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Review: Italian Wine Masterclass at The Humble Grape, Islington

Amanda David sorts her Shiraz from her Sangiovese and finds a taste for Garganega in the capable hands of The Humble Grape, Islington.

First a little background on the venue; revving onto the London wine scene just over a decade ago, one man on his motorbike juggled his full time City career with a love for hosting pop-up wine tastings and delivering boutique bottles to people’s doorsteps. Humble Grape founder James Dawson has since gone on to quit City life and pour his passion into opening five distinctively quirky London venues that each work as a wine shop, wine bar and kitchen hosting a range of informal events and tastings.

I jumped at the chance to review this as I am currently taking my first few faltering steps to learn more about wine and am looking at a number of classes and courses. It shouldn't be difficult; lord knows, I've put in the tasting hours over the years and surely any course would, by definition, have the world's best homework - so why does it feel so intimidating?

Luckily the folk at Humble Grape are way ahead of me. Their philosophy is simply that the more you taste, the more you know; there is no snobbery, no expectations, no right or wrong answers, just a chance to explore your own palate and preferences by tasting a selection of their sustainable wines sourced directly from small, family-run independent winemakers.

This Italian Wine Masterclass gave us the chance to try four wines (two white, two red) whilst staff members Desiree and Nico talked us through them. What struck us first was the amazing depth of knowledge and passion shown as they explained the origin of the wines; we learned about how differences in the geography and the climate affects the wine, how historical, political and cultural changes have impacted on growers and vineyards and how the strict rules about wine production in Italy dictate everything from the grapes used to the design on the label. Despite the impressive range of information their tone was engaging, upbeat and chatty - much more like sitting next to the most interesting person at dinner than listening to a lecture.

You are given a sheet for notes but thankfully this was purely for personal use. You are never put on the spot to say whether you can detect notes of passion fruit or tar, or if the wrist action in your swirl is acceptable; you simply sip and listen. Questions are welcomed but we were happy just to sit back and let ourselves be transported to the fragrant slopes of Etna, a modern vineyard passed down through generations or the trade routes of ancient Venice. As a bonus, the price of the booking is refunded in the form of a voucher to spend in their wine shop; given the huge range available, I would recommend allowing some time at the end of the tasting.

Afterwards we stayed on to try out the small plates menu. I admit that I was expecting more basic or assembly-type tapas dishes rather than a full kitchen offering but we were happy to see more substantial dishes such as Lamb Chop with Peas, Broad Beans and Mint (shown here with a sharing Camembert and chargrilled sourdough), Beetroot-cured Sea Trout with Pickled Cucumber and a Dill Sauce and Orecchiette with Spinach, Chilli & Garlic. The food was accomplished and delicious; I already have my eye on some dishes for a return visit, including Cornish New Potatoes with Sorrel and Wild Marsh Samphire and the Grilled Octopus.

Mondays can be a tad quiet in the hospitality sector but head over to Humble Grape for their Retail Mondays and you can buy your wine at the take-away price but drink it at the bar. Check out this and other weekly offerings, plus find your local venue, at their website below. I may see you there - I'll be the one with the plate of octopus and the clinking shopping bag. Cheers!

Head to the website here: Humble Grape

[Items in this article may have been gifted to Chatting Food. No financial payment has been made to feature in this article, and entries to the feature are made independently by members of the Editorial Team. This page contains affiliate links and we may receive a small commission for purchases]

Chatting Food contributor: Amanda David

Freelance food writer, copywriter and blogger, Amanda David is dedicated to sharing news about London’s restaurants, bars, events and general wonderfulness. It’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it.

She has also just launched a new website, A Cook's Bookshelf, reviewing cookbooks old and new, with side-by-side photographs of recipe illustrations next to her home-cooked version.

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