Anonymous (by request)
Coming from a French family it was normal to have wines with meals. When I was old enough to grasp a bottle, I loved to carefully pour wine into glasses, especially when my aunts, uncles, and cousins visited. I was not very academic at school and I thought of giving the hospitality industry a try. I got a job as a waitress at a local restaurant which had a famous wine list. It was common for customers not to finish their wine and at the end of each day we had a mini tasting with the sommelier, cooks and waiters. It was not long before I got very interested in wine and I decided to become a sommelier myself. It was a hard apprenticeship in a man’s world but I ended up working for a Michelin star restaurant in London. The cooks and waiters there were tough and gave me a hard time. On one occasion a customer ordered an £800 bottle of Chateau Petrus but when he touched the bottle, he complained the bottle was too cold and should be ‘a chambré’. I tried to explain our wines were kept at strict temperatures but he was very rude and dismissed me with a wave of his hand. I was very upset and with tears in my eyes took the bottle into the kitchen and placed it in a very hot oven. The whole kitchen came to a stop thinking I had taken leave of my senses and would be fired. They all peered through the door when I took the now warm wine back to the customer and opened it. The customer tasted the wine and nodded his head in approval. When I went back to the kitchen, they all cheered and banged pots and pans. I had gained their respect!
We started as young students at university when we drank Barzac and Spanish Sauternes. Our parents being very poor knew nothing about wine. We heard one woman in a restaurant asking for sugar to be put into wine to make it sweeter! Our introduction to Rioja was in a restaurant; a student’s favourite haunt, where most of the bottles were wrapped in raffia. Once, working as young and not-well-off teachers, we were introduced by a colleague to the delights of better-quality wines and also discovered the great pleasure of wines from our local Italian delicatessen. The best story was of us being at a restaurant whilst on holiday, where to reach the toilets it was up one step to the rear of the room. The girls now were so guttered they couldn’t negotiate the step.
When I was a little girl, I was intrigued by the fact that every two weeks my mother would buy a bottle of Tío Pepe sherry. She would have a glass every evening, but no one else we knew drank sherry instead of beer or wine. When I got older, I asked my mother if could try a glass and from that moment I was hooked on the crisp austere refreshing taste of sherry.
Over the years we visited Jerez often and we always tried to visit a bodega and try different sherries, but it was after a trip to Sanlúcar I tasted my absolute favourite – La Gitana Manzanilla from Bodegas Hidalgo. I have since tasted many wines from around the world and, apart from sherry, my favourite wine is an austere white Burgundy from St. Aubin with the same tart mineral taste I have come to love.
As a young 17-year-old I returned to my parent’s home in the Suburbs of Paris in 1976, having finished my boarding school education in Edinburgh. I had secured a deferred entry to university and, wanting some work experience, I started working as the office boy with a firm of British accountants in the centre of Paris. I quickly established myself as the concierge, organising events, concert tickets, and dinners for these sophisticated professionals who worked out of town on audits during the week. One day I was told we had an audit client in Bordeaux who had just completed their year-end stock count and had identified a significant quantity of unlabelled bottles, for which there was no details. They decided to sell off these bottles at 10 francs (£1) a bottle, and so I bought my first case of wine, without knowing what it was nor its vintage. I returned to Scotland the following year determined to impress the girls during Freshers’ Week with my newly-acquired sophistication and my “special reserve” wine collection. They were impressed by the wine but sadly not by my sophistication.
I was a 25-year-old beer man with very limited experience of wine. My father had been cultivating an interest in wine for a few years and was involved with a long-established wine group. They were an interesting and eclectic mix of individuals with a shared passion for fine wines. Each month one of them would host a dinner and serve (blind) a range of wines which the group would debate in order to identify variety, vintage and various other details.
It was rare for a guest to be invited along, so this was a singular honour to be asked to attend.
The evening started with a sherry tasting. With scant regard to what lay ahead, as only the young and inexperienced can, I was taking advantage of as much “free” sherry as was being made available. It was a huge mistake as it would soon become clear.
By the time we entered the dining room I was already feeling somewhat light-headed. The first wines soon appeared and were passed round the table and, as everyone else was doing, I helped myself. There was a fair amount of commentary and debate and I was surprised how many wines were correctly identified! That was the moment I realised that wine was complex and delicious.
By around the twelfth wine I was in trouble. Giving myself over-generous measures, as bottles were passed round, turned out to be an irreversible mistake. I was drunk! I may have embarrassed my father by leaving early but I decided that was the lesser of two evils given my state.
I don’t remember what wines we tasted that night but I remember the experience like it was yesterday. And that, as they say, is how I got into wine.
I was a latecomer to wine but an early devotee of beer and whisky.
Phase one of my involvement started in the late 70s, making me about 35. I haven’t the faintest memory of what got me started but my wines of choice were the 1970 Riojas. I would go into off licences and look for these, so I suppose this was the start of the hobbyistic side of my interest. I was encouraged by the fact they were cheap.
Phase 2 was my purchase of a wine bar in 1982. Despite the Rioja interest I was almost completely ignorant of wine – even fundamentals such as Burgundy and Bordeaux were unknown to me. However, I had to start buying and selling wine so I started exploring, my interest grew, and the interest became an obsession.
Phase 3 started with a single bottle epiphany in the mid-80s. It was a bottle of Giscours 1977 drunk in restaurant long gone. This woke me up to an appreciation of fine wine and I began to take a really serious interest from that time on.
It must have been around the early 1970s; I would have been about 15/16. My father had by then given me the occasional small glass and I had drunk the odd half pint of beer in pubs on camping trips with friends in the Scouts. I was at a friend’s house and was asked to stay for supper and a bottle of Giscours 64 was served
I still remember being mightily impressed by the wonderful flavours. Paul and I still remain friends to this day despite an early auction disaster when I suggested in the early 80s that we purchase a case of Calon Segur 1957. It was our birth vintage and on tasting, we poured 10 bottles down the sink in quick succession. We both kept a bottle to remind ourselves of the benefits and dangers buying at auction!