Wednesday, September 21, 2016

My Life in Wine

Koko, a bruschetta and a sauvignon
I've never been much of a drinker and indeed was teetotal until I was about 25 and drank mainly coke.  I never acquired a taste for beer, probably because my father hardly drank it, and didn't like the effects of alcohol - and still don't. But after I was given champagne at Annie Ommanney's wedding and became laughing drunk, I took up drinking wine which I came to love. My friend Charlie Skipwith sent into the wine trade at the end of the 60s and went to study at the Ginestet's at Chateau Margaux and I visited him and became interested in its production. By the 70's I was spending quite bit of time reading about wine and visiting wine regions in France. My bible was a book by Alexis Lichine called 'An Encyclopaedia of Wines and Spirits'. He endeared himself to me by writing: 'How does one drink a Chateau d'Yquem? On one's knees with one's head bared'. Hugh Johnson on Wine was another regular source of information - and my father made me a member of the Wine Society whose catalogues were most informative.

Soulutre in the Macon 1979

In time I started to acquire some serious wines and even kept a cellar book at Harvestgate. Charlie Skipwith gave me a dozen Leoville Las Cases and Nick Duke and I bought a case of Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1970 to share and these and other wines were stored in my father's cellar st Stocks. There were two drawbacks to this. One was that he would go down and help himself to them (and why not?). The other was that the cellar flooded in wet years and many bottles lost their labels (though this also encouraged one to draw their corks to see what they were....)

The first two pages of the cellar book dated December 1979
The first two pages of the cellar book dated December 1979
For a while I also bought wine at Christie's wine sales with another friend, Bruce Harris, but our enthusiasm dimmed somewhat when we paid quite a bit for a 1961 Chateau Tasta which turned out to be undrinkable.

I was lucky to be introduced to Australian and New Zealand wines early on. Once I spent a happy afternoon with a business colleague at Len Evans's wine bar in Sydney drinking Petaluma riesling and on another memorable occasion my brother-in-law, Peter Crittle and I selected three bottles of Grange Hermitage from his extensive cellar, drunk them at a sitting and ended up sleeping face-down on the lawn. In New Zealand, our business was looked after by Ian McKay, a well known local figure who had a share in the Cloudy Bay vineyard that began that country's rise to wine prominence.

In Japan, I soon grew to love sake (more properly a beer rather than a wine) and sought out the finer drier sakes from Niigata (like Hakubai) to go with sashimi and other delicacies. I still love them though find them impossible to get at home, even in good restaurants.

Devil's Lair

I no longer maintain anything like a cellar, but I do buy small quantities of wines that I really like and which are worth opening with friends who appreciate them. Although with the right food it's difficult to beat the mouth-filling properties of Yarra Yering 'Agincourt' (Cabernet Merlot), mostly I prefer to drink lighter wines, preferably Pinot Noir, the best of which I think come from Central Otago - like Mt Difficulty, Neudorf or Felton Road. My favourites whites are Devil's Lair from Margaret River. Far Niente from Napa (both chardonnays) and the exceptional new Spanish whites such as Lapola. All winemaking seems to have undergone a great transformation in recent years and lovely wines at reasonable prices abound, and although one can still find absolutely delicious French wines (such as Gevrey-Chamertin) at a price, I do still have difficulty with many French wines that seem not to meet the taste grade.

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