I’ve always been an obsessive. I’d spend childhood summers indoctrinating my friends to share my latest hobby; if they were lucky they might even receive a homemade membership card.
Despite the years passing I’ve never grown out of the pleasure of fixating myself with a new interest. As I approached 30 I took it upon myself to deliberately set out to start a brand new hobby every Summer. In 2005, in the midst of a Hemingway fixation, I took up boxing. In 2006 I read Proust (it took a year). In 2007, my most prolific to that date, I learnt to sail. By the end of the year I’d completed Royal Yacht Academy courses, gained my marine radio operator’s licence, helmed a 65ft yacht across the English Channel and crewed at both Cowes Week and the Round the Island Race. 2008 started with the same eagerness; after searching for my first taste of Puligny-Montrachet I made my inaugural purchase of wine from Berry Bros and Rudd - hands down the world’s most venerable wine merchant. Like Lock and Co. and Lobb a just up the street, opposite Trumper, Berry’s is a British institution. Serendipitously in 2008 Berry’s started offering professional WSET qualification courses. These are the courses one might take if you wanted to become a Master of Wine, so after my RYA success the previous year I signed up. Sitting in the Pickering Cellar surrou
nded by the cartoons of Annie Tempest we spent the week sampling great wines from around the world, all in the great tradition of English amateurism. As part of this I was simultaneously introduced to the wines of Mouton Rothschild (a youthful 2002) and the illustrious 1855 Classification. In 1855, as part of the Paris Exhibition, the French government decided to showcase the best wines of the Bordeaux region. Like Robert Parker 200 years later they invented a system that, despite its faults, could quickly convey the comparative merits of one wine to another to a simple lay-man. These Grand Cru Classe wines from the Medoc were divided into 5 Cru (translated literally as growth). Barring an intital amendment only Mouton (that same wine I sampled in Berry’s Cellar) has moved up the classification - that famously moved up the ratings from a Deuxieme Cru to the highest level a Premier Cru in 1970.
From 2009 despite minor forays I’ve practically forgone new obsessions (although my wife who I married in 2010 would disagree - she still calls me Mr Toad after the character in Wind in the Willows - Beep! Beep!). Instead I’ve took to discovering the best of Bordeaux in an attempt to enjoy every wine on the 1855 list. I’ve now been drinking my way through that list for 12 years and stand on the precipice of completing the journey very soon. I own over half of the bottles I’m yet to drink already - storing them for the right time. Ultimately this particularly passion has become a timeline of some of the best memories of my adult life: Drinking a Cos d’Estournal with my best man on the eve of my wedding, drinking an Haut Brion at the bar on an Emirates A380, a Leoville Las Cases in the casino of Monte-Carlo, a particularly fine Leoville Barton ‘96 with a Chinese takeaway after the birth of my first child, an ‘88 Ch. Margaux on my wife’s 30th. Countless bottles at births, birthdays, Christmases and even a few after mediocre days that just needed a special lift; with friends, with family - hopefully you can appreciate the gravitas of each and every bottle.
Like all the best things in any life it’s been done with extreme passion but without any hurry. After all once I’ve completed it what, I ask myself, will I do next?