the skins as reds being produced with skin maceration helps to hide a lot of viticultural sins as you’re getting a wealth of flavor from those. White wines, not having the skins gives you a much more horrid window into the soul of what you’re drinking as it’s harder to cover up. That and whites can then often be acidify more than reds (a lot of debate on this point though) and you just end up with something really putrid when reaching for the bottom shelf.

    Moral: spend more, especially in the UK where the buyers are simply top-notch.


    • Henry says:

      This is so helpful. I’m going to use this information at dinner parties in future. If we have dinner parties in future.

      • Miquel Hudin says:

        Ha ha, I’m sure the, “Well, this Languedoc Chardonnay you brought is shitty because they have high yields.” will go down a charm.
        Also, was clearly quite sleepy as my reply has more typos than my tweets.

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