tessa packard talks to cat palmer of wise grapes wine tasting

July 2021

Catriona Palmer

Cat Palmer worked for over 14 years at the biggest names in the British wine trade (Berry Brothers & Rudd, Justerini & Brooks) before launching her own wine tasting company Wise Grapes in 2020. Using knowledge gained from an enviable career immersed in the world of fine wines, Cat organises tailored wine tastings for everyone, from beginners to connoisseurs.

With a wealth of knowledge and an easy, engaging style, Cat will always bring the joys of wine to life. She has hosted tastings for both private and corporate clients in an array of wonderful venues, from the gardens of Buckingham Palace to yachts in Monaco Harbour and offices, cellars and private kitchens all around the UK.


 

Tessa Packard [TP]: How would you describe your professional self in three words?

Cat Palmer [CP]: Conscientious, lucky, thirsty

[TP]: What inspired you to start Wise Grapes? And what do you think makes it unique to the industry?

[CP]: I was inspired to start Wise Grapes following the arrival of my third child and Covid.  During the first lockdown friends and family found themselves stuck at home getting fully into cooking (and dare I say it) wine! With over 14 years in the wine trade at Berry Brothers & Rudd, then Justerini & Brooks, I was the person they called with all their wine queries: what wine to match with their food, whether they should decant that evening’s bottle, what they should buy etc.  I started Wise Grapes to answer all these questions and to help enhance people’s enjoyment of wine.

I associate wine with friendship, relaxing and laughter. My tastings are unique in that they aim to guide and enlighten with no ponce or ambition to sell.

[TP]: In your opinion, how have wine trends changed over the last ten years? What is popular now that wasn’t then, and what is now rarely requested as a cellar staple?

[CP]: The past decade has taken the wine trade on an exciting journey. There has been the great rise of the underdogs. Bordeaux, Burgundy and such wines are still on their well-deserved pedestal, but others have joined them, for instance magnificent Barolos and refined German Riesling’s. People seem to be exploring lighter reds; perhaps less Chateauneuf-du-Papes and more Pinots from around the world i.e the Loire Valley or Germany. It is lovely to see people getting more adventurous with their tastes.

Clients also want to know more about the stories behind the bottle, about the winemaker and the farming techniques they use. Ten years ago, organic practices were often regarded to be over-the-top, and biodynamics downright hippy, but now such methods are fully accepted and growers around the world have seen the health of their vineyards improve remarkably.

[TP]: What frustrates you the most about what you do, and in contrast, what’s your favourite part of your job?

[CP]: My biggest frustration is having too much wine to try and vineyards to explore and not enough time!

My favourite part of my job is seeing clients faces light up when they learn how beautiful the art of winemaking is. For instance, when they discover that all the grapes in the wine they are drinking are hand-picked, or in the case of Sauternes, when they discover that the wine is made from mouldy, rotten grapes (albeit a very noble rot!).

[TP]: What’s the best advice you have ever been given in terms of both trying wine and buying wine?

[CP]: Trying wine: Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it is a bad wine. A good wine should have flavour which lingers, be complex and balanced. If this has all been achieved the wine should be appreciated even if you don’t like it. Likewise, it is important to remember that most European wines are improved when drunk with food…this is why food and wine matching is important.

Buying: Learn about what you are buying as this enhances the drinking experience.  Don’t always follow market trends, but buy what you like and enjoy it. Lastly, a bargain wine may taste amazing when you’re on holiday, but often not so good when back at home.

[TP]: Name me three great, affordable wines that you think are grossly undervalued and should be a staple in everyone’s cellar?

[CP]: Growers Champagne – Artisan Champagne made by families who grow all their own grapes (this is very rare in Champagne), for example Pascal Doquet

Burgundy from Santenay and Marsannay

German Pinot Noir

[TP]: Is there an area of wine and wine tasting that you are particularly interested in? Is there a region or grape you feel most affinity to?

[CP]: It has to be Burgundy, a tricky region to fully understand. Two Burgundian vineyards in close proximity can produce wines with distinct differences. The complicated web of Burgundian vineyard and small-scale producers clearly demonstrates the huge impact of terroir (the place where the vine grows).

When grown on great terroir and farmed with love and care, the Burgundian grapes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay produce wines which I could enjoy for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and all the snacks in between!

[TP]: If someone gave you a blank cheque to start a top wine collection who or where would be your first port of call?

[CP]: I would call Justerini & Brooks immediately.

[TP]: Ice in white wine: never, sometimes or always?

[CP]: Only if the wine isn’t good…ice bars flavour!

[TP]: How prevalent is wine fraud? And how would you advise a client to buy wine safely at all price levels?

[CP]: Sadly, very prevalent. Always buy from an acclaimed merchant.

[TP]: Do you think that certain wines only command high prices because of name and brand (and are in fact grossly overpriced and not very nice to drink?); or do you think that price is commensurate with quality in the wine world?

[CP]: I would say price is usually commensurate with quality. However, most quality wine is made in such small quantities resulting in a demand which enhances the price greatly. I have certainly been very disappointed by eye wateringly expensive wines, but usually the expensive bottles are filled with nectar.

At tastings I like showing ‘hidden gem’ wines, usually made by lesser known and rising star winemakers. These wines are still very good value.

[TP]: What’s your view on organic wines?

[CP]: Definitely ‘go organic’ but most good wine will likely be organic anyway. Wise Grapes supports wine makers with a passion for their vineyard who respect and nurture the land.  These winemakers would never wish to poison their well-loved vines with horrid chemicals and farm organically even if they don’t have a certificate saying so.

You cannot make good wine from bad grapes. Organically farmed grapes are usually the best quality and therefore make the best wine. Nonetheless it is important to remember that places like Bordeaux have miserable weather (rather like England) and sometimes farmers and left with no choice but to spray for something like rot from damp weather.

[TP]: If you could organise your dream wine tasting where would it be, who would be there, what would you be eating and what wonderful wines would you be enjoying? Please give as much detail as possible on the location and setting, time of year etc – really set the scene

[CP]: Goodness so tricky…I have many dreams.

Currently I miss Italy. I would head to Northern Italy with my nearest and dearest and introduce them to the stunning wines of Piedmont. I would ask all my favourite producers including Elio Altare, Marco Marengo and Azelia and we would sit outside a gorgeous, understated winery under a beautiful pergola shading us from the evening sun. As it’s a dream scenario, I would ask the producers to bring vertical vintages as far back as their cellar allows. We would start early and end late with large tasting samples and endless plates of the regions fabulous home grown delights which match the Barolos so perfectly. We would learn and laugh a lot.

[TP]: How important is social media in your day-to-day life? Has it taken on a new meaning since COVID?

[CP]: To Cat Palmer social media is very unimportant. I avoid screen time and much prefer hearing from friends and family first-hand. Nevertheless, I know how important social media is for Wise Grapes. I have started answering wine related questions on Instagram via short videos. Do watch them, I hope you enjoy my talks, but I must admit I do prefer face to face!

[TP]: Who do you most admire in your industry and why?

[CP]: Hew Blair, Chairman of Justerini & Brooks. Hew has always sniffed out and supported winemaking talent. He pioneered En Primeur Tastings in London and was one of the first to sing about Barolos from Piedmont and talent from the likes of Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair in Burgundy. He has such wonderful friendships with growers from all over the world and was kind enough to take me around Burgundy in 2015. He also loves lunch and does not bang on about how good the wine is!

[TP]: If you could offer advice to your eighteen-year-old self what three bits of wisdom would you share?

[CP]: Relax, enjoy every moment and don’t focus on the negatives.

[TP]: Finally, what’s next for you and Wise Grapes?

[CP]: Like so many companies Wise Grapes has had to cancel numerous events. Once restrictions lift, I am excited to host the corporate and private tastings which have had to be cancelled. It will be wonderful to see colleagues and friends both in offices and homes around the country enjoying themselves whilst tasting great wine. I also very much look forward to visiting wine regions again and meeting the growers I haven’t seen for so long, the next port of call is Germany.

 

ON THE SPOT

Town or Countryside? Countryside
Favourite city? London – it’s where most of my friends are
Your perfect dinner guest, dead or alive? My father-in-law who I sadly never met
If you could time travel to any era? Tudors…but just for a peep then time travel straight back
The best meal you’ve ever eaten is? A feast in La Morra, Piedmont, with lots of Vitello tonnato and local wine
The one essential you can’t leave home without? A plan
Pet hate? Mobile phone addiction
Biggest extravagance? A giant picture by Rosa Roberts
Favourite book? Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh; Inside Burgundy by Jasper Morris
What would your gravestone read? I hope…Great wife, mother and friend


FIND OUT MORE

www.wisegrapes.com

@wisegrapes

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