EnoClub Polpo Covent Garden, 6 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7NA

The table’s set… Now where’s that wine? Photograph by Paul Winch-Furness © 2012

Now, we are not experts on wine by any stretch of the imagination. Sure we drink the stuff (maybe too much) and know a few names, but that’s about it… I could also go as far as to say that sometimes we get a little intimidated when ordering a bottle, so we tend to stick to what we know or let the sommelier choose, learning a little along the way.

That said, when were invited to a new series of EnoClub wine tasting sessions, hosted by the infectiously likeable Tom Harrow (AKA Wine Chap) held at Polpo Covent Garden we changed our plans and ventured over to a wet, cold and windy Covent Garden ready and eager to learn.

Saff, that’s a stick not a straw!

To be honest the main draw was the fact that these wines were to be served with a variety of plates from Polpo‘s main menu. Similar to its big sister Polpo, Polpo Covent Garden is in the style of a traditional osteria. We’re massive fans of Russell Norman (read our interview with him here) and group head chef, Tom Oldroyd, we work in magazines and wish there was a Russell Norman equivalent in the magazine world, everything he does is a guaranteed success. We can’t get enough of Spuntino (I’d go there just for the peanut & jelly ice-cream sandwich!) and plan to re-visit Mishkin’s real soon, but had STILL not been to any of the first three restaurants, PolpoPolpo Covent Garden and Polpetto. The icing on the clichéd cake was that Russell and Tom were there to welcome us and offer us an Aperol Spritz. Tom had to pay particular attention to Saff as he had to tweak some of the menu to accommodate Saff’s increasingly annoying hatred of cheese, he even came over for a chat at the end of the evening to ask how Saff’s cheeseless meal tasted, what a top bloke!

Tom ‘Wine Chap’ Harrow. Photograph by Paul Winch-Furness © 2012

At EnoClub we got to sample six wines, from a crisp white to an amber dessert wine via a ‘serious’ red that would set you back at least £120 in some restaurants. This time the sessions are focusing on Italian wines and this particular one on wines from Tuscany… In Tom’s words “Tuscany is home to some of the world’s most notable wine regions Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, not forgetting the Super Tuscan wine movement.” We’re glad he knows he’s talking about!

And he does… We thought he may sound stuffy and drone on about legs, nose and body, but he didn’t. In fact he made the whole learning experience fun, humorous and interesting. And when he spoke to us at the table he spent time explaining little facts, like why some wines have a darker, matt colour and put us at ease as he’d obviously worked out we were novices. (Some wines have a darker matt colour because the grape skins are thicker, in case you were wondering). Tom also explained that the prices listed were retail prices, so if you add 100/150% that’s what you would expect to pay when eating out. These were all top quality wines!

Before I continue this write-up, I must state that as the evening went on my notes became more and more eligible and therefore all facts may not be entirely correct. Neither EnoClub nor Wine Chap take responsibility for my bad handwriting or foggy memory…

Six wine bottles sitting on a wall…

Crocchetta & chicken liver crostino

The first wine poured was the 2011 Solosole’ Vermentino, Poggio al Tesoro £16. We don’t normally choose white wine but this one made from the Corsican grape had a fresh yet smooth taste that complimented the rich Chopped chicken liver crostino and Potato and parmesan crocchetta (so light and fluffy) that were the first dishes out of the kitchen.

The magic mini mushroom pizza

Wine No2 was the 2010 Morellino di Scansano, Le Pupille £15. This wine was described as ‘the blood of Jupiter’ but was light for a red. Saff, who has a better ‘nose’ than I (she has better legs too), said she smelt vanilla tones and this turned out to be her favourite wine of the night. This was served with a couple of Wild mushroom Pizzette (a mini pizza to you and I, one with and without cheese). How they get to keep these thin bases to stay so crispy, not go soggy and collapse under the weight of those mushrooms is a mystery (or magic)!

Fritto Misto – a plateful of battered deliciousness!

I’m not a huge salad person, but the toasted almonds made this a bit special

Next up was a 2008 Chianti Classico, Fontodi £18, a ‘fun and bouncy’ red with a brighter colour than the Morellino di Scansano. One little fact, any wine with Classico in the title basically means ‘the hills’. Vines on a gradient benefit from more direct sunlight, a wider variation in temperature and better drainage, so the grapes tend to be of a better quality. Two plates arrived and, shock horror, Saff and I could share them both. The Fennel, curly endive and almond salad was fantastic, if a tad on the salty side, I could have easily eaten a bucketful of those toasted nuts. The Fritto Misto, prawns, squid and whitebait deep-fried in a light batter and served simply with a thick wedge of lemon, no need to over complicate this dish.

Cold meats, perfect with the Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

Wine No4, the 2004 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, Peggio San Polo £56. Apparently ’04 is a great vintage year and this more ‘serious’ red would set you back at least £112 in some restaurants! It had a much darker colour than all of the other wines and had tones of cherry, liquorice and tobacco (although Saff said it smelt of meat, can you tell we’re novices?). Coincidentally, this was served with a plate of cold meats with balls of mozzarella and chopped sundried tomatoes dressed in olive oil.

Nice balls (of pork & fennel)

Now onto my favourite wine and Saff’s favourite dish; the 2005 ‘W  Dedicato a Walter’ Cabernet Franc, Poggio al Tesoro £39. It had a similar colour as the Brunello di Montalcino Riserva but had a much smoother taste, I could drink this Super Tuscan all night! Even Russell agreed, he walked past and commented ‘This wine is knockout!’. This new movement in wine is trying all it can to break from tradition, even the label has a modern design. To go with my favourite wine was our favourite dish of the evening, Spicy pork and fennel meatballs with a side of grilled bread. Big spicy balls with just the right aniseed kick from the fennel and a tomato sauce where the heat crept up on you after a couple of chews…

You can’t beat a nice chunk of cheese can you Saff?

Italy in a pot…

And finally wine No6. A 2006 Vin Santo, Cantine Leonardo da Vinci £26. An amber dessert wine with the familiar taste of sherry, sweet and thick and… and by now we’re a tad drunk! Vin Santo, meaning wine of the Saints, is made from naturally air-dried grapes (usually up in the eves of the winery) and then aged in a variety of different wooden barrels. This gives its distinctive flavour and colour. An Italian tasting session wouldn’t be complete without a Tiramisu, and da Polpo‘s was one of the best we’ve had. No liquid Camp coffee and not overpowered with alcohol either, even Saff polished hers off, she doesn’t usually go for creamy desserts like Tiramisu but she couldn’t get enough of it. She left my cheese plate well alone, I’m not usually a fan of blue cheese but this wasn’t as strong as I’ve had in the past.

At the end of the night the most popular wine as voted by us tasters was selected to be put on the menu at a very good price as specials at both da Polpo and Polpo, these winners were the 2011 Solosole’ Vermentino, Poggio al Tesoro and the 2005 ‘W  Dedicato a Walter’ Cabernet Franc, Poggio al Tesoro.  These EnoClub wine tasting sessions are great for both experts and novices. They are fun and informative and not in the least bit stuffy, throw in some amazing food and, at £45 per person, it’s fantastic value for money too. We’re very temped to go back for the Puglian one (we got married in Puglia), it happens to take place close to our first wedding anniversary in June.

Photograph by Paul Winch-Furness © 2012

To book a place at any of the EnoClub evenings please call the restaurant on 020 7836 8448 and quote WINECHAP.

Future evenings will explore other great wine regions of Italy. Dates TBC.
May – Abruzzi & Campania
June – Puglia, Basilicata & Marche
July – Islands Sardinia & Sicilia
August – Friuli-Venezia-Giulia
September – Trento & Lombardia
October – Piemonte (will include Barolo and tartufi as part of the truffle season)
November – Veneto

Follow WineChap on Twitter for more info www.winechap.com

Follow Polpo on Twitter


Polpo Covent Garden,
6 Maiden Lane, Covent
Garden, London WC2E 7NA
Telephone: 020 7836 8448
Opening times:
Monday to Saturday: Noon to 11.30pm

Sunday: Noon to 10.30pm

Bookings: Reservations are taken for times between noon and 6pm
In the evening, reservations are not required – tables are allocated first come, first served

Nearest tube:
Charing Cross or Covent Garden