ELN spoke to Chris Orr, London Wine Week’s guru, who has spent nearly a quarter of a century immersed in wine (figuratively speaking).
For how long have humans been making and drinking wine?
We’ve been drinking wine since as long ago as 7000BC, which is when the first recorded attempts at making a version of fermented grape juice – which is what wine is – were recorded. It then spread east until it hit parts of Europe – mainly the Mediterranean, where the Romans helped develop more sophisticated fermenting technology that gave results closer to those we have in our wine glasses today. So in short, quite a long time.
Are there any health benefits associated with modest regular consumption?
There are 101 different studies that show a glass or two of red wine can help fight heart disease, or that a glass of white wine will increase particular antibodies, etc., and I am sure that a lot of this research is based on strong medical fact. After all, wine has been used for medicinal purposes throughout the centuries – from an antiseptic or aid to digestion, through to its most obvious use as an anaesthetic. But could I swear to whether it holds the secret to long life? No. Although Jeanne Louise Calment, the world’s oldest living person, who passed at 122, swore by a daily glass of port!
The key is – moderation. Water is healthy, but if you drink too much of it you can easily make yourself ill. LWW is a strong advocate of safe and sensible drinking which is the best way to enjoy wine and stay healthy. We promote drinking less, but drinking better.
In East London, we are lucky to have a wide choice of restaurants selling food from the Indian subcontinent, which is characterised by its subtle spicing and, sometimes, chilli heat. Can you recommend wines to match with this type of food?
Spice is always a tough one to match wines with. With a lot of Indian and Thai food, German grape varieties such as Riesling and Gewurztraminer are excellent, because they have a crisp clean acidity – in other words, “zingyness” – that cuts through the heat and takes the sting out of the tail, leaving the mouth ready for another onslaught. They also tend to have lemon or citrus fruit characteristics, which again offset the spice and richness of these types of cuisine. Traditionally Germany was the home to these varieties, but over the last decade New World wine makers have been excelling with them too, so you get great versions from the likes of Australia, New Zealand and Chile for example, which also tend to be on the drier side.
We never see the UK wine retail industry promote some of the lighter, sweeter wines of Germany, particularly the Moselle, though they make excellent summer drinking. Is the industry missing a trick?
No I just think it’s all got a lot more competitive. We used to drink a lot of Piesporter and similar German sweet wine. Indeed, several centuries ago German wine was more highly prized by the nobility of England than Bordeaux. But now people’s palates often prefer something a little drier. Hence those wines are less on trend. But I believe it’s coming back into fashion and personally I’d love to see more of them on restaurant and merchant’s wine lists. I love them, especially on a hot summer’s day. They are the perfect refresher.
Why have you chosen to launch London Wine Week? What do you hope to achieve?
Well there are several reasons. Primarily it’s to help people celebrate the immense variety of wine available in the UK. We have, without a doubt, more choice than virtually anywhere else in the world at all different price points. London is the very epicentre of that and we want to help people celebrate that in a festival atmosphere.
Second, we want to encourage people to experiment and trade up, be it in their local wine merchants (who need as much support as possible) or in a selection of the many great bars and restaurants around the capital. It’s a challenge, even for people knowledgeable about wine, to move up in spending terms without knowing what they’re getting or knowing that they will like it. Trying out these wines is exactly the opportunity we want to give people through London Wine Week.