It’s a question I’ve often been asked. Though I’m sure I’d been drinking wine for some time, I do remember the wine that made me stop, think, and wonder.
I was with a large group of colleagues in Johannesburg. (In a previous life I was a member of long haul cabin crew for British Airways and, as crew, we always went out for drinks and a spot of dinner) The restaurant? What used to be a church, called Gatreels in the Central Business District.
I don’t know who picked it or why they chose that wine. Being a crew night out it was unlikely to be the old adage of “mid-priced on the wine list must be good”. At one point in the meal I stopped talking for a change, topped up the empty glasses and took a sip.
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Now the earth didn’t move cosmically, it didn’t stop spinning; I didn’t hear heavenly music or have fireworks go off in my mouth, but it did make me stop and think. It made me assess what I tasted: the aromas, the flavours. There were layers of complexity to this wine. I had so many questions.
Now, at the time I knew a little about wine; a day and a half in my 12 weeks training course with British Airways, in a room next to the engineering bays at Heathrow Airport. But looking back, my wine knowledge then boiled down to: Fizz, White or Red.
But now, the game had begun. I got back to our base and signed straight up for the company’s dedicated wine course. Six months later and I was on it: the Wine and Spirit Education Trust Intermediate course. I think it was six-eight weeks before I sat the exams: a multiple-choice paper and wine tasting with the head Wine Buyer of British Airways…
Now I see why there had been a six-month waiting list: the chance to taste some wine, not just from Economy and Business Class but also First Class and Concorde!
That was in the early nineties; a lot of time, changes and wine have passed by. I’ve been on trips to various wine regions, I’ve worked through two vintages in Burgundy, picking grapes, pressing grapes and helping make the wine. I now work in the wine trade at award winning The Whalley Wine Shop.
I’ve also gained a Merit pass in my Wine trade exams Level 3 and am currently working towards my Diploma in Wine. Blissful you may think, it isn’t always bliss though. There are days when I feel that I don’t ‘get it’, maybe I’ve got a cold, a bad mood, the wrong time or I’m just not feeling it. I have found, however, that there is no rule as to what makes a bottle of wine taste great.
Whether it’s that premium bottle, opened on a special occasion, or the more affordable stuff I bring home to share with friends over a barbecue, or simply that glass, experienced around the fire after a long day, that manages to hit just the right note; it’s all about the company, place and timing, and allowing your wine of choice to complement that situation. All the money and knowledge in the world cannot make up for the feeling of when these four elements come together perfectly!
And so, on that night in Johannesburg, I fell in love… with wine. Oh, and the wine in question? Well it was a Boschendal Blanc de Blanc.
Wines That Made Me Stop And Think
Tio Pepe En Rama 2021 £8.99 for a half bottle- I first tried this wine around 2012. It really was a style that stopped me in my tracks.
It’s a dry sherry from Jerez, right in the South of Spain. Sherry isn’t just for the drinks cupboard for Christmas, though Pedro Ximenez and a slice of Christmas cake is sublime. Every year the Master Blender at Tio Pepe selects a number of Butts (sherry casks) to be bottled unfiltered and released. It has a hint of chalk and flinty notes, very clean and fresh flavours. It’s very dry with a floral, chamomile taste, then followed by a hint of citrus and almond nut. Served in the sunshine with a plate of sliced salami and manchego cheese, its a drink that gives so many complex layers it keeps you thinking.
Care Blanco Sobre Lias 2019 £8.99 (Vegan)- While at a trade tasting, looking for new and exciting wines, I tasted a range of wines that made me call the office to put an order in straight away. They showed a balance of quality and affordability we are constantly looking for.
An equal blend of Grenache blanc and Chardonnay. There is a fresh tropical fruit nose with hints of pineapple and citrus. On the palate there are flavours of green apple and pineapple, but also a touchy of nutty creaminess . A wine that would match with grilled shellfish or white fish.
Le Grappin Savigny Les Beaune Rouge 2018 £42.99- A great introduction to Pinot Noir from Burgundy, lots of cherry and black fruits on the nose. These are followed through on the palate with extra black and red cherry, herby notes and a little pepper. Great with a steak or a little plate of salami and hard cheeses.