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Chatting to the authors of Which Wine When.

We love to have friends & family over to relax and enjoy a meal and go the extra mile to pair the food & wine. But for our 'everyday' meals, pairing is not something we've really thought about, until now!

Sommelier Bert Blaize and trained chef & restaurant expert Claire Strickett’s new book Which wine when: what to drink with the food you love’, has all you need to know. 

We caught up with them both to discover more about how and why they wrote their debut, must-have, book…

Dina: The title is pretty self-explanatory, but how would you describe what the readers will get from the book?
Bert & Claire:  Accessible, easy, and practical wine knowledge that still doesn’t dumb anything down. This book is for anyone who wants to know more about wine but doesn’t know where to start. So taking favourite foods as a starting point gives you a way in, and makes choosing wine you’ll love simple, every day.

Dina: This is your first book; tell us a bit more about both of your food & wine backgrounds?
Bert & Claire: Bert trained as a sommelier and worked at some of the best restaurants in the UK, most notably the Clove Club – which was 26th best restaurant in the world at the time, and Michelin-starred. Claire worked in the restaurant industry for 8 years, first as a chef, and then in marketing and PR.

Dina: How did you decide which food suggestions to include? You offer an ‘if all else fails’ suggestion. Why did you choose to include this?
Bert & Claire: We started out with foods we love but also ran some online polls and surveys asking people about the foods they ate most often and liked most! We wanted to pick familiar, everyday foods so that the book could be an everyday guide, not just something for “fancy” occasions. Some of the foods are in there to make that point – chicken nuggets, pizza – they help to underline the fact that well-chosen wine isn’t something fussy reserved for special occasions, but can & should be an everyday pleasure.
When it comes to the guidance for each pairing - we’re well aware that lots of people won’t have easy access to a wine shop with a fantastic range all the time. Sometimes, they might be popping into a small, non-specialist store on the way home from work. We wanted to make sure there was guidance in there that was general enough that pretty much any shop that sells wine would have something that meets that description, and ensure people could find a bottle in broadly the right area even if they couldn’t find the exact type of wine we recommend. That’s an “if all else fails” occasion.

Dina: At eto we are lucky that our community stretches across the world. How do you think our wine and food pairing knowledge in the UK compares to those in other countries across Europe, the USA and Australia?
Bert & Claire: We’re delighted that Which Wine When has now gone global and is now available in South Africa, Canada, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, Sweden, Ireland and Portugal. The British market is way behind other wine-producing nations in terms of how comfortable people feel around wine – as is perhaps to be expected, as we’ve not been a country that makes wine for very long, so it’s not an innate part of our culture in the same way. However, British people have a great knowledge of spirits, especially gin, whisky and rum, and also beer. Hopefully Which Wine When will give the Brits a chance to become more confident in their knowledge of wine, too.

Dina: Do all your friends and family know their food and wine too? Or do they just pass the wine menus to you?
Bert & Claire: The book starts with a dedication: ‘For all the friends who’ve ever asked us what to drink’, and that’s why we wrote the book. We were constantly getting texts from panicked mates in the wine aisle or on a date and trying to impress or just midweek ‘what goes with a bolognese’ – that’s when we both knew there was a need and market for our book. So… hopefully, now they’ll all have bought the book, they’ll know their wines a bit better!

Dina: Do you have any ‘most requested’ pairings?
Bert & Claire: We always get asked for pizza pairings: it’s also one of our favourite go-to meals. It all depends on the toppings.
 
Here's the Pizza Map from the book:

Dina: Restaurant wine menus are often considered daunting. What are your top tips for helping someone choose a good but not overpriced bottle of wine?
Bert & Claire: Do your research before you head to the restaurant – check out the restaurant’s website in advance (most of them upload their menus). Instead of trying to google the wines or trying to use apps like Vivino, ask to speak to the sommelier/manager. Have a conversation, tell them what you’re eating and your likes/dislikes. A great way in is just to talk about a wine you like and then think about whether you want something like that or something completely different that will take you out of your comfort zone. The sommelier or manager will be able to take it from there.

Dina: During lockdown, the sale of alcohol rocketed. Now the hospitality industry is reopening, have you seen a change in diners’ approach to choosing food & wine pairings?
Bert & Claire: People have a real thirst for knowledge now - they’re open to new wines and regions and have really benefitted from the time that they had in lockdown to experiment when food and drink were one of the few pleasures and escapist things available to them. We also noticed that people want to recreate restaurant experiences at home and have their friends over for dinner – this is where Which Wine When is such a great tool!

Dina: This book launched during lockdown and you are also shortlisted for the prestigious Fortnum & Mason Debut Book Award. What were your expectations when you were writing it?
Bert & Claire: We never thought we’d be up for awards – we’re still trying to get our heads around it. We just wanted to share our enthusiasm and wine knowledge and make people feel more relaxed around wine, so they could enjoy it as much as we do.

Dina: As it’s summer here in the UK, can you give us a good pairing for some BBQ staples?
Bert & Claire: We love Beaujolais: it can be drunk slightly chilled and it’s fun and easy to drink. It also works brilliantly with BBQ foods like hotdogs and burgers. If you’re taking your BBQ seriously and doing some slow-cooking, then red wines from the Rhône with a dominant dose of Syrah are always a good shout. Crunchy red fruit, delicate spice and great balance.

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