Drink up: a student’s guide to wine

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Illustration: Flo McQuibban
Illustration: Flo McQuibban
Illustration: Flo McQuibban

Despite the fact that there are entire societies dedicated to the stuff, many St Andreans are still clueless when it comes to wine. Students left, right and centre are mixing up their merlots with their marsalas and their chardonnays with their chiantis. This is a deplorable situation.

Rachael Leach, a member of the St Andrews Wine Tasting Team, told The Saint: “We are so lucky in this town to have fabulous wine shops with a huge depth of knowledge and experience behind them that bring in great quality products. Not enough students are exploiting that resource.” By not making the most of these shops, we are failing to get the best value for our money. Ms Leach said: “In big supermarkets you are paying for brands and not quality and wines can be misleadingly priced.” Although many students make the decision to stick to the better-known supermarket chains when it comes to buying wine, they are unknowingly compromising their experience.

However, thanks to this handy guide, this no longer needs be the case. With the help of Celia Coll, a wine adviser at Luvians – one of St Andrew’s local wine shops – The Saint has created a brief student guide to wine to help you on your way to dinner party perfection. These serving tips and food pairings for classic student meals will enable any of you anxious academic parents, however clueless, to impress at your upcoming family dinners. Moreover, wine need not be expensive, as Luvians and other local shops have a wide range of vinos for as little as £8, making it a viable option for any student event.

This is sure to be a consolation for many students who may or may not have overdone the rounds of Pablos at the Union during Freshers’ Week. We understand that your vain attempts to impress potential first-year children have probably diminished your bank accounts and we are here to help. Read on for suggestions of which wines to serve at your next themed dinner party and, for the more ambitious, learn how to host a wine tasting.

Pick your poison

Curry Night: The main thing you should remember when dishing up a curry is that you should serve white rather than red wine with it. This is because some red wines are very high on tannins that can give a bitter aftertaste when served with certain spicy foods. Therefore, the Naked Grape Riesling (£7.99), with its flowery and limey undertones, is the ideal complement to any curry of your choosing. In addition to this, do not forget to buy a decent jar of chunky mango chutney. There is absolutely no point getting the perfect wine if you do not have the appropriate condiments to go with a meal.

Italian: The Biferno Rosso (£7.99) goes well with any tomato-based dish, so this rustic red is the perfect companion to a lasagne or pizza. Moreover, the fact that this wine is Italian will add pretence of authenticity to any Italian evening, no matter how readymade the pizza. However, one thing to remember when serving it – as with all red wines – is not to fill your glass right up to the top. This allows the wine to breathe and provides enough room for you to sniff it and pick up its subtle aromas. It will also make it last longer, which is a handy budgeting tip.

Leftovers risotto: This staple meal can seem mundane when your main ingredient is the roast chicken dinner that you have stretched out into a variety of similar, and equally bland, dishes. However, it can be easily enhanced with an earthy white such as a Mas Blanc (£6.99). Alternatively, this wine is also very nice enjoyed on its own, so feel free to replace the risotto with a group of friends for an impromptu gathering. Just remember, wine is for sharing. (At least if you want to avoid an almighty hangover and making vaguely intelligible notes in your lectures the following morning.)

Girls’ night in: The best rosé for under £8 is the Roubertas La Vidaubanaise Comte de Provence (£7.99), which is fondly know amongst the staff at Luvians as the “ladywine” thanks to its curvaceous bottle. An important serving tip to remember is that before drinking your wine, unless it is of a sparkling variety, you should give the glass a little swirl in order to oxygenate it, further enhancing the flavour. Then just add a classic romcom such as Bridget Jones’s Diary or Notting Hill for the perfect girly night in.

All of the aforementioned wines can be bought from Luvians Bottle Shop on Market Street. If you enjoy this small selection and would like to expand the bounds of your wine preferences further, be sure to purchase a ticket to Luvians’ 18th annual Wine Fair on 3 October. Tickets are £15 and will give you the chance to taste over two hundred wines, beers and spirits, as well as taking home a free glass worth £10. If this was not enough, there will also be a 10 per cent discount on all orders, allowing you to stock up on your favourites. Tickets are available at Luvians or over the phone on 01334 477752.

Share the wealth

If you are chomping at the bit to put your newly found wisdom to the test, host a mini wine tasting event. Here are some tips to keep in mind for the best bacchanal possible.

First, make sure that all of the wine glasses are squeaky clean in order to allow guests to taste the true flavour of the wine. To this end, if you are aiming for the perfect experience, use hot water rather than soap for cleaning glasses to ensure that there is not a background hint of soap from your earthy red.

Secondly, resist the urge to douse yourself with a favourite fragrance for one night only. Although you will probably want to be smelling fresh as you declare an appreciation for a certain pinot noir, perfume will impair your sense of smell and limit the experience.

Thirdly, use a white surface to present the wine to allow a better comparison of colours. If you cannot fully discern whether you are drinking a rosé or a red, the testing session is being held in the wrong place.

Last but not least, slurp the wine so that it covers the whole palette, aerating the wine and releasing its full flavour, rather than attempting to down it as you would on a round of pub golf.

Find your inner sommelier

Although this guide is a good starting point for the average student, there will no doubt be those who yearn to become something of a wine guru. Fear not, there are ample opportunities within the humble town of St Andrews to take your knowledge to another level. The first port of call, pardon the pun, for such a student should be the St Andrews Wine Tasting Team. This society runs a program over the semester that teaches guests how to blind taste and to appreciate the different wine styles and regions. After receiving an expert training from the society, you can even put this knowledge to the test as a member of its very own team, which competes in three blind tasting competitions throughout the year: a Varsity against Edinburgh run by Pol Roger, the Left Bank Bordeaux Cup and SPIT, which is hosted by Bollinger Champagne itself.

This society is definitely worth joining as it could not only supply you with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and culture, but also an unforeseen advantage in later life. As Ms Leach sees it: “Not only could a little bit of knowledge potentially help you save money, it is also a great life skill. Wine will always be around and knowing the difference between the Rhône and Burgundy might just impress a potential employer enough to give you that job.” For more information on the team’s upcoming events and competitions, head to their Facebook page.

So now there really is no excuse for any St Andrean to have anything less than a basic knowledge of wine. Nevertheless, the University motto is not to get by on a bare minimum of expertise, but ‘Ever to excel.’ So, in this spirit, when you next  find yourself ignorantly reaching for the £2.25 bottle of Chardonnay in Tesco Express, think again. Instead seek wisdom from the local shops and societies, all of which will be happy to offer their expertise in order to improve your wine-drinking experience. After all, wine is best shared.

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