Susy Atkins is the weekly columnist for the Sunday Telegraph’s Stella magazine, as well as drinks editor of the brilliant and stylish ‘delicious’ magazine. She also writes a wine column for the South West’s own magazine ‘food’. She appears regularly on BBC1’s flagship cookery show ‘Saturday Kitchen’ as wine expert, from time to time on BBC radio, local and national, and has written or edited eleven books on wine and drinks. She is also Champagne Louis Roederer International Wine Writers’ Awards Short Copy Columnist award winner 2014.
In the run up to her appearance at the Exeter Food and Drink Festival, I thought I’d ask Susy a few questions about this fabulous event, her favourite food and whether or not she only drinks wine.
1. You’re hosting some wine and cheese tastings this year, what can people look forward to?
The cheese and wine tastings will feature a wide range of wines, English and international, with tutored tastings from a range of experts ranging from the winemakers to the importers, with me hosting most of the events and talking to the guest speakers. And there will be at least 4 delicious south-west cheeses to sample with them at each one!
2. Do you get to wander around and immerse yourself in the atmosphere as well as enjoying lots of tasters from the suppliers?
Yes, I always find time for a wander around at the Festival – so many things to sample and people to say hi to.
3. What is your favourite type of grape or country producing wine at the moment?
It’s a tricky one, I would have to say Spain fascinates me more than any other wine country right now – the sheer variety of the wines (including sherry, I am a big fan of that!) is brilliant, and the newly emerging areas of the north-west are worth watching… then again, Chile is another remarkable wine country at the moment, moving into new areas of vineyard planting – can I have then both?!
4. Do you only drink wine or are there drinks do you enjoy?
I am mostly a wine girl – there aren’t many other drinks I ever order over wine, but I do like good cider and also enjoy the occasional gin and tonic, especially now there are so many fine gins on the scene.
5. If someone was new to wine, what would you suggest they start with?
If you are new to wine, you could start with our own English whites – as they are light, and crisp and refreshing and relatively easy going, they are a lovely way into the subject. There will be plenty of opportunities to sample South-west English wines at the Festival. I’ll be showing some to guests on Saturday pm at the Dart’s Farm tipi – come along and join us…
6. We are lucky to have quite a few vineyards in Devon; how do English wines compare to warmer climates?
Because of our cool climate we tend to make wines with quite high acidity (so crisp fresh qualities) in England, and our wines tend to be relatively low in alcohol compared to wines from hotter parts of the world.
7. On the food side, any favourite food or meal discoveries lately, locally or abroad?
I’ve just come back from the Douro Valley in northern Portugal which is port country and enjoyed some fabulous food while there. The seafood is great and they have wonderful custard tarts with flaky pastry and cinnamon on top called pasteis de nata with coffee which are dangerously moreish…
8. During your travels, I’m sure you eat out a lot but when you are home near Exeter where do you navigate towards for a nice meal?
Yes I do eat out far and wide. But close to my home in the Teign Valley (8 miles west of Exeter) we eat out at The Nobody Inn, and we love a family Sunday lunch at our ‘local’, the Bridford Inn. In Exeter itself, I am a huge fan of The Curry Leaf for the sort of Indian food – much of it vegetarian – that I used to love when I lived in London.
9. When not tasting, discovering or talking about wine, what do you like to do to relax?
To relax I swim quite a lot – mainly with my sons who are now faster than me! – and I go out walking on Dartmoor with our huge labradoodle, Truman. Last weekend my husband Ian and I took Truman up to Mardon Down for a beautiful early evening walk. I also sing with a couple of local choral societies.
10. What are your plans for the Summer and beyond?
This summer we’ll be going on a family holiday in France as well as taking several trips to Dartmouth which is a town I love. But it has to fit around the various food festivals where I’ll be giving talks and holding tastings this year – Exeter is the first one of the Spring and I love this festival especially as it is my home city – but I’ll be heading off around the country later on!
For information on Susy’s tastings at the Exeter Food Festival visit www.exeterfoodanddrinkfestival.co.uk/Cheese-and-Wine-Tutored-Tasting
Images care of Susy Atkins website and Twitter