Three bottles: Charles Metcalfe

Charles Metcalfe.  A man who to many will need little introduction.  Raconteur, singer (and a good one too) and a man who knows his vinous onions.  A thoroughly good chap and, oh – by the way, he co-founded Wine International with Robert Joseph in 1983, and the International Wine Challenge a year later.  And along with the likes of Jancis Robinson and Oz Clarke, he is part of the group that brought wine to the masses in that decade, or rather brought it to their telly.  In a business with some pretty large egos this is a man who doesn’t pin his CV to his forehead, and doesn’t shout about achievements that some might miss.  Want to know why your local Waitrose / Sainsburys /Tescos / whathaveyou has a couple of aisles of good wine in it these days?  Wine you can actually drink and enjoy?  It’s because of Charles and his peers.  Want to know why the papers have a wine column?  Ditto.  If I’d been a part of this I’d have it printed on my business cards…

I thank Charles for his answers.  And will buy anyone who can find me the footage of him and Lily Savage on Richard and Judy a pint…

What was the first wine that got you into it?

Oxford was where I first realised about wine. My meeting was random: a choir friend asked if I would go as his guest to a meeting of the university Wine & Food Society. I went, and it turned out to be not wine at all, but Pimm’s, in its six different versions. By the end of the evening, I had accepted an invitation to be next year’s secretary. And that next year was my introduction to the variety of wine, with speakers such as Freddie Price and Russell Hone. The wines that first registered were crystalline delights from Germany, great Rieslings from steep slopes, poised between honeyed sweetness and thrilling minerality. The vintage would have been 1967. I can’t remember individual wines, just that they were more exciting than anything I had drunk before.

What was the first wine that took you closer to your maker?

The summer after I had done my degree I went to Bordeaux to work the vintage at Château d’Angludet. I spent a few weeks in the Sichel cellar on the Quai des Chartrons, then went out to Cantenac when picking started. I spent quite a bit of my spare time with John Salvi (who was working for Sichel) and his wife Pam. One weekend afternoon, I think it was a Sunday, John and I were relaxing after lunch when he suddenly asked me if I had ever drunk a first-growth red Bordeaux. The answer was no. So he disappeared for a couple of minutes and came back with a bottle. It was 1959 Mouton-Rothschild, and he apologised that it wasn’t actually a first-growth (although of course it was promoted a couple of years later). We sat and drank that bottle through the afternoon, and the flavours unfolded as the air reacted with the wine. That was the first time I’d ever seen real complexity in a red wine, and that I’d had the time to think about a great red as it developed in the glass. I’ve always been grateful to John for setting me on the right track.

What’s the best wine you’ve had this year?

Best bottles of 2012! Too difficult to choose between them… 1973 Louis Jadot Le Montrachet, 1982 Vega Sicilia Único, 1908 Cockburn’s. You see my problem – all wonderful, in different ways. The Vega Sicilia and the Cockburn’s both part of amazing vertical tastings. The Montrachet served at a dinner to mark the retirement of Jacques Lardière, Louis Jadot’s inspirational winemaker for 42 vintages.

Thank you again, Mr Metcalfe.