Enjoy wine, don't brag about it

Serena Sutcliffe, one of the world's leading authorities on wine, can't stand wine snobbery or smokers.

by: Miral Fahmy | 07 May 2007

Sutcliffe, head of auction house Sotheby's International Wine Department, is an internationally recognized author on wine as well as a renowned taster.

Last year, she became the first member of the British wine industry to be awarded one of France's highest honours, the Chevalier dans l'Ordre National de la Legion d'Honneur, in recognition of her role in encouraging international appreciation of French wines.

Sutcliffe, who took part in a global gourmet event in Singapore recently, told Reuters that drinking wine should not be a pretentious affair, where people name-drop and outdo each other with obscure references.

She believes wine is a personal experience, and that big name or expensive vintages are not necessarily the best.

Q: Do you have a favourite wine?
A: I don't have favourites! I adore quality wherever I see it. I like wines with big personalities; the main thing about a great wine is that it should not be a recipe wine, but one that jumps out of the glass at you. It's got to be individual. But my island drink, has to be champagne. It's incredible when you're happy, and also a pick me up when you're in a bad patch.

Q: What can ruin your palate when tasting wine?
A: I am a vehement anti-smoker, as it ruins your palate. It creates a barrier between you and the wine. So, don't smoke. But otherwise, there is little else to avoid, just be flexible. Some people get so hung-up on drinking the ‘right wine’ they worry about committing a social faux pas or what people think. Don't. Seek individual wines, as some of the big brands tend to be very dull. And if you can't pronounce the name, just point.

Q: Would you agree that there is a resurgence of interest in fine wines?
A: Yes, there is a lot of interest and a lot of it is aspirational. There's a lot of new money worldwide, especially from Asia and Russia, and when you suddenly acquire money, you want all the trappings. You want the car, the yacht, the art and then the wine cellar. Demand for contemporary art and fine wines tend to rise in tandem. Gastronomy is seen as part of a better lifestyle and wine is part of it; it shows you've arrived.

Q: Does this affect prices?
A: New buyers only buy certain names, the famous ones, the ones they recognize, which means that the market at the top is polarized because of this. It's a bit worrying and sad for those of us who are not billionaires but who like to drink fine wines. You used to be able to get together with a few friends and buy a bottle at an auction, but prices are now very steep.

Q: China seems to be leading Asia in a new found interest in wine. What do you think?
A: There is much more of an interest in Asia. Twenty years ago, there would be three to four wines on the menu of restaurants that considered themselves gourmet, but now, they have to have a list that includes several fine wines. The potential in China especially is huge. It is terrifying to think that if they start drinking seriously, what will be left for the rest of us!

Image: Head of auction house Sotheby's International Wine Department, Serena Sutcliffe.

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