Here’s Where it All Started

I suspect none of you has ever wondered why I became interested in wine, but I’m going to tell you anyway as a means of introducing a short series on my favourite wine writing.

Until I went to university I had never drunk wine, and when I did start it was with Lambrusco. I remember feeling terribly sophisticated when I moved on to the Entre-Deux-Mers sauvignon blanc (mixed with semillon, too?) that I bought in my local Sainsbury’s. I was in my early twenties before I visited France, when I used to drink the merlot made by the local Duras co-operative in the south west.

But it was when my then girlfriend’s father made me taste two St. Emilions side by side that something clicked. I don’t remember the producers but I do remember the vintages – 1983 and 1985 – and I also remember thinking that the wines tasted good but good in different ways. That started a mild fixation on the wines of Bordeaux, although strangely with the  rather chewier cabernet sauvignon-based wines of the Médoc that I bought in my local Oddbins.

The book that started it all.

I was given my first wine book, the rather hefty “Sainsbury’s Book of Wine”, around that time, but it was another, rather slimmer Sainsbury’s book that had the bigger impact – Oz Clarke’s “French Red and Rosé Wines”. For the first time, I read about wines from obscure regions like Marcillac and Madiran, Bandol and Bourgeuil. It didn’t actually matter to me that I   hadn’t drunk these wines, just that they were out there, and Oz Clarke’s writing made them seem the most exciting thing possible, his enthusiasm jumping from the page. Appropriately enough for a Rhône Wine blog, here’s an extract from his entry on syrah:

“…it was the startling mixture of flavours that got me hooked. So savage to start with – the tannins tugging at your gums, the tarry, peppery brashness overlaid with a thick, hot jammy fruit – that you feel sure the wine will never be remotely civilised. Yet the change does come. The tar and pepper subside into a smoky, leathery perfume, while the tannins drop away to reveal a wonderful sweet fruit – blackberries, blackcurrants, raspberries and plums – the black chewiness of dark treacle and liquorice, the slightly bitter edge of pine, the soothing texture of cream.”

I rest my case.


Note: This is the blog of Rhône Wine Tours, a sort of open house for anything wine-related. You can read more on our website – – and see other bits and bobs on Facebook.

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