Tom Harrow – aka WineChap – on why not to order Sancerre on a first date (and what he’s got in store for the Abergavenny Food Festival)
Ever let a restaurant’s winelist get the better of you? Been on a first date and not known what to order? Desperate to impress, found yourself defaulting to the Chablis or St-Emillion?
Well Tom Harrow – aka WineChap – is here to save you. He deconstructs wine lists for a living. Via his iPhone app and website, WineChap.com, and his wine tastings, reviews and articles, he provides infallible guides to aspiring wine connoisseurs – ensuring that next time you’re out with the in-laws you’ll order something more inspired than the fifth one down.
Last Saturday I met up with Tom at the Kensington Wine Rooms, ready to have my “vinintellect” – as Tom calls it – widened. Before I go any further, I confess: I had a stinking hangover.
After our meeting however I consoled myself by the fact that, firstly, Tom was also hungover and secondly, he is a wine taster (as it was wine I was drinking the night before I passed it off as research…)
Not only that, I got lucky: despite also over-indulging the previous night, Tom was remarkably eloquent, ready and able to share his passion with an ease and fluency that only those at the very top of their game can. In other words, easy to interview.
For those of you who’ve not come across Tom before, or his alias WineChap, he’s a little like Ronseal, he does exactly what it says on the tin; he’s a Chap with a capital C and he lives, dare I say breathes, wine.
He analyses, rates, reviews and consults on restaurant wine lists. A wine merchant in his own right – (though he supplies only to private clients and not restaurants, so avoiding any conflict in interest) – he ensures his clients remain suitably quenched whilst he pens reviews for the Financial Times, Pomp and the devastatingly cool e-zine, Urban Junkies.
Envious? You’re not the only one. So how did Tom end up an expert in wine, advising the proprietors of the finest restaurants whilst escorting his clients to vineyards across the continent?
“I had a very enterprising French teacher,” he tells me frankly.
“She would only teach French if she could teach the sixth form wine tasting. So I got an early start, I got a taste for wine as well as the bullshit – which is essential.” (French teachers please take note – follow suit and you could shape destinies).
Tom’s self-effacing reference to bovine faeces is both apt and disarming in equal measures. He doesn’t speaks bullshit, quite the opposite; he has that habit common to those masters of their subject of discussing his art in such detail that those on the receiving end (me) get a little lost in the minutia. Fortunately, his delivery is first-class, is mesmerising. He is a natural orator.
I ask him about the winelist here at The Kensington Wine Rooms – what should one order on a first date? He scans the list excitedly, “well a first date wine is always under 50 quid a bottle, something nice that shows a degree of connoisseurship. An obvious one that wouldn’t be a first date wine would be the Sancerre – everyone knows a Sancerre”.
At this point I lower the glass of Sancerre Rosé I ordered before Tom arrived (I was 20 minutes early otherwise I’d have waited) with as much humility that I can muster. I’d fallen at the first hurdle.
Oblivious to my shame he continues: “Here it would be the Riesling, Riesling is a tough sell for a lot of people but if you can say ‘ahh… you know, Mosel is a beautiful area, yeah it’s got a bit of sweetness but…’”And he’s off again, cantering through the valleys of Northern Europe, waxing lyrical on the merits of Riesling.
But luckily for Abergavenny folk, he’s soon coming to the Monmouthshire valleys instead. Tom will be bringing his dazzling expertise in the guise of Deconstructing the Winelist: a tasting he’s hosting alongside top sommelier Chris Cooper – a man credited, amongst others things, with choosing the wines for Gordon Ramsay’s Savoy Grill. So what should festival punters expect?
“I’ve never met a sommelier who isn’t incredibly passionate about what he does. Chris and I we’ll be talking about all sorts of stuff, and the best thing is that we’ll be having plenty of wine to drink as we do it. There’ll be a lot of banter– it’s going to be lots of fun”
So watch this space for more details coming soon, and remember, don’t ask about Sancerre.
Bex Hobson is Blogger-at-Large for the Abergavenny Food Festival