A CHANCE offer can change the course of anyone’s life, It’s just a case of seizing the opportunity. ‘Carpe diem’ as they say – or in the case of Fiona Beckett ‘Carpe vinum’.
Now one of the UK’s leading wine writers, Fiona Beckett admits she knew precious little about the subject when 25 years ago she was offered the chance to write about it for a national newspaper.
She recalls: “I was working for ‘Today’ when they decided to launch a food and drink supplement. They had hired the well-known telly wine expert Jilly Goulden to write a column for them, but she was already working for the Mail and they went ballistic. Major panic set in as deadline approached. I was already doing pieces on food for Today, so they asked could I fill in for a couple of weeks. You do know about wine, they said, and I said ‘yes’. Fortunately my husband was a wine buff, so that helped and I held my nerve.”
It’s hard to credit all that now. Her weekly Guardian column, encompassing wine and the whole spectrum of drinks, manages to be hugely knowledgeable yet also unstuffy and accessible.
“That’s how I like it,” she says. “I’m not a Master of Wine. You don’t have to go on wine classes. I’ve learned by tasting and travelling. It’s an advantage, keeping curiosity alive.”
Her discoveries along this journey will form the basis of her Manchester Food and Drink event, Six Wines That Shaped My Career in The Dining Dome (above) on Albert Square on Saturday, October 6. It’s likely to prove one of the highlights of MFDF (£25, book here).
We aren’t going to spoil it for you, but expect it to trace a path from the first wine style that had an impact on her to a recent bottle that struck her as a fascinating departure.
“Lots has changed in the world of wine and food. There’ still the old school wine establishment, centred on certain perceived great wines. But there’s also generational stuff, the drive towards natural wines that the old guard might regard as undrinkable. They are just different. I enjoy lots of natural wines (not all) and appreciate what they bring to the table.”
Ah, the table. As a restaurant reviewer (for Decanter magazine), Fiona recognises how our dining habits of changed, from fine to more casual and via her invaluable ‘Matching Food and Wine’ website https://www.matchingfoodandwine.com champions what we pair with increasingly eclectic cuisines. Always, though, the aim is to demystify.
“You don’t have to know great detail about wine or the places they come from. Just enjoy and learn to appreciate what you like. And remember your tastes do change. Mine have. It’s fascinating to compare then and now. A good parallel with wine in how you progress from novice is coffee. You’ll start with an approachable latte with sugar maybe, moving to a cappuccino, a flat white, then onto an espresso. Eventually you might recognise where small batch beans come from in a filter brew.”
Like terroir in wine then?
“Terroir’s quite complex and geeky. Say you stand on top of a hill looking down on a Chablis Grand Cru site, even here the vineyard’s ‘terroir’ is governed by many factors – variations of the same soil, different exposures to the sun etcetera. It’s a thing of wonder that different wines can be made from what is essentially the same site.”
This continuing sense of wonder should inform her talk, aided by six choice samples of wine types in question. Certainly coming up to Manchester from her Bristol home is a labour of love; she has a ‘base camp’ at Hawksmoor on Deansgate, co-owned by her son Will and she’s a big fan of the city. “It’s a great city like my own Bristol and I’m an urban creature. I’ve enjoyed El Gato Negro, Umezushi and other fine places. That no star stuff? Michelin has double standards, giving a load of recongition to restaurants in France that would never get a star over here. The important thing is the experience – to be enjoyed for itself.”
Just like wine.
Dining Dome at the Festival Hub, Albert Square. 6.30pm, Sat, Oct 6. £25, inc all six wines.