I can tell you some pretty good stories about Oliver East, who I met a long, long way back in the Playground of the Beautiful that is Basingstoke. Before becoming the original “splitter” from what was a formidable fine wine department at BBR (and he timed it quite well: August 2008), Oliver was the brains of a team that enjoyed what was an extraordinary few years of buying and selling fine wine.
There was no other place to be at the beginning of the 21st Century wine boom and, even when prices were rising so quickly that customers’ wines were up 10% before they had paid their 30 day invoices, Oliver knew exactly how much everything, and anything, was worth. Indeed, looking back on what was quite a mad party, it strikes me that Ol was the only one of us that really knew what he was doing.
And he knows his kit. And he doesn’t brag. And he finally understands football. And he bought me some quite exceptional sausages a week or so ago. He is one of my favourite people in, or out, of the wine trade and easily the sharpest in it.
Ol: thank you.
What was the first wine/bottle that got you into the whole wine thing?
I discovered an interest in wine whilst travelling Australia and New Zealand and, whilst at first the focus of my drinking was based entirely on value (bag in box for about a dollar a litre), I quickly developed a desire to trade up; a desire that hasn’t really ceased two decades on. In my early years in the trade, I was known by my father as ‘Champagne Charlie’ – each month I’d put about 20-25% of my modest salary towards the rarest bottle of Champagne that I could lay my hands on – one that I just aspired to taste – and amassed a fun collection of some really nice bottles. However it wasn’t until I joined BBR that I really got wine. In need of a special bottle for a family lunch, I sought guidance from Moules (my mentor who taught much of what I know about wine), who carefully chose me a bottle of 1989 Château d’Angludet which cost a tad under £15. I had never tasted anything like it before. Such a brilliant bottle combined with no basis for comparison of great Bordeaux made it for me, to this day, one of the greatest bottles of my life.
What was the first wine/bottle that took you closer to your maker (OK, rules bent: greatest bottle ever)?
Greatest ever for me is simple. Drinking great wine can be greatly enhanced by surroundings, environment and celebration with friends. In 2006 to mark the end of the last truly ‘uplifting’ Bordeaux en primeur campaign (2005 vintage), we celebrated on a fantastic summer’s evening in Twickenham with some special bottles. 1998 Cheval Blanc and Ausone featured (wines we’d been selling by the pallet at the time) with numerous other first growths. The whole BBR fine wine team crammed into my small courtyard garden (it was a squeeze) where Clarethound famously lost his seat from beneath him and ended up feet in the sky but fortunately unscathed. At the end of the evening, out came a magnum of 2001 Yquem. At this age, at this moment, it seemed to me that there was no wine on the planet that could offer you this much pleasure. The only fault of this bottle was that it was a magnum and not a double magnum. The sheer energy gave this enormous wine such extraordinary balance that made you crave another sip/glass/magnum – alas there was just only one and it was gone in no time. Combining this with the jubilation, the company, surroundings and joviality made this utterly perfect – the easiest 100 point ever. If you drink it today, 2001 Yquem is still brilliant but not quite the otherworldly wine it was as a five year old.
What was the best wine/bottle you have had this year?
Having just returned from San Sebastian, with some sensational bottles that you mostly only dream about drinking still fresh in my mind, I have to think back a little further for my best bottle this year. I love Bordeaux and my sweet spot is Pomerol. La Conseillante is a property I adore and don’t drink nearly often enough. However, I was fortunate enough to be served 1948 La Conseillante (alongside 1948 Beauregard) that simply moved me. Drinking ancient wines is a privilege and drinking wines from the great vintages of the 1940s seems to be the absolute pinnacle. When the vinous gods bless the bottles and they come out fresh, lively with great fruit character, it can only make you happy. Shared with great friends at their home with great food…. bliss! It’s my mum’s vintage too so that makes it all the more special.
Ol: thank you again. I’ve still got this: