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  Christmas 2020 was very different for all of us, and for Fiona and I it was the first we’d spent in the UK for around 13 years. We are both great skiing fans and come Christmas you’ll find us in Switzerland. Now you may not think of Switzerland as a great wine-producing country, but it is. It’s just that they drink all of it themselves! The Valais region’s most cultivated grape is Chasselas, which they use to make Fendant, a wonderfully fruity, steely-dry white wine full of minerally tastes and textures (think about the sensations of licking a piece of granite). But it’s when standing on a sunny balcony in sub-zero temperatures looking at snow-topped mountains that Fendant is most memorable for me. It’s maybe a standard Swiss table wine, but in this situation it just can’t be beaten.
Back in September 1992, we were part of a group of 10 friends who hired a cottage in Libourne, a village in the Gironde region of Bordeaux, France, for a holiday. It later became known as the ‘trough tour’ as the whole week seemed to surround socialising, eating and drinking. Couples took turns to cook each evening, and the competition to outdo each other became intense. Each day involved a trip out which always included a long, quintessentially French lunch. It was at one of these that my next memorable wine experience took place. St Emilion is a beautiful medieval town with an ancient monastery but is better known for its plummy, Merlot-dominated Grand Cru wines. Our al-fresco lunch in the
Martin Higginson in Chianti with some of the local refreshment
idyllic central square was memorable, not just for the food (I can’t remember details but I’m sure that it was good) but the fact that we drank wine from Magnums, a first for me. The actual wine isn’t important, I’m sure that it was delicious without being super-expensive, but the fact that it was from Magnums. How extravagant, how sophisticated, how 90s!
My next great wine experience is closer to home and was the finale of my 50th birthday celebration at the renowned Morston Hall restaurant in North Norfolk. A generous close friend said that he’d be responsible for the wine order and he really treated us to some special wines including the famous Sassicaia ‘Super Tuscan’, but it’s with dessert that he excelled himself. The sweet wines of Sauternes in Southern France are renowned for their sumptuous mix of honeyed sweetness and acidity, and the king of Sauternes wine is Chateau Yquem. I’d never tasted it before, and the half bottle that we shared between the four of us was sublime. It also prompted perhaps the best description of wine that I’ve ever heard when my wife commented that “this is what angels must drink”.
There’s an old adage that a wine always
tastes best close to where it was made, and you can’t get closer than the actual vineyard, particularly when tasted with the winemaker themselves. As a keen ‘wine tourist’ I’ve been lucky to do this many times, some memorable examples being the wonderful Châteauneuf du Pape at Chateau Beaucastel in the Southern Rhone during our honeymoon (we only bought one bottle but like many places, they allowed us to taste lots more), a visit with wine professional friends to Chianti Classico, Italy, and perhaps the most scenic tasting I’ve experienced in the middle of the vineyards of Bodegas Ontañon in Rioja, Spain tasting their amazing Tempranillo Blanco.
Closer to home, our local public wine tastings (pre-Covid of course, but we’ll be back) have shown some great wines as well as being great fun. Those lucky enough to have been at the pre-Christmas Champagne tasting evening at Thos Peatlings in Bury a few years ago will remember having the opportunity to taste some great Grand Marque Champagnes including Roederer Cristal, Dom Perignon and Vintage Bollinger. I’m also very proud to have convinced a group of strict ABCs (Anything But Chardonnay) drinkers that good white Burgundy is the real deal, and proved that German Riesling isn’t just Black Tower, and Blue Nun and can be amazing.
Drinking special wines with friends at home can also be memorable occasions. Perhaps after a visit to our favourite local restaurant Pea Porridge wasn’t the optimum time to open a bottle of Chateau Palmer Margaux (an eye-wateringly expensive wine that I’d been given as a thank you for hosting a charity wine tasting for Action Medical Research, (thanks Val) but it was a fantastic treat. Similarly with a bottle of South African Constantia Glen, shared with more special friends, which was given to Fiona as a thank you from a grateful client.
The conclusion I’ve come to is that while some wines are more memorable than others because they are lovely to taste, the most memorable depend on more than just the special elixir that is wine. They depend, like many great experiences, on sharing it with the right people, or being in a particular special place, be it home or elsewhere. Here’s to more of the same.
n Look out for our tastings which will begin again once Lockdown rules allow, and experience some memorable wines with us. Follow Suffolk Wine Academy on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, or check out our website www.suffolk- wineacademy.co.uk to find out more.
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