Gordon Wilson writes, ‘I am 44, married to Julia with 2 boys aged 9 and 12, living in SW11. We are fortunate to have an old coal cellar underneath the pavement in front of our house which I have converted into a wine cellar which can hold about 350 bottles. In my spare time I love to cook (I’ve found this pairs well with wine drinking), I am a keen off-piste telemark skier who can also be found hacking around a golf course (two sports for which I find a wine fuelled lunch is integral to the day).’ This is his (unedited) entry in our seminal wine competition.
There are two events in my life that are integral to my relationship and love of wine, one is definitely a ‘seminal moment’ but the other more an experience than a moment. I cannot decide which is more important, perhaps the answer is neither...
The first goes back to 1991, I had just left school and had found my first job as a general dog’s body/extra pair of hands working for a family in the middle of the Highlands running a ‘B&B-with-evening-meal’. It was a great fun 6 months and I learned the basics of service, how to prepare for a lavish dinner party every night, entertain guests, work for tips, and still be up first thing to let the dogs out. The one quirky aspect was that more often than not we would eat with the guests in quite a formal dining room with a long mahogany table that could sit about 14.
One morning the boss and I were clearing up, and we came across a half drunk glass leftover from a particularly fine night before. We both looked at each other, that knowing look, and without a word he took a small swig and handed the glass over to me to finish. We reckoned it was about a tenner’s worth each. It still had all the complexities of the night before but if anything there was a little more intensity and power.
The previous evening I had tasted something extraordinary. It would and still does define my baseline of how wondrous, complex, delicate, sublime, lingering…and let’s face it – delicious a glass of wine could smell and taste. The different impacts this liquid gold made as it moved from the front to the middle and then back of my mouth, and how its flavours evolved from the initial sip to the final swallow and beyond. While I thought I had experienced a reasonable and varied selection of ‘good’ wine, (naïve at 18 I know) this was something else, this was truly from the gods.
Most of the guests tended to be parties of 8-12 who were up for a week’s fishing on the local Salmon River. That week included the Beat’s owner and a number of his guests, including a taxidermist with size 14 shoes (another story) and a wine merchant. The wine merchant had brought with him a few bottles and before dinner that evening he’d asked me to chill a couple bottles of pudding wine. “Chateau DUgen 70” the label said (or so I thought) as I popped them into the fridge. Little did I know at the time or indeed the following day how seminal this would become. To this day, clearing up that morning after is still the finest breakfast I have ever had.
My second experience may sound very melancholy, but it is the seminal experience that converted me from a wine drinker to a wine buyer (I don’t think I am a wine collector, but some may). My father died quite suddenly, on holiday in the middle of the Tanzania bush. As distressing as it was, one of my many tasks was to go through his wine cellar and wine reserves he held with a well know wine society, (which, incidentally, he had recently made me a member of). While the primary purpose of the task was to value the wine for probate, (somewhat superfluous as all was going to my mother) I entered into the old world (albeit new world to me) of en primeur, buying wine while it was still in barrel, having it bottled and then stored, holding it for a number of years before drawing it down and drinking it many years later. In hindsight this was no 5 star cellar, just a collection of good solid clarets, a few cases of port, and one case of Chateau Palmer ’83. But to me at the time, going through this process I realised that there was a whole area of my Father’s life we had never really discussed before, and now would never have that chance…. So many questions sprung to my mind: what were the wines that had gone before? What had happened in the summer of ‘84 for such a splurge? An unexpected work bonus, an investment scheme that had matured, an inheritance we never knew about (he was the only child of only child parents so I am convinced not), may be it was a generous thank you from someone. I would never know, but it did make me wonder, I do hope that on his death bed he didn’t think ‘Bugger, I should have pulled that Palmer out sooner!’
Shortly afterward the 2005 en primeur offers were released I decided to plunge myself into this world (not a bad year to start) and sought a couple of cases from those houses and Chateaux my father had previously bought from (sadly the Palmer was out of the budget). And most years since I have bought a case or two, expanded my horizons to the Rhone, Burgundy (even, sacre-bleu, some forays into non-French wine!) and have visited Epernay and Cote de Beaune a number of times, especially in search of the whites of Meursault and Puligny Montrachet.
My two sons have some port laid down for them and I have established a small cellar for my three godsons to which I add a case to every 3-4 years. Hopefully in about 10 years’ time we can sit down and enjoy a few bottles together. Perhaps my finest seminal wine moment has yet to come, what if they get that same feeling I got at their age when I first tasted that small glass of 1970 Chateau D’Yquem.