A Life Through Wine

February 12th 2011.

On this day, I turn 40. It has an age that has always seemed a lifetime away, even when I was 39½.

2011?

That was ten years after Kubrick’s Space Odyssey and twelve years after Space 1999. It would be aeons before I became part of those futuristic worlds.

I should be grateful. I still have my health and though I am not quite as “willowy” as I once was, I am positively anorexic given the gravage of foie gras over the last decade. I am happily married and the proud father of two angelic daughters. I still have a full head of hair and despite protestations from assorted girlfriends, I have managed to keep every single one of my vinyl records. I may not be as wealthy as some of my City friends, but I have the best job in the world.

To celebrate this milestone I present in chronological order, a life through wine, each resetting the course of my life or tethered to a cherished memory (which is perhaps why there are no entries after 2006…I guess it takes time for sentimentality to sink in.) Those of you savvy enough to subscribe to eRP will be able to peruse nearly all the tasting notes for the wines…well, except the first couple for obvious reasons.

There is always a person or persons behind each bottle. Some are family or childhood friends and others work acquaintances that have a habit of becoming friends. Some make fleeting appearances and others become lovers. One became wife and mother. Some remain content in my hometown whilst others disappeared overseas. Sadly, one or two are no longer with us. They all played their part in my own little odyssey.

So happy birthday to me, happy birthday me, happy birthday to me-ee.

Trust that I will be celebrating in style and with excitement on the horizon, life is only beginning.

Enjoy…

1 Mateus Rose – 1971-1986

I bet that surprised a few Wine-Journal devotees convinced that I have spent the best part of four decades silver spooning from a trough of Yquem. However, wine barely registered in the life of the Martin family of Leigh-on-Sea (home of the barnacle and roll mop.) I have vague memories of Mateus rosé, the reluctant guest at Sunday roast. If feeling extravagant, then there were occasional bottles of Black Tower, just as long as has enough residual sugar to stand a spoon in the glass.

2 Ruby Port – 1987-1995

In January 1987 this young 15-year old whippersnapper went to The Hadleigh Suite for the first, but not last time. The venue was annexed onto the side of a pub, The Elms, and was nothing special: just a couple of bars, a rudimentary dance-floor, disco-lights and dimly lit alcoves furbished with comfy, beer-stained velvet seats where one could snog with discretion. Despite its rather mundane appearance, it was to host some of the most hedonistic parties over the next two years.

It is Lorna’s 18th birthday and my colleagues from Peter Lord shoe shop, all mullets and lurid Dynasty shoulder pads, are crowding at the bar ordering weak Australian lager and Bacardis.

“I don’t drink alcohol,” I sheepishly reply when I asked my tipple.

“Have you ever tried port and lemonade?” asks my manageress. “It’s sweet. You might like it.”

“Go on then, I’ll try one.”

My fate is sealed. Who cares whether it was the tipple for wrinkled old spinsters. I had just taken a step into adulthood.

By the time I had left home to study at the University of Warwick, ruby port had become part of my staple diet. I dispensed with the lemonade and nurtured a regimen of drinking an entire bottle, yes, an entire bottle…before going out. Trust me; the effects upon my metabolism were not as catastrophic as the singular occasion when I downed an entire bottle of Blue Curacao. The green vomit distressed both my girlfriend and my liver for life. Oliver Reed would have been proud.

Doubtlessly you assume that I was a trainee alcoholic. Fair enough. However my intake was no different to other students and in any case, I eschewed life as a beer-guzzling under-graduate and my hangovers and constant migraines have been sufficiently punitive to guarantee a modicum of moderation.

So…to the class of 1992: if you remember pony-tailed DJ in NHS spectacles spinning KLF, Orbital, Happy Mondays, The Smiths, Nirvana and ABBA with a glass of ruby port perched next to his Technics 1210s…that was the future contributor to The Wine Advocate.

3 Liebfraumilch (Pfalz) – unidentified grower – June 1996

Shit. I have an interview in Hanover Square tomorrow, a job whose responsibilities entail the shipping of wine: a beverage upon which I know NOTHING.

If the job entailed ruby port I might have stood a chance.

Nonetheless, it is imperative I escape from the clutches of this Japanese personal indemnity insurance company, ostensibly a 9-to-5 conversation with the photocopier that makes my manager,  a midget with a preposterous moustache, look positively charismatic. I did not pass my 11-plus to become this. No, no and thrice no.

I nip round to the local Third World off-license “Wine, Beers & Spirits” along the London Road and memorize the first bottle I see.

Lieb…frau…milch. Didn’t mum sometimes drink that?

Pfalz.

That sounds foreign and intelligent. Right…remember that. The interviewer is sure to ask you my vinous predilection. Pfalz it is. I love Pfalz.

Hmmm….is it red or white?

I pass the interview and a career is born. Incidentally, whilst UK wine retailers have atrophied in recent years, “Wine, Beer & Spirits” remains, like a cockroach after a nuclear holocaust.

4 Château Montrose 1982 – February 1997

As has been documented several times, Château Montrose 1982 is the epiphany, the catalyst for everything that followed. Having blatantly lied my way through an interview I was now ludicrously installed as an “export assistant” at JAL Trading UK Ltd. Alas my knowledge could have been written on the side of a postage stamp.

Then a bottle of Saint Estèphe is served at lunch at Corney & Barrow and my sensory dials are awoken. I see the light. I experience a Dionysian vision accompanied by a choir of tipsy angels. I instantly re-evaluate my appreciation of fermented grape juice and realize that to pursue a vocation you actually enjoy is a privilege afforded to few, particularly those employed in personal indemnity insurance.

Returning to the office I compose a tasting note on an Excel spreadsheet, purloining the scoring system of one Andrew Jefford since I read the Evening Standard en route back to my flat in Crystal Palace. I award 22-points out of 25, a parsimonious score because although it is the best wine I have tasted, I might one day taste even better. In retrospect, Montrose is not the greatest Bordeaux or even the greatest Saint Estèphe ’82, but that did not matter back then. There was no going back. It would be another six years of intensive self-training and studying before I had the experience to publish a tasting note, by which time there would be over 4,000.

5 Opus One 1991 (half-bottle) – December 1997

This is the first “posh” bottle of wine to find a berth on my IKEA wine rack. I was exporting a lot of Opus to the Far East and had gone down to a lock-up cellar in Chelsea to check the cases. The merchant asks whether I have ever tasted Robert Mondavi’s wine and I reply no, so he hands me a half-bottle of ’91. I keep it a few months. Its presence offers a shallow feeling of connoisseurship and affluence. If I remember, the wine rack was not too far from the oven, so it was probably for the best that I pop the cork around Christmas. It was opulent and delicious.

6 Montrachet Grand Cru 1991 – Domaine de la Romanée-Conti – March 1998

Back again being wined and dined in the salubrious oak-panelled dining room of Corney & Barrow, a regular venue since I had inadvertently become a major fine wine buyer for the Japanese market. This was the first wine where, instead of genuflecting in the glow of a famous name, I expressed a candid, indeed rather tepid opinion in front of my generous host. When I espoused my view, I harboured no desire to write about wine. Robert Parker did that. But I recognized that I had a degree of perspicuity and clarity of judgement that might serve me well. I would not to be swayed by kudos of name or value of a bottle, a tenet upheld to this day.

7 Nuits Saint Georges 1er Cru Clos des Fôrets 1990 – Domaine de l’Arlot – April 1998

This was my first great Burgundy, ordered off the list at Ma Cuisine in Beaune where I dined with an acquaintance from a négoçiant company, Diva Beaune if I recall. I must confess that I had not expected to pay after all, I was the client. I misread the evening as business rather than pleasure, but what the hell. I remember basking in the glory of this Pinot Noir and thanked the Lord that I had not ordered the La Tâche.

8 Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru 1996 – Domaine Fougeray de Beauclair – September 1998

I was still a neophyte in 1998 but the passion was certainly gestating. I persuaded my wife and a posse of friends to drive down to Burgundy for a bit of Withnail-esque R&R. There was my her indoors, two Warwick University friends Kim & Cath, my cohort from Westcliff Grammar School for Gentlefolk “Pip” and his mate Tin. We stayed at a capacious gîtes in the heart of Auxey, where we embarked upon a bacchanalian week of libation and tomfoolery that culminated in an attempt to shave Pip’s goatee into a bunch of grapes.

We failed.

At that stage, I was acquainted with few vignerons, but I followed Domaine Fougeray de Beauclair and arranged a tasting with winemaker, Patrice Ollivier. He kindly conducts a tasting and invites us to join his pickers for a hearty al fresco lunch and afterwards dishes at the secateurs for some impromptu harvesting.

We are useless.

Having imbibed far too much Pinot, we are utterly incompetent and last about 10 minutes. Each of us buys a bottle from Patrice and in years to come, we vow to meet up and enjoy them together. I cellar my Bonnes-Mares ’96, the years roll by and lives splinter into different directions. It becomes clear that we will never reunite. My wife has appended ex- to her name; Pip is back in Tokyo and Tin living in Thailand. So in 2009, I open that bottle of Bonnes-Mares ’96 and you know what…it is fantastic. And despite the distances between us, I am glad to report that I remain friends with all who spent a raucous week getting hammered in the Côte d’Or…except the ex-, of course.

9 Trilogie – circa 1998

I am still living in Crystal Palace with my ex-wife, whose vinous interest extends to: what colour is it and is it alcoholic? A Dutch friend has kindly sent me two innocuous, anonymous bottles with a rabbit-adorned label. I taste one bottle: it is lovely, definitely Merlot and so I deduce a Right Bank. I forget about the other. Some months later, my wife calls me at the office. She is visiting a Japanese student friend who is studying at Wimbledon Art College and wants to take a bottle to drink with her ramen.

“Take the one with the rabbit on it,” I insouciantly reply and then get back work on my work and my game of Solitaire.

After I had beaten the computer, I punch in the number of my Dutch friend and ask about the bottle she sent? She informs me that it is a one-off bottling of declassified Le Pin. Bugger. I dial home but she has already left. My ex-wife returns rather giddy around midnight.

“We did not have any wine glasses, so we drank it out of plastic cups…” she slurs as she staggers towards the bedroom. “…it was delicious”

It is those last three words that meant that the bottle was not wasted.

10 Château Latour 1961 – December 1999

My first perfect bottle of wine and still the best Latour ’61 I have encountered despite having it twice ex-château. My friend Clare from Justerini & Brooks is entertaining Rie and I at “Circus” in Soho and she had procured the bottle at a discount price because of ullage. My eyes widen when I read the vintage.

Can it really be that good?

Once I taste this elixir, I am enlightened to what a perfect, faultless wine could be, moreover the spiritual heights that it can achieve. Ecstatic, I offer a soupcon to the neighbouring table. The decline my offer.

To date, only 30 wines have scored a perfect 25 or once I had gone metric, 100-points.

11 Château Talbot 1955 – December 1999

I had been proffering bottles of wine for the Martin family every now and then. It is Christmas dinner. The turkey is being carved and the Brussels sprouts rejected by my brothers who just want to go and watch Christmas Top of the Pops. My lovely bottle of Saint Julien is standing there being ridiculed by everyone except Uncle Alf, the only member of the family with a penchant for wine. I vow that henceforth, they will be offered nice wine, but preferably nice wine under a ten quid.

12 Salon Blancs de Blancs 1983 from magnum – December 1999

Millennial eve round at my friend Kim’s pad in Notting Hill. I cannot remember much about the dinner party, but I did bring this champagne and later, poured some into a thermos flask, which we took to watch the fireworks over the Houses of Parliament.

13 Château Doisy-Védrines 1969 – March 2000

The director of a major Bordeaux négociant is hosting dinner with a major Japanese client and wishes to open a bottle of his client’s wife’s year of birth. He calls my office in Hanover Square and I make the necessary enquiries. Everything is in place. Business goes well, the dinner is divine and now, the finale, the masterstroke! The Barsac is served blind. After much guessing, the benevolent host unveils the vintage that had been such a struggle to find…

She was born in 1970.

14 Château Potensac 1990 – November 2000

Unexpectedly enjoying life as a single man, I pop into the local cornershop by West Norwood station to buy some cat food. The Kwik-e-Mart has a typically moribund selection of wines, predominantly Eastern European paint stripper with the half-life of plutonium. As I pay for the Whiskas, a coup d’oeil towards the shelves of wine and blow me down. Peeking from the back of some Estonian Pinotage is a bewildered family of Château Potensac 1990. Plus, it is out of the sunlight.

Bonus!

It has been reduced from £4.99 to £3.99 because 1990 is obviously past its best.

Double bonus.

I purchase one bottle each night on the way back from work and every bottle is perfectly sound. Then I work my way through their Nuits St. Georges Blanc from Domaine de l’Arlot, although that was a bit more expensive at £4.49.

I forgot the cat food.

15 Château d’Yquem 1921 – November 2000

So I am back at Mirabelle for the n’th time and my body fat is now 50% pig’s trotter, 20% foie gras. Just down from our table is none other than Madonna, chewing the fat with Marco Pierre White and probably her current beau, Guy Ritchie. MPW orders a Sauternes off the list: Château Yquem 1921, one the greatest wines of the century. The sommelier decants the bottle and would you believe it? A soupçon goes missing and wakes up on our table!

I silently toast Ms. Ciccone. I bought all her records since Borderline and quid pro quo, she (unwittingly) gave me a wee dram of Yquem ’21.

16 Château Figeac 1955 from half-bottle – September 2001

Michael phones from Turville. He has taken ownership of a few bottles that have been kept in ignoble conditions at a country hotel. He is flogging them for sixpence a throw. I have very little money, but hey, what can I lose? I buy a dozen historical artefacts, each and every one undrinkable…except one. For some reason, a half-bottle of Figeac ’55 was utterly glorious. I think it had cost me about five quid.

Skills.

17 Château Pichon-Lalande 1983 – April 2002

I receive the innocuous e-mail from Tom Cannavan of www.wine-pages.com. Some Japanese bird at Berry Brothers & Rudd wants to hook up, having read my scintillating review of DRC 1999 vintage.

Hello, hello…this should be an easy notch on the bedpost.

I invite her to La Trouvaille in Carnaby Street for some rustic French fare. The plan is starter, main course and then skip pudding and straight back to Love Central. Hey, I even changed the duvet. I bring a bottle of Château Pichon-Lalande 1983 to “lubricate” the evening to its inevitable conclusion. The dinner is enjoyable but unlike most Japanese girls who lose consciousness by the mere mention of wine, this young vixen has all her faculties intact. Her cheeks are not even red.

That was not the plan. Is she really Japanese?

She hands me her business card and asks me to escort her to Oxford Circus station. She shakes my hand. I don’t even get a peck on the cheek. I travel home on the Victoria Line trying to fathom how my perfectly planned evening ended up so solitary. What a waste of Pichon-Lalande. Was it because I brought the ’83 and not the ’82? I guess I will never know.

18 Taylors 1985 (probably) – April 2002

Aforementioned Japanese saucepot invites me to her studio flat in Pimlico for dinner. I do not refuse after all, she has told me that she had a diploma in French cuisine. Unfortunately, Mr. Fussy barely touches his aubergine terrine, an unforgivable insult that almost results in my departure before main course. However, we reach the end of dinner had she offers me some port that she had bought from BBR. By the time we have imbibed about three-quarters of the bottle, our relationship is no longer platonic.

19 Château Haut-Brion 1974 – June 2002

I had heard of “The Arches” for a couple of years, a fabled watering hole for the London fine wine trade presided over by the legendary “Good Bishop Gill” (a pseudonym from my own fertile imagination, just like HRH Jancis.) It was, and still is, a sui generis, a grotto of artefacts strewn over walls, empty bottles hither and thither; tabletops constructed from lacquered OWCs, foxy Eastern European girls behind the bar and the only list where you can order either a pint of beer or Romanée-Conti. In June 2002, I am finally invited to “lunch” with Bordeaux Index at The Arches and suffice to say, I never make it back to the office. We settle in the rear courtyard and work our way through the mouth-watering list. I order a Lynch Bages 1962 for £40. The late Dylan Paris teaches us a salutary lesson when he orders Château Haut-Brion 1974 and serves it blind to demonstrate that you must never dismiss a wine until you have tasted it (and I write this days after tasting a pleasurable ’65 Sauternes.)

Hours roll past in a blur…one Claret after another. I am wasted by early evening when I am due to be introduced to my girlfriend’s best buddy at her abode just off the King’s Road. I stagger into a taxi, drop Sam off at Victoria Station. He asks whether I have any money? What was that? Sloane Square please…

My recollections are hazy after this point, save that I did a runner from the taxi and that after introducing myself, I collapsed onto her sofa and snored like a baby.

20 Château Haut-Brion 1989 – September 2002

I invite a ‘vinomate’ round for dinner at my tiny Victorian flat in West Norwood. At that time, legendary wines are within purchase distance and the previous year I had bought a bottle of the iconic Haut-Brion 1989 that was reserved for a special occasion. The previous evening I had prepped a saucepan of spaghetti bolognaise (Ragu sauce, carrot, onion, kidney beans, Safeways economy pasta) and just need to warm it up in the pan. It is dreary Monday night. There is no logical reason for me to go down to my coal bunker-cum-wine cellar and decant the most expensive wine that I own. The two experienced palates are speechless even before I tell them the identity of this ethereal nectar.

They ask why I had opened it on a dreary Monday evening with a spaghetti bolognaise? “Precisely because I shouldn’t,” I reply.

21 Château Cheval Blanc 1971 – December 2002

Still paddling in the blissful honeymoon period of my new-found love, I whisk my girlfriend to South Wales for New Years Eve. I have located a decent BYO restaurant and dutifully choose this delicious gem from my birth-year. The restaurant is buzzing and there is an enormous Christmas tree taking up the entire room. The food is superb, the Cheval ’71 delicious. We stagger back to the hotel and watch fireworks over the Brecon Beacons and as we watch from the balcony, I wish I had a remote control so that I could pause this idyllic, carefree, star-crossed moment of a relationship that you can never return to.

22 Barbera d’Asti 1999 – La Spinetta – February 2003

It is my birthday and I have booked a table pour deux at the hottest restaurant in town: “Locanda Locatelli”. I sashay with girlfriend on arm and soak up the palpable chichi atmosphere. Within the tenebrous interior I can make out Chris Evans and Billie Piper surrounded by media-whores planning tomorrows’ tabloid headline. Sprinkled across the tables, one can spot Z-lists celebrities desperately hoping to be snapped by the paparazzi outside. I order a bottle of Barolo, the name of which I cannot remember, except that my liver has issued a health warning before I wave the sommelier over and order a second bottle: Giorgio Rivetti’s Barbera d’Asti 1999, a blockbuster wading in God only knows percentage alcohol and more hedonism than an illegal rave around the M25 circa 1990.

No surprise that by the time the last strand of tagliatelle is being wound around the fork, the restaurant had begun rotating and I am saying au revoir to sanity. There is suddenly a commotion and Giorgio Locatelli himself is coming towards me brandishing pudding around which is written “Happy Birthday Neil” (sic) in chocolate sauce. Even Chris and Billie are looking over. Giorgio commends me on my choice of wine.

I tell him that I love him and sling my arm round him like I am his new best friend.

23 Château Mouton Rothschild 1982 – June 2003

Holding La Fête de la Fleur at Mouton-Rothschild was never going to be a quiet, intimate, “More scones vicar?” affair, although few expected the Baroness to serve all 1,500 guests with Château Mouton-Rothschild 1982. I regale my evening at this most lavish of banquets and insert some of my sardonic Essex humour. Someone notices on Robert Parker’s forum and suddenly I have 100 visitors per day instead of two.

I never look back.

24 Bual 1920 – Blandy’s – September 2003

Before I tasted this Bual at Blandy’s lodge in Funchal, I had always assumed that I would detest Madeira, notwithstanding that fact that it was uncool to drink it unless you were turning ninety. After sipping this Bual, I fell in love with the most under-appreciated beverage on the planet and have been advocating its unparalleled charms ever since.

25 Château Haut Brion Blanc 1996 – October 2003

I would never claim to be the greatest blind taster in the world but I have my moments. This was one. I am at a private dinner  joined by several American importers. A white wine is poured blind and our host invites us to identify the wine.

“It’s Haut Brion Blanc ’96,” I declare more adamantly than I would have liked, but somehow overwhelmed by certainty.

Bullseye! Cue gasps amazement from around the table as the label is revealed. I am the most amazed.

I occasionally bump into those guests and they remind me of my tasting prowess. I like to think that they assume I nail every wine blind in such audacious fashion.

26 Château Léoville Las-Cases 1982 – December 2003

I am attending the first of many of Linden Wilkie’s verticals for his recently launched wine tasting company: “Fine Wine Experience.” I believe this was just his second event. I am seated at a table with two erudite gentlemen carved from the finest English oak: Neil Beckett, who is filling me in about his new magazine “World of Fine Wine” and Michael Schuster. Yonder is Michael Broadbent with Daphne. We arrive at the ’82 Las-Cases and Linden asks me to air my opinion and to be honest, I am not particularly smitten with the wine.

Cue one irritable, pugnacious, insolent upstart ripping shreds out of me. It rapidly descends into an unseemly slanging match with the kind of language The World of Fine Wine would not tolerate (unless it is in Latin.) I avenge myself by calling him a “wanker” in the subsequent write-up on Wine-Journal. Curiously enough I have been friends with Mr. Fenton ever since…even if he is a bit of a wanker.

27 Château Margaux 1947 – December 2003

Every year, I had invited a friend to a lavish dinner just before Christmas. Previously I dined at Chez Nico and Noble Rot, but to cut costs I had organized a small dinner in my kitchen in West Norwood. Joel had been helping me with my new website and I was compensating him in wine, since I had not a thrupenny to my name. But I did have a small cache of desirable bottles down in the coalbunker and for no reason apart from friendship, I decided to open the best of them, just for the hell of it.

I invite my friend Jude round to make up a foursome. I cannot remember what I cooked, but I can remember every bottle we drank, to wit: Meursault 1er Cru Charmes 1990 from Domaine Comtes-Lafon, Château Leoville Las-Cases 1969, Château Lafleur 1985, Château Margaux 1947, Château Cos d’Estournel 1945 (my first ’45) and Château d’Yquem 1970.

It was the nearest West Norwood has come to a La Paulée.

28 Château Pavie 1990 – May 2004

Unexpectedly, my website is flourishing. After many years of stalking, perhaps fearing her, I have contacted HRH Jancis who has agreed to have dinner with little me at La Trouvaille. Let me state right away that my intentions are very different to when I dined with Tomoko two years ago. But you see, the established English wine writers…they laugh when you confess that you write on the Internet. They think it is a fad and that it does not constitute “proper” writing. The only exception is the icon I am about to meet and perchance grant my venture a morsel of credibility. Cheekily I serve blind a bottle of Pavie, seeing as the furore over the 2003 is still fomenting. She gives me a great interview and a few more people take notice of wine-journal.com…but none of the English wine writing firmament who are too busy writing for newspapers and magazines, mediums of communication that will far outlast the Internet. Apparently.

29 Dom Pérignon 1970 – June 2004

My girlfriend is up the duff. Two months ago I had promised her mother, face-to-face in her matchbox flat in Nerima on the outskirts of Tokyo, that she had nothing to worry about. Her precious daughter was safe in my (dirty) hands.

Bugger.

We had been to King College Hospital for the 10-week scan and as any father will know, the moment when that amorphous smudge winks back at you for the first time brings the meaning of life into focus. We are on cloud nine. I am aware that my girlfriend does not want to be an unmarried mother and so there is only one thing to do. A quick trip to Argos later, I cello-tape the ring into the punt of a bottle of Dom Pérignon ’70 (her birth year) that is lying in the fridge, ready to be poured with the finest fish and chips South London can offer. I invite her to look on the underside of the bottle and to my relief; it has not fallen off into the blancmange.

I ask her to marry me.

She says yes.

Whether that is because I was “the one” or she has a bun in the oven or the vintage DP, I am still trying to work out to this day.

30 Grands Echézeaux 1962 – Domaine de la Romanée-Conti – October 2004

Joel has been helping on my website that seems to become more and more popular each day, but needs a design overhaul. It needs to look professional. I have no money, but he accepts payment of the vinous kind. He is doing a sterling job and I offer a bottle of Grands Echézeaux ’62 that I picked up for nothing thanks to some serious ullage. I forewarn him that it is probably Sarsons by now.

The wine is nothing less than astonishing and remains one of the greatest Pinot Noirs that I have ever drunk.

31 Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru 1985 – Domaine Georges Roumier – January 2005

I opened this bottle (bought for less than a £100 back then) to celebrate the birth of Lily. It must have been a week or so after the newborn turned our world upside down. I cannot remember much about the wine because I was so bleedin’ knackered.

32 Château Margaux 1955 – June 2005

Tomoko and I were married earlier today, the nuptials swiftly moving over to the font for our daughter’s baptism, to ensure she is in the catchment area for God. The sun had shone brilliantly and the entire congregation is completely sloshed on Verget’s Maçon Village (except the Methodist minister for some reason.) This heightened inebriation results in the most impassioned rendition of Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna A Stop Us Now”. Tomoko and I depart back to the Westcliff Hotel, which makes Fawlty Towers look like the Burj Al Arab. On the bedside cabinet is a bottle of Margaux ’55…I guess I am the only sad person to have composed a tasting note on my wedding night.

33 Château Pétrus 2000 – October 2005

Linden Wilkie’s Pétrus vertical is being wrapped up and I espy dregs of Pomerol in the 2000.

“Do you mind if I take this?” I ask.

“Of course not,” replies my host.

Subsequently, I use the Pétrus to commit all manner of atrocities that includes seasoning my spaghetti bolognaise and most infamously, placing the bottle upon my 9-month daughter’s high-chair to accompany her baby porridge. A dab on the little finger and I pop it into her mouth.

She gives it 97-points and a burp.

34 Le Musigny 1918 – Seguin Manuel – October 2005

Which wine has scored the most perfect marks in Wine-Journal?

Petrus?

Latour?

Romanée-Conti?

Mateus Rose?

Actually, it is the little-known Burgundy négoçiant Seguin Manuel. Thibault Marion had resurrected this long-forgotten name and sold off some of the pristine bottles that stretched back to the 19th century. Linden Wilkie organized a tasting of these gems that was tutored by Anthony Hanson MW (incidentally the nemesis of aforementioned Mr. Fenton.) To date, it remains one of the greatest tastings I have ever attended, one that is still spoken of in hushed tones. This was just one of three wines that no-one there will ever forget.

35 Unico Vega Sicilia Reserva 1970 – March 2006

Life sucks. My daughter’s health is suffering due to damp. I live in a tiny flat with hardly any room to move. My attempt to move to a bigger abode hit the rails when the estate agent featured in an undercover report on unscrupulous practices. My solicitor is so inept that at one point they have me down as “deceased”. My buyer’s mortgage company is insisting that I change three syllables in my freehold contract, which is costs me hundreds of pounds per syllable, notwithstanding being completely pointless. To compound my problems, my freeholder has died and so it is impossible to change the wording on the contract and my solicitor nonchalantly tells me I might never be able to sell my flat. My Nan is lying in Southend Hospital withering away thanks to Alzheimer’s. I have just had a shit day at work.

I throw off my coat, dump my bag and uncork one the greatest Spanish wines ever made.

Eventually the house falls through, the nefarious estate agent is fired and Nan dies. But at least on that night, life sucked a bit less.

36 Château Lynch Bages 1899 – April 2006

It is about one o’clock in the morning and Bordeaux Index’s annual dinner at the Saint Julien restaurant in (co-incidentally enough) Saint Julien might possibly represent one of the greatest vinous evenings of my life. At its denouement, an ancient bottle of Lynch-Bages 1899 is opened and as if by magic, Jean-Charles Cazes appears. The wine is utterly mesmerizing. Incidentally, we come close to death on the way back as the kamikaze chef attempts to drive through the wall of Château Léoville Las-Cases. That would not have pleased Jean-Hubert Delon.

37 Tokaji Eszencia 1888 – State Wine Museum – June 2006

One of the most outrageous wines I have put in my mouth. Linden Wilkie’s memorable Tokaji blow-out hosted by Hugh Johnson offered a number of otherworldly gems. This was as black as the ace of spades with such viscosity that as I swirled the glass it left an impression in the middle.

Dare I put this in mouth?

It was pure, concentrated nectar, so fresh and life-affirming that it could bring a man to tears. Immortal (the Tokaji…and Hugh.)

38 Château Palmer 1961 – September 2006

I had considered leaving the Circle Of Wine Writers in 2006 and had decided not to renew my ten-pound subscription the following year. However, when they organized a tasting of Château Palmer with Thomas Duroux at Kettners, I decided to review that decision. I sit next to Jamie Goode and we taste through a number of iconic vintages that Thomas is mischievously serving blind. Mr. Wineanorak has to leave early to get back to work.

“But how can you leave before the final pair?” I implore.

Thirty minutes later, still savouring the incredible Palmer ’61 straight from the château reserves, I text Jamie to tell him what he had missed in order to do the filing. I also decide that the £10 subscription to the CWW was money well spent.

39 Hermitage 1988 – Jean-Louis Chave – July 2006

Tomoko and I had just moved into Chapel Road in West Norwood, a horrible house plagued by all-night rap club, strange weekend odours from a nearby chemical plant and a neighbourhood best not to go out alone in. I think at this stage, we had only been living there for a couple of weeks and were oblivious to how much we would hate living in this abode.

I serve Tomoko blind the Hermitage ’88 from Chave.

She is indifferent.

I tell her the wine.

She is indifferent.

I tell her she is pregnant.

She laughs and says: don’t be an idiot.

I explain that she would have reacted more euphorically to a wine from Jean-Louis Chave.

She laughs dismissively and tells me not to be stupid.

Daisy is born just under nine months later.

40 Château Lafleur 1982 – September 2006

In my first telephone conversation with Robert Parker, underneath the huge oak trees in Hanover Square, I ask him what he was doing at the weekend? He replies that he is attending a tasting of Château Lafleur, possibly my favourite Pomerol. He says that if we sealed the deal, we will celebrate by opening his last bottle of Lafleur ’82. He keeps his word and Bob being Bob, sizes it up against L’Evangile and Trotanoy ’82. The Lafleur is mind-blowing but despite Bob’s culinary skills, I cannot bring myself to eat the broccoli (it’s a texture thing.) It remains one of the greatest Bordeaux wines ever made.

6 Responses

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Juel Mahoney, Neal Martin. Neal Martin said: ok. i published "a life through wine' 2day as tmrw i'll be w/ family. it's on my free blog @ http://bit.ly/eonmXb . hope u enjoy! #wine […]

  2. Neal, This is one of the most enjoyable wine diaries I’ve read. Thanks for sharing. It should inspire us all to embark on a similar exercise; thanks. And Happy Birthday!

  3. Brilliant Neal—–hope you and family stay healthy for at least another 40 or so

  4. Truly awesome post of wine and life – inspiring for the budding wine writer. Happy Birthday Neal!

  5. A lovely romp through a hisory of wine and life. One gem is Dylan Paris’ lesson that “you must never dismiss a wine until you have tasted it.”

    Thanks……………………Mahmoud.

  6. Tremendous … maybe a glass of Mateus Rose on your birthday for old times sake?!

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