After waiting for five minutes in a typically sulky French town outside Chinon, we became aware of the gentle purring of a distant tractor. Laurent arrived shortly afterwards, and invited us into a cluttered barn full of boxes, bottles, and dust. I speak little French, he spoke no English, so we let the bottle we tasted speak for itself. Menu Pineau, unfiltered, fermented on the skins. It was the colour of slightly knackered apricot, like the underside of a cloud at sunset. It tasted like fresh and dried apricots, bergamot, and a host of other marvellous things like destiny and desire. I emptied my wallet. We emptied the bottle.
I had not seen my young sons for a while. They had moved to South Africa one as an Historian the other an organic vegetable grower. They both loved robust long red wines. From Oliver Tambo aerodrome (Joburg) we drove to the sensational Aughrabiies Falls. We climbed the rocks above the waterfalls to watch the sun set over the Orange river and Botswana. Magical. I had brought a bottle of Meerlust Cabernet Sauvignon with me. This is an exciting, enthralling and brooding red wine and it transformed that astonishing evening, it was unforgettable. Happily I have a bottle or two still, sadly it is not always available from the Wine Society.
This is not about tasting wine, but the anticipation of it! Yesterday, my wife and I visited the Wine Society shop in Stevenage for the first time. We really enjoyed the wide variety of wines on offer and it was nice to be able to browse actual wine rather than a website. The staff were very friendly and we even got a free coffee. For several years now we have been hankering after a very particular bottle of red Bordeaux, without yet being able to afford it. Towards the end of our visit, we wandered into the fine wine room, and were very excited to find a 2003 bottle of what we regard as the pinnacle of wines… Château Margaux! It wasn’t quite as expensive as I would have thought, and so although we still can’t really afford it, I think we might splash out regardless. Of course, we might be disappointed when we actually taste it, but having spent many happy years tasting reds from the immediate vicinity, I am quietly confident!
The most memorable wine and the most memorable wine experience are two entirely different matters. The second is far superior to the first since what stays with one is wine in the perfect circumstances (late summer holiday with the family); perfect location (in the hill village of Sancerre overlooking the Loire valley) and accompaniment (local goat’s cheese when quenching thirst is the main requirement). And, of course, in this context, drinking a white Sancerre of a recent vintage. A wine experience of this sort is earned in a way that wine on its own never can be, even when it comes to the finest of wines that can only be afforded by people with the deepest of deep pockets. Whether the particular Sancerre I had on that wonderful sunny day in France in the mid 1980’s was objectively any better than the many other bottles of Sancerre and of sauvignon blanc from other parts of the world, such as Cloudy Bay in New Zealand, I have enjoyed in slightly more mundane circumstances, it is impossible to prove, but that I still retain the memory of its characteristic aroma of freshly cut grass speaks volumes.
I like Champagne. I could not resist trying Les 7 when The Society started to offer it (how many knew that there are seven permitted grapes let alone that you can get a wine made from all seven?). My daughter-in-law is French and when we first went to her parents for Christmas, a couple of years ago, my role was to take some of the wines. Champagne to Paris – coals to Newcastle? Suffice it to say that her family, though French and not slow to drink Champagne, had never tasted one like it! A result!
I have now drunk five bottles of Les 7, all for special occasions. I have one left at the moment, earmarked for a lunch with a friend and her fiance before they get married next year. If ever a champagne bestowed bragging rights, this is it. Wow!
A twenty five minute walk from our harbour side apartment through pine forest leads to a stony beach with a few sun shades, and a small taverna at one end, with a raised terrace shaded by split bamboo and grape vines. Very little sound apart from waves lapping on the beach and then an elderly woman comes round for 250 Drachmas for use of the sunshade (yes, it was a few years ago). After some gentle swims and several chapters read, it’s time for lunch. Village bread (horiatiki), Greek Salad dressed with Olive Oil and small fish, the size of whitebait, caught by the taverna owner’s son, who had been out swimming with his net a few hours earlier, and to drink? A litre of water and a 50cl bottle of very cold Retsina with a crown cork, the resin tang being very taste of the pine forest we had walked through to get here. The perfect drink for the setting. And now, on the admittedly rare occasions we open a bottle of Retsina, I’m instantly back at the taverna, with a view of crystal clear waters and pine trees behind the beach.
As members of a Nottingham winetasting group, we went on a self organised wine trip to the Loire.
We went to see Rene Renou, who had a vineyard which grew Chenin grapes and made Bonnezeau , one of the classic sweet wines of France.
We were welcomed by this very large charming French man in a leather jacket ,who spoke excellent English
Rene was a very hospitable host and we tried a few of his wines which were young, had great acidity , a touch of sweetness, which needed to be laid down. Classic sweet Chenin which we have enjoyed over the years.
Rene said he was going to treat us to one of his last bottles of his father’s legendary 1945 Bonnezeau.
He then poured this very dark and golden liquid into glasses and we had this dense sweet wine to savour.
We were drinking a wine that had lain in cellars for 45 years.
It still had a touch of acidity, fabulous aromas, with beautiful honey flavours and intense raisin sweetness.
I now know what nectar of the gods taste like, Rene’s fathers 1945 Bonnezeau.
30 years ago we did a house exchange with a french family from the Loire valley.
During our stay we met Mme Filliatreau at a tasting in her vineyard in Saumur. We came away with two cases of her vielles vines red.
in 2010 we had a french house near Carcassone. On a trip to UK we stayed overnight in a small hotel near Rouen. Looking for a wine to drink with dinner we found they had half bottles of the Filliatreau red so we ordered one. It was most memorable with subtle tobacco notes. we toasted Mme Filliatreau with a wine she had produced before handing over to her son.
Oh boy that takes me back to Crete 40 years ago. Must admit that I never liked retsina though - tastes of petrol at room temp;)
My career was in international sales of Scotch Whisky. In the 1980s I was making my first visit to our distributor in Portugal for the Teachers brand, the port wine house Cockburn Smithes. I had flown to Lisbon, and then up to Oporto for Vila Nova: arriving late after a delayed flight and a tight connection. It was July, and hot. I was late, slightly stressed, over dressed, burdened by heavy luggage, and a taxi driver ignorant of the Cockburns company and how to get there.
At last – out of the taxi and into the blazing, blinding sunshine inside a walled courtyard – no one to be seen until a door opens at the top of some stairs. Out steps a man in immaculate cream linen suit, crisp white shirt and sober company tie …… carrying a glass.
Down he comes to greet me: “Hello – you must be Simon. My name is David. Have a glass of white port.” He hands me a copita of Cockburns White Port (‘Dry Tang’ as it was branded then), perfectly chilled, the condensation heavy on the outside.
My first experience of white port, served as it should be – by the very people who made it.
‘But I hate fizzy red wine!’
‘Just give it a try, Darling.’
My wife and I had arrived in Mantua the previous evening, a Friday, after a busy week sight-seeing in north eastern Italy. The Saturday morning lookIng to be cool but warming up, a visit to the Ducal Palace was followed by a wander around the city centre. The big Osteria in the piazza Erbe, full of locals, found us a table for lunch under the outside canopy.
Our waiter took very little time to persuade us to have Risotto Mantovana, just like most of his other customers were eating, made with excellent local pork sausage meat and decorated with pork crackling. He then brought our wine (again not a lot of choice) which was a slightly cool Lambrusco.
What a combination! The weather warming up, a simple but excellent lunch dish, a buzzy atmosphere and a wine which fitted the bill to perfection.
Needless to say, I have drunk Lambrusco many times since.
“What do you mean raspberries?”
My rioja-loving friends were begining to appreciate the pinot noir and gamay as we cycled the Route Verte through Burgundy and Beaujolais this June. But I was trying to explain that my perfect Burgundy has a very distinctive fruity taste that I hadn’t quite found yet.
Then we stopped off at a small bar in the centre of Morgon, Beaujolais to escape the midday sun, ordered three glasses of local red and there it was! A medium-bodied wine but a very full nose and a taste like a bag full of raspberries but not somehow not sweet. Just enough acidity at the start and gentle tannins to the finish allowed the fruit to really sing and gave the perfect balance.
It was better than the far more expensive wines we’d tried – I’m sure I was influenced by the location, weather and it being the first drink of the day but that’s what enjoying wine’s about after all.
It was the winter of 78/79. We were young and happy but flat broke (think going to the market late to get the veg bargains) and living in a cold grim flat in Balham, with its own friendly cockroach family. We could afford one bottle of wine a month, always Mateus Rose - all we knew. Then, in Sainsbury’s one Saturday, we saw a bottle of Beaumes de Venise red wine on offer at £2.99, just under budget. We bought it and rushed home to taste it. It thrilled us with its fruit and flavour so after that we aimed higher and looked further. We’ve bought wine all over the world since then but still love southern Rhône wines.
Mine’s “an” experience that takes place over many years…
We would holiday in France when I was younger and I was always amazed by the selection of wines in supermarkets. We had a copy of French Food in France by Richard Binns and I’d be sent to the wine aisle, book-in-hand to choose that evenings bottle(s).
I can remember on one visit seeing a 1985 St Emillion and remembering my new “bible” had told me this was a great area and fabulous vintage. I manage to persuade my father to by a bottle at 3 or 4 times the normal spending level…we didn’t drink that bottle but brought it back to the UK and many years later drank it together (sadly I can’t remember the producer)
This experience started my love affair with wine - learning about it (through the WSET), buying it (direct from the producer whilst on travels or through TWS (amongst others)), and the enjoyment coming from cellaring a young wine to maturity (originally under the stairs at my parents and now in my own cellar) but the biggest enjoyment still comes from sharing wine with friends and family.
I still have the book that started it all
Sharing a passion for wine with a penguin is not easy.
Kodak, the International Penguin of Mystery, is very well travelled and does not accept anything less than the exceptional. So, ordinary wine just will not do.
The first time Kodak and I tasted Ridge Chardonnay was an occasion I’ll always remember. The vintage was a 2007 and I remember clearly how, on swirling the vino for inspection, the liquid clung to the glass forming those beautiful church windows. We knew then there must be some sunshine in that glass and we both sniffed the bouquet expectantly. It did not disappoint. Ripe tropical fruit exploded onto the pallet and it lingered there. The biggest surprise, however, was yet to come.
As the deep golden nectar slipped down our throats, I saw Kodak’s little buttoned eyes light up as the incredible long, long caramel finish played on our taste-buds.
A moment of silence passed between me and the little penguin as we savoured the moment of discovery – a style of oaked Chardonnay that went beyond what either of us had ever experienced.
Kodak genuinely accompanies Kelly & his fiancée on their world travels, tasting wine all over the planet!
We arrive in Bourges as the day is fading. It’s a convenient stop coming home from Provence, our car laden with full-bodied Southern reds – Ventoux, Vacqueyras, Gigondas. Ed, our twentysomething son, is playing the grumpy teenager – grumpy about the car, grumpy about the walk through wind-swept streets, grumpy about the steady drizzle.
Our ‘Yellow Restaurant’ has painted exposed timbers, and a good wine list. With a smile I recall my friend Philippe, and take a rare punt on an affordable Bourgogne – a 2005.
La patronne smiles: “Un très bon choix, Monsieur.”
When the cork is pulled our mood changes. Suddenly aware of the treat in store, we sniff the air. There’s no need to taste – as each glass is filled the scent of fresh strawberries and redcurrants swirls around our table.
We savour the extra complexities in the glass, the length of flavour. Ed relaxes. My wife smiles. We recall other memorable bottles, and raise our glasses - “To Philippe!”
I tell them how, three years earlier I saw Philippe present his clinical research to six hundred medical specialists at a meeting in Chicago. He started his talk with a slide proclaiming the latest sensation:
Burgundy 2005 – Wow!
It’s Christmas night 1972. Thanks to a job change we’re still thrilled to have moved to a Cotswold village – in a Georgian house we could just afford to buy at auction. The children are settled in their beds and we’re snug in the firelight with a glass of wine. We don’t yet know that ahead of us are a dozen or more happy years here before work takes us north to a small Cheshire farm. And, thanks to a friend proposing me for Wine Society membership, years of splendid wines. Oh, and the wine we’re drinking? Just a modest Society claret (order number 246?) but made very special by the occasion.
Her hands were rough, the fridge door creaked as she reached down to pull out a bottle of liquid gold and began to pour the wine into a small glass on the counter in front of her.
The place: Macon TGV station; the time: 14.00 hours; the date: November 2008.
And me? I was en route to the ecumenical centre at Taizé. Hungry, thirsty and with a two-hour wait for the next bus. The woman at the kiosk had made me a delicious ham sandwich and I bit straight in to it. The only thing missing , a glass of wine.
When I asked for a glass of white, I had to take whatever I was offered. I watched apprehensively as Madame pulled the cork from a bottle that bore no label. Did I pay one euro or two? I can’t remember.
All I know is that this was, this is the best wine I have ever drunk. A Macon with roots deep down into the flinty chalk so ably retained within the glass. One sip, another. The sunshine began pouring in through the lens offered by this extraordinary experience.
A vision of wine heaven, or what?.
Many years ago I was a student in Sheffield. My course was quite demanding and I decided to treat myself to a nice bottle of wine when it was completed. But what to get? I knew very little about wine. I drank the stuff, but it was usually cheap reds from eastern Europe.
I’d seen a Claude Chabrol film (I was a student, remember) in which one of the characters bought a special bottle of wine to mark an important occasion. The wine was Chateauneuf-du-Pape. So, I thought, if that’s what the French drink on special occasions, that’s what I would get. I kid myself that the wine shop manager nodded approvingly as I made my purchase, which was many times more expensive than my usual Bulgarian cabernet. Was it worth it? Definitely! My first sip confirmed that this was several notches above anything I’d ever tasted before. An epiphany, a eureka moment, call it what you will. My surroundings may have been wanting; a student room warmed by a two-bar electric fire. But it didn’t matter. In that moment I was perfectly content.
It was in the late 1990’s and I was lucky enough to be working on a project in Melbourne Australia with my boss – a New Zealander living in the UK. On our first trip there we found a French bistro a few blocks up from the hotel. My boss picked out an Aussie wine from the comprehensive list. I liked wine but was at the basic level of liking simple southern French wines, a bit of Roija and maybe a bit of port. My boss ordered a bottle of Orlando Lawson’s Padthaway Shiraz. Wow ! I had never tasted anything like it. Incredibly powerful nose of black fruit and a wonderful eucalyptus and mint aroma that just blew me away. And a finish that went on and on. It went beautifully with the Australian meat – I think it was kangaroo steaks.
I was lucky enough to have several more trips and even brought back a case in my luggage that a friend had found on sale in a wine shop in Canberra. They couldn’t understand why I was so keen to get it and spending AUS$ 60 per bottle.
But it changed my wine life.