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Dinner Parties in Bristol

I have always remembered attending several wine tastings organized through the Wine Circle.  What I did not remember is that they were held almost once per week!  After a tasting we would want to continue our research so an additional “tasting” happened at the nearest wine bar.  Outside of those gatherings Andrew, John, Iain, Rob, Eva, and I would get together for visits at different wine bars or for casual, unorganized wine dinners.  The core group, consisting of Andrew, John, Iain, Rob, and I, organized four formal wine dinners.

Hillside/Woodside House, Bridge Road, Leigh Woods

I lived in student housing at Hillside/Woodside house which is located on the far side of the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Clifton.  It is an old merchant’s house built shortly after the suspension bridge opened in 1864.  Most of the rooms were converted to student rooms leaving only two perpetually dirty kitchens and a common room full of perpetually stoned house mates.  Coupled with the distance, my house was clearly not suitable for dinner parties.  Instead, the four dinners were held at Andrew’s flat, Iain’s flat, and Rob’s row house.

Rob bringing out the 1961 La Gaffeliere

For one dinner we all cooked at Andrew’s flat and drank a mixture of wines.  Andrew had a friend who ran a tobacco shop.  Somehow he got the gig of being paid to test-smoke various tobaccos.  We often finished up with whisky at Andrew’s flat so it seemed natural that I try a pipe.  It did smell great.  So I would sit there, talking through the impossibly loud classical music (Chopin, Beethoven, Debussy), tumbler of The Macallan in one hand, pulling on my pipe.  One evening, when it was just Andrew, Eva, and I, he lent me a pipe along with some bags of tobacco and gave us the bottle of Macallan we were drinking from.  After all, tobacco and whisky did go together so well it would be a shame to break them apart.  And he did have another bottle for his own consumption.

John peeling carrots with the empty Claret bottles on counter.

One dinner was held at Iain’s flat where his Parisienne girlfriend cooked dinner and we drank 1973 or 1974 Clos du Val, Cabernet Sauvignon amongst others.  The 1961 La Gaffeliere was drunk at Rob’s house where he not only managed to decant the wines but single-handedly cooked the entire dinner.  I remember starting with a basket of quail’s eggs and I remember ending with a beautiful winter’s dessert.  I image the glasses of good wine blocked all memory of what I ate with them. 

Andrew pouring decanted wine as Iain watches

There was also a dinner of odd and interesting wines at Rob’s house.  The wines and courses for the dinners were discussed ahead of time and final costs were equally shared.  At this particular dinner there was a 1959 German Riesling and a Chinese Tsingtao Chardonnay.  I cannot find the journal where I took notes from that dinner but I will eventually find it.  I do recall that we finished off with some 1985 Quinta do Noval vintage port that Rob and Andrew bought at a London auction.  It was brutally young.  My tasting note reads something like, “This is so young it is like waking up yesterday.”

Iain thinks the wine is "good stuff!"

We would listen to jazz or classic music.  While my mother and grandfather always played music, it was not until the summer of 1992 that I started buying my own jazz and classical CDs.  The first time I ever heard Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder was at Iain’s flat.  The Parisienne dinner, the buzz from the wine, and the driving rhythm of the track Totem Pole left an inedible mark on me.  I fell in love with good music, good food, good wine, and good company.  I knew I would host such dinners when I eventually return to Ann Arbor.

The Author dressed for 1961 claret.

We dressed according to the quality of the wines.

Rob undoubtedly discussing wine.

The evenings always ended up with port, whisky, or Armagnac (no refined Cognac was drunk!).  And perhaps, a cup of coffee.

The Macallan with Andrew's Oxbridge friend and Andrew

I remember our last dinner. It was at the end of term and in a few days I was off to Frankfurt and eventually Florence.  We drank a mixture of wines including my first bottle of Chateau Musar.  Rob offered it blind and I guessed Israel not knowing they made wine in Lebanon.  We stayed up ridiculously late as exams were over.  Everyone spilled out of Rob’s house and walked the first few blocks home together.  I kept one bottle as a souvenir.  Upon realizing there were still contents leftover from decanting, I put the bottle to my mouth and tilted my head all of the way back.  The last few drops of wine left contained an enormous amount of sediment.  But it tasted so good and kept the evening alive for one more moment.

There was talk about renting a house near a coast, away from everything, and holing up with cases of wine and boxes of food.  It would be several days of uninterrupted cooking, eating, and drinking.  I do not know if they did rent the house but I do know that I had an eye appointment the next morning.  I needed a new pair of contacts for the summer.  In the morning, my eyes were blood-shot and dry from drink and lack of sleep.  The doctor kept trying to convince me that I had a problem with my eyes.  I eventually persuaded her to give me the contacts.  I did a bit more shopping then I was ready to begin my summer adventures in Germany and Italy.

A successful evening

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