Year 2009: Chapter One
Saturday 23rd May
Three long years.
Thirty six months.
May I apologize for the extended hiatus. The house debacle was all rather dispiriting and consequently the diary became a chore rather than a pleasure, a pleasure that was increasingly feigned.
Then everything went topsy-turvy and you may have heard that I received a request for my penmanship from one Robert Parker. Once I had looked him up on Wikipedia, well, I thought it might be a profitable venture. I quit my job as a wine-buyer, not that I was spending a great proportion of my working day actually procuring wine and moved the family into rented accommodation since our present abode was little more than a glorified rabbit hutch. Unfortunately, the rented house was a semi-detached nightmare since unbeknown to us it was located within earshot of an evangelical church that commenced its bi-weekly 'dancehall/ragga' soirees around midnight. Not only did we turn into helpless insomniacs, but my mind fomented indelible images of large breasted lycra-clad ladies gyrating their sweaty booties in my face.
I don't understand it...ragga I mean...is it not simply fornicating with air?
How many kids did I have back then?
One I think.
Well, Mrs. Martin got another bun in the oven and nine months later, Daisy Momo Martin graced the world with her presence. She was born two-thirds of the way through watching 'The Third Man' and Mr. Welles was not amused by her timing. With the umbilical cord barely cut, I began the search for us to move into a more amenable area and lo and behold, the Martin family decamped to leafy Guildford. I must say, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. No more feral packs of youths guarding the street purportedly for my security, no more dusk 'til dawn ragga raves polluting the neighbourhood, no more noxious chemical fumes wafting through the house every Sunday morning (I white lied that it was a particularly potent Balti curry so as not concern the missus.)
The last two years have been spent on a highly enjoyable, a privileged treadmill of tasting, writing and travelling with family responsibilities wedged in between the nooks and crannies. Air miles have been earned via return trips to Middle Earth a.k.a. New Zealand (one of my remits for The Wine Advocate), Bordeaux that remains my bread and butter, Burgundy because I love the people and from time to time the USA. Having said that, I guess that the kingdom of Essex remains my most common destination as my parents, for all their sins, remain loyal citizens along with two of three brothers (one since married.) But as it stands, Essex is not applicable for air miles.
So, 23rd May 2009...exactly three years on from the last entry on Wine-Journal Mark 1.
What happened today?
It must be something life-changing or momentous to mark the return, eh?
The family are in Japan and have been for four weeks. I have just returned from Bordeaux, Pomerol to be exact where I am researching my book (on Pomerol if you care to ask) and so I have 36-hours to tidy up the house ready for the inspection before they return and break the silence. You think my life is glamorous now that I have attained a degree of kudos as a wine writer? Well, today consisted of ironing whilst watching the qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix, washing clothes (I ran out of underwear in Bordeaux but I do not think anyone noticed, even if Alexandre Thienpont kept his distance during the interview), shopping at Waitrose to reaffirm my faux upper-middle class status and slouching in front of a chicken kiev and Britain's Got Talent a.k.a. Britain's got Susan Boyle.
Christ...I hope something more exciting happens...
Sunday 25th May
The morning is spent tiding up the house. Rock 'n roll. br>
Rather than doing a weeks worth of housework every seven days, I elect the "four weeks of housework in an hour" option that is open exclusively to the male sex. In the short time at my disposal, I manage to maintain a remarkable level of organization and not only do I have the entire semi-detached completely sterilized by midday, but manage to compose an article on a Chateau Margaux dinner and watch Jenson Button speed his way to a well-deserved F1 victory in Monaco.
I leave for Heathrow with plenty of time to spare and while away the minutes gawping at tattooed dominatrix in "Bizarre" magazine at WH Smith. Terminal 3 is utter chaos. There appear to be a dozen flights returning from the Indian sub-continent and Arrivals is teaming with multi-coloured saris and excitable Indian children desperately seeking the grandparents. The miniature Indian grandmothers look disorientated, the grandfathers in wheelchairs brandish threatening walking canes and point where they want to be wheeled. The Americans tend to sport track-suits, the Japanese anti swine flu masks that I am sure are completely useless against the most over-hyped virus in recent times (words I will inevitably regret.)
Eventually I spot my family. Daisy's face has definitely changed over the month she has been away but at least she appears pleased to see me.
Lily is more shy and demure, acts as nonchalant and blasé as a four-year old pining for her dad can possibly act. But inside I can tell her heart is ready to pop with delight.
She wants to know if the house is ready for inspection?
I drive home to Guildford expecting the kids to doze off, having spent twelve hours couped up in a 747. Instead, they march through the house,
straight into the back garden. Lily commences cleaning her bike whilst Daisy grabs a broom to sweep the patio. Once their chores are completed, they
collapse into a deep jet-lagged slumber. Tomoko and I enjoy a Chinese takeaway then she goes up to Bedfordshire whilst I watch Newcastle deservedly
relegated on Match of the Day. I take a voyeuristic pleasure watching their predominantly bare-chested, multi-flab fans blub on the terraces contemplating
life in a lower division. C'mon, are there not more important things in the world to cry about? Famine, disease or TCA for example?
Monday 26th May
The first full day with Lily and Daisy. Tranquility has become but a distant memory. I am pole-axed by the constant demands of a four year old multiplied by a two year old and trust me, it is more than eight. The day is spent shopping at Waitrose and replacing all the food items that are past their sell by dates languishing in the fridge, a bit of writing, playing in the garden and blind tasting late arriving samples from New Zealand. The evening I veg out to Britain's Got Talent whilst contemplating the pluses and minuses of higher residual sugar levels in Sauternes.
Tuesday 27th May
The wife nonchalantly informs me that the dental hygienist that I am due to visit in two days time, was inspired by that notorious scene with Dustin Hoffman and Lawrence Olivier in Marathon Man. I guess it serves me right for refusing to go to the dentist for four years. However it is not my fault that the dental profession eschewed social ethics to make easy money outside the NHS, thereby discouraging Joe Public from spending hundreds of pounds to experience pain and suffering. In the evening...err...Britains Got Talent again.
Wednesday 28th May
Yet more writing. After a hectic May, chock-a-block with tastings, dinners and travel, it is good to catch up with work. I am currently rebuilding the Bordeaux Vintage Guide which is quite good fun, proof-reading my New Zealand report for the Wine Advocate, writing chapters for the Southwold 2005 tasting (theme is months of the year) and in between or that, hammering out a Chateau Margaux dinner from last year that is several aeons overdue.
I am even more nervous about the hygienist tomorrow. Lily runs around the house shouting "Daddy's scared....daddy's scared." It is all right for her: she can get as much decay as she wants. All her milk teeth will fall out and be magically replaced. My beleaguered molars and incisors spend most of the day marinating in tartaric acid and tannins, there is no substitute that sprouts out of my gums when duty calls and wines need tasting. I spend the evening trying to wrench off tartar with my finger, watching Manchester United capitulate to awesome Barcelona and then flicking over to The Apprentice.
Thursday 29th May
Oh dear. The Internet has vomited up a whole slew of articles on journalist ethics, an oxymoron at the best of times. I get depressed spending the whole day reading bilious forums proclaiming the demise of Robert Parker blah, blah, blah. It seems that a majority of the spleen emanates from the same disaffected minority and it simply illustrates how the liberty and freedom of the Internet can rapidly descend into unhinged vitriol and spurious allegation. I stay out of it, take a note of the journalist ethics that are expected of me and ring my silver bell for my butler, Monsieur Pontallier, to make me a cup of tea but not so strong this time. These chateau proprietors, you give them 95+ points and they slack on the job.
In the evening I attend a splendid vertical tasting of Chateau Leoville Barton at Robersons from 1961 to 1990. The wines are so delicious that it is one of the few tastings where I actually end up consuming the samples. Anthony Barton is in typically witty, sardonic form and will form a nice little piece for eRP, though given my backlog it will no doubt appear in 2039.
Saturday 30th May
It is a beautiful early summer day. I feel a little drained and to be honest, rather depressed with all the imbroglio festering on the Internet about eRP.
For Christ sake, it is wine we are talking about. Nobody has killed anybody, or at least I don't think so. What must their wives think?
"Why so tense darling? Is it something serious?"
"Terribly so," he replies, bottom lip quivering.
"Is it the results from the hospital scan? Have you lost your job? Is it the children...are they ill?"
"No, it is far far worse than that. I am enraged by a public forum on a wine-related website."
"Oh my poor little lambkins, whatever shall we do?"
I do the shopping at Waitrose with Lily and Daisy, spend half an hour panicking over chocolate chunks and whether they are the exact ones for Tomoko's orgasmatronic chocolate brownies, make several frantic phone calls when her shopping list leaves be befuddled and after the check-out, refuse to buy the L&D their "Pink" magazine because there is a recession on and the Martin family is economizing. After we return we drive to New Malden to buy some Korean meat which we bbq in the evening. Daisy acts like Nigella Lawson as she savours her spare ribs that are so delicious they should have a health warning. Orgasmic!
Sunday 31st May
The sun has got his hat on. I buy a copy of The Times, which as usual I have about two minutes to read before family duties usurp any mote of repose. I complete some writing in the morning, a couple more years in my Bordeaux Vintage Guide Mark II, tweak an article on Burgundy 2006s and then walk into town to buy some new shoes for Daisy, whose feet have suddenly elongated by one and a half sizes. Her feet may look strange, but at least she will be stable.
Monday 1st June
Another blissful sunny day although the bank has responded by giving me zero money to spend, which reminds me of the time that I was a student living in abject poverty.
The Natwest bank manager sat me down in his office, put on his serious face and demanded the salient points that led to my financial quagmire. I gave him my
well-rehearsed solilquy about the travails of a being a student in the early 1990s...the extortionate price of books...Coventry's sky-high
rental accommodation and so on. At this point he switched his frown onto "extra corrugated frown", pressed a key on his computer that spat out a complete breakdown of my outgoings
for the last month until it toppled over the brink of my overdraft limit. He read out the list is a deadpan voice that only a bank manager could muster...
Monday 3rd - Indian takeaway
Tuesday 4th - Indian takeaway
Wednesday 5th - Chinese takeaway
Thursday 6th - Indian takeaway
...and so on.
"I promise to eat fewer takeaways," I replied meakishly. "Please extend my overdraft limit."
He did so without hesitation. He had probably been here countless times, the pleasure of watching lily-livered students bullshit and the squirm in his
leatherette swivel chair.
Perhaps he had perfected his torture over a number of years. But at the back of his mind he acknowledged the fact that here in the palm of his hand was a future graduate,
bound to earn a decent living and depositing his monthly salary straight into his Natwest account because he, like most of the population, cannot be bothered
to change it. Then he gets a mortgage and he is yours for life.
I left NatWest with an engorged overdraft and that evening...Indian takeaway.
Wednesday 3rd June
Writing, writing, writing (interspersed with quick "commercial breaks" to read popbitch and NME.com.) In the evening I catch the train up to the capital's finest restaurant, The Ledbury, for a Donnhoff tasting/dinner. The food is immaculate, Herr Donnhoff congenial and so chatty that my main course goes cold. But the wine is splendid. How pleasurable it is to quaff wine wavering around 7% without fear of a debilitating migraine the following morning. I end up in conversation with a fashion photographer discussing which models are currently 'hot' and he reels off some names of Russian mannequins that I have never heard of. I just drink my Auslese and nod my head as if he is reeling off my love life.
Thursday 4th June
Mad, mad, mad day. Wake up on the sofa half dangling out of a sleeping bag - 'tis where I sleep when coming home late stinking of booze (even if it is Dönnhof's exquisite Auslese.) Bowl of Frosties, check the kids have not gone AWOL and then off to my first tasting of the day for a flotilla of German 2008s. Unfortunately may cerebral Google map goes awry and I walk three hundred miles down Goldhawk Road before...DOH! I realise I should be walking down Uxbridge Road. I re-route back to Shepherds Bush and find the venue, Princess Victoria gastropub and there I bid good morning to my new best friend, Helmut Dönnhof and Eva Fricke the winemaker of Leitz. Then back on the train from Shepherds Bush down to Wandsworth and yet again, my cerebral Google maps goes kaput and I end up walking aimlessly in circles desperately looking for Chez Bruce (London's third best eaterie after The Ledbury and KFC.)
The lunch is one the best I have had for a long time. Our host is a friend of mine in the wine trade, Stephen Browett of Farr Vintners.
Joining us is the man who I regard as this country's most gifted wine taster, Oz Clarke and driving straight from the Good Morning television studio sadly without Gordon the
Gopher, Philip Schofield. Mr Schofield is a very amiable man, quite dashing with his coruscating grey hair; surprisingly candid and most importantly, a die-hard oenophile.
Stephen furnishes us with wines that share each of our birth years including amongst others a sumptuous Haut-Brion 1959, a cerebral Mouton 1962 and perhaps best of
all, an exquisite Beychevelle 1949. Oz regales unrepeatable tales from his acting years, Philip gives us the inside track of being one of Britain's biggest light
entertainment stars and asks whether Bob would be interviewed on Good Morning.
All those housewives loading their Tescos shopping trolleys with Black Tower could enjoy a Damascan conversion to 2007 Chateauneufs.
Anyway, I bid adieu and then head up to Belgrave Square to the German Embassy for yet more 2008 Rieslings and meet Helmut Dönnhoff once again (he must think that I am stalking him.) I concentrate on JJ Prüm, Fritz Haag and Schloss Lieser then I head north to Swiss Cottage to visit the Good Bishop Gill where I am meeting old friends from Bordeaux Index for a dinner to celebrate what would have been the late Dylan's 40th birthday. We raise several glasses of DRC and a beguiling Chambertin 1996 from Rousseau to our dear departed friend whilst relishing a stunning seafood starter of octopus and lobster. I leave around 11.15pm so that I can catch my last train and arrive home after one, pretty shattered, but having tasted some ethereal wines with some ethereal people.
Sunday 7th June
Today I cajole my persistently moaning family to our local arboretum.
"It's just a bloody bunch of trees," they all moan in chorus.
Whatever happened to family bonding on the family walk? Why cannot we appreciate the simple things in life like...like...err...trees.
Anyway, by the time we have completed our circular route, Lily and Daisy are climbing trees and for some inexplicable reason, sweeping the earth with makeshift twigs. They are at one with Nature. Mission accomplished, even if it did cost a bloody tenner for the privilege.
Tuesday 9th June
Writing, writing, writing. In the evening, Tomoko cooks a sublime Japanese multi-course meal that demonstrates exactly why mackerel is the most under-appreciated fish in the world. Then Flight of the Conchords and bed on the sofa. Again.
Wednesday 10th June
Wake up at 4.30am on the sofa and in a comatose state pour some cornflakes into a bowl, brush my teeth, chuck the rucksack on my back and head for the station to catch the 5.10am to Gatwick. Such ungodly hours of the day should be banned. In transit between the North and South Terminal, a mollifying voice comes over the speaker-system, some New Age mantra about discovering the "inner you" in holiday blah, blah, blah. We are being indoctrinated by British Airways and by the time I disembark, I feel that British Airways are the best airline in the world and that I am a slightly worthless as a human being. I catch the flight down to Marseille and manage to catch up on some z's en route, waking briefly to chew on BA's sorry excuse for breakfast (this subject was never broached in the monorail monologue.)
Today I am attending a Bandol tasting and you know what? I must be the only journalist here, a criminal state of affairs considering that practically every producer is represented: Tempier, Pibarnon, Pradeaux, Ott and Terrebrune amongst many others. The set up base camp in a quiet corner of the mezzanine and simply spend the entire day traipsing from one stand to the next, taking my glasses back to my laptop and taking a note. By the end of the day I have strangers complementing me for my diligence. I manage to taste most of the wines, the only distraction being a feisty hairdresser in white stilettos and a risque halterneck jabbering as if her life depending upon it (for some reason, the venue is home to a few bars, restaurant and hairdressers, though I witness few vignerons popping in for a quick short back and sides.) To be honest, the event has a woeful attendance, nothing to do with the excellent organization but more to do with how out of vogue Bandol is these days.
It is rather annoying because in the event I could have caught the evening flight home, but I have reserved a hotel and a flight the following morn. I leave the Mercure Hotel in search of bouillabaisse having been warned that those overlooking the Vieux Porte are tourist traps happy to serve third-rate cuisine for non-epicurean clientele. As luck would have it, I must have chanced upon the exception, following my rule that a chef sporting a bushy moustache is a good chef. So it proves: Chez Loury provides me with a delicious bouillabaisse for twenty euros, the service is immaculate and I spend the evening eating al fresco, watching the Marseille nightlife go by, wishing that my wife was sharing it with me.
Thursday 11th June
Fly back to Gatwick and try and fail to attend a German Riesling 2008 tasting, thwarted by President Crowe and the RMT who called a 48-hour tube strike and so return home to write some words and contemplate whether I should organize a swine flu party for Lily and Daisy?
Friday 12th June
Tonight, a wonderful Chateau Latour dinner at the Greenhouse restaurant in Mayfair with Frederic Engerer. Freddie is in good form, still a little
piqued that every time I write about Latour, I unconsciously end up taking the piss out of him and/or one of the greatest estates in the world.
I canŐt blame him...I must be the nemesis of their PR department but hey, I still love their wines and it should be treated as a sign of
affection. And tonight, we are treated to some of the greatest wines of the centry,
cherry-picking our way through the "greatest hits" of the First Growth....2000, 1996, 1990...1982. By this time it is 11.45 and I realize that I have
missed my last train home but I ain't gonna miss Latour 1961 and 1945, direct from the chateau. I get into heated debate with a Gallic sage to my right,
regaling the gallons of Lafleur '82 he owns.
Downing my Latour '45 in one, I am grateful for Ken and Mimi who graciously offer me their sofa and a duvet. That is all I require for a good night's kip although I feel guilty that my wife and family will fret what fate has befallen me.
Saturday 13th June
Wake up chez Ken and Mimi. If you were an alien from Pluto and landed in their Kensington apartment, it would take you a nanosecond to realize that its occupants are fully paid-up oenophiles, stacks of wine in every nook and cranny, shelves displaying empty 19th century Madeira bottles...even their cats reek of Pinot Noir. I sneak out at 5.45am and manage to get home by 7.30am. Are my family worried about me? No, there are all still asleep.
I take the kids down to Stoke Park childrens' playground, feed the ducks down by the canal and then return home to cook a BBC Food Program
butterbean and tomato chicken casserole, which turns out to be a complete success (although it does employ the 'cheat' of dumping a cupful of sugar into the dish.)
It is my wife's secret weapon...she'll take one of my recipes, dump sugar in it and it tastes ten times better.
In future, I will just serve up a bowl of sugar and be done with it.
Sunday 14th June
The sun is out, the sky is blue, there's not a cloud to spoil the view and it is not raining in my heart. I write in the morning, pick up my new prescription sunglasses from Specsavers, manage to lose my daughter in Waterstones who is found crying "Daddy" to the bookstore's cashier, which admittedly does make me feel a modicum of guilt, then drive to Gomshall to chill out in a pub. Lily and Daisy amuse themselves on a slide, Daisy reaching the bottom with her legs up in the air and then performing a segment of the Swan Lake ballet to the amusement of their entire clientele. Should I reprimand her for her ostentatious display or should I just go out and buy her a tutu? Fatherhood...so many dilemmas.
Monday 16th June
Having penned a rather pleasing preamble to a Pichon Baron vertical, my parents arrive around noon to look after the sproglettes. Dad has been commissioned to tidy up the garden and the whir of the chainsaw is too tempting. Before long I find myself at the end of the garden giving it a short back and sides.
The reason they are hear babysitting is that Tomoko and I have been invited to a Chinese banquet of Tom Blach, whose uber-chef reputation goes before him. It takes about
an hour to drive to Ealing: this is a rare evening where I have opted to put wine to one side and revel in what I suspect will be orgiastic, mouth-watering food.
We are not disappointed. Tom's seven-hour Manchurian banquet threatens to overwhelm the senses. My particular favourite is a dish of pigs ears and shezuan pepper
that has that strange effect of anaesthetizing the mouth.
Hmm...not an easy food to wine match.
The conversation is jolly good fun. Somehow I end up in discussion about burst limbic systems, whatever that may be. We leave around 9.45pm listening to some caterwauling cabaret singer mutilating my favourite James Bond themes on Radio 2.
Tuesday 17th June
Lily, Daisy and I sit on the sofa eating our Frosties watching Milkshake, Channel 5's children segment that keeps tots amused before school.
I myself have a secret crush on one of their presenters, the lovely Jen, Milkshake's bit of eye-candy for lecherous dad's like me. I feel a bit guilty,
licentious thoughts racing through my mind as she does her "Jen's Body Jig". As Kelis once said: "My milkshake brings all the boys in the yard..."
I am thinking of sending in a picture to see if she will read out my birthday. Maybe I'll sketch Little Princess, attach a few milk bottle tops for stars and send it in. As there are five presenters, I will have to specify that Jen and Jen alone is permitted to read it out...but that would arouse suspicion. Wouldn't it?
I leave around midday for lunch with Johan Berglund and I take him to Malletti, still the capital's best Italian pizza parlour, then take the tube
up to see Jamie at "The Sampler", London's best wine shop. He lets me taste a few interesting wines from the Enomatic machines: Haut-Brion 1981, 'Cask 23' 1974 and
Pavie 1929 amongst the gems. Then back down to the Institute of Directors for Linden Wilkie's Pontet-Canet vertical back to 1920. I am seated next to
proprietor Alfred Tesseron who seems quite startled by the ribald interchanges across the table.
"Is that guy real?" he asks me in not so many words, referring to a feisty Dominic Fenton who is convinced that the burnt tyre reeking '37 is a bona fide gem.
"Just ignore him," I reply. "We all do."
He seems to have thoroughly enjoyed the tasting, although I fear that we may have convinced him that English oenophiles are completely mad. Actually, that is probably near the truth.
Wednesday 18th June
Tomoko's driving test this morning. I look after the kids whilst she's out. She fails, but it is her first time and it sounds like she was very close to passing. Next time, she will have to wear a shorter skirt. I spend the day writing like a demon and then the entire afternoon in Guildford library researching dates for my Bordeaux Vintage Guide. I pull out a three-inch thick "20th Century: A Day By Day Guide" and leaf through a century of war, famine, terrorism, murder, despots, births and deaths. It is absorbing, fascinating and at times severely depressing, in particular some of the unflinching images of human suffering. My conclusion is not if mankind will wipe itself out, but simply when.
Thursday 19th June
Full-on day today. Catch the train to London which is not as easy as it sounds. You see, to use my Network card I must catch a train after 10.00am, but since the fast-train to Waterloo leaves at 10.02am, that gives me 120 seconds to purchase my ticket, get through the barriers and run to platform five. I make it with about 3 seconds to spare, but I wonder exactly why I have to go through this rigmarole in order to save £2.70.
Anyway, I finally reach Chancery Lane and walk behind Steven Spurrier to the offices of Bordeaux Index. I can tell it is him by the cut of his suit...very 1970s. I am here to taste over fifty Bordeaux 1999s along with the likes of Jancis, Michael Schuster, Oz Clarke, Stephen Brook and David Peppercorn. I set up my laptop and set down to work: I plan to turn this around within hours than the usual weeks for I hanker for a bit of immediacy, I like the idea of getting something to press without delay. During the tasting I notice that a couple of our luminaries have failed to notice a corked bottle of Brane-Cantenac so I look forward to reading their appraisal of that tainted wine.
Lunch is served by Monica Schuster who conjures up a delicious quiche Lorraine that compels me to go back for second helpings before Oz or Peppercorn
grab the last slice (you can never trust these ravenous wine writers.) I finish around 4.00pm with all the notes written up, go downstairs for a quick beer,
then head down for the second time this week to the Institute of Directors for Linden's Robert Mondavi tasting all the back to his very first wine in 1966.
To describe it as a memorable tasting does not do it justice. The back flight spanning the late sixties and early seventies is sensational.
What a shame, what an injustice that
Linden found it difficult to sell all the tickets. Somehow the wines elicit such joy that for the first time that I can remember is six years of events, everyone
just hangs around polishing off all the wines and perhaps as the late Robert Mondavi would have wished, get rather inebriated on ultra-rare gems such as the Cabernet
Sauvignon Reserve 1966 and 1968.
Saturday 20th June
Writing in the morning and then in the afternoon we walk up to the local church for the Onslow Village Fete where I manage to win the raffle. Sacrificing the adult prize of a haircut with no-one I have ever heard off, I select a voucher for a "fun gymnastic" session at Pew Corner, conveniently next to the wine outlet for Caves de Pyrene. That's it...I am officially a philanthropist. I manage to avoid the vicar as I feel guilty having had Daisy baptized and henceforth finding any old excuse not to attend Sunday service, although faux-Buddhist Tomoko is fulfilling the ambassadorial role nicely.
In the evening I cook sausages and chicken on the barbie, washing down with a bottle of New Zealand Pinot Noir.
Sunday 21st June
Writing in the morning and then in the afternoon we take L&D to Stoke Park to ride on their bikes. Lily meets her super-competitive friend Ella in the playground and piqured that she has more athleticism, breaks down on the big slide. It represents her first lesson that not everyone is born equal and you just have to live with it. We then spend an hour trying to find somewhere that sells baps for tonights bbq and end up driving 300 miles down the A3 to a service station (although said baps are worth the detour.) The bbq is good fun, the asparagus surprisingly edible and dare I say, quite delicious, and I therefore strike it off my vegetable axis of evil alongside brussell sprouts, broccoli and caulilflower.
Henceforth, the nights begin drawing in. Better check the Xmas decorations.
Monday 22nd June
Procure excellent Manic Street Preachers CD from that vestige of the retail music outlet: HMV. I pass the carcass of a record shop on the way and I always shed a tear at the rapid demise of our record shops.
Tuesday 23rd June
Having spent the morning writing, I drive down to Leigh-on-Sea to drop L&D off at my parents. They sleep most of the journey looping south of London round the M25, wake up as we enter Essex and sing Japanese nursery rhymes all the way into town. What they are actually singing about, I have no idea, but I hazard a guess it might be something about Hello Kitty. A quick blast of Queens of the Stone Age soon shuts them up and lets them know who designates the music in the car...the driver.
Having off-loaded the sprogs, I jump back in the car alone...no kids...no car-seats...no singing. It's bliss.
Wednesday 24th June
Wake up at 5.00am, panic-pack my suitcase, dump it in the back of the car and then Tomoko and I head down to Gatwick to catch the 07.50 to Bordeaux. I should have gone on Monday, but the prohibitive price of hotels meant that I could only afford a couple of nights and so I rescheduled my flight and consequently missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime dinner at a First Growth on the Tuesday night (think 19th century from the cellar.) I snooze on the flight, pick up the hire car and head straight up to Pichon-Lalande to re-taste some vintages with winemaker Thomas Do-Chi-Nam for a forthcoming article for Wine-Journal. Having tasted several vintages, including a splendid 1979, I join a small party for a light lunch and then spend a little time chatting with Gildas d'Orllone on the sun-kissed balcony overlooking the chateau's gardens and that splendid vista across the vineyards of Latour and down to the Gironde Estuary.
We make our way back to our hotel, the two-star Kyriad Lac, which is possibly one of the worst hotels I have stayed in, our misery compounded by the fact that they have more than doubled the price of a double room, not that there is sufficient room to unpack both suitcases simultaneously. Its cramped, there are cornflakes under the bed, there is an odd smell. At least it is convenient for the Vinexpo exhibition, it is just a shame that I do not have time to attend.
In the evening our taxi fails to materialize and so I end up driving to Ducru-Beaucaillou for their evening extravaganza and an extravanganza it turns out to be. I will save the details for an article that I will write for Wine-Journal, but the entire evening is splendidly over-the-top and ends up with myself taking the microphone to expound my opinions on the 2003. Unfortunately Bernard Butschy goes before me and I barely listen to what he is saying, which leaves me in rather a pickle. I simply proclaim that the wines are delicious and return to my pew, a bit of a cop out since others such as James Suckling and Serena Sutcliffe have regaled the nuances of the 1970 and the 1961. But I still get an applause for stating the bleeding obvious. The evening culminates with a the chateau seeming to be set on fire, a pyrotechnic spectacle that draws everyone into the garden and simply gaze at the flames like a mass of unfilfilled arsonists. We depart with a commemorative candle cunningly disguised as a stone.
Thursday 25th June
Wake up at the Kyriad Hotel, stumble over suitcase and almost break my ankle. We make it downstairs to order petit-dejeuner, a croissant with rigor mortis and cafe latte that defies expectations by being drinkable. Will wonders never cease? We head up to Chateau Margaux where I have an appointment with Paul Pontallier and I know that my stock is rising because he recognizes me from the back of my head. I re-taste his 2008 and have a little reacquaintance with their superlative 2006, make a quick tour of the cellars and then stop for coffee at Cafe Lavinal in Pauillac. Then back down to Chateau Pichon-Baron where I re-taste a couple of vintages and engage in salacious gossip with Christian Seely including a hilarious story that I could only report on my death bed.
We leave promptly to return to the hotel so that Tomoko can beautify herself for the evening's grand banquet at La Fete de la Fleur, this year to be held at Chateau d'Issan. Whilst she is turning herself into a princess, I spend two hours practicing my bow-tie, for this year I elected a grown-up, James Bond version rather than the under-12 clip-on. I fail miserably, despite hours examining a video on Youtube and Christian Seely himself demonstrating his own technique. Eventually Tomoko manages a knot that has some semblance to a bow-tie and that'll do.
(My name as Ming...alongside the master of ceremonies, Emmanuel Cruse.)
I am attending this year because I am being enthronized into the Commmanderie of Medoc, Sauternes and somewhere else, alongside none other than Elin McCoy and various noble persons who are deemed to have done something beneficial towards Bordeaux. They range from slightly bewildered looking Chinese collectors who seem to have done little more than share bottles with friends to Asia's first Master of Wine, Jeannie Cho Lie, whose astounding CV includes Oxford, Harvard, an MW, four kids and no doubt saving orphanages in various acts of heroism. The fact that she is a bit of a looker makes her an almost perfect human being and doubtless she has a wonderful personality and Wildean sense of humour to boot. I keep a close eye on her, just in case she has any undesirable habits like biting her fingernails or picking her nose, but all to no avail.
Eventually my name is called and I take to the stage. I am enrobed with a thick velvet cape with a collar Emperor Ming would be proud of, whilst my glittering career is read out by Jean-Guillaume Prats. We are then given the task of tasting an unidentified red wine and asked to make a comment about it. Given that most uninspired responses have been little more than "Very nice" or "Bordeaux is great", I quip "101-points", which seems to get a laugh from the audience dying to get outside and start drinking. I get a nice gold badge pinned to my lapel and then that is it: the nearest I will ever get to being a freemason.
On the way to the dinner I comment to my beautiful looking wife (and she really is quite stunning in her LK Bennet floaty lime-green dress) that the woman walking past us looks like Sophie Marceau. It is only the following day that I discover that it is Sophie Marceau. The dinner in splendid, sitting next to Giovanni Geddes of Ornellaia fame, even if the pongy brie kills the Mouton 88 stone dead. I conflab with various chateau-owners, drink copiously, admire the fireworks that Tomoko misses as she has gone to the loo and then I proceed to leave my new Lumix digital camera on the table.
Alas the pre-planned night of passion with my missus is neutered by the Kyriad hotel and my observation that it is the kind of accommmodation where you would take a hooker.
Friday 26th June
Wake up in the Kyriad and go down stairs for the deluxe buffet of croissant and roll. We pack quickly: the sooner we get outta here the better and indeed, there is some sense of relief that our purgatory has come to an end as we set forth for the Medoc.
Where were you when you found out tha Michael Jackson had died?
I was at Chateau Palmer of all places. It comes as quite a shock. To be honest I have never quite understood the fervid cultdom that surrounds Jacko but I do appreciate that he had written some brilliant pop songs and revolutionized music in terms of blurring the lines between black and white music, even if those lines became even more blurred with respect to his own skin colour. Most of "Off The Wall" is genius and one-half of "Thriller" live up to the album title, in particular Billie Jean, which is still nigh on perfect. I have a sentimental attachment to "Bad", the pulsating bass-line of "The Way You Make Me Feel" evoking memories of dry ice at Penthouse nightclub in Southend-on-Sea. Musically it all turned rather turgid after than, although "Remember The Time" was pretty funky.
I guess at the end of the day, we all grew up with Michael Jackson. He was you call a true pop star: baffling, neurotic, eccentric, controversial and unique. They don't really make them like than any more and the world is a sadder place now that he has joined James Brown and Luther Vandross up in funk-soul heaven.
Having recovered from the news, I spend the morning tasting some off-vintage Palmers with Thomas Duroux and then drive down to Merignac to catch the plane home. In the evening, Tomoko and I make the most of the kids being away at their grandparents and walk into Guildford for a delicious Thai meal at "Thai Terrace", located above a multi-story carpark. Sounds crap, but the view is amazing.
We moonwalk all the way home.
Saturday 27th June
Hear that? Silence.
I usually awake with one of my daughters appearing like a ghost at my bedside, expecting the day of fun and frivolity to start punctually. I usually mumble something like "Go back to bed" and scurry like a small rodent back under the warm duvet. I wait a few minutes and then take a peak outside to make sure the coast is clear, but they are still there with their assortment of pink Hello Kitty bags, patiently, silently waiting as if a bus is due any minute. It is this that cajoles me out of bed and downstairs to prepare their cereal and milk, but the anticipation of seeing Milkshake Jen usually wakes me up, especially if she is doing her Jiggy Body workout.
I take Tomoko driving in the morning and the munchkins arrive with their grandparents mid-morning. It is blisteringly hot and so I spend most of the day sorting out stuff in the overgrown, recalcitrant garden and preparing the evening barbecue.
Sunday 28th June
Tomoko drives to Clandon garden centre to buy some dechlorination fluid for the proposed fish tank. Unfortunately she stalls at the mini-roundabout and my darling perfectionist of a wife fulminates at the wheel and the resultant frustration is so palpable that I order her to turn off so that I can take over. I want her to pass her test, but with L&D in the back, doubtless more nervous than their father, its best I seize control.
Another barbecue in the evening to take advantage of a rare Blighty heat wave. I spend the evening with a bottle of New Zealand Pinot Noir watching jet planes make trails across the dusky sky.
Monday 29th June
More writing, interspersed watching the brilliant "Psychoville" on BBC iPlayer, a surreal, slightly disturbing comedy from the makers of "The League of Gentlemen". It features dwarves, a mother-and-son serial murderer team, a woman who thinks her doll is a real baby and a psychotic clown called Mr. Jolly who terrifies children with his clawed metal hand. Only a country with a warped imagination like ours could conjure up Psychoville and I am hooked.
Tuesday 30th June
Britain is wilting under the sun. It's bloody hard to work so I try to do as much work as possible in the morning, the quietest time of day when Lily is at nursery school drawing spaceships, running in circles for no apparent reason and singing songs. Why cannot my work be like that? The only worry is that when I ask her whether she enjoyed nursery, her stock answer is negative and when I enquire as to the reason why, she replies that nobody will play with her and she has no friends. I tell her not to worry: it is a Martin trait.
In the evening, a flotilla of Ridge Montebello from 2002 back to an impossibly rare 1964, followed by KFC in Leicester Square.