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
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
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

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?