There are all sorts of things clamouring for our attention at any given time. Restaurants come and go; pop-ups spring up everywhere you look; street food continues to flourish; and every week seems to see the launch of at least one new bar in the city centre. So any event that keeps people coming back year after year is something to be applauded, particularly if it permits one to sample hundreds of wines in the rarefied atmosphere of Manchester Town Hall; indeed, I can think of few things besides the Three Wine Men Manchester Christmas Tasting that would see me boarding a tram at 11am on a Sunday morning and heading off in search of a nice glass of red.
Three Wine Men is, for me, one of the best days of the year. Hosted every year by Tim Atkin, Olly Smith and Oz Clarke, it would be easy to be cynical about the branding - you're invited, for example, to take a test to see with which of the three you most share your wine tastes, complete with a sticker to wear (terrifyingly, if you end up liking the same wines as Olly this means liking "wines as exuberant as riding a unicorn by the horn all the way to the gates of Guzzle City", a trip I'd be keen to avoid, even to the extent of paying an Uber surge). Too much cynicism would rather miss the point though - this is simply a happy, joyous affair where, in exchange for £27.50, you get to merrily weave your way round the Town Hall, sampling lovely wines at will and getting to talk to some of the small producers and stockists who often don't get much of a look-in.
One such company is Alpine Wines (pictured below), who are just lovely and from whom I end up buying every year - this year, the lovely Grüner Veltliner "Mitanaund" from Elisabeth Hausgnost. In fact, for me the Reislings and the Grüners were the stars of this year's show, with some excellent examples at GK Wine House (as personally recommended by Olly Smith who - as usual - asked after my mother, whom he met for about three minutes about three years ago).
I shall also remember 2016 as the year I was finally converted to Sherry, a drink of which I have always been a little suspicious. Whilst I can't claim to have liked all of the Sherries on show at the Sherry Wines stall (Tio Pepe Fino still has too much of a whiff of old ladies in bed jackets about it for me), I did enjoy most of them, particularly the Manzanillas and the Oloroso. In fact, I did so well and was SO brave that I was allowed my badge for achieving the Sherry Challenge despite some rather undignified retching of the Tio Pepe into the spittoon.
I avoided most of the big name stalls simply in the interests of time - the whole point of Three Wine Men is to try wine you perhaps wouldn't come across on the high street. That said, who could resist a chat with the lovely Dave Marsland (aka Drinks Enthusiast), on hand to represent Warner Edwards Gin (try the rhubarb one - it's wondrous) and seen below in one of his typically unassuming, camera-shy poses. I also very much liked the wines chosen to represent the International Wine Challenge, an annual award that recognises outstanding wines regardless of their cost - some of the 2016 medal winners on show included the lovely Greyfriars Vineyard Blanc de Blancs 2013 (I'm a sucker for an English sparkler) and a very good Tempranillo from Asda that comes in at under six quid.
All too soon, our time was up - three hours fly by here, and we had to make way for the good folk thirstily arriving for the next session. The only rogue note of the day? The three wine men were being filmed for a TV show, and as I was standing in the wrong place at the wrong time there is a worrying chance I'll soon be on a TV screen near you, swaying slightly and pretending to listen to Oz Clarke as he talks to me about something. Still, potential public humiliation aside, I'm already looking forward to the next one.
- Find out more about Three Wine Men here on their website. I was given complimentary tickets to the event, but spent approximately three million pounds on wine and would happily go (and have been) as a paying customer.