Chapter 3

Monday 13th October

Back to work and I am submerged in organizing a trip to Bordeaux in two weeks time for an irascible Japanese sommelier. As usual they have left it to the very last moment to inform me of their intentions and I am frantically telephoning contacts in Bordeaux to politely ask them to be jolly good fellows and forget about menial tasks such as harvesting the grapes and escort us round their chateaux instead.

I am mentally exhausted by the time I leave although I have miraculously managed to arrange a visit to Chateau Pétrus. Still, tonight I can look forward to watching "Teen Big Brother" on Channel 4 and watch a group of 18 year olds being spiteful and bitchy towards each other. This is far more engrossing than the tedious adult version that bored a nation to tears during the summer. Here they wear their hearts on their sleeves and emotions spew forth to our voyeuristic delight. Jealousy, homophobia, xenophobia, selfishness and lust are dolled out by these mini-Machiavellis. I love it though Tomoko refuses to watch.

Tuesday 14th October

"Teen Big Brother" again. I won't bore you.

Wednesday 15th October

This evening Tomoko has a dinner with an important client and amongst other wines she will drinking perhaps the greatest Bordeaux ever to pass my lips: Chateau Latour 1961. I have offered to pick her up from the station at about 11pm.
11:00pm - still no phone call.
11:30pm - still no phone call - perhaps she has absconded with the client along with the Latour?
11:45pm - still no call.
11:55pm - receive call from Tomoko asking when the last train is. I reply that it left 20 minutes ago.
12:20am - pick up an inebriated Tomoko from Victoria Station. I would admonish her and yet considering the wines on the table, I would have been disappointed if she had not returned in the small hours and worse for wear.

Thursday 16th October

Tomoko is seems fine, proving the fact that you cannot get a hangover from a 100 point Parker wine.

This evening I have dinner with Roberto from Switzerland at "Ken Lo's Memories of China". Pray tell, what are Ken's memories?
The Great Wall: the only man-made object visible from the moon?
The Terra Cotta Warriors of Emperor Qin Shi Huang?
No, Ken's memories consist of crispy aromatic duck and special fried rice. We drink a mind-bogglingly opulent wine that I guess is a Super-Tuscan. In actual fact it is a super-cuvée called La Porte du Ciel from Chateau de Negly that received 96 points from Sir Bob P of Monkton. It is delicious in a hedonistic kind of way.

Friday 17th October

Another hectic day trying organize this trip. After work I drive down to my hometown of Leigh-on-Sea and go to my local pub: the Grand. I have been a regular since the age of 16, sorry I mean 18. It is the only pub in Southend devoid of that menacing "you looking at me?" vibe although it is dark and dingy; with Sweet Child 'O Mine on constant rotation and its unique "passive smoking bar" for those not addicted to the weed. I find Vicky in the "Hairdresser with Odd Haircut Bar" clutching some garish bottle called "Moondarra". I request Leigh's most eminent Chardonnay girl to compose a brief article espousing the attributes of "Moondarra". The cheeky asides were added by me in brackets.

My Moodarra - by Vicky Braxton

9.15 on a Friday night is always "Moondarra Time" for us hard-working Chardonnay girls (Essex Division). My £10 note flutters impotently at the lethargic bartender and so I deploy my shiny pink lip-gloss and cleavage to act as a homing-beacon and get served more quickly. My heart's desire is a simple bottle of Moondarra Semillon Chardonnay: that classy blend of appley Chardonnay with just a hint of lemony Semillon which when put together seem to create such a sharp tangy aftertaste (obviously Vik is no Jancis Robinson). It's best not to spend time sniffing it before drinking, as it's slight oakiness (obviously 100% new barrels from their own cooperage) can make one feel a little queasy (I have a similar sensation with some of the garagiste wines in Saint Emilion.)
I couldn't bare anyone stealing my Moondarra and waste little time in savouring the taste.

Saturday 18th October

This evening Tomoko and I see the Wales' finest group "Super Furry Animals" at the Brixton Academy. Highlights include "Demons", the sublime "Juxtapose With You" and a climactic finale: "Man Don't Give a Fuck". I do not spot any other wine-correspondents in attendance though I am sure I see Pierre-Antoine Rovani crowd-surfing at one point. Or maybe not.

Sunday 19th October

Watch Henry VIII blitz his way through his wives on TV. I am watching because I have been in love with Helena Bonham-Carter since A Room With a View. She is playing Anne Bowlyn who I met at the Napa Valley Tasting (see 9th October) and I am mortified to see her guillotined in exactly the same spot where she shared a glass of Saintsbury Pinot Noir with her misogynistic husband just 3 weeks ago.

Monday 20th October

Attend a port tasting at 10:30am - a good way to start the week. This is a perfectly organised event: a quiet, spacious room, a vertical of Fonseca ports back to 1966 and Guimaraens back to 1932 (article and tasting notes planned for November) and hardly anyone there. By lunch I have tasted around 30 ports and decide its time for a break.

Wednesday 22nd October

Go to Hammersmith Apollo with Phil to see "The Darkness" (recommended by yours truly the week the album was released.) They rock. I search for Pierre-Antoine Rovani but there is no sign although I am sure I glimpse Hugh Johnson head-banging along to "Get Your Hands Off Of My Woman Motherf**ker".

Or maybe it wasn't.

Friday 24th October

Tomoko and I attend a fine tasting of 1982 wines organised by CEC Wines and tutored by David Peppercorn and the flaxen-haired Serena Sutcliffe. Their insights are very informative although they eke out sixteen tasting samples per bottle. I get a morsal of Pichon-Lalande 1982 and ignore the pourer's protests that he was saving some for himself. Afterwards and meet Vicky, Erika and Jude in the City for beers and Jude and I are still drinking whilst chairs are being stacked on the table.

Saturday 25th October

For the first time I travel on the London Eye with mum and my brother Tom. London is stunning at night, the metropolis a sea of iridescent lights and floodlit Regency facades.
I manage not to vomit inside the capsule.

Sunday 26th October

The sado-masochistic side of me means I am back in IKEA. I manage 15 minutes before paranoia sets in. Dinner at Phils where we drink a bottle of Kirwan 1979 which is unbelievably youthful and vigorous: a real gem. I check Parker's score when I return home but am disappointed to find he describes every 1970's vintage as "mediocre". Please Bob P, retaste when you have the time.

Saturday 1st November

A tsunami of relief sweeps over me as the arduous week comes to a close. Henceforth I will not have to be the chauffeur/translator/consultant/dogsbody and I can relax. I sleep on the flight home and spend the rest of the day watching minority sport and Pop Idol.

Sunday 2nd November

I do nothing all day. My muscles have gone on strike and I am reduced to watching "Farming Weekly" on BBC2, the nearest I can get to the country without getting in my car. My mind is switched off for the day and my only thought for the day is for someone to switch off Paul Burrell's nauseating soppy voice that simpers from the television every half an hour.

Tuesday 4th November

Today is the "Grand National" on the wine-tasting calender: the Union de Grand Cru tasting of the Bordeaux 2001 vintage. It has been held at the Royal Opera House for the previous two years, an appropriate venue for the divas of the wine world. It represents the only congregation of the entire UK wine-trade and half the time is spent gossiping with colleagues instead of actually tasting the wine. Each merchant despatches their team and they are easy to identify: Seckford appear to have dropped in from the morning's pheasant shoot whilst Bordeaux Index appear to be going clubbing straight after the event. The photo on the left gives you a birds-eye view of what one of these events looks like. Examine it carefully and award youself one point for spotting an MW and two points for a chateau owner. I say bonjour to Michael Broadbent and remind him about lunch next week: to my relief he has not forgotten. I spot HRH Jancis mere yards away and consider introducing myself but yet again she is esconced in deep conversation. Another opportunity blown.

union de grand cru tasting

I stay focused at these events. Despite my girlfriend and dozens of friends being present, I manage to taste approximately sixty wines, the maximum quantity I can sample before my faculties start to go haywire. By this point your fingers are stained purple, your teeth look as if you have sucked on a beetroot and if the wines are poor, your mouth actually tastes like beetroot. As for the chateau owners: the Ariel Sharon doppelganger from Chateau Croizet-Bages still looks as if he slept on a park bench, Steffan von Niepperg looks as if he has walked off the set of a silent film and Helene of Troy from Clos L'Eglise wins the "Foxiest Chateau Owner 2003" for the umpteenth time, though somehow I doubt she would forsake her castles in Bordeaux for my maisonette just south of Brixton.

A full report on the wine will follow in due course, suffice to say that 2001 is a rather over-looked vintage and I particularly enjoyed some of the white wines and of course those mellifluous Sauternes. I finish the tasting by finally chatting to Christian Seely, whose bow-tie has already become synonymous with Pichon-Baron. By 4pm I am exhausted and there is only one option. The pub.

Thursday 6th November

It is Bordeaux Part 2: the Masters of Wine 1999 Bordeaux tasting at the splendid Royal Festival Hall which boasts the best view of London, a panoramic vista over the London Eye and Houses of Parliament. The average age of an MW student seems to 65: I was anticipating a gaggle of funky thirtysomethings, ready to usurp Johnson, Broadbent et al. when the revolution comes. The good thing is that I am not waylaid by friends and I manage to taste around seventy wines including all the First Growths, in the allotted three hours. A report will follow in early December, though I will say at this stage, well done Chateau Margaux. I'm pretty knackered after the tasting so walk up to Burgerking for the Triple Pepperjack burger, only to find that it was for a limited period only. To console myself I ply KFC with my custom.