In Depth

'Expand your wine knowledge and experience'

The Week Wine Club's editor on how he got into wine - and how you can follow in his footsteps

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Bruce Palling, the editor of The Week Wine Club, "glugged down" his first glass of wine in the Australian outback when he was just 15 - but he has come a long way since then. Here he explains how he developed his expertise and describes a few of his favourite bottles.

What sparked your interest in food and wine begin, and how did you develop your expertise?

I was fortunate to grow up in a bush town in Australia, where a handful of teachers and artists had travelled abroad so consequently drank wine and took care with what they ate. 

At the age of 15, I was introduced to black olives and avocados, which struck me as being excitingly exotic and spurred my interest in food. It was around this time I tasted wine and although I glugged it down like beer until told of the error of my ways, this too attracted my attention. 

Later I worked on The Age newspaper in Melbourne and one of my colleagues came from a distinguished Italian restaurant family. We often had superb lunches at the leading restaurants in the city because my friends only had to pay half-price for the meals.

After that, I worked as a foreign correspondent in south-east Asia, including Indochina, so was exposed to an entirely different range of local cuisines. A few weeks in Paris in the mid-seventies and I drank superb Bordeaux, which encouraged me to start my own cellar a few weeks later.

Some people are put off buying wine by the feeling that they lack knowledge. How would you advise them to build their confidence?

The best thing is to find a wine merchant you like and trust and then purchase two or three different bottles and drink them with friends. There are also a huge variety of wine books available, especially those by Jancis Robinson, which will fill in the details. Basically, if you are an enthusiast, you will want to expand your knowledge and experience. It is best to drink interesting bottles at home because restaurants invariably multiply the wholesale price three or even four times.

How do you go about deciding which wines to include in The Week Wine Club? How does The Week Wine Club differ from others?

It is quite straightforward. I chat to the merchant involved and then we try to narrow the selection down to a dozen or more bottles. Then I invite various friends around for a couple of meals as it is essential to see how they perform with food. We then eliminate the ones we are less impressed with and finally arrive at the number to write about.

I suppose the main difference with The Week's Wine Club is that we are trying to find wines with real character and style rather than simply inoffensive bottles for the cheapest possible price. Also, if I select a second wine of a great chateau, I don't make tendentious claims about "this comes from precisely the same vineyards as x or y famous wine for a fraction of the price etc". What these people aren't saying is that if a wine is a second, third or even fourth wine from a famous estate, it is because it failed the selection for the top cuvee, or was from young wines or a grape variety that wasn't up to scratch - not because it was "surplus production".

Which wine from the current offer were you most pleased to include?

I adored the Pouilly-Fuisse Alliance Vieilles Vignes 2014. This is a small and renowned estate, with this definitely at the entry level of their selection. Pouilly-Fuisse is often overlooked or even confused with Pouilly-Fume, which is an entirely different wine from a different grape. I loved the combination of energy and finesse, with just enough citric end to make it a perfect wine with food. As I keep trying to tell people, though, try not to have white wine too cold as it kills the nuances. Also, a wine like this will taste completely different if you decant it even for half an hour or so.

Which current trends in wine do you find most welcome and unwelcome?

I like the fact that there has been backlash against over-alcoholic wines – anything above 14 per cent is usually, for me, undrinkable as the spirit starts to dominate the flavour. There are some exceptions but, generally speaking, I prefer wines around 12 per cent to 13 per cent. 

The really unwelcome trend is the spread of so-called natural wines, which are made with few if any preservatives, which means they are frequently tainted or flawed. However, I am confident that they will never be more than an affectation by people who think if something is natural, it must be better than anything unnatural.

If money and availability were no object, which wine would you take to your desert island? And if you had to limit yourself to £20 a bottle, which wine then?

I would try to have a great Burgundy – something like a 1969 La Tache of Domaine Romanee-Conti, though if it was a tropical desert island, it would be better to have a grand cru white burgundy, such as Bienvenu-Batard Montrachet 1999 of Domaine Leflaive. 

For around £20, I would have a 2009 Givry Clos Salomon, which is a minor but gutsy red Burgundy that will last for a few more years if I decide to let it mature.

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