Within two hours I went from nervously sipping Prosecco alone to raucously howling laughter around a tiny table in a wine cellar with a gaggle of strange ladies.
I was honored to have a look at the Royal Horseguards Hotel last week, one of London’s premiere five-star luxury properties located in Embankment next to the River Thames. It was a chance to mingle with some fellow London women and also have a peek into this famously luxurious hotel. In the late 1800s, this elegant building was one of the first to have electricity and was part a beautifying project to clean up and enhance the polluted riverfront. From luxury apartments to the founding spot of the UK’s secret service, the Horseguards Hotel has a colorful history.
Sure I’ll take a history lesson any day, but I really just wanted to poke around the interior. Everything was decorated to the nines for the holidays, making the roaring fireplace in the lobby and posh sitting areas even more special. Starting at the dark wood covered bar upstairs and flowing down the grand staircase, it felt more like being in a Disney movie than a hotel. I didn’t have a chance to experience the actual accommodations, but hope to in the near future.
Of course being draped in such luxurious settings was a treat, but the highlight of the evening was Kelly Bayliffe the sommelier. This woman took a group of ladies knowing collectively very little about wine and turned us all into connoisseurs within a couple hours. Well, sort of. But the way she explained every detail from English bubbly varieties to Pino Noir was unforgettable – mostly because each analogy was a little racy and a lot of fun. She truly knew her stuff and was more than patient with our group as more wine was sipped then really savored.
I’ve quickly learned in the last few years that the varieties of bubbly is endless. Spanish Cava was my first love, then I slowly moved over to nice Proseccos and even Champagne. I think my knowledge though doubled that evening. We had some Tattinger first, which was poured during the toasting on my wedding day. Then moved onto a crisp New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, finishing with a couple reds that…I might have forgotten. But they were good, trust me.
The little takeaways were my favorite. Kelly said not to buy anything bubbly that doesn’t open with exactly 6 twists of the metal fastener over the cork – or it’s not the real deal. Or, if you want to know a quality wine for something run-of-the-mill, give it a good sniff. There’s a rule of thumb that ever half inch you hold your nose away from a pungent glass of wine and you can still smell it, add five bucks to the price of a bottle.
And to fit the wintry season, never forget, “We change the weight of our clothes, so we should change the weight of our wine for the season,” said Kelly. That’s my biggest challenge, because although I like a bold red I also can’t put down the rose over the winter!
I love how Kelly shocked the crowd not with her wine-themed sexual innuendos, but with her assertion as an American (from Vermont!), insisting we try before we buy. If she spends a dozen quid on a glass of wine, she wants to sample it to make sure it’s worth the price. Same goes for a cheese selection at the end of the night or any other foodstuff already prepared that costs a pretty penny. I agree – not that I’m dropping 20 bucks on glasses of wine regularly, but she has a point! It’s a surefire way to learn about what you and don’t like when it comes to nice wine.
Of all the wine tastings I’ve experiences, this was the most memorable.