Lunch with Tara Devon O'Leary
Blogger, author and wine lover, Tara Devon O'Leary, the self-styled Wine Passionista, is keen to share her knowledge and enthusiasm with as many people as possible. Over lunch at Avenue, The Artful Diner learns a thing or two…
When Clark Kent chose the name Superman for his faster-than-a-speeding-bullet persona, he did so for a reason. It wasn’t borne out of vanity – he would have called himself Amazingman if that was the case – but because he was, well, super. (And a man, of course.) It was an apt name that fitted as snugly as his Lycra outfit. This same aptness of name can also be said of Tara Devon O'Leary’s alter ego, the Wine Passionista, although to my knowledge, at least, she has yet to don a red cape emblazoned with “WP” and leap the tallest carafe.
Tara is the welcoming face behind the Wine Passionista website – an informative and entertaining portal dedicated to spreading her, well, infectious passion for all things grape. Author, educator and, if things go to plan, soon-to-be presenter of “the most fantastic wine show ever to hit TV”, I ponder that as we meet for lunch at Avenue, on a miraculously sunny St James’s Street, I’m seriously out of my depth. Think I’ll leave the wine ordering to the expert.
A career in wine...
“I’ve always been interested in wine and loved to visit wineries,” says Tara as she scans Avenue’s comprehensive wine menu. “It was great to meet people, to hear their stories, smell the air and walk on the soil. So about 10 years ago, I made the conscious decision that if I have to work for the rest of my life I’d quite like to make wine my career.”
Honing her knowledge and expertise, roles as sommelier at Launceston Place and the Chesterfield Hotel soon followed, before a decision to launch Wine Passionista in 2010. More on this later, firstly our starters – smoked salmon, marinated onions, potato and horseradish cream for Tara (“Loved the potato”) and char-grilled mackerel, gooseberries and saffron for me – and our wines. Yes, wines. Plural.
“I often like to try wine by the glass because it’s a great way of experimenting,” says Tara. “If dining as a couple order two wines, so you can compare and experience new tastes. It’s a good way to learn about the differences.”
Tara’s choices – an albariño from Abadia De San Campio in Spain and a chardonnay from Journey’s End in South Africa – are both utterly delicious and remarkably varied (obviously I try both, just for the purposes of research, you understand). The albariño is softer, cleaner and fresher, while the chardonnay is a riot of tangy fruit. It complements the sharp gooseberries and soft, oily mackerel of my starter and Tara is fighting a losing battle to take the glass away from me.
An amuse bouche of chilled tomato and watermelon soup with a drop of olive oil follows. It is bursting with flavour and devoured by both of us accompanied by much appreciative lip-smacking.
Taking it to the next level...
Back to Tara’s website, which is very much video-led with short clips of tips and advice, presented in a relaxed, friendly manner. “When I launched Wine Passionista I wanted to share my passion of wine with others and to be able to help them. People are often overwhelmed or confused when it comes to buying wine, but my hope is for them to get the full experience, whether that’s shopping for wine, choosing it in a restaurant or giving it as a gift. Wine is often seen as very traditional and stuffy, which isn't any fun at all, so I offer practical advice. People should be confident around wine and keen to take their knowledge to the next level.”
The mains interrupt my education. We’ve both opted for gilthead bream, samphire, peas and beurre blanc, which Tara has paired with a chablis from William Fevre in France. Both dish and drink are stunning and, as always, I’m impressed to see skinned peas, a technique I have tried at home that has more often than not resulted in a bowl of butchered veg and a couple of bloody fingers.
I ask Tara a question I realise immediately she has probably answered a hundred times – what’s her favourite wine? “I love South African wine,” she answers. “It wasn’t really on my radar until I went there, but oh my goodness, the quality has gone through the roof. There’s a lot of value to be found and nowadays they have to be good to compete on the world stage.”
Dessert arrives and we share (well, Tara has a token spoonful before I claim it for myself) an iced lemon chiboust, peanuts and strawberry. It is taste and texture brilliance. We finish the last of the chablis and the subject of future trends comes up.
“I’m really into wines from unusual regions, such as Croatia, which has some stunning stuff,” Tara enthuses. “Brazil and Greece are also regions to look out for.” And with that nugget of insider knowledge we depart – Tara to return home to prepare some more video clips for Wine Passionista; me to lie down in Green Park to digest, quite literally, all that I have taken in.
Find out more about Wine Passionista and watch Tara's video clips
Every Wine Tells A Story by Tara Devon O’Leary, published by lulu.com, £9.99
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