Posts Tagged ‘Bristol University’

Two Old Journal Entries from 1993

January 17, 2012 Leave a comment

In cleaning out a room in our basement, that was to become a wine room but became a wine & everything-else room, I came across two of my journals from the 1990s.    I have only found two entries related to wine from my Bristol days outside of the tasting notes I wrote at the official Bristol Wine Circle tastings .  Here is the first entry.

5 January 1993

At the Museum, Musee-Galerie de la Sieta.  There is a wine shop run by a middle-aged woman with horrible teeth (dark, crooked) a 1978 Pommard for FF 170.  Nicolas is a chain store that stocks a fair array of wines.

N.B. Buy the Bordeaux book and a vintage chart.

Upon return to Bristol I did purchase David Peppercorn’s “Bordeaux” for 15 Pounds Sterling from Georges.  A bit more interesting are my tasting notes from one of our wine dinners.  You may find this second entry here:

A Wine Dinner at Bristol, 30 April 1993

Wine Tastings with the Bristol University Wine Circle

The Author, 1992

I attended eight tasting with the Bristol University Wine Circle.  I have scanned my tasting sheets and transcribed my notes.   Beware, these are casual drinking notes so they are full of mistakes!  I tasted a wide range of wines, many of which I did not like along with a few that were stellar.  I tasted my first wines from Mexico and South Africa.  I particularly liked 1985 Domaine de Chevalier and 1970 Marques de Murrietta, Tinto Gran Reserva.  I tasted wine from “Washington’s dirtiest winemaker” Blackwood Canyon and recommended one stay away from 1989 Badacsonyi Szurkebarat, Lake Balaton.  Surprisingly, I also tasted the 1985 Cabernet Sauvignon from the immensely popular Quilceda Creek.

This post wraps up my time spent at Bristol University.  After my finals I spent my summer in continental Europe.  Once there I drank a fair amount of Franken wine in Frankfurt, Germany where I learned to prefer Riesling over other varietals.  While I studied architectural history in Florence, Italy I drank particularly cheap wine in between pints of Guinness at the Irish pub.  Then at the end of the summer I returned to the newly formed Czech Republic and visited a family winery in Vienna, Austria.  This later trip is the inspiration for an upcoming series of posts on The Vineyards of Vienna.
Wine Tasting, Reid Wines, 13th Oct 1992

New World Versus France Tasting, 27th Oct 1992 

Italian Tasting, Paul Merritt, 24th Nov 1992

Bordeaux Tasting, Avery’s, 1st Dec 1992

Hungarian Wine Tasting, Godwin & Godwin, 3rd Feb 1993

Marques de Murrieta Tasting, 9th Feb 1993

Oregon And Washington Tasting, Mark Savage MW, 16th Feb 1993

Loire Tasting, Yapp Brothers, 2nd Mar 1993

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

Bottles Purchased from Reid Wines, Bristol

Reid Wines was started by Charles Reid and joined by the great Bill Baker in 1980.    During the early 1990s the firm went into receivership because Charles spent 100 days per year shooting.  Charles was let go and David Boobbyer came on as a partner.  The firm changed its name to Reid Wines (1992) and subsequently won Wine Magazine’s “‘Fine and Rare’ Specialist Merchant of the Year 1992/1993.”

Winter 1992/1993, Reid Wines Ltd, Cover

In an earlier post I described our trip to buy wine from Bill Baker of Reid Wines.  It was the fall of 1992.  Apparently we bought three bottles of Claret together.  The Claret would be served at some dinner parties we had planned.  The 1970 La Lagune was drunk during April 1993 separate from the La Gaffeliere.

  • 1961 Chateau La Gaffeliere Naude for 38.50 Pounds Sterling. “Outstanding vintage.  “La Gaffeliere is somewhat of a bargain.”
  • 1970 Chateau La Lagune for 26.50 Pounds Sterling. “We are still managing to find parcels of wine from this great drinking vintage.”
  • 1971 Chateau La Gaffeliere Naude for 16.50 Pounds Sterling.  “Best in Saint Emilion and Pomerol.”

For my Thanksgiving dinner during November 1992 I bought:

  • 1985 Ampeau, Pommard for 18.50 Pounds Sterling. “Unquestionably the vintage of the 1980’s.”

And just to get something to try Andrew bought something interesting.  Here is the description from the catalog, “MARCHES: RED No-one seems very interested in this strange wine from the Vernaccia Rosso grape.  Give it a go!”:

  • 1990 Villa Ligi, Vernaculum for 5.95 Pounds Sterling.

I remember trying this wine, it smelled great but there was absolutely no taste in the mouth.  Strange indeed!

Winter 1992/1993, Reid Wines Ltd, Inside,

From the Introduction, “It is always pleasant to write an introduction when there is good news to related, especially at a time when the Government, the French and the weather seem to have conspired to deepen the gloom engendered by the longest recession since the second World War.  Firstly, we can report that Kate and Bill have produced the first Baker offspring.  Polly was born on 29 September.  She is following the family tradition of gaining weight every day and shows every intention of being as noisy as her father.”

The War of the Noses

War of the Noses (with whisky stain)

The Macallan/Decanter
War of the Noses

Morning of Competition

Shortly after joining the Bristol Wine Circle I was asked to participate in a Malt Whisky tasting competition in London.  I claimed I had absolutely no experience with whisky but Andrew stood firm in his belief that I would be beneficial to the team.  Besides, there was the morning train ride from Bristol to London during which I could study.  John was an avid whisky drinker and possessed an unparalled collection of miniatures.  He would bring them for training purposes.

Eight of us headed out that one winter morning.  Our team was composed of Andrew Scott (president of the Wine Circle), John (the Treasurer), Iain Dalrymple Ward, Robin Lincoln, Eva Schwarzer, myself, and two others whose names I have forgotten.   We took over a bunch of seats with a table and watched as John unzipped his duffel bag then set out dozens of miniature bottles.  Thus began my crash course in the Highlands, Lowlands, Campbeltown, different distillery styles, ages, geography, and history.  I was lost!  And I was amazed.  It was perfectly acceptable for eight university students to be sniffing whisky on a train first thing in the morning.


The competition was sponsored by The Macallan and Decanter magazine.  It was hosted by Imperial College and located at their South Kensington campus near the Royal Albert Hall.  There were three teams: Cambridge University (I am 90% sure it was not Oxford), Imperial College, and the University of Bristol.  These competitions had been dominated by Cambridge because there was one taster, who, as I was told grew up drinking whisky.  We mingled about a bit.  Besides us tasters there were the corporate sponsors and the “Macallan girls”.  We settled down in chairs to watch a video that provided an overview of Malt Whisky and the Macallan.

The Author

The teams would be judged on individual tasting scores and team answers for written questions and a map test.  There were five whiskys for the invidual tasting.  For each whisky we were to identify the area and the brand name for a maximum of five points.  The whiskys were Glendiddich, Bowmore, 18-year-old St Magdalene, Springbank, and 10-year-old Macallan.  In my “nosing notes” I partially circled St  Magdalene.  While I would love to suggest it was the one whisky I identified incorrectly, I strongly suspect it was the only one I identified correctly.

Iain Laughing

There were 19 questions such as, “Name the five main stages in the process by which Malt Whisky is made? (Bonus point awarded for correct order.)”  For the map test we were to locate the following distilleries: The Macallan, Highland Park, Pulteney, Talisker, Bladnoch, Glenkinchie, and Glen Scotia.  There was a question for the tie-breaker, “What is the best time to drink The Macallan?”

Iain and Andrew Nosing Whisky

After we turned in our sheets we could grab a glass from a banquet table that supported an ample supply.  The “Macallan girls”, kind of like cheerleaders in skirt-suits, walked around pouring unlimited glasses of whisky while the sheets were scored.  As expected, the one taster from Cambridge dominated the individual portion.  We suspected his father poured his first dram when he was a toddler, he was that good.  But the final results were based on the sum of both individual and team scores.  So in the end we barely missed first place, maybe by one point, thus we were awarded second.  I seem to recall that I was the offender because I misspelt Bladnoch or Glenkinchie on the map.  First place received a case of Macallan and we received a single bottle.  On our way out we nabbed a barely touched bottle of Macallans and conveniently forgot to return some glasses.


Most of our group headed to a nearby wine bar.  We had a few glasses of wine while we laughed about the day.  I imagine we ate something but I cannot recall eating that day.  We caught our evening train back to Bristol.  I was beat, probably burnt out by all of the strong alcohol, Eva and I had a relaxing ride home.  Iain, Andrew, John, and Rob tucked into the open bottle of whisky.  They finished the bottle and barely made it out of the train before it departed again.  As we were walking down the middle of the street from Bristol Temple Meads, Rob swore loudly because he left his expensive, wooden umbrella on the train.  He regained perspective and we all walked to our homes, glowing, merry, talking loudly.


Tasting Notes from My First Wine Tasting with the University of Bristol Wine Circle

Ed and Aaron drinking wine shortly after arriving at Bristol, 1992

I now know when it started.  That is, the night I fell in love with wine. It was roughly one month after I had arrived at Bristol when I attended the tasting conducted by Bill Baker.  I wrote about this night in an earlier post.  This means I have seriously drunk wine for 19.5 years! I have found all of my old tasting sheets from Bristol.  I have typed up the first one and scanned the tasting sheet.  I will eventually create an ancient tasting notes page where these old sheets will reside.

I must admit that my notes are rather sparse and I misspelled New Zealand.  My first tasting notes (below, in blue)  appear to have peaked at wine #3 and it looks like I rather enjoyed the GermanRiesling.  Perhaps my long-standing interest in Gigondas started that night!

Tuesday October 13th 1992
conducted by BILL BAKER

White Wines:
1 VIN DE PAYS DE COTES DE GASCOGNE Domaine de Rieux 1991 Grass
     New Zelan 6.90
     Australia, Dark Yellow, Aged in Oak Casks, Bite, 6.50
     * German, Soft, 6.50

Red Wines:
5 MORGON 1990 Gobet
     French 7.00
8 GIGONDAS 1985 Paul Joublet Aine

University of Bristol Wine Circle Tasting, 13 October 1992

Fine Wine With The University of Bristol Wine Circle

The University of Bristol Wine Circle held a variety of tastings throughout the academic year.  They were tutored by merchants, authors, and consultants.  Some tastings had a fee that ranged from a few pounds to ten.  The fees were ridiculously low compared to the quality and quantity of wine served.

After the introductory tasting I attended one focused on the wines of Marques de Murrieta, Rioja.  There were reds and white back to the 1950s.  When I had a glass of the 1952 Blanco Reserva I was absolutely floored by the quality of a 40 year old white wine.  I knew red whites could be this old but not a white wine.  I was so amazed that to this day I cannot remember any of the red wines I drank that evening.  When I find the time I will dig up my old tasting sheets.

There were many other tastings: 1983 Clarets with John Avery, MW, Barolo with Paul Merritt, wines with John Harvey & Sons, selections from the Yapp brothers, etc.  I think the merchants were trying to get us hooked on high quality winess!  After the tastings I would join the Circle officers and we would visit various wines bar for more wine or port.  I started taking notes and keeping lists.  I would send lists of wines to buy back home to my mother and grandfather.

Outside of the organized tastings, there were several wine dinners organized.  They would be held at Andrew’s, Iain’s, or Scott’s.  We drank 1974 Clos du Val Cab amongst other’s at one dinner. 

For our next dinner we thought we’d all chip in on two older Clarets then flush out the rest of the wines with individual contributions.  We studied the recently published second edition of Bordeaux by David Peppercorn.  We consulted the vintage descriptions and analyzed the maturity chart.  We agreed that we must have bottle from 1961.  We piled into Scott’s car then headed off into the country side with John navigating us to Bill Baker’s house.

As we drove we fantasized what our visit would be like.  Bill Baker would be sitting by a roaring fire, tucking into an entire ham, with bottles of ancient wine open.  He would see us and remark, “Right lads, have a drink!”  And surely when we got to the cellars he would open bottles of wine for us to taste just so we could decide which to two clarets to buy.

We eventually arrived, he bounded into his Range Rover (surely the trunk was full of wine we thought), and followed him to the underground cellar.  I believe it was an old ammunication dump dug into the side of a hill.  There were wooden boxes with wine organized in rows on the floor. 

We told him we had just drunk 1974 Clos du Val. He looked at us and in jest questioned why we would drink such “crap”.  Apparently our budget did not warrant the opening of bottles for us to taste for free.  He pointed us towards the 1961 and 1971 Ch. La Lagune.  We all picked up a few other bottles.  For me he recommended a 1985 Pommard (I forget the producer at the moment) to go with the roast barbary duck I was going to order for my Thanksgiving dinner.

The Pommard was amazing and paired with the duck.  The 1961 La Lagune was everything we hoped for and more.  As we walked home from the Claret dinner I drained the sediment from the bottle into my mouth and it too was amazing.  I drank many other interesting wines that year.  A 1959 German Riesling, Tsingtao Chardonnay from China, Mexican red wine, and Ch. Musar from Lebanon.

My year at Bristol taught me to love both young and mature wine, to be excited in tasting wine from anywhere in the world, to be curious, and share my experiences with others.

My First Tasting With The University of Bristol Wine Circle

April 4, 2011 2 comments

Earliest known photograph with wine

I grew up watching my grandfather and mother drink wine.  Starting in highschool there were the annual trips to MacArthur Beverages, Calvert Woodley, Total Wine, and other stores for our holiday wines.  It all changed when I spent my year abroad at Bristol University.  My mother told me to befriend a wine merchant and shop there once a week.  I did more than that.

My best friend Ed Aliaga attended Bristol as well.  Together we went to the Wine Circle’s first tasting of the semester.  It was an introduction to wine hosted by the great Bill Baker of Reid Wines.  It was held in the Orangery at Goldney Hall which lent a bit of sophistication to the event.  It was a great big crowd, loud, and mostly there for the wine.  Bill Baker pulled out all of the corked bottles then proceeded the tasting.  At the end there was a free for all to grab the remaining wine.  Ed grabbed a couple of the corked bottles.  We drank from these full bottles and openly declared them even better than the non-corked bottles.  Someone commented that those were the bad bottles.  Unfazed we drank more and avowed that corked wines were great.

Aaron and Ed about to enjoy 1984 Offley LBV Port at my Hillside/Woodside digs

I was hooked.  I love the idea of a tutored tasting followed by revisiting the better bottles.  As the crowd thinned out I found the Wine Circle’s President, Andrew Scott.  I asked if there was anything I could do to help the Wine Circle and if there were any private dinners or tastings.  He said the officers do go out after the tastings and yes, there are small gatherings and that I was welcome to join them.  My fine wine education was about to begin.