milk and alcohol by Joe Fattorini

And as Dr Feelgood fades away, we ask what is the best drink to have with our supper. "Easy" you say. "Wine, occasionally beer and a light Fino sherry on Friday when we have fish and chips. Non?"

Well, the answer could be - as you say in the one bit of French remembered from school - "non".

That's according Bas de Groot, the world's first Milk Sommelier. Bas claims that milk is "a liquid of serious complexity akin to a fine wine". "The main thing I do is tell the story of the rich diversity of milk..." he says, immediately making it impossible for me to poke fun at him. I've spent the last thirty years telling stories about the rich diversity of wine, claiming it's a perfectly sensible way to make your living. The fact that I tell stories about wine and he about milk is a quibble. Neither of us are curing cancer or likely to win a Nobel Prize.

Yet the reaction of wine fans has been to poke fun at Bas. Including - I'm ashamed to say - me. It's been done in a range of rather po-faced ways; wine people specialise in the online equivalent of looking over pince-nez spectacles with mild disdain. Typically my own particular contribution to the mockery was gif-based...

But beyond the name calling and sniggers, are wine and milk "akin" Or is there a case to be made that wine is in some way special? A different class of drink? Something where expertise makes you a better class of person? Because to be honest that's why I got into wine in the first place. If I'd have been able to achieve a similar social status just considering the differences between gold and silver top, it feels like a bit of a waste of time.

Well, wine does have one thing up its sleeve...

It gets you giggly. Whereas milk rarely does once you move onto Farley's Rusks. But there is another reason why wine remains the king of drinks. And for this we need to look to the example of the greatest Milk Taster of all.

I can concede it IS possible to discover a remarkable amount from tasting milk. The breed of cow (sometimes), what they ate (occasionally), how it was processed (usually), where it came from (if it's very special). But the point is, it takes a very particular palate to do that. For the rest of us we value milk because it all tastes pretty much the same. That is, "milky". Whilst milk may be in general a "liquid of serious complexity" compared with Tizer, it's a pretty uniform sort of complexity. It all tastes roughly the like "milk", and we like it that way.

Wine, au contraire, is compound-for-compound the most complex drink on the planet. And its possible - with the right practice - to tell the "breed" of grape, what soil they were grown on, how the wine was made and where the wine came from. And to do it consistently. That is a reason why we like it. As an enology professor explains to Bianca Bosker in her book Cork Dork, "after blood, wine is the most complex matrix there is". That complexity means wine has the capacity to create taste sensations beyond words. A mental gestalt that only the best can accurately describe, sparking neurons across the brain, reviving memories like a latter-day Proust. For the rest of us, once again, there are gifs:

So if we're not going to be drinking half a litre of Cravendale, what do we drink? Well how about Les Hauts de Saint Martin, St Chinian 2014 (£6.99 Co-op)? A darkly-fruity wine with a hint of the herbal hillside. Its mouth-coating texture makes it a perfect wine for sausages... mmmm, sausages. (I told you. I'm no Proust).

When you've had your ripe, red Saint Chinian go and grab a bottle of Tblvino Qvevris 2015, a Georgian, "Amber" wine (£10.00 M&S). And a bottle of Aldi, The Exquisite Collection Cotes de Provence Rosé 2016 (£5.99). And a bottle of Navajas Blanco Crianza, Rioja 2014 (£7.95 The Wine Society). Each one completely different. The textures go from grippy, to feather-light to rounded. The flavours go from orange peel to wild strawberries to nuttily-fresh. The foods they match go from "everything" to light seafood grills to paella.

Milk has textures and flavours that range from "a bit watery" to "sort of normal" to "that's really very creamy isn't it". And it goes with... Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, tea and insomnia.

And spending a little more on milk means you're in Waitrose. Spending a little more on wine means you enjoy a lot more wine. If you liked the red St Chinian, you'll adore Domaine Gauby, Les Calcinaires Rouges 2015 Cotes du Roussillon Villages (£14.95 Berry Bros & Rudd). This is a long-haired wine of the best kind, a whiff of wild-yeast and sun-tanned fruit giving it a very particular sense of place. The wine-equivalent of Bodhi in Point Break

If you like the Amber wine, the Rose and White Rioja then you can spend a little more too. Pheasants Tears Saperavi 2015 (£22.00 Highbury Vintners) is a dense, brooding wine made in buried kvevris, an 8000 year-old wine making technique that quite literally lets the wine interact with the earth. It has a crackling freshness and chewy palate for people who want to do some thinking with their drinking. Château Léoube Secret Rosé 2016 (£20.00 Daylesford Organic) is a perfect food matching rose, (and Gold Medal Winner at the World Rose Awards) suffused with herbs, pear-textured fruit and wild strawberries. Bodegas Beronia Rioja Viura 2015 (£10.00 Ocado) shows you the diversity in a single style of wine - with White Rioja going from soft, nutty and gentle when it's aged in oak, to tingling with grapefruit and lemon in this ripsnortingly good-value wine. Possibly one of the best value whites in the UK today.

As you drink each one, the aromas, textures and flavours will take your mind to vineyards, chateaux and lazy days in the sun. It's part of the experience of enjoying wine. And that's why we love wine so much.

And what about milk's ability to evoke? To take your mind somewhere magical? Most weeks I receive a text from my mother. She likes to keep me abreast of news in the local paper. We live in a farming community, proud of its local produce. And every week on the back page there's an article with an image that captures the alchemy that is a glass of that local produce. It comes to mind every time I have a glass. As Dorothy might have said: "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Provence any more..."

Got milk? Get wine.

back to the floor by Joe Fattorini

What's it like being a sommelier? 

I knew once. I was one. Then, like childbirth, you forget the pain, the odd-looking equipment and red stuff splashed all over the floor.

This week, twenty five years on, I returned to service. And the memories of swollen ankles, angry recriminations and peculiar tongs came flooding back. Oh yes, and being dismissed high-handedly by people who hold their knife like a pen.

And with that you see how swiftly we descend. Diner vs sommelier. The very word sommelier brings out the worst in us. People view sommeliers as insufferable wine-popinjays, too grand to carry dirty plates. The sommelier senses this. And responds by critiquing your cutlery skills and your husband's "natty" dress sense in the wash-pantry. OK, so that's me doing that. I'm not proud of it.

Which is why we start this week's recommendations with a book: Bianca Bosker's Cork Dork.

It's a first-hand journey into the world of sommeliers and their weird obsessions. A brilliantly written one too. By turns funny, eye-opening, slightly disconcerting and then funny again. Read this book and I defy you to look at (and talk to) sommeliers the same way again.

Because what you'll find is that (for the most part) sommeliers - dare I say, we - are here to help you find the right wine, for the right occasion, at the right price. 

So picture your sommelier.

IMG_2298.GIF

Maybe that's a bit ambitious. Something more... realistic?

IMG_2301.GIF

Okay, split the difference.

Your pictured sommelier is ready to use their expertise to turn the two plus two of your food and drink purchase into the five of a memorable experience. In doing so, you must trust us. Surrender a little control for your greater good.

Trust us when we try to gently suggest "the Pinot Grigio you ordered Mrs Holds-Knife-Like-Pen, will disappear under the food you ordered. What you need is something like The Wine Foundry Godello 2016 (Aldi, £6.49). More zest for food. But the same scented softness that you like." She didn't, and wasn't happy. But that's her loss. And Mr Natty-Little-Suit's loss too. I know I said "good choice, madam". But that's my job. Fibbed for your pleasure.

Our job isn't to just pour your favourite wines, nor to make you drink our favourite wines either. It's to find your new favourite wines. But we know you don't know what it is yet.

IMG_2303.GIF

This means trying wines you've not had before. Like the somms' favourite, Grüner Veltliner. The problem with Gruner Veltliner is it looks like a German, sounds like a German and we don't think we like wines that are German. As it happens, anyone who tries Markus Huber's Morrisons Grüner Veltliner, Niederösterreich, Austria 2016 (£8, Morrisons) will find this is dry, elegant and stone-fruity. Like all the best Grüners it has a twist of pepper on the back palate that makes it perfect with summer food. (Anyone who searches for it online will find the autocorrect for this wine is Grindr Veltliner, which brings up an altogether different set of search results.)

Another variety you may be gently motioned toward is Furmint. Royal Tokaji Dry Furmint 2015 (£9.99, or £8.99 on the mix-six deal at Majestic) is the place to begin. It's one for anyone who likes Sauvignon Blanc but would like more grown up flavours of quince and linden and/or doesn't want to douse their food in aromas of gooseberry and asparagus wee.

(Incidentally, this week Lidl announced a new range of Hungarian Furmints coming into their already impressive wine department. Although not everyone is happy. Fans of Twitter-handbags-at-dawn-stroppiness like me will enjoy this thread immensely).

IMG_2304.GIF

Good sommeliers don't encourage you to drink odd or unusual for the sake of it. We've done the hard tasting, so you don't have to. Not all grapes thrive in new locations. But we've discovered Albariño DOES thrive in the hills of Uruguay, as Bodega Garzón Colinas de Uruguay Albariño, Maldonado, Uruguay 2016 (£8, Sainsbury's) amply shows, with a friendly stone-fruit and salad complexity. It also gives you the opportunity (with apologies to Homer Simpson) to look at the bottle and declare "hey there's a wine here from You-Are-Gay". It's an old one and not a good one, but what were you expecting? Mark Twain?

Sommeliers are obsessives. Trainspotterish in the pursuit of the weird and wonderful in wine. So do indulge us occasionally. It's worth putting up with 30 seconds of a lecturette on the complexities of cement-egg fermenters if you get to enjoy Zorzal Eggo Malbec, Gualtallary, Argentina 2015 (£16, Marks & Spencer). I can hear you already, sucking air between your teeth and wincing at £16. But this has a silkiness to luxuriate in, a vibrancy to the fruit and an energy that makes you smile. It's our job to know that involves vast cement eggs and the rotation of the earth keeping solids in suspension and... I'll stop speaking now. Enjoy your wine sir.

Perhaps it's the ritual that doesn't help.

IMG_2302.GIF

The presenting. The ceremony. The wondering what you're looking for when you sniff at it. (If you're wondering it's the wet rag/cardboard smell of a corked wine. If you think you can smell it, send the wine back). All this implies that you have to choose something expensive. But don't be afraid to enjoy the ceremony without the flash. Good wines are good wines no matter the cost. And good sommeliers love it when someone recognises - or encourages them to recommend - one of their better value choices. I've just written a list with something very similar to Wine Atlas Bobal, Utiel-Requena, Spain 2015 (£4.98, Asda) on it. It's a treat, all juicy, fun and fleshy. And great value too.

And that's all we have time for. I'm back on the floor in ten minutes. Gently advising. Encouraging. Supporting. We're here to help you. Don't sneer. Oh, and let us pour... 

IMG_2306.GIF

hot tub wine machine by Joe Fattorini

What happens in the hot tub, stays in the hot tub.

Unless of course it's something that would cause colleagues and friends to be amused/horrified/require tests at a GUM clinic. Or means the hot tub needs draining, disinfecting, filtering, refilling, draining again, exorcising, refilling and you have to have a bit of a mental block every time you use it in future. In those circumstances it's fair game. Spill. Go on. What did they do? The dirty buggers.

Onto today's big question. What's the best wine for the hot tub? Is there anything that can beat the mighty Listel Rose available for £7.99 at Ocado (or €2.70 if you know where Cliff goes in France?)

Possibly "Jacuzzi Family Vineyards" in California? Set up by Valeriano Jazuzzi, one of the brothers whose pumps and baths business made the original Jacuzzi. But they make reds and whites and we're looking for something pink.

The main requirements are:

  1. Cheap
  2. Cold
  3. "Easy drinking"
  4. Able to overcome the heady aroma of chlorine
  5. Did I say cheap?

Well, we'll come onto cheap in a minute. Let's start by asking a question that's always useful when facing a new or distinctive challenge: what would Ian Beale do?

IMG_2135.GIF

The Sage of Walford says we should have a glass of fizz. Like Graham Beck The Rhona Rose £15.00 from Marks & Spencer. Yes, yes, I know it's more than you thought you were going to spend. But you're enjoying a moment of luxury. Decadence. Indulgence. Those are Ian's toes gently tickling your calf. Don't ruin it with a bottle of "Euine - (wine-flavoured pink beverage. May not contain real wine)" that you bought on offer at Texaco. No. This calls for frothy bubbles, soft red fruit and a ripe juicy finish.

Of course things can get pretty wild in the "HT". So what do you want when everyone is all...

Well, we need to dial it up with the flavour. Also, it is a law universally acknowledged that wine in hot tubs containing more than two people mostly ends up spilling in the water. So we want this to be cheap and fruity. And none come more perfectly qualified than the Pink Mad Bull itself that is the minor legend Toro Loco rose £3.79 from Aldi. Consistently the best value, funster rose in the UK for about 4 years. If you find subtlety and grace here you're doing it wrong. This is a raspberry delight for parties. You see, you didn't have to wait long for "cheap".

It is of course a misconception that all hot tub parties are wild affairs.

Berry Bros. & Rudd Provence Rosé by Château la Mascaronne £12.95 is an altogether more grown up wine. Floral, complex and gently spiced. Serious. But still engaging and fresh just this time with wild fruit and wild herbs from the garrigue. When owner Tom Bove sold his vineyards to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, he kept this small, immaculate parcel for himself. Hard to work, but reckoned among the greatest sites in Provence, this is a treat for the senses. And if that wasn't enough dinner-party/hot tub anecdotery, this is also where Pink Floyd recorded part of The Wall.

Because far from being the 'nasty sex pond' of the public imagination, hot tubs can be dignified, adult spaces where people of like minds can get over the stresses of the day while gently soaking in pure water, evoking the spirit of Shinto spirituality...

So here are a few recommendations to help mask the reality that someone's forgotten the bubble cycle has finished. Santa Julia, Plus Malbec Rosé, Mendoza 2016 £8.50 from Sainsbury's is big and juicy and packed with soft spices. Whilst those who want to keep it French and classy need to grab a bottle of Tesco, Finest Sancerre Rosé, Loire 2015 £11.00 with a fresher, lighter, zestier take on the strawberries and cream perfume of good rose. And let's not forget the 'special occasion' classics like Whispering Angel Rose, 2016. You can pay anywhere between £16.00 (Waitrose) and £24.00 (Majestic) so make sure you buy clever for a bottle of this juicy, rich and heady rose. If you are going to spend more than £20.00 with the Chateau d'Esclans estate, buy their classier, more Burgundian, food-friendly Rock Angel Rose £21.00 at FromVineyardsDirect.

Finally, is there something that is good value ("cheap"), fizzy, fun, fruity and captures the true spirit of the hot tub as much as...

I reckon you can't go wrong with M&S Rose d'Anjou 2016 on offer right now at £6.00 (normally £9.00). Fresh and bright with lots of juicy, sweet strawberry flavours and cleaner than the water once you get out.

And that is it. It's time to turn the heat up to "lobster boil", put Kenny G on the water-resistant UE Boom and watch the moon rise.

Oh, and please remember to Hot Tub responsibly.