My all-time favourites
Most all-time favourites are long established. As time passes and we return to them repeatedly, their position at the top of our self-generated leaderboard reinforces itself and it becomes less and less likely for them to be supplanted.
All-time favourite album
This is easy: Appetite For Destruction by Guns N' Roses. I first encountered this in the late 1980s, when my eldest sister was in her rebellious mid-teens, and bought it on vinyl. Owning this record was an essential statement of intent for middle-class pubescents in market town England, and I was enthralled. The sound was raw and energetic, but above that was the attitude that came with it - from nowhere, they were the most reckless and hedonistic band around.
I played it obsessively, and have continued to listen regularly ever since. I know not just every lyric, but every individual part on every track and it soundtracked my most formative years.
All-time favourite film
American Beauty by Sam Mendes. There are quite a few very close contenders here - Capote, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Blues Brothers - but American Beauty is my go-to default choice. It manages to portray the monotony of middle class life with pinpoint accuracy, as well as the hormonal trauma of teenage years. The storyline is fantastical but believable and somehow tragic but uplifting. It has a superb soundtrack too. It was released just as I finished university, and was embarking on a working life - poised exactly between the routine of Lester Burnham's daily life and his daughter's restless angst.
All-time favourite book
This is a very recent addition. This will sound melodramatic, but The Grapes of Wrath is the closest a book has come to changing my life. I only read it for the first time in 2013. It's about displaced families in dust bowl America travelling to California to find salvation in the 1930s. It echoes the plight of today's migrants with chilling familiarity (and it prompted me to start volunteering for a local refugee charity - so that's the life-changing bit). It is beautiful and devastating throughout, and has the most shocking, desperate, heart-rending ending in anything I've ever read. I would urge everyone to read it.
All-time favourite wine
After a shamelessly self-indulgent start, here's the relevant bit: I don't have a favourite wine. The reason why is significant. All my above favourites are essentially sentimental. I would never claim they are the best albums, films or books of their time or genre - but they all have particular meaning for me, and that's the most relevant factor (see What's in my Eurocave for the sentimental reasons behind some of my wine choices).
People who work with wine are overwhelmed with opportunities to experience it, usually at someone else's expense. This means that the value of these experiences, and the attachment we make to them is diminished - not least because we must ensure our favour is not being bought outright.
It's worth remembering that our audience - normal wine drinkers - have favourite wines for entirely personal reasons, whereas the trade tends to assess wines from a purely olfactory perspective. Both approaches are valid, but it seems a shame that wine professionals have to eschew the sentimentality that is so fundamental to choosing favourites.