'Tim Carlisle has spent the last ten years working in the wine trade, always for or with Independent Wine Merchants having previously done all manner of other jobs from selling Walkmans, overseeing the repair and overhaul of planes at Stansted Airport to being a church youthworker. I studied biology at University with specialisms in areas such as soil science and the effect of pesticides and ecology so perhaps it isn’t surprising that its vineyards rather than wineries that float my boat. Today I work for Vindependents sourcing new wines and new merchants to work with.' This is his (unedited) entry in our seminal wine competition.
I grew up in a house where beer was only ever drunk in a pub, whisky was for after supper, gin before and sherry was served as a house blend of Fino and Amontillado (a third fino to two thirds Amontillado) before lunch on Sunday. Wine however was served with every cooked meal of the week.
The wine in question was invariably red, cheap and in winter served quite warm (either from being warmed on the boiler or worse still stood for half an hour by the open fire). On Sundays my parents might open a bottle of that had been carefully chosen on our summer trips to France. I say carefully – this was a household that when we ran out of wine my paretns bought bottles of ‘Old Git’ in the supermarket having carefully chosen a name. Another regular favourite was ‘Pisse-Dru’ bought to much merriment about a particular teacher, Mrs Drew who perhaps enjoyed a glass more often than not. However it was during the week that the real crimes appeared – fortunately I was only allowed my watered down Pisse-Dru on a Sunday – in the form of wine boxes – usually I seem to remember Vin de Pay d’Oc from Stowell’s of Chelsea which were sat on the boiler to keep them warm or perhaps a bottle of Piat d’Or because as we all know this is what the discerning Francophile should be drinking in homage to the nation they adore.
When I turned 18 and could then legally drink what I liked, when I liked perhaps it was no surprise that it was to beer I turned and so it was throughout my university years. A year on from graduating I was sent a dictum from my parents that I was required to attend a Sunday lunch at my Uncle and Aunt’s house to celebrate my Father’s birthday. Now I was 21 at the time, earning virtually nothing but I did know that when you went to lunch you take a bottle of wine with you, and so having read something, heard something or been told Australian wine was the best thing out there I popped into Tesco and bought a bottle of Jacob’s Creek Shiraz to take along with me.
Over lunch we were served wine – there remains some debate as to what it was – I think it was 1988 Labergorce Zedé, while my Uncle things it more likely that it was Lynch Bages or Ducru Beaucaillou. Either was it isn’t important – because here in my glass was something wonderous, it wasn’t bitter or green, thin and pretty vile – here was something that was far beyond anything I thought might be possible in wine. If this was wine – then what on earth had I been drinking growing up? While this might have been my wine epiphany it took a long time before it made any real difference.
From here my interest in wine started, I started buying better bottles of wine, bottles that 20 years ago cost £8 or £9, I took my beloved Volvo over to France with friends who loaded up on slabs of English beer and brought back whatever looked good and usually had shiny medal labels on it from Carrefour. I met my wife and suddenly found myself in Reims with friends drinking Champagne and then on honeymoon between Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Mont Ventoux where I drank, visited tasted and really saw vines for the first time. Subsequent holidays with those same friends who we ventured to Champagne took in St Chinian and a very important overnight in Beaune. A whole raft of happy coincidences meant that a good local wine bar opened and I started work a few doors away from a local Independent Wine Merchant who would one day offer me a job and so it was that complete geekdom took control.
But it was that first taste of Claret that remains with me, the time that I saw wine as more than just a beverage but something capable of being ephemeral, of having a level of interest that turned me into the wine geek I am and is still the most memorable wine I have drunk or tasted.