Recently while watching the Tour de France cycle race, I noted that there was a television series on ITV called The Wine Show, link here: http://www.itv.com/thewineshow. This show was hosted by two actors, Matthew Goode (from The Imitation Games) and Matthew Rhys, and the wine guru, Joe Fattorini. The series shows the journey taken by these three men across Italy and other parts of the world, looking at the stories in wine making. My wife and I have become hooked on the show, due to the great facts presented about wine and the beautiful scenery around many of these vineyards. Which brings me to the reasons why I got into wine collecting.
My hobby started in 1997 when I first came to UK to work as a doctor. My wife and I worked in James Paget Hospital in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk during our pre-registration house officer year. There were many German doctors working there, and that was where I first got the taste of good wine.
There was a German pre-registration house officer who had brought a bottle of non-vintage Moet Chandon champagne along to a party at one of the other senior house officer’s accommodation. Non-vintage simply means that the champagne is made from a blend of many different vintages of champagne to reflect the House flavour of the champagne – so this is repeatable each year. It is less expensive than a vintage bottle of champagne which is only produced during excellent years when the grapes are of high enough standard.
Now this doctor said that buying non-vintage champagne which has been in bottle for at least 1-2 years i.e. sitting on the shelf of a small shop and not as quickly sold (unlike in a supermarket where the turnover is faster), then you will experience an improvement in the taste – and give you the taste of a vintage wine but at the lower cost of a non-vintage bottle. And he was right. That was the best champagne I had tasted up to that time, and that got me hooked into wine collecting.
My initial foray into wine collecting was met with mixed success, with some reasonable tasting wines while others were undrinkable and tipped down the sink. Then I bought the Oz Clarke Pocket Wine book, and learnt from this wine genius. And I’ve not bought a bad bottle since, and in fact have bought many great bottles since.
The wine journey:
Now wine drinking can have its benefits, provided this is done in moderation. Now I do not drink wine very often, and have gone many months without drinking any at all. So when I do drink, and usually to go with good food and/or to share with friends and relatives, I do like to take the opportunity to open a nice bottle.
Now people talk about the senses that wine excite: seeing the colour of the wine in the glass (sight), the aromas emanating while the wine is swirling around the glass (smell), the flavours experienced as the wine is sipped into the mouth, as it rolls over the tongue and as the wine is swallowe (taste). But they forget what I find just as important – the journey the wine has made to get to the table, the aging the wine has gone through and the actual time it is opened and served and the people you share the bottle with.
Each wine has come to existence through a very long process from growing the grapes in the individual terroir of the chateau, the care of the vines during the growing season, the harvesting and subsequent fermentation of the grapes and aging of the wine, before the bottling and shipping to the retailer. There is a lot of time, love and effort that has gone into this process. Then there is the process of purchasing this bottle and getting it home, aging it at home until that perfect occasion to bring it out to share. Those who can afford it will buy mature wine ready to drink (at greater cost), but I do like to think I have invested and rescued an orphan bottle of wine from languishing on the shelf in a wine store somewhere, and am gently nursing it in my wine fridge until it reaches full maturity, and then it will be served on the right occasion – all of which takes time.
Memorable wine moments:
Now there are a few occasions which have a firm place in my memory, and it is so fitting that they were capped by some remarkable wines.
Back in 1998, we had travelled through Kuala Lumpur airport and saw a few bottles of Krug non-vintage champagne on sale there at a very reasonable price (under £36) and we bought one bottle back to England to go into the cupboard under the stairs. We then opened it on New Years day 2000, to celebrate the new Millenium – just my wife and I. That was my first significant wine moment (other than that experience of the Moet Chandon champagne) which I shared with my wife. I have since managed to buy another bottle of this at a very good price from Sainsburys supermarket, and am keeping this for another special occasion.
Now back in 1997, I had found in Oddbins wine merchant an offer for Dom Perignon 1990, the marquee champagne from Moet Chandon and hence I bought 2 bottles of this. 1990 was a great vintage for champagne, and hence will age well. The first bottle we opened to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary, with two other couples from our church – one of whom shared the same anniversary date as us but 10 years our senior i.e. 1988, and the other couple was also celebrating their 10th anniversary but this was on another day in June. I remember the lobster noodles served that day, and that the champagne tasted great.
The second bottle o Dom Perignon I had opened to celebrate when I was successful in getting my consultant job at my current hospital. My in-laws and my eldest brother-in-law and his family were visiting us at that time, so we celebrated this occasion together. And the fact that we travelled subsequently to France together and visited the Moet Chandon facilities in Champagne, France, made that experience even more special – to drink a champagne and visit the chateau shortly after where it was made and aged is just so meaningful.
The next memorable wine moment was when our friend’s relatives had arrived in England from Hong Kong to stay with them for a while. We invited them to our house for a meal, and I chose to open a bottle of Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz 1998. I had bought 2 bottles of this 1998 wine, as this is our anniversary year. Now I have to say that this bottle was probably the best wine I had ever tasted in my life, even better than the Mouton Rothschild 1998 we had for my 40th birthday party. It was fruity, smooth and everything I would expect from a great bottle of mature wine; words just cannot express how good that wine tasted. It was moments like this that keep me interested in wine collecting. All who tasted the wine that day agreed that it was such a nice wine.
Last year during the summer holidays, we travelled back to Singapore and Malaysia to visit friends and relatives. We happened to visit one of our University friends practising as a radiologist in Singapore – I was actually suffering from sinus headache following the flights and was actually not going to attend, but he would not take no for an answer and drove all the way to pick us up from the shopping centre.
Two other of our Uni friends joined this mini reunion as well. My friend produced a bottle of 2012 Leeuwin Estate Art Chardonnay of a recent vintage, which he had bought when he visited Western Australia 2 years ago – ordered from their agent and delivered to where he stayed. Now this wine is one of the 21 wines in the Exceptional category on Langton’s wine classification, which essential is Australia’s top tier of wines (along with Penfolds Grange and Henschke Hill of Grace).
It was a lovely wine with lovely aromas and taste – although sadly I was only able to have a small amount of this due to the sinus headache I had. But this is what good wine is all about – the sharing of the experience with friends, the living of the journey of how the wine made it to the table. I did tell my friend after he brought this wine out that it was one of the top wines of Australia and that I had a few bottles of this wine of an older vintage at home in UK as well – perhaps if he came to visit us in England, then we can share a special bottle of wine with him as well.
As you can tell, the great wine moments are intertwined with a special moment in our lives, and that is what makes the wine special – the ambience, the atmosphere, the food, the company, all affect how the wine tastes and feels.
I have managed to collect 1998, 2001 and 2008 vintage wines as they have particular significant to us as a family. The latter two vintages are being kept for my daughters as part of their inheritance – I would like them to know that I had thought of them when collecting these bottles of wine, which perhaps they can share with someone special or with their family on a special day (21st birthday, wedding, graduation etc), and drinking a wine as old as they are.