Alexandra Anderson writes, ‘I live in Dublin. My early years were spent in Nigeria, and I have also lived in Spain and Australia. My people are from Galway on the west coast of Ireland which had a flourishing wine trade with France and Spain in the past. Perhaps something of it has passed down through the genes. Four years ago I closed my office door on a long and rewarding career in academic administration at Trinity College Dublin, my alma mater, and signed up for the WSET Level 2 Certificate in Wine. Last June I sat my final WSET Diploma exams. It has been a fascinating journey, and challenging too! Not working in the wine business has had its drawbacks, but hopefully will not stand in the way of new opportunities!’
Social gatherings in Nigeria where I grew up revolved around curry lunches, drinks at The Club, or dinner at one of the few good non-native restaurants, all well- lubricated by liberal quantities of gin & tonic, whisky soda or Star lager (lemonade with bitters for kids). After a stint in my late teens in the wasteland (vinous and otherwise) of 1970s Northern Ireland, and with my imagination fired by the dangerous rhythms of Lorca’s ‘Romancero Gitano’ and the torrid drama of El Greco’s paintings, I packed my bag and headed for Spain in search of heat, colour and adventure. Here too I found wine – dark heady tinto from the barrel, great jugs of it to accompany pinchos, chorizo a la sidra or ample platters of enormous sardines. But Asturias in those days produced coal and steel, not wine. I had never seen a vineyard and gave no thought to where the wine came from or how it was made. My first consciousness-raising glass came later, when my father took me out to dinner one evening during my first year in university. The wine he chose for me was no bulls’ blood tinto; this wine was cool, pale lemon in my glass, subtle, elegant, sublime! A Johannisberger Riesling! It was as if a mysterious path opened up before me, beckoning. What other discoveries might await me ahead? I stepped into the path and haven’t looked back.
Wine exploration for me is a journey in a literal sense too. Living as I do in a non-wine-producing country, my most memorable wine experiences are associated with travelling through landscapes graced and shaped by the vine and the people who tend them. The terms in my textbooks take on tangible meaning. The wine in my glass is a liquid essence of the place; its fruit ripened by the sun on my back, acidity from the cool breeze, tannins taste of earth and stone. The verticality of vineyard slope is balanced by the horizon line. Harmony in the vine rows curving to a long finish along the contours. Who could not be stirred by the stone majesty of the terraced vineyards of the Douro, curve on curve to the far horizon? I can taste the sun, strength and endurance in my glass! That rich, dark sun-brew from the baked Barossa, opulent yet muscular! How poignant the tiny old planting of vines clinging to the rocks high up in Ribeira Sacra and harvested against all odds! Persistent, vivacious even, in my glass of mencía. Or the densely-planted rows of precious vines on the Cote d’Or – complexity and layers of refinement in the long finish of my expensive glass! How startling the apple green of summer vineyards in Limoux framed by wild grey rocky heights topped with Cathar strongholds! Old-style appley fizz to enjoy in the market-place or new-style chardonnay, exuding the self- confidence of the busy local co-ops. There’s a strange yogurty thing going on in my glass; perhaps some small cellar in the green upland cow pastures of the Jura? How lovely the red rose, early warning system for mildew, gracing row ends in a small family vineyard in the Pfalz! Half-board on the Amalfi coast; tonight a dark ruby Furore or Sangre de Cristo from an old pergola-trained vineyard half way up the mountain, with tannins gifted by stone and sun, acidity preserved by altitude and the Tyrrhenian wind. That hill-top village opposite my breakfast window is little Barolo, peaking above the morning mist, quiet, guarding secrets; what alchemy produced the wine I drank there last night?
Of course I know there is more to wine than vineyard! The different grape varieties share with us their individual bounteousness; stainless steel and SO2, oak and time play their part; growers, wine-makers and blenders gift us their labour, skill and ambition; and legions of brokers, traders and retailers put bottles on the shelf for us to purchase. I know that much of the wine in those bottles may have little connection with any one place. I know too that many fine wines are complex blends of wines from different grape varieties and sites, even vintages. I have been fortunate to enjoy fine wines from places that I have never visited and of which I have no physical impression. Nevertheless, for wine romantics like me, there is a very unique pleasure in drinking in the vinified fruits – honestly-made, however simple or sophisticated – of a most particular place! I still haven’t made it to the Rheinghau, home of the great Johannisberger, but when I get there I will sip its nectar facing full south on that noble slope over the great Rhine, and give thanks!