Food and Drink: Making up for a wasted youth: Bryan Gould talks to Anthony Rose about his wine education, and reveals that he was a late developer

I WAS brought up in New Zealand in a family that - common in New Zealand at the time - didn't drink wine at all. At home, liquor was drunk, but not wine, and by the time I was 21 I had drunk a lot of beer. The first time I think I ever tasted wine was on my 21st birthday. We had a dinner party to celebrate, and my father acquired a bottle of sparkling red burgundy. The only thing I'd ever seen that looked like that was raspberryade, and I was amazingly disappointed when it didn't taste like raspberryade] We all agreed that we didn't think much of this wine.

It's one of my great regrets that I wasted all that time really. It was only when I came to Britain two years later that I was introduced to wine. I began to think that wine was a good thing to drink, and enjoyable, and I ought to know about it. You get more pleasure out of it if you know about it, and so, without really studying it, I gradually acquired a greater interest and knowledge. This was very much aided by the fact that, in the Foreign Office and as a don at Worcester College, Oxford, I found myself drinking much better wine than I could otherwise have afforded. I remember a bottle of Chateau Latour 1945 which cost me just 25 bob at Worcester]

I went through a period of keeping tasting notes just to try to educate myself as to what it was I liked and what I thought about wines, and I read a bit. It began to occur to me that I needed to know about grape varieties, so I now have a pretty good idea of which grapes make which wines, and what to expect from each variety or combinations of them.

The first thing you learn, particularly with the whites, is that you develop a strong antipathy to bad wine. Once you start to tell the difference between good and bad wine, you're on the way. I tried to learn enough about what I liked to enable me to go to the supermarket with a fair chance of getting something at a reasonable price that at least was in the area of some of the very nice wines I was drinking at High Table or wherever.

I have gone through lots of phases. I remember being very keen on rioja at one point because I suddenly discovered that appealing vanilla flavour from the oak. I always had wine in a cellar of a sort, but I've never been able to afford to build up a proper wine cellar. I now have a very good wine merchant in Chipping Campden, Charlie Bennett. I still basically buy off the supermarket shelf, because I know what I'm doing now, but I buy good wines from him. He took on the agency for Limeburners Bay. I liked it so much I virtually bought it all up. It's wonderful. It has a sort of tantalising, cigar-boxy spice flavour to it. I've got just one bottle left. It's my favourite New Zealand cabernet.

I have always found red burgundy more accessible than claret, but the problem is that you can't find good red burgundy at an affordable price. There's a particular flavour I love about it. If you try to describe it, it sounds terribly off-putting, but there is a slight hint of rotting vegetation, as if it's gone over the top a bit. I love a quotation of Hilaire Belloc - I think Hugh Johnson quotes it: 'I forget the name of the place, I forget the name of the girl, but the name of the wine was Chambertin.'

What really interests me is: can New Zealand make a decent pinot noir? I've tried Martinborough and Waipara Springs. I've been to Gibbston Valley in central Otago; there's another wine at Wanaka called Rippon which I'm told is very good; and I know of Ata Rangi. On my next trip, we hope to get down to South Island again and look in there.

I've always preferred red to white wine, but I love the austerity, the reserve, the sense you have of the flavours just being held back a bit in great white burgundies - a sort of flintiness. I like the New Zealand chardonnays, too, because they have a wonderful balance between the hugeness of the buttery Australian chardonnays and the austerity of the French white burgundies.

I think there are two major factors in how New Zealand has become so good so quickly. First, they're experienced at growing things, so growing grapes is no big deal for them. Second, many of the modern techniques - stainless steel, etc - stem from the dairy industry.

If you had to buy one single bottle of wine that's affordable and likely to appeal to people who are not necessarily all that interested in wine, you'd buy a Montana sauvignon blanc. For a fiver, it's just such an appealing wine: the Marlborough style, all that green grass, and so zingy - you're getting more flavour out of that wine, or new-world wines generally, than you'd get from any French or European wine.

I don't see that anyone should complain too much about this real explosion of flavour. You can criticise the Marlborough style of sauvignon blanc, that it's all just fruit. But if you then look at the chardonnays, you start to see that these same winemakers are capable of producing more sophisticated wine because the grape is different. I think it takes its place in the range of legitimate wine styles.

They have found a huge market for the style of wine, but I don't think it's necessarily the best they can do. I think there's now a challenge for New Zealand wines. If I were looking to the future, I would say they'll carry on making fruity sauvignons because they'll sell them in large quantities, but the more serious winemakers will go on pushing back the frontiers on the greater wines. You are looking to the John Hancocks and Michael Brkjkoviches to start making really great wines. The signs are that they can do it with the chardonnays, and we'll see about pinot noir and possibly other varieties.

I enjoy life. I like cooking, I like eating, I like drinking wine. I like beautiful things and I'm damned if I see why I should apologise for that. My political views are very much to the effect that what is wrong with our society is that these things are closed off from far too many people. It is true that in Britain we're a remarkably civilised society in all sorts of ways, but not particularly in the sense of enjoying life. We don't think it's part of civilised behaviour to sit with one's friends and relax and eat good food. We think we do, but we don't.

It's not just a problem of the left in politics in Britain. It's an aspect of British society that not much value is put on these things. But I do think the supermarket wine revolution has brought about a great change, and although I'm sometimes attacked as a Champagne Socialist, I don't think there's much sting in that these days. I think it's very important that we should have a wide range of interests. Something like wine is part of being a civilised person, and we need civilised people in politics.

One of my fanciful ambitions is to retire with a few acres growing pinot noir grapes in central Otago and produce a great wine. It's just a little fantasy. I'm convinced, on the basis of my skimpy knowledge of these matters, that of all the cool-climate grapes, pinot noir is the one most dependent on marginal conditions. There's now quite a lot of evidence that Central Otago has just the right combination of cool climate and growing period.

Another thing I'd love to do is one of those trips up through the Cote d'Or. One of these days I'll get round to that.

Bryan Gould is the Labour MP for Dagenham, Essex

(Photograph omitted)

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little