… are you doing this, Cynthia?
How many times have I been asked this?
My knee jerk reaction is to want to ask, have you ever tasted the wines? But I have to bite my tongue… because no, maybe they haven’t, and even if they have, they may not respond to them as I do, so they still wouldn’t get it. Heck, I’m utterly indifferent to Latour.
So, why, or how, did I get so interested in wine?
I grew up oblivious, in fact wine was rather a joke in my family, witness the six packs of tinned beaujolais – no, I am not kidding. When I was going off to university my mother came over all domestic and started spouting cooking and housekeeping tips – including the advice that if I needed wine for cooking, I should buy Gallo: it came in a gallon jug with a screw top and would keep for ever, and it was cheap enough to use for cooking, but not so bad you couldn’t drink it if you had to. After that, needless to day, I wasn’t remotely interested in wine, didn’t even become aware of the alternatives, till I came to England. Then I had the great good luck to fall into friendship with three great gourmands at work – and at lunch time they would drag me off with them down the pub, where we would drink something like vinegar whilst they swapped stories of cooking, good meals, good wines… I was fascinated. I was also dying to try some of these things they were talking about, but which we certainly weren’t drinking at lunch time!
The first major turning point was this: in 1998 I had the great good luck to go to Buenos Aires several times on businesss. A colleague asked me to bring back a bottle of malbec for him – I cannot remember the winemaker, alas. One night, out at dinner alone at a marvellous parillo called La Caballeriza, I ordered a steak and decided to try some malbec, to find out what my friend was on about. I vividly remember I ordered the steak medium-well done, and it arrived decidedly rare. I looked at it and thought about saying something, but decided the chef probably knew better than I did, and to say nothing. Wise girl. The combination of perfectly au point steak, a roasted sweet potato, and this incredible earthy spicy tannic malbec… I don’t even know how to describe the impact. So rich, complex, and sensual. I was enchanted, and that meal was the first experience that absolutely determined me to learn more about wine, both how it was made, and what else was out there.
As it happened, whilst at Berry Bros & Rudd to buy some champagne for millennium celebrations I picked up a brochure about their just-launched wine school and tastings. The first session was sold out, but I managed to get in on the one in spring 2000. After the introductory course I took a marvellous course focussing just on Bordeaux and Burgundy, then the WSET Intermediate Certificate course, and after that began regularly attending tastings and dinners. For me, the focus quickly narrowed to Burgundies and Italian wines, and it is the play of food and wine together which most fascinates me. Very often the dinners would focus on the wines of a single domaine and the wine maker would attend and talk through the wines, their approach to the wine making and the unique qualities of their terroir.
As I am often the odd unaccompanied woman at these events, I have frequently been seated beside the host from BBR and therefore near the wine maker, so I could listen to the more informal conversations, not just the stand up routines between courses about the specific wines being served. I remember distinctly one early dinner with Nigel Greening of Felton Road, listening to him and David Berry Green talking and rather wistfully thinking, these people are so passionate about what they do, they cared so much. I thought about all my years in the financial industry, and all the people I had ever worked with, and could not recall even once, any of us, ever being so passionately interested in our work. What a waste of a huge percentage of a lifetime, to not be passionate about what you do for a living.
Over the next few years I had many good wines and dinners, and I will write more about some of them another time – for now, just the life-changers. That malbec and steak in Argentina was one, this is the other:
In November 2007 I had the great good fortune to attend a dinner hosted by Jasper Morris of BBR and Christophe Roumier, the wine maker from Domaine Georges Roumier in Chambolle Musigny. I know we had his one very rare white wine with the starter, but honestly I have no memory of it, shame on me, but true. What I do remember vividly is the steady crescendo over the meal of extraordinary reds: first his Chambolle-Musigny and Morey St. Denis Clos de la Bussière 1er Cru side by side, both 2002, and with the next course we had two of his Ruchottes Chambertin Grand Crus, the 1999 and 1995.
But it was his Bonnes Mares 1988 served with the cheese course of that dinner on 30th November 2007 that changed my life once and for all. I remember tasting it, setting the glass down and then and there deciding to revive my French, go to Burgundy to see these vinyards, and to work the harvest the following year. I simply had to know where this came from and how it was made. And in 2008 I did those things, and my blog tells most of the odyssey since then.
In the foreground is Les Ruchots, but in the middle distance, between the walls and with the house at the southern end, is the vinyard of Clos de la Bussière, which is a Roumier monopole. Taken in September 2008. Footnote: this is in Morey St. Denis, so the foreground vinyard is NOT the source for the Ruchottes Chambertin which Christophe makes.