Conveniently located on the edge of Hoole’s shops and bars, Chester Beer and Wine has become a regular stop for me when seeking a Friday night treat. I’ll spend a good few minutes browsing the shelves, searching for a pale ale from the most unusual country I can find. Then I’ll add an old favourite for good measure and, so far, I’ve not found a bad bottle.
In 2018, the shop is celebrating its 13th anniversary in Hoole. They’ve become an established and well-loved independent in the area, having hosted the inaugural Hoole Beer festival in 2017, plus regular events throughout the year. Because of my love for their brews, I’ve had my eye on their events page for a while. So, when the opportunity arose to attend their summer wine tasting at the Double Tree and Hilton, I jumped at the chance. They do hops so well, they must have a thing or two to teach me about grapes.
The particular wine and spirits-related event in question is their 4th Portfolio tasting at the Doubletree by Hilton’s Abbey Suite. Wandering up to the grand building, it’s impossible for it not to feel like a special occasion. The sun is out and the immaculately-kept garden basks in its rays; a fine evening to try some summer wines.
As we enter, the atmosphere is calm. There’s an orderly collection of glasses lined up in the entrance and a gentle hum resonating around the bare brick wall as the early arrivers peruse the tables of tasters. We’re welcomed in and introduced to the set-up, which includes nine of Chester Beer and Wine’s favourite wine suppliers and three spirit specialists.
It’s laid out so you start on wine and end on gin – my kind of party!
Although I’ve been to many wine tastings, I must admit that I often feel a little intimidated by them. Should I be saying something intelligent and insightful after every sip? I get the feeling I’m not alone in this because the small team of amble tasters seems uncharacteristically hesitant as we make our initial approach.
Instantly, any fears are quelled as we’re welcomed by the gregarious smile and enthusiasm of Bryn Stephens from ABS Wine Agencies. He pours us a glass of Rene Jolly Blanc de Noirs Brut Champagne and within minutes we’re relaxed and chatting about BBQs with chilled white wine on hot summer days. After we’ve finished, he quickly tops our glasses up with wine number two, and it becomes clear that Bryn has the best job in the world (although he assures us that it’s only 5% fun and 95% hard work behind the computer).
Owner of Chester Beer and Wine and event organiser, Sam Jackson, explains that they give the wine reps free reign over the choices they bring. They’re given the simple brief ‘Summer’, and with that, they’re free to be as creative as they like. They’ve worked together for years, so she trusts them to bring the best.
Within an hour or so, we’ve tried wines from Portugal, Italy, Chile New Zealand and France. We learn the top-secret formula to a particularly delicious Champagne, which boasts a refreshing flavour and a price tag that makes my wallet nervous. Plus, we’re given suggestions of foods to combine with flavours and details about the vineyards themselves.
These reps simply love good wines and are eager to show us why.
For the last hour, we turn our attention to the spirits. There’s Indian whisky on table 10, while table 9 is packed with some of Scotland’s finest. Libby from Loch Lomond / Glen Scotia enthusiastically talks us through the difference between a ‘Victoriana’ rocket fuel and a smoother 12-year-old classic. She previously wasn’t a fan of whisky, but now she can persuade even an amber nectar sceptic to give it a go.
I end the night by The English Whiskey banner, sipping a Pink Rives from Craig at Amathus Drinks. Craig was trying to pack up for the night but I persuade him to let me have a quick taste of his finest gins. This one is a sweet spirit with a strawberry flavouring and a bit of a kick that sets me up nicely for the walk home.
By this time in the evening, the volume in the room has been turned up to twenty. Rosy-cheeked revellers hold their glasses out, hopeful for another dram. “It’s your last one,” Craig says in a friendly tone. If we had our way, we would never let him leave. As we join the queue of eager wine lovers looking to order a case of their favourite from the night, it’s clear we’re not the only ones who’ve had a great time. With tickets a mere £18 for as many tasters as you want and access to a fountain of wine and spirits knowledge and banter, this event is great value for money. However, if you are on a tight budget, be warned – it’s almost impossible to avoid ordering a few extra bottles before you leave.
Cheers Chester Beer and Wine. We had an amazing night and can’t wait to come back for more.
Chester Beer and Wine can be found on Charles Street in Hoole, and you can find details of their upcoming events online. The Christmas Portfolio Tasting at the Doubletree by Hilton is on 22nd November 2018 from 6-9pm. Tickets are likely to go fast – so get in quick to catch a bargain on some fabulous festive tipples.