I founded St Andrews Wine Company back in 2012 with a desire to showcase the people behind all the products I sell. This is why I've started this series of articles, asking wine professionals about the six wines that changed their lives. But I believe in leading by example, so here are mine!
Wine 1 - An unknown Douro red from Quinta de Macedos I visited Quinta de Macedos in 2005 on my first ever wine trip. I’d been in the wine trade for four years, mostly working at Oddbins, and while I knew about wine, terroir and so on, I’d never experienced it. As the sun came down, I was standing with a glass of red wine and I put my nose in the glass and had a eureka moment - I finally understood the concept of terroir, the wine tasting like the place it came from. Warm leafy aromas, dust, fruit aromas wafting around - and that was replicated from the aroma coming out of the glass. I assume that a bunch of boozed up wine merchants would be given their entry wine, Pinga do Torto, rather than their top cuvee, so I bought a load of their 2007 vintage when it was available. I had a bottle a year or so ago, and it was awesome!
Wine 2 - Taylors 1927 I met a chap called Henry Hutchinson a few times back in the late 2000s. He drove a beaten up Jaguar and we started chatting about port. I explained that I loved the stuff, and he expressed an interest too. Then, one day in 2007, he brought me in a little miniature bottle with a beautiful ruby coloured liquid in it. He explained that his father had put down a few cases of Taylors from his birth year, and as he was now celebrating his 80th birthday, he decided to open the last couple of bottles he had with his family. This wonderfully generous man had then thought of me, a 30 year old chap he had met but a couple of times, on his birthday and decanted some for me to try. It is, to this day, the best vintage port I’ve ever had, and were it not for Henry’s kindness, I’d never have tried it. This is why I love wine, it is something that brings people together and encourages sharing.
Wine 3 - Moet et Chandon Esprit du Siècle You could say that my friend Peter Crawford is a Champagne enthusiast, but that doesn’t do him justice. To say he is an enthusiast is like saying Picasso liked painting. Crawford is an expert in this field, knows everyone on a first name basis from the smallest family run outfit to the biggest Champagne house. For his 30th birthday, we went to Moet et Chandon and, after a wonderful vertical tasting, they opened a magnum of Esprit du Siecle. This is a wine that contains vintage Champagnes from every decade of the 20th century, bottled in magnums and then femented again to get bubbles into it. This was, is, and is likely to remain, the greatest wine experience of my life for one simple reason. When you try a wine, you usually experience it at a specific age - a snapshot of what that wine is like at that moment. With this wine, you experience the passage of time. Perpetual cuvees sort of do the same thing, but this wine does it in a different way.
While perpetual cuvees do contain both older and younger wines, they are never made with finished wines, this champagne (can it be a champagne if it has been fermented three times?) was made with finished wines, and because of that, you taste, in one mouthful, everything from an ancient, century old wine to a young, vibrant ten year old - and all points in between. This is the only wine that I’ve tried that I long to try again… and it is hard to accept that I probably never will.
Wine 4 - A corked magnum of 1988 Pol Roger Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill It was my birthday in 2010 and I was intending on leaving work early that day, but my staff said I must stay for a drink to celebrate. They opened up this magnum of Pol Roger and it was horrifically corked, so they decided to put something else in the freezer to drink, and ‘forced’ me to hang around until it was chilled. It was because of that delay that I was in the shop when a woman walked in. She’d later become my wife.
Wine 5 - Chateau La Tour de By 2000  This was the first case of wine that I ever bought because Michael Broadbent called it his ‘everyday claret’. I kept that case of wine at my friend’s house (he had good cellaring facilities) and when I went to recover it, it had all been drunk! It took me another decade to find a case, which I then purchased, and it was fantastic. In 2019, I was taken to visit them, and didn’t really want to go as I was worried that owners of this Chateau might be jerks and that would spoil my romance with the estate. They were the most delightful people you could meet and most generous hosts, and my romance with this estate in the northern Medoc goes on!
Wine 6 - Grahams 1970 Vintage Port  This, for me, is the perfect bottle of port, not because it is the best I’ve tried (it is top 5) but because it is the one I’ve tried the most, seen evolve over the past 20 years, and have never, ever been disappointed by it. Everything about it just works for me, the complexity vs the simplicity, the sweet vs the savoury, the elegance vs the power…. When I first tried it, when it was just over three decades old, I was amazed by its approachability. Now, at over fifty years old, I’m amazed by its youthfulness. This is a wine that I know will outlive me, and I never want to not have a bottle in my possession…. Just in case.
If I could share only one of these with three people, real or fictional, living or dead, which would it be, and who would they be?
It would have to be the Grahams 1970 vintage, as it is the one wine that I cannot be without. While I’d love to drink it with my son or wife or with one of my heroes such as Graham Hill or Dean Martin, the three people I’d have to drink it with are the three friends who I always want to drink nice wine with, and sadly we don’t do it much anymore. Peter Crawford, Richard Bray and Kirsty Armstrong are the three people who were there when I first tried this wine, and who I always enjoy drinking wine with the most.