Susie Barrie and Peter Richards on the success of their very own Winchester wine festival
PUBLISHED: 11:44 27 January 2015 | UPDATED: 12:24 25 March 2015
Forget stuffy wine connoisseurs who taste through their nose and confuse with talk of cut grass and burnt cinders! BBC's Saturday Kitchen stars, Susie Barrie and Peter Richards, are here to help the wine drinkers of Winchester find more of what they like - whether that's a 'big smoothie' or something 'fresh and racy'
Past boxes of wine in the hallway, a burgeoning toy room to the left and tasting glasses in the kitchen, Susie Barrie and Peter Richards sit down with a pot of tea after the school run (sadly too early in the day for a glass of wine) to talk about the recent success of their brainchild, Wine Festival - Winchester. Juggling family life as well as a hectic schedule is something that they’re used to doing, sharing their passion, profession and a communal office.
“Compared to other couples we spend a crazy amount of time together and we’re used to that. For us, it works”, Susie shares. “Wine helps”, Peter quips. “No seriously! Tasting wine is really a collaborative thing - it’s really helpful to have someone that shares your enthusiasm.”
Widely known as the resident wine experts on BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen, Susie and Peter have some serious wine credentials - the youngest married Masters of Wine, winners of International Wine and Spirit competition Communicators of the Year 2010, award-winning writers, broadcasters and a consultancy business to boot. Clearly this is a couple who know their Sauvignon from their Sancerre; so who better then to mastermind a yearly wine festival in one of Hampshire’s foodie hotspots, Winchester?
Chatting to them, it seems that the idea behind the Wine Festival was a simple one. Having set up a successful wine school and wine club, the Wine Festival was the logical next step, with Susie and Peter’s passion for sharing their wine knowledge and reaching out to a new audience who wouldn’t necessarily pick up a wine book, read a magazine or even watch a programme on wine on the telly.
The couple wanted to bring together like-minded drinkers, helping them to step away from their comfortable Friday night bottle of Pinot Grigio and get them thinking about a whole range of wines out there which might suit their tastes. As Peter describes it, they wanted to “slightly subvert the traditional role of the wine critic, which has always been that if a wine critic tastes something and says ‘I like it’, it therefore means it’s good.”
Their message to the average wine drinker: know your own taste. When tasting wines, “If we both like this wine with different tastes (and we do argue), the likelihood is that it will appeal to a broad range of people. What’s more helpful is to help drinkers understand what they like and why they like it, so they can experiment”, adds Peter.
Keen to steer away from the ‘wine snob’ stereotype, Susie and Peter pride themselves on bringing a fun approach to wine tastings. Their wine school evenings have seen an array of guests, guessing games, taste experiments with jelly beans and plenty of food chat as well as learning the all-important skill of knowing where to find the best value wines as much as the in-depth wine knowledge of grapes, places and producers. So no surprises then that for the Festival they teamed up with local stockists, Farrow and Ball to create a pantone palette, or ‘palate’, called ‘Follow My Taste’ to help guide festival goers when it comes to choosing the styles of wines that they’d tried before and liked. A great idea to get wine drinkers thinking about whether they liked it ‘Fresh and Racy?’ or were into ‘a Big Smoothie’ to name two out of the five tastes.
Farrow and Ball weren’t the only locally based company to be involved either. A room full of local producers including charcuterie from Hampshire’s own Parsonage Farm were on offer, and with Hampshire Fare on-board and branding from Winchester based Marmalade on Toast, Susie and Peter were keen to celebrate what Winchester and Hampshire has to offer, as well as putting their own unique and contemporary stamp on this new wine venture.
The buzz around this year’s Festival has been so encouraging that the couple are already planning next year’s event, and the weekend of 27-29 November 2015 is firmly in the diary at the Guildhall in Winchester. “We wanted to run a festival with as many local roots as possible”, says Peter. “We’re really lucky to have so much on offer in Hampshire. Yes, we’ve got global brands involved too and we’re really proud of that. Ultimately, it’s about having a room with a range of wines that anyone would be able to walk in to and find a wine which blows them away.”
“Absolutely”, Susie adds. “It was about giving people a wine experience – a relaxed, unpressured environment where people could come and enjoy discovering and tasting wines on their own terms.”
It’s not always a taste sensation however, over the years they’ve had their fair share of ‘corkers’ too. From blind tastings of questionable wines at dinner parties and corked bottles, to boiling up tripe on a Saturday afternoon in order to find the perfect wine to match a recipe. Susie who, by her own description, is usually glass in hand and head in a recipe book, goes to incredible lengths to recreate BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen recipes at home to make sure that she and Peter are giving the viewers their best food and wine matches.
“The smell of the tripe cooking was so awful, we all had to leave the flat”, Susie recounts. “It tasted revolting. The only good thing about the whole experience was that the first glass of wine we tasted as a match for the dish was just perfect with it. Thank goodness, otherwise we’d have had to eat subsequent mouthfuls of tripe!”
From dodgy dishes to desert island drinks, Susie and Peter ponder their perfect wine moments.
“My favourite drink in the world is a very girly glass of champagne, something vintage and, if I had to choose, I’d like a glass whilst sitting out on a terrace somewhere on the Amalfi coast, anticipating a lovely meal.”
“The reality is more likely to be a bottle of English sparkling wine with fish and chips on our laps at the beach near Milford on Sea”, laughs Peter. “I’m more of a red wine man,” he says. “Sounds quite cliché but I’d go for a red burgundy. One of the best, most vivid wine experiences was working in a wine shop in St James Street in London early on in my career. We had a great time there but Christmas was always really busy and you wouldn’t have five minutes to catch your breath. Someone bought the biggest hunk of game pie, a pot of chutney and opened a bottle of red burgundy in the store room. When any of us had a quick break, we snuck in there and enjoyed a bit of pie with a blob of chutney and a delicious glass of red burgundy - something so simple!”
Perhaps that’s the key to tasting and enjoying wine? Keeping things simple! It doesn’t always have to be about having something fancy, buying an expensive bottle or drinking it from the right sort of glass. It’s Susie and Peter’s wine mantra – understanding what you like and why you like it, knowing your own taste. After all, as Peter puts it: “Wine is just a condiment on the table – there to enhance your experience.”
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