Choosing the right bottle of wine can often be a difficult task. If you don’t know your sauvignon blanc from your shiraz you could offend the host of your new year dinner party – or, worse, be left to drink a stinking vino.
Wine selection is a science as much as it’s an art. And it takes a fine nose to be able to pick up the array of ingredients and influences in a bottle, with experts able to narrow down intricate details such as chocolate or tobacco.
Justin Knock, 36, who hails from Gosford, Australia, is one of only 289 people in the world to hold a Masters in wine. The MW is the highest recognition anyone in the trade can receive so needless to say he knows his stuff. Here, he gives TNT wine novices invaluable information on how to buy wines over the festive season.
How do you choose a decent wine?
Don’t buy half-priced bottles because the price you pay for them is closer to their true value. For example, for a £5 bottle, half of that is tax, a third is packaging and transport and that leaves about 60p to spend on the wine. Whereas if you spend £7-£8, you’re probably getting double or triple the quality of the wine because the tax is about the same, the packaging and transport are about the same, so most of the extra money spent is on the quality of the wine. So, the biggest improvement you can make in your wine consumption is to go from a £5 to an £8 bottle.
Are the best wines necessarily the most expensive?
Absolutely not. The best wines are the ones you enjoy and can drink regularly. For example, this summer my housemate and I were drinking Txakoli at about £10 a bottle from the Basque country in Spain. It’s simple but delicious on a summer’s day.
How do you rate wines from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa?
Australia’s got the most diversity. You get top quality shiraz, chardonnay, sparkling wine, world-class fortified wines and very good quality cool-climate wines like pinot from Victoria or sauvignon blanc from Tasmania. You also get unique wines such as semillon from the Hunter. Then there are the extremely full-bodied wines such as Barossa shiraz or aged wines like Margaret River cabernet. NZ has a better reputation for high-quality wines and is really only known for two styles – Marlborough sauvignon blanc, which you can buy in any bar now by the glass, and pinot noir from Central Otago. Shiraz and sauvignon blanc are what South Africa does best. They’re still coming from a long way back in terms of wine-making, though.
What wine would you suggest for a blind date?
If she’s average, a sauvignon blanc because that’ll cover 75 per cent of most dates. If she’s above average, a chardonnay or riesling, even though they’re considered unfashionable. History has shown that they are the two greatest white wine varieties hands down.
What is a good wine to buy as a gift for your boss?
Go for something that’s not too expensive, but that’s still good quality, such as a bin wine from Penfolds. Spend between £13-£20. Their wines are full-bodied and good if they want to drink it straight away, but also to put in the cellar where they can be forgotten about for a good number of years.
What about to take to a dinner party?
Sparkling for sure. Not just champagne, but also sparkling from the Loire, which is pretty good quality, but not too expensive.
Or for someone you fancy?
A bottle of white or red burgundy. It’s complex and it’s silky and conjures images of Sophie Marceau in a champagne silk dress gliding down a red carpet at the Oscars. It’s so sexy.
How important is a wine’s vintage?
Knowing what the summer was like in a certain year can be a really helpful guide. Over here, people have fond memories of the great summer in 2003, but as a wine expert, I hate the 2003 vintage because it was just too hot for wine.
– Rebecca Kent