I’m not much of a wine connoisseur – my method is usually to choose whichever bottle in the supermarket has the most artistic label for under a tenner – so when Ayla and I planned our visit to Hotel Du Vin for their wine tasting evening on Wednesday, 5th February, I was excited to learn more about the drink I ignorantly imbibe on a regular basis.
Ayla and I arrived at the hotel just before 7, when the tasting was due to start, and were greeted by a warm and friendly receptionist who showed us to the private tasting room for the evening. We were immediately struck by the plush, traditional interior of the room, featuring a long table in the middle set with jugs of water, plates, olives and our different tasting glasses for the evening ahead. As we got settled in, the evening’s sommelier, Georgios, came in and introduced himself. We chatted to the other guests around the table while people filtered in.
Once everyone was seated, Georgios gave the group a brief introduction to the wine tasting, and uncorked the first wine of the evening: a bottle of Belstar Prosecco. I was particularly excited about this one because I’m a walking cliché and therefore Prosecco is my favourite drink. As Georgios filled everyone’s glasses, he explained the definition of wine and the basic process of fermentation. Everyone was very reserved for the first tasting, waiting until all the glasses were full before taking their first sip. (I can assure you we did not stick to this habit as the evening progressed…!)
Even though Prosecco is my tipple of choice, I had never given much thought to how it’s made, or what exactly makes it fizzy. Georgios explained that it has to do with the co2 inside the tank where the wine was fermented. He prompted us to try a couple of lemon-marinated olives with our Prosecco as the two flavours complimented each other.
Next, we moved onto a white wine, a light-bodied Gavi, and Georgios brought out some cheeses for everyone to eat. He explained that the difference between light and full bodied wine was comparable to the difference between the feel of milk vs. water in your mouth (if you’re wondering, milk = full bodied, water = light-bodied). I was interested to learn this, as I’ve spent years as a bartender pretending to know about wine (this has a lot to do with nodding sagely when people are sniffing their wine glasses, and saying ‘Ooh, that’s a good one’ when customers order literally any bottle) and one of the many things I pretended to know about was the difference between light and full bodied wines. If I’d known it was as easy as milk vs. water, I’d have been a MUCH better bartender! (I wouldn’t.) Georgios explained the Gavi was fermented in steel tanks rather than oak barrels, which gave it a uniquely sweet and light flavour. He said the Gavi was ‘feminine and elegant’ (i.e. the opposite of how you feel when you have a few too many glasses of it) and that throughout the evening we would ‘climb the ladder of intensity together’ with the wines we tasted, which I thought was a very poetic way of illustrating it.
The next rung on the intensity ladder came in the form of a Citari Conchiglia DOC, a full bodied white. Although all the wines were delicious, I have to say this was my least favourite – but that’s why you go to something like a wine tasting; to learn about wine, and to find out what you like! At this stage, Georgios brought out platters of charcuterie to enjoy alongside the wine. Neither myself nor Ayla eat meat, and the couple sat opposite us were very happy to hear that the charcuterie board was all theirs! Another couple at the other end of the table had called ahead to notify the hotel they were vegetarian, so they had goat’s cheese salads in place of the meat.
As the wine flowed, we got to know our fellow guests, and it was interesting to find out the other guests’ backgrounds, as well as what had brought them to the tasting that evening. (Spoiler alert: it’s wine.)
Next was a Pinot Grigio blush from Verona. This was delicious, but the real star of the show was the red wine that followed it, the Ilatium Morini Campo Leon. This was genuinely the first time I have actually been able to taste hints of oak in a wine. It was a very intense flavour, but not overpowering at all. Georgios asked around the table for other flavours we picked up on, and explained the smoky flavour is made up of different elements, including vanilla and cloves. He asked, ‘Who is the best friend of red wine?’ (A lady at the other end of the table exclaimed, ‘Me!’)
Georgios explained the best friend of red wine is salt. As a flavour experiment, he brought in some plates of rock salt for us to try alongside the red. He advised us to cleanse our palette with water, eat a little salt, then sip the wine. I have to admit – either because I’m a total philistine or so desensitised to salt it basically makes up 80% of my body mass – I didn’t notice much of a difference after eating the salt, but Ayla said it definitely intensified the flavour of the wine, so there you go!
We finished with a unique dessert wine called Il Cascinone Palazzina 2015 Moscato D’asti. I had never tried dessert wine before and I wasn’t sure I’d like it, but it was actually lovely. It was sweet – as you might have guessed already! – but it felt like an organic sweetness that deserved to be there, as opposed to a Blossom Hill, ‘why is this so sugary?’ kind of sweetness.
Georgios brought out a selection of cakes to enjoy alongside the dessert wine. By this point, everyone was chatting and laughing, and the atmosphere felt less like a wine tasting and more like a gathering of friends around the dinner table. Everyone tucked into the cakes while sipping on the wine.
Something I thought was particularly good about this tasting was that Georgios didn’t take the bottles away once everyone had had a glass; he’d leave them on the table if people wanted to top up. At £25 a head, I thought this experience was excellent value. Now that the tasting was drawing to a close, Georgios put on some background music as the conversation continued and some guests began to filter out to the bar or to catch a cab home.
I have to say, as someone who – if you haven’t guessed already – knows next to nothing about wine, I found this experience really interesting and informative. It was a great way to spend a Wednesday evening, try some great wine and meet new people. Its central Brighton location makes it a convenient after-work evening activity, a fun event to go to after an early dinner – or as pre-drinks before a night out!
Thank you very much to Hotel Du Vin for having us, and to Georgios for being such an excellent – and patient – host! We’ll definitely be back again soon.