As a frugal student in 1997, I remember walking to the local Safeway (now a Waitrose in a very smart shopping centre) which had it’s own wine shop adjacent to the main supermarket that looked deceptively small from the outside but extended quite a way back with an impressive quantity of wines, most importantly, there was always a dozen white and a dozen red available for under £4. I used to walk there with a friend (let’s call him ‘Richard’ because that in fact, is his real name) and we would studiously read the labels of the sub £4 bottles, trying our best to pick out features that might help us decide which would have the least acrid aftertaste and result in the mildest hangover. Over the course of the academic year we found that the answer to both questions was ‘none’.
In my second year, I decided that the wine budget really should encompass that £5-6 bracket which was sure to include the bottles that would fulfil the holy grail of drinkability and not feeling like you had done 12 rounds with Mike Tyson post one of his spells in Prison. It didn’t.
I began by learning about the different grapes, slowly moving onto concentrating on New World wines, South Africa and California in particular. This was helped by a few trips to each and their numerous vineyards and wineries. Over the last few years, I’ve been introduced to a great swathe of French wine by a good friend who has a cellar under his house stocked with some fantastic stuff (and a bottle or two of Icewine, but that”s a different story). In 2009, I visited Burgundy with three good friends and we drank our way around the region. We were lucky enough to visit four ”Domaines” where we were warmly welcomed and plied with glass after glass of just bottled 2007 in an effort to educate four Englishmen in the fine art of a good Burgundy.
Quality over quantity. Perhaps if I could go back in time and persuade 18 year old me of the same, I’d have suffered fewer hangovers.