D'Arry's manager James Storey had got in touch with me via my blog a few months back and was keen for me to come up with some ideas to help get a bit of a publicity buzz around what was central Cambridge's original gastropub, but which has fallen below the radar a little in recent years.
We started with a meal there and then came up with the idea of launching a case of some of the restaurant's most popular wines to take home or for delivery in the Cambridge area, backed up by a series of informal tastings in the restaurant's private dining area.
I was lucky to have good-sized group for the first event and a really interesting cross-section of people. For me, a typical audience for a tasting event is often people who enjoy drinking wine, but for whom it is not a major interest, so one keeps things as interesting and entertaining as possible without trying to cover too much ground in too short a time.
But with an ex-Oddbins manager amongst the audience, with a ready supply of retail-friendly stories to tell (most of which I'd heard before), I felt I was kept on my toes somewhat, but it actually proved very helpful to have someone to explain some of the subtleties of why adding a touch of Marsanne in the blend will enhance the nose, or why Mourvèdre (aka Spain's Monastrell) adds a degree of minerality due to its particularly deep root systems.
This confirmed a pet theory of mine that the French, amongst other wine-producing nations, seem to grow up with an almost instinctive knowledge of what makes a good wine but, as a nation, tend not to go in for the wordy descriptions and detailed tasting notes so beloved of Anglo-Saxon countries.
To me, this is because non-wine countries, such as the UK and USA tend to treat wine appreciation as something of a competitive sport rather than just a way of life.
Peachy and apricotty on the palate, the wine also had a honeysuckle, floral nose from the Marsanne.
Responding to a comment about the finish, my friend from Oddbins succinctly summed it up as short flavour characteristics but long on intensity characteristics.
The first red was a Stump Jump Grenache / Syrah / Mourvèdre blend - typical of Languedoc and with lots of ripe plummy fruit and spice on the nose, it was an easy quaffer, but would also go well with barbecue food.
This proved to be our French visitor's favourite as he explained he likes "Cotes du Rhone but not Bordeaux".
If nothing else, this last point just goes to prove how personal matching food and wine can me, although I do note that Debra Meiburg MW, an ex-vegetarian who still sticks to fish and lighter meats, prefers (lighter) Burgundies to (chewier) Bordeaux to match with her food.
Overall, it was a great start to what will be a series of tasting events to launch the d'Arry's Cambridge case.
Perhaps it's the teacher in me, but it was great to see people trying wines and enjoying them as much as I do.
The quality of the d'Arenberg wines is quite uniform and they have a strong house style of being ripe and technically well-made, but not overblown.
For me, however, the most interesting wine of the evening was the Shiraz Grenache for its inky texture.
Tickets for the tasting events are £12.50 (with the price refunded against any purchases on the night) whilst the d'Arry's Cambridge case costs £60 for 6 bottles, a discount of almost 50% on restaurant prices.
The case is available available from d’Arry’s itself (01223 505015) or via delivery (£5) within
d'Arry's - http://www.darrys.co.uk/
d'Arenberg - www.darenberg.com.au