Oddbins customers have been swirling, staring at, sniffing, slurping, spitting, swallowing and smiling at wines in the name of The Palate for four years, in a bid to be crowned the nation’s finest amateur wine taster. But who are the people who have made it all the way to the top – to wine tasting glory? Where do they come from and what makes them tick? Well, as we approach Round Two this weekend (July 25/26), we thought now would be a good time to look at these wine tasting demi gods and the wines they chose for Oddbins upon being crowned ‘The Palate’.
The woman, nay, the legend, who first fought her way to Palate glory is Fran Evans. So, what do you need to know about Fran? Well, Fran is lovely to a fault, unassuming and – hitherto – highly doubtful of her ability to taste wine. The sustainability officer from north London had no wine education and thought, therefore, that she wouldn’t be much cop in The Palate. However, as judge Peter Richards, of Saturday Kitchen fame, said on Fran’s win, “It was important that it wasn't about having an encyclopaedic knowledge, but about raw talent. That's why Fran was such a worthy winner." Hear hear! A curious and marvellous twist in Fran’s tale is that, as part of the spoils of her win, she was asked to choose a wine (blind) for us to stock on our shelves. The wine that she chose was a La Closerie des Lys Chardonnay – a grape variety that Fran professed to not really liking before the competition – which is testament to the power of The Palate over preconceptions…
Our next winner, Chloe Dickson, could not be more different to Fran. Where Fran is diffident, Chloe is assured. Where Fran is untrained, Chloe has attended courses. But Chloe’s win was by no means a fait accompli. She was up against stiff competition and it was the creativity that she brought to her descriptions that really set her apart from the other Finalists. In her food and wine matching presentation, Chloe’s said that the wine’s ‘acidic qualities really cut through the oiliness of the fish – it was just like they were holding hands walking down the street. My mouth was like ‘yeah, bring it on’.” Woop woop! Down with starched collars and orthodox wine blathering! Up with flavours holding hands and walking down the street! We like. The former music executive said The Palate has changed her life – and indeed she has gone on to become a retail sommelier. Go Chloe! The wine she chose was, to our eternal delight, Portuguese, and a belter at that. Discover Manz Platónico, an unctuous red from Cheleiros, here.
So far, so female. That was until 2014, when Bristolian Steve Saunders sauntered into the equation. Peter Richards was just beginning to get worried that a man would never win the title of The Palate, but Steve changed all that. If ever there was a more smiley man, we’ve yet to meet him. Steve loves wine and, like Chloe, had some experience but was looking to ‘go professional’ and make a living out of it. Given that the number of entrants rose from 5,000 in 2012 to a staggering 21,000 in 2014, Steve’s achievement is seriously impressive. For the judges – Peter and his wife Suzie, Sarah Ahmed and Oddbins Buyer Ana Sapungiu – their reason for choosing Steve was his clear as a bell communication. Steve is to wine speak what Brian Cox is to physics. He just makes it sound so easy! And Steve’s wine? As with Chloe’s Platónico, Steve’s choice comes from a country that we are increasingly excited about; Romania. Get to know Prince Stirbey Negru de Dragasani here.