My wine history
A friend asked me to tell her my wine history and it got me thinking. Why do I love it, what’s so fascinating that I can talk about it for hours? It is in our daily lives, neighbours bring it as a house-warming gift, we drink fizz as a celebration, it has its own list in a restaurant. However it is a subject that strikes fear into the heart of many, there is much nonsense spoken of it and a large degree of snobbery around it. Some people seem petrified that a friend will laugh at the wine they bring for dinner or a waiter will snigger up his sleeve as you order a wine totally ‘unsuited’ to the meal. To my mind it doesn’t really matter. If you like the wine and the food match then who cares about the ‘rules’, I’d sooner you brought a bottle of something you like and I don’t than you turning up empty-handed!
So what is my ‘wine history’ as was asked? Mmmm….never much liked it, meaning I had only ever had Jacobs Creek white with a girl circa 1995. Then post graduation I suddenly needed a job. Through a friend I got one in Oddbins in June 1997. I can still remember first day. It was in my home town of Paisley. I bought my first t-shape corkscrew (which I’m still using today), tried my first Sauvignon Blanc, it was Villa Maria (1995 or 96 I guess) and I got 50 quid as my first credit card transaction was a stolen AMEX. As I said, Paisley.
But that first Sauv Blanc had me hooked. Grass and gooseberries, I’d never heard of wine from New Zealand or tried a bottle of that value but that first taste was a journey on an adventure that is still continuing. To this day Sauvignon is my favourite white grape and makes my hair stand on end when the flavour of cut grass shines through. I went through my WSET wine certificates and developed a confidence. Moving to the Fine Wine shop in Glasgow was a revelation. Who pays £165 a bottle in 1998 and what is in this bottle called d’Yquem anyway? Names meant nothing back then. But with Ken the manager (still a good friend) as a guide I tasted my first Amarone, Pedro Ximenex and vintage champagne, a magnum of Lanson 1995. Monthly tastings, some blind soon teach you to pick a grape, a country, a climate, a characteristic. Wine was now a passion and finding the best quality at the lowest price a necessity for a sales assistant on £3 something an hour.
Holidays abroad started to open horizons further. Czech wine in Prague 2001. Do the Czechs even make wine? They do, some lovely indigenous cool climate whites. Rioja and cava in Barcelona 2002. Asking the Hungarian wine expert with the Irish accent if he had any Tokaji at the wine museum in Budapest 2004 and him looking around and smiling as he said ‘we only give it to those who know to ask!’. What an amazing wine it is. too!
Small independent wine shops and foreign business trips were a revelation on the rare the occasion they were chanced upon as the passion started to wane with supermarket offerings of the groundhog day variety. Then I discovered Naked Wines in 2010 and what a revelation, great wines, great ethos and fab winemakers.
I’m very much an enthusiastic amateur. I can match wine with food, tell you the characteristics of grapes, maybe even pick them out of a blind tasting. But it’s all fun. My friend Paul from Oddbins followed his dream and is now winemaker for Cape Mentelle in Margaret River. Now that is serious talent and for some it is a labour love. Am I envious? You’re damn right I am!
As for me. I love Sauvignon, white Rioja, Gavi, Prosecco. Don’t like overly oaked Chardonnay. For reds I like body but also acidity. Love Rioja reserva, Ribero del Duero, big Spanish reds. My favourite grapes as opposed to regional styles are Malbec and good Pinot Noir. I also really like good port and sherry from the driest manzanilla to the sweetest PX, regard Madeira and Marsala as a treat and Icewine as ambrosia.
I love the interesting people I’ve met through a passion for wine, like Paolo in Rovinj in Istria, Croatia. We got chatting to him the first night we visited his wine shop/bar, Bacchus and went back every night to taste the stunning array of Croatian wines, any of which he’d open and we’d taste together. His passion for local wines and for sharing them was a real highlight. Tonight I am going to the Naked Wines event in Edinburgh and can’t wait to meet the winemakers who produce the wines I’ve blogged about here. They are the real stars alongside the grapes. If you haven’t started your wine history then you should today, it’s a fascinating never ending journey. Just trust your nose and tastebuds, they are your best friends.