What makes wine meaningful?
I'm listening to Now Playing on BBC 6Music, which is asking listeners to nominate their favourite album of all time - and, importantly, to give their reasons why. Choices such as this depend on emotional connections - with albums, our favourites are most likely governed primarily by what that music signified for us at a time in our life.
For most engaged wine drinkers, nominating their favourite bottles will reflect the occasion and the company in which it was consumed as much as the wine itself, if not more so. For wine professionals, I think these moments are potentially lost. On the one hand, we often taste amazing wines in relatively sterile conditions (ie seminars, tutored tastings). On the other hand, we get to experience so many emotional moments with wine (long lunches, winery visits) that determining the most meaningful isn't always obvious.
By way of example, here are five particular wines that are most memorable for me.
- Santa Rita, Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2000 Chile
This was the wine I took home with me on my very first day at Majestic Wine. I was 22 years old, fresh from university and knew nothing about wine. The manager told me I could pick any wine, and because I'd spent most of the day merchandising a pallet of this wine one the shop floor, I took one home. It cost £6.99, which seemed extremely expensive. I loved it.
- Dom Comte de Vogüé, Les Amoureuses Premier Cru 20?? Chambolle-Musigny
I can't remember the vintage, but this was my first experience with expensive Burgundy. I was assistant manager at Majestic Wine in Brighton and we had managed to get hold of a few bottles of this wine, about which I knew very little except that it cost a lot of money. One evening after work, the team opened and drank it. Everyone was blown away - except me. I thought it was pretty disappointing - light, simple, flavourless. Basically, a complete rip-off. I've never forgotten that!
- Kangarilla Road Shiraz 2008 McLaren Vale
In 2008 I was a cellar rat at Kangarilla Road in McLaren Vale, Australia. This also turned out to be my writing break, because I ended up publishing a regular diary of my experiences for JancisRobinson.com. It was a heatwave vintage, and the work was tough. In truth, I didn't enjoy it much, although I learned a lot. A few years later when this wine was released, I bought a six pack and every time I tasted it, the experience of working in the winery came flooding back.
- Piper-Heidsieck, Rare 1988 champagne
My first official assignment for JancisRobinson.com was to go to the London launch of this champagne super cuvée. It was held in a peculiar masonic temple inside a posh hotel on Liverpool Street. I still remember how exciting it felt to be writing about wine, and I silently toasted myself during the tasting.
- Gusbourne, Blanc de Blancs 2007 England
I've been following Gusbourne since they first planted in 2004. The vineyard manager Jon was a part-time colleague at Majestic Wine in Brighton when he was studying at Plumpton College, and we've been friends ever since. I've tasted the wine many, many times over the years but the most memorable moment was my wedding in 2012, when we served the 2007 vintage of Blanc de Blancs.
Now, these five wines are neither the most expensive nor the 'best' I've ever tasted. However, their meaningfulness is based on a memorable emotional connection, which is a far stronger bond than giving a wine maximum points at a trade tasting . Giving people meaningful experiences is what matters most in wine - just as with music.