Last year a friend and I went to New Zealand for a three week wine tasting trip, 39 vineyards and 263 tastings! None of which compared to our visit to Felton Road. I used to be a dairy farmer in New Zealand and on this occasion was able to meet up with my old next door neighbours who were on holiday in Otago so we all went to Felton Road together. Even more of a surprise was meeting Blair Walters the wine maker as he also came from the small village where we all farmed and even went to school with my son. Then after tasting the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay Blair opened a bottle of Bannockburn Riesling 2015, wow what a wine, amazing bouquet, fantastic fresh fruits and then sherbet all the way down. What a visit!
As memorable wine events go, perhaps the first is the best – the liquid that showed me what all the fuss was about. I was just over a year into my hospitality career and when it came to our wine list I could talk the talk but I perhaps didn’t believe or understand the words I was saying. Could there be that much difference, any degree of nuance between fermented grape juices? Surely it was all a scam? And then I met ‘Iona’. Their oaked Chardonnay from South Africa (it would have been around the 2010 vintage) was the first wine that I could definitively taste a difference and feel comfortable picking out of a crowd. Though I have since had better wines showing more care or greater sense of terroir, and in much nicer settings than the back bar of our restaurant at the end of a shift, this light-bulb-moment marked the beginning of a journey through the world of wine that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.
I was just 17 when Dad walked to the local off-licence and brought back with him a bottle of an Austrian wine with the strange name of “Schluck”, which seemed imaginative for the mid 1960s. It was July and we ate boiled ham, mashed potatoes and peas for our lunch, washed down with the bottle of Schluck. It was the first time Dad allowed me to have more than half a glass. I think he had seen that I was enjoying the wine just as much as Mum and himself.
The sun was shining as we ate our lunch outside, the ham was good and the wine was delightfully refreshing and conjured up the flavours of the area in which it had been produced. It was the beginning of the wonderful wine journey that I have enjoyed ever since.
I regret that Schluck is no longer available as it would be nice to rediscover the wine of my initiation.
Back in 2002 my soon-to-be wife and I were in Florence planning our wedding which was to be nearby. After a long hot day dealing with exasperating Italian and British bureaucracy, the Italians if you can believe it are even more pedantic than the British, we found ourselves wandering into in a small bottle-lined enoteca opposite the imposing Pitti Palace. My wife ordered a glass of Gavi and for me a Brunello. My glass arrived and I can still recall the stunning punchy waft that arose and filled my head. I inhaled and time seemed to slow, life in the piazza opposite faded into an ochre impressionist painting as my senses were gently befuddled and wafted away by the wine. It seemed an age before I ventured a sip, it was luscious, stuffed full of extravagant fruity Italian gestures. My days’ tribulations faded into blissful insignificance and once again I was enthused by our Italian wedding adventure. And since that moment I’ve adored big Italian red wines but Brunello especially. But what of the Gavi I hear you think? Was it equally earth shattering? Well you’ll have to ask my wife, I ordered another Brunello!
The first time I tasted Romanée+Conti wines was when a (very) rich friend hosted a horizontal tasting of ‘71’s from each vineyard – La Tâche, Richebourg, Romanée-Conti and Grands Échezaux.
As legend had it, they were distinguished by coming from the only vines that had not been blighted by the phylloxera aphid epidemic in the nineteenth century.
They were followed by an Yquem from ’55, the year I was born.
I later learned that we had been missing a Grande Rue.
What a night, but that was a long time ago. I was only 22.
The second time I was lucky enough to drink La Tâche (a ‘94] was more recent, by which time my appreciation had developed somewhat.
Of course the flavours and aromas were as complex and exquisite as you’d hope, but what really stood out was the texture, mouthfeel if you like.
Heavy velvet curtains, if that’s not too abstract. (Apparently not - in 1780, the Archbishop of Paris declared Romanée-Conti "velvet and satin in bottles).
A bottle between two was truly a meal in itself. Bucket list stuff. Truly wow.
My late wife gave me a 60th birthday party in our local restaurant. The owner knew his wines. A wonderful white with the fish, a superb red with the lamb and unbeknown to me a bottle of 1993 Chateau d’Ychem with the pudding. . I had never tasted anything like it in my life. I had heard it once described as “tear jerkingly delicious” and believe me, it was. I was almost overwhelmed and didn’t want to share it with anyone, except my wife of course…
Three years later I bought at auction a bottle of the same wine 1944 vintage, the year of my birth. When I was 70 another party ensued and I was allowed to take the sweet surprise to have with the pudding once again. The sommelier whispered in my ear as the moment approached , “ sorry sir” he said, “ but I think it is just past its best!” Mon Dieu! So it was , but still eminently drinkable so that is what we did with wry smiles and happy memories. C’est la vie!
In 1999 I visited a small, family-run restaurant near the Trevi Fountain in Rome and returned there the following year with some friends. I sat down at the table and examined the wine list. A few minutes elapsed before the owner approached. “Have you chosen your wine?” he asked politely. But, before I could answer, he commented: “When you were here last, you had the Cervaro.” I was stunned by the comment, because I knew he was right. It appeared to me like a party trick, for I could not believe that out of the 10,000 customers he had served since I was last there, he could remember what wine I had ordered the year before.
“You are correct,” I answered, “but how do you know that”
The answer was simple.
“You sat on that table over there,” he answered, pointing across the room. “And you ordered the Cervaro.”
I nodded. “Yes, but how did you remember?” I asked, still confused by his strange ability. “I love wine and I remember people by the wine they enjoy.” Sebastiano was a great host and I got to know him well before he retired. Cervaro della Sala is still my favourite wine.
We were sitting in a restaurant in Burgundy, nothing special until we saw the wine list. There was a Burgundy for 1600 euros. We speculated who would buy such a pretentious bottle - a business man, perhaps, to impress colleagues? A sugar daddy seducing a glamorous model?
When the waitress came, we asked her if she had ever sold such a bottle? ‘Mais naturellement! In fact the couple two tables down are waiting for one that cost 1200 euros,’ she whispered.
My wife had a perfect view but I had to strain my neck round, pretending to watch a passing motorbike.
Two tables down was the back of what appeared to be a young man and facing him was a wizened, very old lady.
Time for speculation. We agreed the old lady’s will must be at stake.
But when the sommelier brought the bottle, it was the old lady who looked at cork and swilled a few drops round her mouth. And when the waiter poured the wine, the young man refused any. My wife reported later that Madame had drunk the whole bottle and appeared ro pay the bill.
Had we just witnessed one of the most refined palates in France?
My younger daughter is married to a Frenchman. His parents, Serge and Yvette, live in a small village near Saumur on the Loire; their garden gate opens out on to vineyards as far as the eye can see. They are very proud of their local wines and with good reason.
One evening several years ago we joined a gathering at their home of their friends and relatives which of course revolved around the wines. I produced a bottle of Chapel Down Bacchus (from the Society of course), covered the bottle and said, “Try this. All I want to know is what country do you think it comes from?”
They agreed it was “vraiment bon” but were dumbfounded about its origin. When I said “Angleterre!” they said “Non! C’est impossible!” And then grudgingly “Mais, ce n’est pas mauvaisl”. So it went from “really good” to “not bad” when they realised it was English. Praise indeed from the French!
I attended the wedding of my cousin in California a few years ago. The reception was held in a vineyard high above Monterey Bay. The views were spectacular and as the sun went down the atmosphere was truly magical. The dinner was barbecued steak and the wine a Californian red I had not come across before, McManis Petit Syrah. It was an incredibly rich and fruity wine which complimented the steak wonderfully. Although I thought there was little hope of ever tracking it down at home, I took a picture on my phone. Imagine my surprise when on my return home, the first site I tried, obviously The Wine Society, had the exact bottle!
150,000 on the clock, no door seal, no passenger side lock, air-con broke, CD broke, indicator broke, bonnet and bumpers bruised, bits missing. The reasons for my guilt as I handed the Valet the keys to my 14 year old Peugeot. I hope he’s got 2 white Jackets, theres lots of chocolate melted in that seat.
Instructed the bags would be in our room, we were escorted through the grounds to Reception. Staff greeted us by name while sipping Champagne, already the best birthday treat ever. Welcome to Quat’Saisons.
The sommelier was old school, immaculate with a nose built for sniffing wine! If all the staff hadn’t been French I would’ve sworn, like me, he’d mastered the language watching ‘Allo, ‘Allo. I hid my wine knowledge, gladly absorbing his, each question enthusing him more.
It was time. Desert. Even as a wine tutor, it had hitherto alluded me, Chateau d’Yquem.
No bias, no pedestal. Objective judgement.
The sommelier stooped in anticipation, the silence deafening. I paused thoughtfully, computing my findings. What should I say? I just smiled, completely speechless…
Gratified, the Sommelier bent slowly to my ear and whispered knowingly, grinning as he nodded, “…I remember my first time”!
Congratulations: New Member(s) of the Month
For my husband’s 75th birthday in 2016 (and my 70th) we invited friends from all over the UK to join us for a celebration in mid Wales. The weather was perfect and the various good, varied, but not too expensive wines were relished by our 35 guests.
As we settled down for our evening meal my brother-in-law announced that he had a special gift of wine for my husband. We were asked to blind taste and guess what it was. It was a very sweet wine and I suggested it might be a Banyuls, but had no feel for the vintage or grape. It was exquisite deep amber, with hints of fig, marmalade, and red fruits.
My Banyuls suggestion was quite close. The wine turned out to be a 1941 Rivesaltes from Chateau Sisqueille. 1941 was the year of my husband’s birth so a very appropriate gift. The grape was grenache.
The history of the wine was fascinating. It had been made in the Second World War and left in its oak barrels untouched until the early 20th century because of the wartime disruption. Some-one at the Chateau decided to taste it and was amazed to find it in perfect condition - delicious and very saleable at around £100. Bottled in 2012 straight from the barrel. My husband and I would rate at 9.5 out of 10, but we love the similar Banyuls and Maury sweet wines.
We consumed in 2016. It would have lasted until 2035, but we might not have been around to enjoy then.
I like Burgundy. And in 2010 I had the chance to visit family in Australia. Some research showed that the Yarra Valley would be in reach. The darling son was left with the family and a trip to pinot noir growers took place.
It was about the third winery where I was impressed with the wine. But my nose was used to the seductive smell of a Burgundy wine, and rather missing that aspect.
The chap at the winery poured me a glass of another red and passed it to me. “Yes! That’s it!”
Finally I had found the sort of wine I was searching for.
The chap turned to me and said.
“This is the wine that we have made for us in France.”
Since then, I have never been tempted to emigrate.
Why i am glad i studied physics upto A Level
I am in Benidorm with temperatures around 30C.
When I am on holiday I buy good value local wine (superior to that which is sold in bars), and enjoy it in my room. Unfortunately my hotel room, being “no star class”, does not have a fridge. You can hire one but it would have cost ca.75e for a two week stay. not value for money. So I was resigned to drink only red wine.
Until, that was I remembered my A-level physics. When you add ice to water, the temperature of the mixture remains at 4C untill all the ice has melted. furthermore water has a high ‘specific heat capacity’ namely ‘c’. that means the amount of heat a unit mass of a substance can store. So if i get a pint glass fill it partially with water containing ice cubes and then float a glass of white wine in it, within 10 mins the wine is cooled to optimum drinking temperature of 10C.
Cheers mate, and a silent payer in memory of Mr.Anandanayagam, who was such an excellent Physics master(in Mount Lavinia Sri-Lanka). QED (Quod erat demonstrandum).
By the way I am enjoying a lovely Albarino Rias Baixas D.O.
I was in my early twenties. Thus far, my drinking habits were beer-related. But my father had re-married after my mother’s premature demise, and his new wife was French. Suddenly his drinking sights shifted from beer and malt whisky to wine. I came back home one weekend, late on Friday evening, and shared a glass of pinot noir with the two of them, and suddenly beer, real ale or otherwise, was no longer the be-all and end-all of my drinking aspirations. I was born again. I don’t think I have tasted a wine since that made such an impact - and I am typing this after a glass of pinot noir this evening. (Rev!) Trevor Smith
Congratulations on reaching your 112th year! I am encouraged by the preservative qualities of that wine. I’m gonna get some!
Back in the 90’s we stumbled across a country house hotel called Invercreran, between Oban and Fort William on the west coast of Scotland. It was an intimate, beautiful spot, the menu was fantastic and we asked the Sommelier for something different. He recommended Chateau Musar. We were blown away and have collected it ever since. We’ve tasted vintages from 1968 upwards - it is a truly astounding wine but is not to everyone’s taste! The history of the vineyards during civil war in Lebanon is testament to the determination and resilience of the family. I really believe everyone should try this wine - they may not like it, but alternatively they might develop a life long love affair! Sadly Invercreran ceased being a hotel and reverted to a private house several years later, but without them, we might never have discovered our favourite wine.
Wow!!! Is this a typo?? … otherwise I’ll have what you’re drinking
It was 1968 . We had just got married and our honeymoon consisted of driving down France in my MGB to the Costa Brava.We went by motor rail to Calais and drove to Chateaudun but arrived late at the campsite . We pitched the tent and at about 9pm and ,tired and hungry we went to find some food at the campsite restaurant. It was shut but there was a lovely French lady there who took pity on us and gave us a cheese and ham baguette.and the most deliciuos white wine . In our early twenties in 1968 we did not have a clue what good French wine tasted like .It was obviously a vin ordinaire but it tasted like nectar.I will never forget it.
Imagine an evening in west London, October 15th 1996, eight friends gathered to celebrate my 37th birthday. It was an oportunity for old friends to meet a new one of mine. A dear friend had given me a bottle of her late father’s port, a Graham’s 1948. The dinner went well, all were happy. With the cheese, I passed a decanter of the '48. As it passed round the table and tentative sips were taken conversation ceased. This was the real thing. A great vintage which was at its magnificant prime. The subject of conversation changed to the nature of history (amidst much swirling and sniffing) and we were elevated to another plane. We all met again when I married my new friend sixteen months later.