Hydration and hedonism add a new twist to wine tasting at Bishop's Stortford's Twisted Cellar
Will we ever get Bordeaux of this? One Bishop's Stortford bar is determined to dispel wine tasting's formal image with fun classes for experts and amateurs alike.
Jonathan Kleeman, head of hydration at Twisted Cellar, is in charge of the South Street venue's expanding education programme.
While the bar is disguised as a French farmhouse, Jonathan is a bona fide sommelier with a wealth of knowledge about wines of the world and a real thirst to share his passion with others.
He said: "I've held sommelier roles at some incredible places, including The Social Eating House, The Ritz and Orwells."
The 29-year-old from Leighton Buzzard, Beds, is certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS) and International Sommeliers Association (ASI), and is studying for his master qualification. "I'm also a qualified Habanos cigar taster – it's a tough life!" he said.
Twisted Cellar was set up a year ago by husband and wife Joe and Sharon Grice. Since then, Jonathan has scheduled a series of spirit and wine-tasting events to share his knowledge.
He said: "I work with a network of suppliers to buy our incredible assortment of wines, spirits and beers to sell in the shop and online. Some days I'm taking a short drive up the road to meet with suppliers like Four Acres in Little Hadham – they create some incredible English wines and ciders – and other days I'm flying out to places like Rioja to meet suppliers there and find stock to import back to the shop in Stortford."
The Indie joined him for a tasting titled "Burgundy Versus the World", featuring the red and white wines produced in the valleys and slopes west of the river Saône in eastern France made from Pinot noir and Chardonnay grapes respectively, and pitted them against vintages from across the globe.
A platter of cheeses and charcuterie offered a welcome chance to line the stomach before sampling the contenders.
It was quite a beauty contest with Jonathan as a clued-up compere, guiding novices through the vital statistics which make up a full-bodied bottle that's worth paying up to £50 for.
In all, eight of his choices were put through their paces, each accompanied by a biography that was a terror-free guide to the terroir for those of us more accustomed to a bargain basket plonk.
His efforts to avoid the grapes of wrath with a down-to-earth approach to tasting are supported by Hallam Tweddell, 25, a former Birchwood High School student.
After studying for a journalism degree at London College of Communication, University of the Arts London, he honed his marketing skills at Bishop's Stortford luxury retailer Xupes and is now the aptly named head of hedonistic outreach at Twisted Cellar.
That puts Hallam in charge of publicity and events, including the snappily titled tastings featuring wine and spirits throughout the summer.
He said: "There's never a dull day at Twisted Cellar – there's rarely one where I don't get to try one of our unique gins or wines too! I'm really excited to see the town continue to embrace the Twisted Cellar ethos.
"We are a business that has quality, expertise, local produce and difference at our core. We aren't Merchants of the Less Ordinary for any old reason..."
* Twisted Cellar's next tasting is "Will We Ever Get Bordeaux of This?" on Thursday June 27. "Let Summer Be Gin" is a gin masterclass on July 11, while "What's Cooler Than Being Cool?" will feature wines from cooler regions on July 25.
For details of more events this summer and to book, see www.twistedcellar.co.uk.