Three bottles. That clever young MW: Thomas Parker

A few things about Thomas Parker.  He is the youngest MW there is.  He is one of the most demon tasters I have met.  He’s a Palace fan.

I’ve known TP for a fair few years.  We share a deep interest in wine, and a deep passion for the mighty Crystal Palace.  And my lord can he taste.  At a 1989 dinner a few years ago I witnessed him nail Riesling Rangen de Thann, Zind-Humbrecht blind.  We knew the vintage (though I think I may have been a bit thick myself) but region, variety, vineyard and grower is a pretty tall order.  And I think that I was saying stuff about it being Condrieu, but that’s another story.

Tom kindly sent me these answers just a few minutes prior to hearing the sad news of Derek Smedley’s passing.  I’d met Derek a few times though never had the balls to ask him to do the three questions.  A good man who always, quite literally, tasted on his feet and who will be missed by many.

I thank TP for his answers.

What was the first wine/bottle that got you into the whole wine thing?

I grew up with wine on the table – my grandmother didn’t believe in drinking anything but wine with food and took a dim view of my drinking water with a meal as she believed it was bad for digestion. I am also one of those people lucky enough to have an uncle with an incredible cellar and generous nature. But, I didn’t take a serious interest until the summer of 2010, just before my last year of university when I needed to decide what to do for a living. I was offered an internship at Farr Vintners to help with sales and allocations of 2009 Bordeaux en primeur, which was a wild introduction into fine wine. The demand and prices were mind-boggling, and I caught the fever surrounding the wine market at that time. So it was actually the business, rather than a bottle, that got me into the whole wine thing. I went about joining all the wine societies at Oxford when I went back for my finals. The first time I realised I could taste blind was during an introductory course to wine tasting with OUBTS (the Oxford University Blind Tasting Society). We had crib sheets describing all the different grapes and regions. I was sure I could taste lime and petrol, and the wine felt a little sweet. I put my hand up to guess in front of 50 odd tasters and confidently stated “Rice-ling”. Titters from the crowd inevitably followed, but I was hooked. The captain of the blind tasting team realised I had some talent and trained me to take part in the varsity match later that year. I spent more time tasting wine than studying for my degree, but a full time job at Farr Vintners followed.

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

I’ve had some amazing experiences with wine in the last nine years but I can vividly remember the first time it transcended anything else. Despite being a month from finals I went to taste 2010 Bordeaux en primeur. The week was incredibly difficult; my gums ached by the second day thanks to all the tannin and alcohol of the vintage. The embryonic wines were incredible, but it was at a dinner with Frederic Engerer of Chateau Latour that I had my moment. We tasted magnums from the Chateau going back to 1950. I was sat next to Derek Smedley MW, who has tasted every vintage since 1961 En Primeur and had tasted every wine we were drinking that night from barrel other than the 1950 itself. Between him, Stephen Browett and M. Engerer I heard stories about the wines, old practices, how primeurs used to be, the market at the time, prices, and stories about wine trade legends. It was a truly eye-opening and life-enriching evening, listening to and drinking history. The wines were pretty good too.

What was the best wine/bottle you have had this year?

2019 has started with a bang, but wine of the year is a tale of two 9s. The 2009 “Ten Years On” is one I’ve been looking forward to for a long time – I was too young for the primeurs and not experienced enough to take part in Southwold, but I have tasted lots of the wines and it’s no secret how highly my namesake rates the vintage. This is going to start sounding like a sponsored article after my previous answer, but the peak of the tasting was unquestionably Chateau Latour 2009. It takes a lot to get me emotional about a wine, but as we discussed (and you later wrote), there is more than clinical perfection going on in that wine. The raw power combined with ethereal lift and complexity brings the both the heart and mind into play as well as nose and tongue when you taste it. Just incredible – future legend. Speaking of legends, the night before we had a 1989 dinner to ease us between the gruelling tasting days. A nice, early 30th birthday present for me as an ‘89 baby. Duly, a very generous man brought the Haut Brion – an absolute legend and a wine I’ve been lucky enough to taste on more than one occasion. It didn’t disappoint – luxuriant, hedonistic, cashmere and crushed rocks – a real pinnacle of Bordeaux. Tasting the Latour the next day, however, I can’t help but feel it will surpass it, for those lucky enough to be opening bottles in 2039.