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Emily o'Hare, The River Café, the Sommelier's view

Published:  07 July, 2011

Now is a very exciting time to be working in wine. I have been in the industry since 2004


Now is a very exciting time to be working in wine. I have been in the industry since 2004 and have never felt so positive. At the River Café, we are enjoying our busiest period and wine sales are high. Customers are confidently seeking advice (the sommelier, it seems, is no longer seen as such a dragon, desperate to push the priciest bottle) and they can be easily encouraged to try something different, such as wines made from obscure grapes or from unfamiliar regions. The growth in consumer confidence and curiosity I have seen at the restaurant encouraged me to start my own project ? a pop-up food and wine-matching evening in west London. Customers are always asking me how they might learn more about wine, so I got together with two chef friends to put on a night, in a boathouse in Hammersmith, where we match four wines with four courses, and I explain how and why those wines were chosen to match the dishes. It has proved to be extremely popular, and I am not surprised. We not only have great chefs here in London (and beyond) and great restaurants, but I think as a nation we are becoming better cooks. That interest in food is naturally leading us to want to make good choices when it comes to wine. It is therefore frustrating to see that, as the public interest in wine is growing, and as small wine merchants such as Lea & Sandeman are flourishing, within the media wine is so poorly represented. Most wine columns which enjoyed pride of place in the papers are now a dismal couple of sentences. There is rarely anything on the radio and nothing on television. Thank goodness then for Twitter, to be able to connect with the writers whose lines we wish we could read more of, and for other voices with brilliant blogs. I have also been enjoying the fuss made about wine in the run up to the Natural Wine Fair. Wine seemed to be in the national press everyday and on Twitter everyone had an opinion (that can be expressed in 140 characters). For me, the wines on show at that event gave me a whole new set of colours, aromas and flavours to add to my canvas. My eyes were opened, my senses challenged, which was surely a good thing. In that same month, English wine won yet another stash of trophies and I visited a couple of English vineyards ? Ridgeview and Breaky Bottom ? to taste the wines. I don't think I've ever felt so proud to be English. The wines I tried were classy and quirky ? a clever combination. In my wine world, things are spinning at a great rate. There is so much to do and so much interest in what we do, that any and every idea that might encourage this interest is worth pursuing.