It was the last meal of a wine tour before leaving for home and it was a glass of Angelo Gaja Barbaresco. I don’t know what year, I don’t know why a restaurant in Umbria chose to sell it by the glass, and it wasn’t mine. The friend who pushed the boat out and spent more on a glass than I usually do on a bottle very kindly shared it. The perfume was miraculous but that taste! After a few days touring and tasting at the local wineries my palate was finely honed and the right vocabulary was lined up in my brain. In that one velvety mouthful they vanished to be replaced with the sort of inarticulate moans of pleasure you really don’t expect to hear in public. The best I could do to sum up the Gaja experience was Phwoar!!! But the memory of that moment still hasn’t faded.
It was years since we had discovered that small vineyard in the Dordogne, a recommendation from the owner of our gite. The subsequent visit felt like being ushered into some secret society. The tastes of the wines reflected that. We bought, drove home, drank, basked in the pleasure and repeated year after year. The children grew. We made different holiday choices, but the magic remained in the memory. Then, the Wine society rode to the rescue. They discovered the same vineyard. I recognised the wine. The order was placed. The wine, Tour de Gendres, tasted of treasured moments and tiny joys. It was fine wine, but it was more than wine. It was lost years, the sound of play, hours on bikes revelling in the moment and still looking forward to the returning glass, it was the pleasure of food. The best wine always does this, It makes connections, it awakes senses, it touches the heart. It gives a "wow’ that is the quiet exhalation of absolute pleasure.
On the last evening of our summer holiday, my wife and I were driving home with our 18 year old son, stopping at a small inn in Burgundy. We dined outside in the warm evening’s golden sunset, and I ordered a celebration bottle of Meursault. It was the inn’s most expensive wine, last on the list, at 140 francs, say £14. The waiter sucked in his breath and squared his shoulders before scurrying off. After quite a long time, he came back with the wine. “It is the last bottle, monsieur,” he said. “I had to search the cellar.” He uncorked the bottle, sniffed it, nodded and reverently poured three glasses. He went from table to table crossing the wine off each copy of the wine-list, while we all sipped. The wine was magnificent.
I lost my record of the wine and could never drink it again, but some years afterwards I mentioned that holiday to my son. He remembered it well, particularly the Meursault at the last dinner. “That was the first time,” he said, “that I realised that some wines are a better than others.” I felt that I had done my job as a father.
Aug 29 2018 Wine Society entry
It was back in 1974 and I had been shopping in Tesco Tiverton where I bought a simply named Tescoown Claret.
I thought nothing more of it until it was opened ready for drinking one Sunday lunchtime with some roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.
The bouquet hit the nose in its fullness and complexity and on examining the cork the words Clos L’Ėglise were clearly imprinted.
Goodness knows how but I was now in possession of a top class Pomerol, with wonderful concentrated ripe dark red berries
Coffee, chocolate, plum, earth, flora, and vanilla aromas filled the mouth for a taste of the finest wine that I had ever tasted up to that time.
On the Monday I rushed back to Tesco to snap up any remaining Tesco claret – all four bottles still left.
Home again, I opened one– alas no Clos L’Ėglise this time just a plain simple naked cork!
Gone was the complexity of a great wine, I was back to plain simple supermarket plonk and to this day I have never known how an unforgettable Pomerol wine came to be sold as a simple Claret.
But the memory of the wine lingers on 44 years later.
Just off the main road from Sydney to Melbourne sits sleepy Rutherglen. Utterly unremarkable in many ways, it nevertheless has two places worth visiting: a renowned (albeit down-to-earth) pie shop and a number of vineyards whose output is very much geared towards the sticky. It was 2015 and I was attached for a year to the Australian Defence Force. There were so many places to visit and so little time, but Rutherglen had been personally recommended by an Air Chief Marshal. It seemed wrong to disobey him.
We soon found ourselves at the All Saints vineyard, wondering at its Bordeaux-like formality. With two teenage sons diverted in a fruitless search for the snakes that several signs warned them to avoid, my wife and I were keen to taste the full product range. Spirits were high amongst the staff; the last two half-bottles of a special edition pudding wine had been bought the preceding day by a Chinese lady at A$1000 a throw and they were feeling generous. The more affordable wines were deliciously cool, generally light in style and as sweet as the plumpest of raisins. Not to be recommended, however, as a match with the meat pies that followed.
I was 18, greedily hitch-hiking alone round France, improving my school French. Everywhere people seemed anxious to give me generous tastings of local produce; cheese, charcuterie, prunes! (in Agen), and of course, wine. I was in a village in the Aveyron, with the sister of a Parisian friend, whose ‘notaire’ husband had an excellent cellar. Puzzlingly one evening he asked me for my year of birth. “1949”. He looked a little crestfallen. “I like to offer my guests a wine of their birth year, but… Ah, I think I have some 1948 Rhones, if you’ll forgive me?” A dusty bottle of a Chateauneuf-du-Pape was gently cradled up the stone steps and tenderly uncorked. At first it seemed to smell a bit stale, but as it aired, even my undeveloped nose and palate realised that this was a different beast; not just a tasty drink, but a journey. Here were depth and structure, almost a narrative to be decoded; hints and echoes of past glories that blazed across the tongue and faded like a sunset in the aftertaste. I was enchanted, immensely grateful and a little ashamed at the way that I’d unthinkingly quaffed most wine until then. I haven’t since.
As an obsessive curator of the new and unusual, I often order wines hidden deep within the wine society website. Over the last 18 months I have been trying a range of Spanish wines, which has been a variable but rewarding experience. The interest piqued, my wife suggested a visit to Rioja would be allowable, provided we could take in some horse-riding. A deal was struck and this summer Brittany Ferries transported us to Santander. We arrived in Haro, the capital of Rioja wine, a beautiful town, where we stayed in an ancient charming hotel. We spent the mornings trekking on horseback over the Spanish landscape with my amiable horse Phillipe trotting, cantering, wading through rivers and even galloping up the rows of vines (not sure we were supposed to do that!). In the afternoons we sat in the stables for lengthy Spanish lunches, trying a variety of whites, roses and reds, accompanied by a great variety of tapas. The hot sun, beautiful landscape, horses gently wickering, combined with the food and wine created such a wow, I will not forget it in a hurry. I hope to be regularly reminded by the 5 cases we brought back with us.
My parents had an old house with a cellar, in which my father used to keep, towards the end of his life, very few bottles. When he was dying in 1987, I was home for the weekend, and my mother suggested I fetch a bottle about which we knew nothing. The label had rotted off but it was sealed with a wax seal - special, I thought. I treated it with respect, and opened it very carefully to reveal a cork which indicated it had been bottled in 1906, and so was 81 years old. It was port. It is the best port I have ever drunk, and last alcohol that my father drank. Even my mother, a non drinker, joined in and had a small glass. On returning home 3 weeks later, for the funeral, I tasted what remained of it again, and it had lost its ‘bloom’, but I won’t forget that poignant moment, and the quality of the wine, the month before.
Time to explore La Rioja, we thought. That night in the bar we chatted about our planned visit with one of the neighbours. His family sells corks to the cider makers of Asturias. And, it turned out, his brother is based in Haro and sells corks to the bodegas of the Rioja Alta. He would find us a family bodega to visit!
Three months later we rang the bell at just such a bodega in a hill village not far from Haro. It didn’t start well. They’d completely forgotten we were coming, but soon we were being shown around the winery and cellars.
Three hours later, by now firm friends, we were still sitting around the tasting room table swapping stories, unable to decide between the Crianza and the white made from the five traditional grape varieties of the area. ‘Iechyd da’ was written on the end wall along with toasts in dozens of other languages.
We ordered, we loaded up the van, but when we came to pay their system was down. We set off home with their bank details on a page torn from a notebook. And we’ve been going back every year since that magical day.
A comfortable candlelit autumn night in 2008. We dine at a circular table for twelve where silver service introduces the fine fare; my 50th with family and friends while children too young and too tired to care sleep blissfully in their cots in the corner.
My sister and daughter dislike wine. My father favoured Lambrusco in his day. Mother, dear thing, enjoys a glass of port. Brothers-in-law hover, expectant, like hopeful condors. Wives, it seems, prefer white, but perhaps just this once…
The gracious sommelier pours the Lafite, meticulously sharing my preciously hoarded, so assiduously cared-for wine; 1991 – hardly the most prestigious, but the most I could afford.
But the experience of it, the sumptuous appreciation; it changes people’s minds. For the rest of their lives they realise it is actually, wonderfully worth the price (especially if someone else has paid.) There is nothing else better shared. It lives with them, and with me still.
“What about the 2018 anniversary?” you rightfully ask, ten years on.
I have a case: '86 Pauillac, lovingly stored, mostly, by The Society, naturally.
We shall see how it turns out but, shhhh… (I tried it, secretly. It’s better)
A few years ago, we were fortunate enough to visit Syria - before the horror descended obviously. Following St. Paul’s footsteps through the old walled city, along the Street called Straight, we turned left into the Christian quarter and eventually found an appealing looking restaurant. Inside, the furnishings, ambience and menu were even more appealing. Having chosen our meal, I said to the elegantly imposing sommelier that we would like to drink Syrian wine with our meal, and what would he recommend. “I don’t think you would”, he replied. “Might I suggest Lebanese wine instead.” I had read of Lebanese wine, but had only ever tasted one very middling example. That evening I discovered the joy of Chateau Musar and heard the tale of the family’s perseverance through war and terror. A true revelation in an extraordinary setting. I now ensure that I always have a bottle or two to hand for when the mood grabs me - as it has while I pen this. It will be the perfect accompaniment to a rack of lamb, cooked in Levantine fashion, tonight
1995, and I’ve invited my business partners to dinner. One hands me a bottle and says “that’s for tomorrow night: don’t chill it, don’t decant it, and treat it with care”.
I’m intrigued; a plain black bottle, heavy wax cap, no label, some dirt on the outside. Maybe it 's a test, but without a label, how am I supposed to guess at the contents?
An hour before the meal, and I carefully use a Teflon corkscrew. The wax cap is brittle and comes away easily. The cork proves soft and short in length. I sniff (it’s sweet: quite unexpected). The wine is pitch black and I think “this is undrinkable”. I sample with trepidation: it proves superb.
Later, I am presented with the label. An 1891 Massandra, bought from Sotherby’s: their sale of the last Tsar’s Black Sea cellar.
The meal over, silence reigns. The assembly sips in quiet reverence. Here is a wine bottled before our grandparents’ birth, yet youthful still.
Truly the wine of my life.
Volnay. Dmn. H Boillot – 1959
Amazing find in my father’s garage March 28th 2010 (his 92nd birthday party) where it had sat undisturbed since 1971 and before that in the cellar of his former house. Very spoilt label but cork and level looked good. But 30 years in a garage?!
Drank, on its own, with my wife the following weekend at home whilst playing, loudly, some early 1960’s singles that I had forgotten I still had. Unbelievable!! One of the best wines I have ever drunk. Beautiful balanced taste, berries and maybe a hint of vanilla, everything in harmony. Perfect colour, medium ruby but absolutely “shining”, no aged rim. ‘59 must have been an amazing year!
Thanks Dad, the man who first introduced me to wine. (R.I.P. 2014) (Lifted from my tasting notes)
January 1995: I was getting married in August so obeyed my betrothed instructions and went to Christies in South Kensington to look at a furniture sale. It was a foul night and I had arrived early; looking around I heard affordable prices in one of the auction rooms where I found a wine auction in full swing. By the time I registered, read the catalogue and found a seat it was reaching the last few odd lots. I couldn’t help sticking my paddle up to some reasonable prices and bought a case of 1973 Corton for £70 and a case of mixed Sauternes for £65. Coutet, Climens, Suideraut – they were all there plus a bottle of Trockenbeerenauslese. We spent the spring/summer visiting friends and relations so there was no better present than a bottle of premier grand cru Sauternes! It did mean that my fiancée’s relations knew I liked good wine and they have never failed to deliver. So it wasn’t so much the single moment of the wine in the glass but the continued enjoyment from one evening sheltering from the rain in South Ken. We didn’t buy any furniture.
It had been a long hot day on the motorways getting from gig to gig. Gradually the cement hazed greyness of the M6 began to dissolve into the green valleys of North Wales and we arrived in the gorgeous town of Llangollen. After playing a super fun gig (but expecting the usual travelodge) we were delighted to find we were staying in town at Gale’s Hotel and Wine Bar. After discovering the free port (!) in the rooms (!!) I realised we were somewhere pretty special and so I hurried down the stairs two at a time to the bar. My French bandmate was politely but Gallically refusing the by-the-glass New Worlds on offer, so Pip the manager produced a sensually curved bottle of Delas Ventoux. As he poured it into my glass, I was struck by the thick, deep ruby colour. Then the aromas hit; deep, almost smoked, spice and dark berries. Tasting, there were more of these, together with hints of marzipan and rich, velvety texture. Several glasses later, we all went to bed extremely happy, full of new found affection for Pip, Gale’s and Llangollen itself, thanks to the Delas brothers’ beautiful bottle of warm, Rhone sunshine.
My back propped against a tree in warm sunshine, with a bucket of olives to my side and a bottle of Suvla Kinah Yapincak to hand. A warship turned lazy figures of eight in the bay in front of me, the scent of wild thyme and hot sand was carried on the breeze. The wild flowers formed a shadow on your headstone to my right, and the gentle hum of bees seemed to mingle with the waves lapping the shore. It seems hard to think how different this place must have been back then.
I re-read the letters you sent from this strange place called Gallipoli, to my grandmother. You talked about drinking peasant wine on the beach whilst being shelled, how it calmed your nerves. I suspect that this delicious wine I am drinking probably tasted better than yours did at the time.
You died on the beach in front of me.
I have come back to raise a glass to your memory. I left the cork at the base of your headstone. Rest you well Grandad., I wish I could have shared this bottle with you. You would have loved it, and I would have loved doing so.
In 1973, my wife and I were serving with the Royal Air Force in Germany. One weekend we drove down to the Mosel and meandered along following the river from Trier before deciding to stop in Trittenheim. As it happened, we stopped in front of Weingut Herr Josef Schmitt and this is where our interest in wine was first awakened. Trittenheim Apotheke 1971 was a revelation! The German wines we had tasted up to that point had been sweet and bland but we did not realise at the time that Apotheke was a particularly fine Einzellage and 1971 was an outstanding vintage. Herr Schmitt was a wonderful tutor; he guided us around his winery, offered a tasting of all his wines, fed and accommodated us for the night. What a way to start our wine education!
Years pass. We cannot fully describe the delight we felt when we saw Herr Schmitt’s Trittenheim Apotheke in the Society’s List a few years ago. Sadly, I feel it will have been produced by Herr Schmitt Junior but it was wonderful to drink it again after nearly 40 years. It was not, however, as good as the 1971 vintage!
“Bucket,” I shouted and a five gallon plastic bucket landed at my feet, thrown by Colin, an ex-Black Cat international, from a couple of rows away to replace my filled bucket of pinot noir grapes. We had travelled to Cromwell in Central Otago to see our first grandchild. Recently retired, I had a low boredom threshold and was useless with nappies, so I asked the owner of the local sheep station at Northburn if there was any chance of a job. The station had a seventy hectare vineyard, growing ‘sav blank,” riesling and pinot noir – known to the rest of the grandfather gang of pickers I joined as the old man’s drink, ‘Pee no more.’
Starting work on that first day at 6.00am I was ready for lunch at mid-day. We lined up for our Shepherd’s Pie served with a man sized glass of the vineyard’s Pinot Noir. My experience of this grape dated back to cheap stuff that tasted like old blackcurrant juice. All changed with my first mouthful of this rich and multi-layered wine – an explosion of rich velvet. As a tourist I couldn’t be paid cash wages for my work after five weeks’ work; our daughter received free winter fuel and my wife and I treasured our case of Northburn Station Pinot Noir.
It was a late lunch in South-West France. The guest of honour was a young American wine-maker of high reputation. Our host had produced a wonderful meal with a ten year-old Plan de Dieu Rhône Valley wine. He insisted that we drank it from his precious Riedel glasses. A second guest was a young hotelier, English, somewhat bombastic and keen to impress us all with his knowledge of all things vinous. We were outside and it was hot. The talk turned to Burgundy and the difficulties of obtaining wine from good properties. The young hotelier turned to the quietly spoken American: “Do you have any recommendations, Earle?” Earle looked into the far distance. “I’m afraid I know very little of Burgundies,” he said, then, after a pause: “The only wine I know well is Domaine de la Romanée- Conti”. We all turned towards him, utterly silenced by this remark. “How…?” gasped the hotelier. “Oh, that was where I was working.” Another pause while the hotelier’s jaw sagged. He tried to sit back in his chair; he lost his balance. Reaching desperately for the table, to right himself, he knocked over his wine glass which smashed, spilling its lees on the cloth. Our host gave him a look of intense dislike. I drank the last of my Rhône wine: it was deep, it was complex, it was delicious.
It’s November 2003. We’re flying to Barbados, Club Class. We haven’t been together long - just 4 months - and this is our first holiday together.
Paul is used to flying Club Class. Me - not so much. It’s British Airways - back in the days when they served proper wine on board.
Paul asks me if I’ve ever tried a Puligny Montrachet. The answer is no. My knowledge of white Burgundy extends as far as Chablis. A favourite of my parents and a staple in their household.
My white wine habits are still mostly Italian, with a bit of Loire thrown in. And Chablis, when at my folks. I think, therefore, that I know Burgundy. I think Chablis encapsulates it, defines it.
The stewardess brings the Puligny. My first sip.
Like nothing I have ever tasted. Flat, yet huge. Mineral, yet rich. Subtle, yet powerful. Earthy. Flinty. Even a little metallic. Not a hint of cream - nothing like a Chablis. Complex. Delicious. Addictive.
A love affair is born.