Whilst writing my debut article for this exciting, although rather daunting position (given the all-female readership, which is a new one for me) I felt duty bound to compose a piece explaining who I am as I plan to be around for a long time. Therefore I thought a proper introduction would be the correct thing to offer in these circumstances.
I am sure many of you will put a face to my words, which I am thoroughly looking forward to, however and in the meantime, allow me to answer some of those questions which I am repeatedly asked. “How did you get involved in the wine business?” and “Is there one wine, experience or other memory that best expresses the story of why you do what you do?” For me the answers seem somehow less obvious, maybe just less important or perhaps I am without any definitive answers.
Wine beginnings and my love affair…
My childhood chalice was never filled with wine and we were complete strangers until I reached my late teens. I do however vividly recall ordering (on more than one occasion) a bottle or two of the German colossus ‘Black Tower’. This became my fail-safe choice until I finally grew up and more importantly, found a partner who was appalled by my vinous tastes.
The Sotheby’s Guide to Classic Wines, was my first wine book and lit the touch paper that ignited my passion or wine. It was at the tender age of eighteen, whilst drinking a bottle of 1976 Penfolds Grange, procured (amongst others) from the Nobody Inn, Doddiscombsleigh, that I had an epiphany. My olfactory senses were opened and I simply fell in love. Literally, I was stopped in my tracks. Yes, I was inexperienced but I could not escape the precision, the profound aromatics, that perfumed the air around me. I tasted: the wine was sweet at first, soft black fruits intermixed with tobacco, but it was the wine’s physical presence on my palate that I found most overwhelming. It was sensual, silky and the tannins were seamless. I had never tasted anything quite so extraordinary and, to this day, it remains one of the greatest wines that I have ever tasted. If truth be known, I have an unworldly love for wine, I know not why, I care not why, only because they are what they are; because that one bottle moved me in some way which few other experiences have done.
I immersed myself completely in learning, collecting, appreciating and most importantly tasting wine. Thankfully, wine became my career in 1996, a blessing as I can honestly declare that I never tire of fermented grape juice.
My palate has worked incredibly hard over the years and has resented the long hours, purple-stained teeth, and excruciating levels of tannins that have played havoc with my entire digestive system. Regardless of those endurance exercises I am simply blessed, for more great wines have passed my lips than I would ever have imagined at the beginning of my career.
How I taste
My method is terribly simple: I look, take a deep sniff, taste, spit, occasionally dribble, jot down my thoughts (which become more illegible as the years pass) score and move on to the next wine.
Wine, as with many fields is subjective; therefore I feel it is extremely important to be honest with oneself. There is absolutely no worth in echoing the exact same sentiments as my peers or the famous wine critics if I see the same wine from a different angle. Some would say that I am excruciatingly honest, which I actually take as a compliment. Of course I do not go out of my way to be different but, if it is to the benefit of my clients, then I am not shy in telling them to avoid buying a wine if I personally think its tosh.
What qualities do I value in a wine?
Personally I favour wines with elegance, balance and a sense of belonging – ‘terrior’ as we like to call it in the trade (I acknowledge a bit poncy). I have a fondness for wine that is produced in the vineyard rather than those stressed, overly extracted ones that are forced out in the winery. I adore crisp acidity and structure and I have a real weakness for mature wines as they offer so much more: tobacco, lead pencil, truffles, a myriad of exotic fruit, spices, and their tannins become seamless. I suppose this is wine evolution, after spending 20+ years locked in a bottle.
The year ahead
Barring quarterly articles filled with vinous delights, Susannah and I thought we would create a Wine Club with a real difference. A club with an all exclusive female membership, with the one exception, me, of course. We are currently thrashing through a plethora of ideas but I believe we have nailed the basis. First and foremost, it’s going to be great fun (not one of those boring, self-important affairs). There is going to be a seriousness about the club too, as women have great palates, which is sadly overlooked. We are going to meet regularly (Kent and London) to taste, taste and taste until your palates are content. I am going to teach you, which will provide you with the confidence to take the wine list from the sommelier and choose the wine for the table. We are going abroad – We’re off to Bordeaux, Champagne and wherever our vinous taste buds take us.
I hope you will enjoy my quarterly musings and, in the meantime, I raise my glass to you all.
A few of my current favourites which I thought I would share with you all…
Chanin Wines Sanford & Benedict Chardonnay 2014. In short, this is one of the most astonishing Chardonnays which I have enjoyed for many years, however the 2014 just eclipses the stunning 2013. A difficult wine to describe as superlatives do little, if any justice. Incredibly graceful, almost a weightless elegance, feminine, magnificently detailed bouquet which expresses minerality like no other US chardonnay. The palate is developing all the time with a core of minerality. Presently, this is a wine that is all about finesse and elegance, as flavours will develop with a little more bottle age. Utterly magnificent.
Anthill Farms Campbell Ranch Pinot Noir 2014. I thought the 2013 was something special, however the 2014 could well go down as one of the greatest ‘young’ Pinot Noirs to ever pass my lips. The ’14 is blessed with an incredibly intense, powerful nose – the perfume is extraordinary, almost exotic. Although young, the palate is showing beautiful structure, filigree tannins and is utterly sensuous. This is an irresistible Campbell Ranch, a little fatter and more generous than the previous two vintages. Effortless, mercurial and simply brilliant.
Egly Ouriet Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru NV (Disgorged July 2015, Lees: 72 months). This is simply the greatest Blanc de Noir (100% Pinot Noir) which money can buy. Produced from an ancient vineyard planted in 1946 and spends an incredible 72 months on its lees, which adds considerable complexity to what is already something quite extraordinary. This is truly a treat and stirs the depths of your soul (if you are one of the lucky few).