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  • Winchester Eats

James Hocking Wine Courses at Hotel Du Vin

Updated: Oct 22, 2020

Around about this time last night, we had just taken part in a rather extravagant evening of wine on a James Hocking Wine Course at Winchester's Hotel du Vin. Extravagant in the sense that wine doesn't typically feature in our vocabulary on a Tuesday (we try to be good during the week!) and also in the sense that this is definitely not your typical wine course, or even wine come to think of it...

James ran Europe’s only exclusively Californian wine merchant for 18 years, before setting up his own company which imports some of the best Californian wines from predominately small, family-owned producers. The wine arrives in perfect condition after a 28-day cruise via the Panama Canal. The cases travel in refrigerated units until they arrive in Southampton, and from there they make their short journey to the James Hocking warehouse in Salisbury. That's of course if they make it that far. Some of these wines are so in demand, the bottles barely make it off the boat before they are snapped up.

I was invited to one of Jame's wine courses at the beginning of the year. For obvious reasons, these were put on hold, but back in the midst of lock down James sent a rather lovely bottle of Schramsberg Brut Rose (which he describes as California’s finest fizz - the only house-pour at The White House and US Embassy London) with a little introduction to his company. The Schramsberg was so good I immediately thought to myself that when the wine courses resumed, I absolutely needed to go to one, and that's how we ended up on The Golden State Wine Course at the Hotel Du Vin last night...

James truly knows his stuff when it comes to all things Golden State wine. He's also a former WSET educator so you are guaranteed to learn something completely new about wine generally.

The Evening's Entirely Californian Selection

In normal circumstances, the course is held on one great big table, but due to social distancing measures, the tables are now separate and seat two...

Everything felt perfectly safe Covid regulation wise, and the door to the (rather lovely) Courtyard was left open throughout (James mentioned that the Courtyard would be a future venue for courses held in slightly warmer months). To further help with Covid safety, the wine for the evening was all pre-poured. Obviously, I did my bit by not spitting any out just in case (which actually, I didn't see anyone else doing either!).

I suggest that you have a decent lunch on the day of a course - because, as James likes to put it, Californian wine is not shy about alcoholic content, and some of these wines score quite highly in that department!! Thankfully really lovely Hotel du Vin canapes were also provided, together with a bowl of Montezuma chocolate buttons - to prove how well chocolate and red wine can go together. It really can.

As well as being a wine expert, James is a master storyteller. In the hour and a half that we spent in his company, we travelled extensively through Californian vineyards, learning the history behind various vintners, and the styles of wine that they choose to excel in, whilst sampling eight wines from areas such as Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Monterey. All of it utterly delicious. Mr Winchester Eats is now slightly worried about my newly gained enthusiasm for such wines. My favourite of the evening - a 2016 CAMi Red Blend costs on average around £105 per bottle as so few cases are produced each year!!

The next wine course 'Tis the Season takes place at Hotel du Vin on the 24th of November at £35 per person. Promising to provide perfect examples of what goes best with any and all festive foods... Wines for this course come from all over the place by the looks of things, not just California, and I have already booked two tickets. If there's ever been a year we need all the Jolly we can get, this is it. If it's just going to be the five of us on Christmas Day then we might as well spend some of the extra budget we would have spent on guests on decent wine!

Hotel du Vin Wine Nymph

Next time we might also book a table and stay on for dinner at Hotel du Vin afterwards (attendees get 20% off the bill), as otherwise we may well end up just "popping into Aldi" again on the way home. This is how we ended up with a bunch of rather strange purchases (that were obviously necessary at the time) including an egg boiling machine, a bag of kindling, a large bottle of screen wash, and a light that changes colour for our Halloween pumpkin. I personally blame James (and his lovely wife Jos who was in charge of pouring!)...

Thank you both for a lovely evening, we are really looking forward to the next course and expanding our wine education further!


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