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)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Latest stories from i100
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

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager - Bristol

    £31000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the UK, the major project fo...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Executive - Meetings & Events (MICE) - £40,000 OTE

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: Are you a high achieving...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Account Executive - Hotel Reservation Software - £40,000 OTE

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: A rapidly growing Hotel ...

    Recruitment Genius: Tyre Technician / Mechanic

    £15000 - £16800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Tyre Technician / Mechanic is...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game