Another mentor here; indeed mentor number one. The man who gave me my first real job, my break, in the wine trade and a man who has taught me a great deal since. And a man – rare at his level in the wine trade – whose ego doesn’t come into the room at the same time as he does.
Alun was part of a triumvirate at BBR along with Big Si the Wine Guy (still there) and Robin McMillan (now CEO of the Wine Society). These three gentlemen were behind the transformation of BBR from slightly fusty, not very profitable and rather unapproachable merchant into what it is today. No small job.
Memory number one: 1999 or 2001 a Niepoort tasting with Dirk himself (at the time I thought him the Michael Hutchence of wine). The component parts of what I think must have been his 1997 or 2000 vintage Port were in our glasses. Dirk challenged the audience to pick the wine that had been foot-trodden (rather than mechanically). Alun nailed it and it wasn’t a guess.
Memory number two: 2007 or 2008. My second visit to Piedmont, a region that I was trying very hard to grasp but couldn’t quite nail. I knew how to drive the car, if this makes sense, but didn’t know the road as I did in Burgundy or Bordeaux. I asked Alun for help. I can’t remember his advice precisely (it was about objectivity, confidence and calm), but it worked, the Damascene wine being 2006 Barolo Cannubi from Chiara Boschis.
I thank ABG for his answers:
What was the first wine/bottle that got you into the whole wine thing?
Chablis 1er Cru Vaudesir William Fevre 1972.
Not even a great vintage but I was in my very first job, aged 23, working in Pont Street, London SW1 in what is now Jeroboams but was then called something else. I was a wine-lover but didn’t really get the concept of terroir. This wine cracked it for me, as I grasped the steely minerality of real Chablis for the first time and started a love affair with the wines of that sleepy town which has lasted ever since.
What was the first wine/bottle that took you closer to your maker?
Chateau Latour 1959
Drunk first in 1988 from magnum, and a couple of times since from bottle. It was served alongside a couple of 2nd Growths from 1961 but simply blew them away. I always feel that the adulation accorded 1961 meant that 1959 never fully received the acclaim that its best wines merited. For me this surpasses Latour 1961 and that too is a great, great wine. The freshness, the complexity, the concentration and the sheer digestibility were extraordinary. Not a touch of heaviness, but simply on a different plane to anything else served that night. There are times when words used to describe wines simply fail to do them justice, no matter how adulatory. Sometimes you just see pure class which defies description, like a David Gower cover drive or a Gerald Davies side-step, and this Latour was such a wine.
What was the best wine/bottle you have had this year? – OK, the past twelve months.
2011 Condrieu Coteau de Vernon, Domaine Georges Vernay
Consumed with fellow Rhone-loving friends at Mangevins Restaurant in Tain where it is available at less than its UK retail price, at roughly 90 euros per bottle. This is at a wonderful stage of its evolution; it has shed a little of the honeysuckle and apricot aromatic notes but retains effortless concentration and finesse on the palate and is constantly evolving in the glass. Utterly beguiling and complex, and blessed with a beautiful minerality which imbues it with a freshness one does not always find with the fatter, oily styles of Condrieu.
Alun: thank you.