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Obsession 2016: Craig Bancroft and the wines of Northcote

by Great British Chefs

Director of wines Craig Bancroft introduces us to Northcote's wine cellar and the processes he goes through when matching wines with the eclectic dishes served at Obsession.

Every year since 2001, Craig Bancroft and his team of sommeliers have had a tough job on their hands. The annual Obsession festival invites the best chefs from all over the world to create bespoke, one-off menus for lucky diners. Each dinner also features a perfectly matched wine flight, which needs to be all but confirmed in advance. Luckily, Northcote’s wine cellar of over 400 bins, which Craig has painstakingly curated and developed over the past thirty-three years, is the ultimate resource for any sommelier. This, combined with Craig’s expert knowledge, results in perfect pairings which showcase the more unusual or lesser known vintages in the restaurant’s vaults.

‘The experience of having fifteen years of food matching with the 108 chefs that have come through our doors during Obsession, with all their different styles from different continents, means we’ve got a really good understanding of what does and doesn’t work,’ says Craig. ‘They’re not necessarily what I would call the champion wines of the world, because we feel there has to be a level of economics that’s sensible for the part of the world we live in. But the main driver of the list is to offer a complete exposure of the countries that are producing great wine.’

It’s like music – there are a billion scores and so many notes in the world, you could never put them all together. Wine and food are exactly the same.

Craig Bancroft

The wine list is a combination of both New and Old World wines that’s in constant flux; varieties are added or taken away all the time. Craig particularly enjoys trying to match more unusual or unconventional wines wherever he can, and Obsession provides him with the perfect opportunity to experiment. The difficulty, however, is that the team can’t actually taste the dishes that are going to be served until the night itself – so there can be a little guesswork beforehand. ‘If we’re unsure about a dish, we’ll ask Nigel and Lisa to mock up the flavours,’ explains Craig. ‘For example, we had a dish that combined almond with dill – we weren’t sure how that was going to work, so we had them cook a mock up of how it would taste. It was nothing like the final dish but the flavour points were there and we were able to work with that.’

The actual process Craig and his team go through to decide which wines to pair with the dishes can vary greatly. ‘We sometimes look at where a dish comes from,’ he says. ‘If it’s a fish dish, then we know that the French coast, Portugal, Spain and Italy all produce great wines that match. We can also look at classical pairings; for example, we know foie gras generally goes with a sweeter wine – however, myself and Tamas [Northcote’s head sommelier] prefer something less sweet. We’re always looking for something different.’

However, the one thing Craig stresses more than anything is that wine is there to be enjoyed. ‘If you prefer to drink red wine with fish, then do,’ he says. ‘It’s like music – there are a billion scores and so many notes in the world, you could never put them all together. Wine and food are exactly the same; people should never forget it’s about what you like and what you want to do.’

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

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