An equestrian extravaganza


Photograph: Jason Lowe

A horse running a different sort of course. Photograph: Jason Lowe

In our final foray into the wines for partnering picnics, Gary Owen – Private Account Manager in our Fine Wine team – considers the vinous essentials for a day at the races.

There are few events for which my diary is so quickly cleared than a day at the races. Although the winter season, with its fences, falls, mud and mugs of hot chocolate (along with a spot of King’s Ginger, naturally) holds appeal; a day of flat racing during the summer months is superb, as long as it is accompanied by the right tipple. The day is often meticulously planned; I prefer to focus on what will be eaten and drunk over the course of the day, with bet selections shoehorned in at the eleventh hour with a glass in hand.

To start with, often just before midday, is Champagne, the very finest wine one can have in a glass. Many of our excellent artisan or ‘Grower Champagnes’ have made an appearance at Goodwoood and Ascot, with Cedric Bouchard being a particular highlight a couple of years ago; although I must say that R&L Legras’s precise yet urbane Hommage really took the winning ticket at Ladies’ Day of Goodwood last year.

Matching wines to the wonderful spread that accompanies us to the races is always a tall order. There are many days for fine Claret but a day at the races, to my mind at least, is not one of them. This is the stomping ground for the lighter, more elegant wines of the world. Whether that stretches to the finest Premiers and Grands Crus Burgundies, the best New Zealand Pinot Noir or interesting single vineyard Beaujolais is often a matter of strength and the depth of one’s pockets. I would always be on the side of the interesting or even the underdog, which invariable leads me to the best Beaujolais which comes to hand, this year it could well be Olivier Merlin’s 2012 Moulin à Vent, La Rochelle. A fine lunch had by all, into the fray which is the betting ring we tread. Between races there is little time for savouring a fine wine, and to be perfectly honest my thirst is usually slaked by a fine cup of English Breakfast or Peppermint, if very warm.

After the day’s sport is over we usually approach the sweet rather than savoury end of proceedings and as with the red wines, the great Sauternes are often too heavy; a wine with zip, lift and verve is required – the perfect wine here is Moscato d’Asti. Either on its own or poured Piedmontese-style over fresh peaches, this is sublime. As the sun starts to set hopefully one can reflect, glass in hand, on bets well-placed and winnings collected (the emphasis very much on the hope).

Whether you see the turf of Ascot, Goodwood or Cartmel this season I hope you drink well along the way.

Explore our range of wines and spirits for Summer 2015 on