Chapter 1

Thursday 18th September

Wake up at 7:25, which means I will be ten minutes late for work. I have recurring dreams about the tortuous windy roads in Madeira. Last night Madonna was driving, God knows why. Perhaps Freud would have the answer?

Today I have to look presentable and not like a rejected percussionist from Radiohead, since I scheduled a one-on-one meeting with none other than Lord Michael Broadbent and that demands a (leafs frantically through dictionary)...a tie and not my dog-eared "Kid A" t-shirt. "MB" arrives at his office conveniently located within the ambit of private gentlemans' clubs in Saint James' Street. He is a little breathless after cylcing from home but his dapperness is unruffled. We discuss a proposed tasting in Tokyo next year and I must confess that I envy his Utopian lifestyle. Here I am, trying to persude him to taste wines that most people can only dream about...Mouton '45, Gaja '64. The meeting goes well. MB says he will volunteer himself as my first interviewee for my website, though like many of our elder, folk he has a phobia for any contraption containing a silicon microchip. Unable to e-mail him, I will send my message by carrier pigeon or messenger boy next week, whichever the West Norwood Post Office can offer.

An few minutes later I am in Burgerking with best friend Vicky since they have a £1.99 deal on at the moment. We favour the Oxford Street branch because of its mock American diner and its comfy booths: ideal for conversation. We discuss the current trials and tribulations of being a young thirtysomething with a mental age of seventeen.

The Victorians

The afternoon is busy, writing my Madeira article and a chateau profile of Chateau Petit-Village. I eventually leave for home around 7p.m. and catch the train back to West Norwood. My current tome is A.N. Wilson's weighty "The Victorians". I spend most of the journey reading about the 1845 Irish Famine: not exactly a laugh a minute. Tonight I cook pasta with a jar of Lloyd Grossman's Sweet Pepper sauce with a bottle of Chilean Chardonnay: Dom Victor Reservado 2000 from William Fevre (better known for their Chablis). (This is obviously not going to be a "Hedonist's Gazette" à la Robert Parker.) Still, Mr Grossman's sauce is fine once it has been reconstituted with sugar, Worcester Sauce, tomato ketchup, tomato purée, garlic, mushrooms and parsley. However the wine seems to lack flavour and appears to have a load of oak chips dunked in it. I veg out on MTV2 and go to sleep at midnight.

Friday 19th September

Tonight is the first offline of the academic year i.e. when we have all returned from our holidaying abroad and can spare time to open a few bottles together. The theme is simply white wine and I proffer a Saint Veran from Verget and the Barbeito Tinta Negra Mole 1995 that we savoured in Madeira. These tastings are always held at La Trouvaille, a Gallic nirvana just nestled within the boutiques of Carnaby Street.

There are a dipsomaniacal eleven in attendance and as usual Tomoko is the only female present, which is at odds with the trade tastings that are abundant with the fairer sex, many of whom are Masters of Wine (or should that be renamed Mistresses?) Are such wine-tastings imbued with unacceptable levels of testosterone for women?
Maybe I should organise a woman-only tasting?
Or is the sexist?
Still it is all highly enjoyable, the wines eclectic though overall, slightly underwhelming; the conversation meandering through such diverse topics as wine, wine and wine. Tomoko and I analyse the sociological composition of the group. Most wine-tastings contain an array of charicatures: the reticent one, the argumentative one, the knowledgable one or the eternally serious one. Those that studiously take notes, others just focused upon imbibing and perhaps getting a little inebriated (I would fall into both camps.) Wine-tastings provide an engaging social dynamic that always as entertaining as the wines themselves.

Tuesday 23rd September

Today I attend my first supermarket tasting, although this is not any old supermarket. This is Waitrose. Since I specialise in fine wine there has been no reason to taste hundreds of yawn-inducing branded wines designed to be imbibed with minimal cerebral interaction. But Waitrose is decidedly upmarket, so much so that the Japanese ex-pats community have adopted it as their supermarket de choix. The regular faces are in attendance: Charles Metcalfe as ebullient as ever; Malcolm Gluck has come dressed as Compo; Matthew Jukes plucked, polished and preened whilst Joe Wadsack appears eligible for WWF status. HRH Jancis is absent, probably ordaining some bishop somewhere. The Waitrose dream-team of MW's, are all on hand to spoon out friendly advice and save supermarket shoppers from BOGOF damnation. This is well-organised tasting and I concentrate on the French wines, the premium Australians and the 2000 ports. It's an interesting selection; some really fine wines between £10 to £15 which I will report on soon.

I rest and take lunch in a side-room with an 80:20 ratio of MWs to non-entities comme moi. A man exuding gravitatas enters but I fail to recognize him, however I notice that the waitress breaks into a cold sweat when he approaches the bowl only to find the carrots have run out. New legumes are called for with utmost urgency with a side-order of sincere apologies. He deigns to sit next to me and identifies himself as the vice-chairman of Waitrose and we end up in engrossing conversation about the deflating Japanese economy. I tell him my brother works for his company, he enquires whereabouts and I reply "the vegetable department in Southend-on-Sea." Perhaps tomorrow my sibling's wages will be doubled for fear of a nasty review on 'lil Wine-Journal. Anyway, I finish off with the marvellous ports (what a great vintage 2000 is) and pick up my Waitrose goodie-bag which generously contains cheese and a bottle of Chablis.

Tonight I continue to analyse the new Muse album whilst watching Jamie Oliver cope with his lackadaisical students who work at 15...no make that 12...no it's now 8...oops its now 7.

Saturday 27th September

Tonight Tomoko and I are eating out at the Arches in North London, a venue that I always approach with trepidation because I am yet to leave the premises compus mentus. The previous escapade would have left Bacchus dribbling comatose somewhere around Camden Lock. The only redeeming fact was that the rest of the country was doing likewise following England's calamitous defeat to Brazil in the World Cup.

Still tonight I am determined to remain within an inebriated level of "amber alert"; the hangovers are beginning to persist longer as my metabolism gets more and more fed up/inured of being abused. Of course, the other reason for residing somewhere within the realms of reality is that we will be joined by Joel, a oenophile friend who we have got to know during the various offlines.

Nowadays, venues like the Arches face extinction. At most London restaurants your astronomical bill underwrites the cost of the designer chairs and the waiters' attitude rather than decent food and fine wine. But here the food is always delicious and the wines always extraordinary. The proprietor, the larger than life Harry G, is a man who lives and breathes wine and the Arches is his kingdom, where those who want a quick beer are just as welcome as those who want a bottle of Screaming Eagle off the list.

Unfortunately, Harry is gone past the "amber alert" by the time we arrive and upon joining us for a chat, he slurs a few words and declares that he needs to go home at 7:30pm. He is put into a taxi and whisked away into the night. Joel arrives soon after and we share some lovely wines like Chianti Classico 1997 from Fonterutoli (very new wave style of Chianti) and an unfortunate Barolo 1970 from Macarinni that smells of my five-year old Nikes and probably peaked at the same time as Leo Sayer.

We are sitting next to an MW. There is something about MW's that make me feel inadequate and inferior. Are they supercilious or do I have a severe case of molten envy? Probably both. Anyway, she looks as if I am threatening to poison her when I offer to exchange a perfectly potable La Fleur-Petrus 1973 with whatever she is drinking (which turns out to be a Ridge Lytton Springs.) The food and company are both enjoyable. We never reach a calamitous "red alert" on the Dionysian scale of inebriation and I discover the Joel is a fellow disciple of Prince Rogers Nelson, a cult that diminishes daily. The ensuing conversation regarding obscure b-sides from the early 80's leaves Tomoko dozing off in the corner.

Friday 3rd October

A completely mad day.
A very stressful morning. Next week I am tutoring a seminar on Bordeaux 1997's in front of 40 paying guests at the SuperBOWL, a wine-weekend in Glasgow organised by Tom Cannavan of Wine-Pages.com. Unfortunately as at 9:30am, yours truly does not possess a single bottle of Bordeaux 1997 due to a communication breakdown with one of the suppliers. I consider my options:-
1) buy some bottles from the local Thresher and taste those instead.
2) buy some bottles from Thresher and pour the contents into empty Bordeaux 1997 bottles.
3) leave the country.
Fortunately we manage to resolve the problem within a short space of time. Panic over.

The afternoon is spent tasting Saint Emilion 2000's for "Wine International" magazine. I always learn much from these tastings as they are conducted completely blind and you can see just how much a label or a famous name influences your opinion. I will not post the notes until they issue theirs, but let's just say my mark for Chateau Ausone was not quite as fervent as two weeks ago. We discuss our scores between our group that includes Charles Metcalfe and Oz Clarke and there are assorted gasps and expletives when identities are revealed and reputations questioned. I manage to slate one of my own agents premium Cru Classé's...thank God the scores are averaged out. I purloin a third-full bottle of Cheval Blanc and jamming the cork back into the bottle, take it for a trip back to West London for a few friends to taste.

I arrive back at La Trouvaille for 6pm, already knackered from tasting the 2000s. This is the first time I've organised a tasting: a vertical of Chateau Montrose. I didn't realise there was so much to do: open bottles with a broken corkscrew, check the glasses, prepare notes and so on. I'm a little bit nervous before the start since expectations are understandably high. It is like hosting your own party, constantly fretting about everyone having a good time. At the beginning there is an uncomfortable silence, so I pass round the glass of Cheval Blanc to get everyone into a vinuous frame of mind. It works, even though just two people believe it to be Bordeaux. Fortunately the wines loosen everyone's tongues and incite debate and I am soon far more relaxed and enjoying the evening. I'll post a report on the event soon.

Trapped
Saturday 4th October

I will come straight to the point. When Colonel Abrams sang about being "Trapped" in 1985, he was not referring to the trauma of being stuck in an undesirable relationship, but the psychological condition of being in an IKEA superstore in South Croydon on a Saturday afternoon.
I will say no more on matter...except I wonder whether he really was a Colonel?

Sunday 5th October

Spend all day constructing my IKEA drawers which is christened "Abedone": a title that sounds like a distant relative of the ebola virus. Fortunately I am a professional when it comes to IKEA furniture and comprehend that whoever designs the rudimentary instruction diagrams has a similar mind to the person who compiles the Times crossword.
No wine is consumed today.

Watch "psychological illusionist" Derren Brown attempt Russian Roulette live of Channel 4. I know it is all a set-up but I still find myself covering my eyes as he pulls the trigger. In a similar vein (i.e. voyeuristic self-flagellation for the viewing public) I switch over to satellite channel "LiveAuction.com TV", located at the fag-end of your remote-control at nine-hundred and something, to watch some breakfast TV wannabe muster sufficient enthusiasm to shift twenty useless plastic globes for £450 each. This is far more entertaining: watch the panic in her eyes as she receives a single bid of £20 from a hermit in Outer Suburbia. The blood visibly drains from her face as the clock inexorably counts down and she implores us to ring in, please, please, please. It finally hits zero with an unforgivable eighteen globes remaining unsold and the sound of her P45 being stamped is audible somewhere in the studio.
I am drinking a half-bottle of Chablis generously donated by Waitrose last week.