Author, blogger, avid taster and Wine Society member, Matt Walls, is one of the new
generation of wine writers. His book ‘Drink Me’, aimed at newcomers to wine, has received
praise in many quarters. He reflects on his own experiences of getting into wine and on the
changing attitudes towards its appreciation
It’s not easy to be
young, British and
into wine. I still find
myself folding my
copy of Decanter in
half when I’m on
public transport to
hide what I’m
reading. In case people, well you
know, get the ‘wrong idea’. To all new
members of The Wine Society: well
done, you’ve already taken the most
difficult step when it comes to wine.
You’ve seen past some of the
outdated notions that still exist in the
UK and decided to give it a fair go.
I first got into wine during a year in
France as a student, where exploring
food and drink wasn’t considered a
strange thing for a 20-year-old to be
doing. I was living in the Languedoc,
where wine estates were more like
farms than grand châteaux. Chatting
to an unshaven middle-aged guy next
to a clapped-out pick-up truck
surrounded by chickens didn’t feel
When I returned to the UK, however,
I found attitudes were still stuck in the
past. Some friends still seemed to
think that enjoying wine was an
expensive pastime for the elite.
Sure, many years ago, like any
imported food or drink, it was
reserved for the wealthy. Despite
the fact that most wine is bought in
supermarkets these days, it is taking
a while to shake off this image. But
thankfully attitudes are now beginning
to change. People are starting to
realise that, like with coffee, tea or
whisky, there’s nothing intrinsically
well-to-do about a glass of wine.
Take wine out of its cultural and social
context and what are you left with?
A glass bottle of liquid sitting on the
table in front of you. It means
different things to different people,
but to me first and foremost it’s
entertainment. It’s the best and
easiest way to entertain your two
most under-indulged senses: smell and
taste. Like music is to your ears and
painting is to your eyes, wine is to
your nose and mouth. The best
bottles will reveal something new
with every sip, and the flavours will
gradually evolve as you work your
way down to the bottom. It can
console, fascinate or energise
whether alone or, even better,
When it comes to smell and taste,
food can give great pleasure too of
course. But the beauty of wine is that
it is so democratic. Cooking takes
practice, knowledge and skill but
anyone can pull a cork (or twist
a screwcap) and pour. All the
preparation wine needs it does by
itself, unseen, inside the bottle;
aromas evolve, flavours fuse then
pull apart, textures are quietly
worked and moulded.
Sure, some bottles are expensive.
But with increasing numbers of tasting
machines in wine shops and bars,
(including The Wine Society’s
Showroom in Stevenage), you don’t
need to splash out on a whole bottle,
you can just buy a taste. After all, which
sip of the bottle do you enjoy the most
when you open it? The first one.
Wine is immediately appealing, not an
acquired taste like coffee or beer.
And drinking is not a skill. It is surely
the most basic of all human functions.
Tasting is just drinking slowed down,
with a bit more attention. As your
memory banks fill with bottles, you
enjoy the next one even more than
the last. And now we have camera
phones it’s easy to remember the
bottles you like – just photograph
Admittedly, unlike a plate of food, you
can’t know whether you’re going to
like the wine just by looking at it,
whether in the bottle or in the glass.
You have to pull a few corks and
explore. You’re bound to come across
a couple of stinkers. But there’s hardly
a natural flavour imaginable that can’t
be found in one wine or another:
spices, herbs, vegetables, flowers,
earth, animal and dairy flavours. Not
to mention every fruit under the sun.
Wine is that holy grail of hedonism
that can be both sustainable and
healthy. The physiological benefits
that it offers, over any other alcoholic
drink, are well documented. If you
use it with care, you can enjoy wine
the length of your life. It might even
Attending certain tasting events
would certainly make you think so.
But they’re not all as stiff as they once
were, and there are increasing
numbers aimed at younger people and
beginners. Ten years ago there was
still a disturbingly high number of
bow-ties at tastings; these days denim
is more common than tweed.
Like any subject, it has its jargon,
which some people naturally find
off-putting. With the new series of
Food & Drink on the BBC, we now
have the down-to-earth voice of Kate
Goodman instead of the cut-glass
elocution of Jilly Goolden. Wine is no
longer reserved for dinners or special
occasions. We drink it with a Tuesday
night takeaway, in front of the telly,
at book groups and over the kitchen
table when the pubs have shut.
Blogging too has given a voice to
ordinary people that just happen to
be into wine.
Enjoying wine is easy. Understanding
wine… now that’s a bit different.
It’s a massive subject and we’ll never
know it all. It’s a bit like music. A topic
of infinite breadth and depth, but
endlessly fascinating and all the more
exciting because you know if you
keep looking, you’ll keep finding more
that you love. And the more you
understand the context of the music
– how it was made, by whom, what
else they’ve produced, who their
peers and influences are – the more
you get out of it. Wine is the same.
Enjoying wine isn’t snobbish. It isn’t
complicated. It doesn’t need to cost
the earth. This is nothing new. Seeing
past the baggage and outdated
attitudes that still prevail in certain
quarters of the UK and deciding to
try it out for yourself – that’s the hard
part. Now you’re free to explore.
There’s no final destination – the
pleasure is in the journey. There’s just
one tricky thing left to do: convince
your mates to try it too.
Matt Walls is the author of Drink Me!
How to choose, taste and enjoy wine,
and was shortlisted for the
International Wine & Spirit
Competition Blogger of the Year 2012
mattwalls.co.uk. His book
won ‘Best Newcomer 2013’ in the
Fortnum & Mason food and wine