Fiona Beckett is an award-winning food and wine writer, one of the world’s leading experts on food and drink matching, wine columnist for The Guardian, and the author of 24 books on food, wine and beer. She’s also the mother of Hawksmoor co-founder Will Beckett.
Fiona will be bringing her expertise to the Manchester Food & Drink Festival with an event called Six Wines That Shaped My Career. And the audience will get to try them all.
Fiona says her love affair with wine started with the first “serious wine” she tried.
“It was a muscadet sevre et maine,” she recalls. “I was taken by an older friend to her local wine merchant in Lambs Conduit Street in Bloomsbury and he selected a case to try. I’d never tasted a wine that was so clean and pure and when I found out how well it went with oysters, well that was it!”
Fiona is keen to share her passion for wine with others, and has plenty of tips for absolute beginners as well as those who would like to learn more.
“There are many good wine courses – look out for a Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) educator. But if you have a busy working life, it’s sometimes difficult to commit to the same day every week,” she says.
“I always suggest people order by the glass when they go to a restaurant or wine bar. Choose something you haven’t tried before then work out what it is you like – or don’t like – about it and make a note on your phone – or use an app like Vivino. Just keep on tasting, basically.”
What advice would Fiona give to people who are daunted by long and unfamiliar wine lists in restaurants? Are there any hard and fast rules when it comes to matching wines with food when dining out?
“Ask for help,” she suggests. “People mistrust sommeliers but they’re not always out to sell you the most expensive bottle on their list. They want you to come back to the restaurant, so it’s not in their interest to rip you off.
“Chances are you’ll all be having different dishes in a restaurant, so it’s a question of finding a wine that will go with all sorts of different flavours. Albarino is a good bet if you’re eating seafood while pinot noir will go with both meat and fish.”
And what about buying wine to drink at home from the supermarket or local wine shop – how much should we be looking to spend on a bottle?
“We all like a bargain but if you want something different or a bit special, nothing beats going into your local wine shop and getting their advice,” Fiona says.
“In general you should be able to get something decent for £7-10 in a supermarket, say £10-15 in an indie. I’m talking still wines here, not champagne, obviously. But be wary of special offers that claim a 40% or 50% reduction – the wine was probably overpriced to start with.
“There are always offers on the most popular wines such as prosecco, New Zealand Sauvignon blanc and malbec, but I think Spain and Portugal have a lot to offer – and not just Rioja. And the Languedoc is still pretty good value.”
Fiona is also enthusiastic about the natural wines and orange wines we have started to see more of across restaurants and shops – though they sometimes prove divisive amongst drinkers.
“I think they’re a really interesting addition to the wine scene,” she says. “There are good and bad examples just as with every other type of wine and they won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but they’re definitely worth a try. Orange or amber wines, as they’re sometimes called, go particularly well with Middle Eastern food.”
Fiona is also happy she’s coming back to Manchester for the MFDF.
“It’s a really vibrant city,” she says. “I love all those grand buildings in the city centre. And Hawksmoor, of course. But you’d expect me to say that, wouldn’t you?”
Six Wines That Shaped My Career takes place on Saturday 6th October at 6.30pm in the MFDF Dining Dome, Albert Square. Tickets are £25, and all wines are included.