Wednesday, 15 October 2008

A noisy working breakfast

You might think people who taste wine for a living would become blasé and pampered – and in a sense we do. Pouring half a bottle down the sink is not a thing many mere mortals would ever contemplate: it happens all the time when you are assessing far more wines than you can possibly drink.

A bunch of us had a working breakfast today, though, that reminded me how very un-blasé, how clear-eyed and mustard-keen, professional wine-sleuths can (and must) be. Time: 9.00am. Place: the Wolseley Brasserie (but this was exceptional; more typical would be a room at Theale with car park view or at best the Buffet Gare of a sleepy French station).

Topic: wines to pep us all up without overwhelming the credit card at the start of next year, when we celebrate Tony Laithwaite’s first 40 years of selling wine. Fresh after 40 years? That’s the point. The wine business is a sort of worldwide student body with individuals making their own discoveries, getting excited about them and passing on the buzz, all the time.

So: watch out for passionate advocacy. Anne wants you to share the new Southern Italian delights she has just found, Abi has cracked the Sonoma Coast, Thomas can’t contain his glee over this cache of treasure from high in the Andes and Helen’s secret smile tells me her new Rioja from Carlos Bujanda is going to be another bestseller.

The drill is that our buyers take soundings among contacts here. They look at lists, trail though samples and taste everything on offer. Then they high-tail it to their area of responsibility, anywhere from Chile to Champagne. They spend a furious few days eliminating all but a dozen or so strong contenders for the list, then whiz home to sell them to their peers. The argument has to be convincing, and the wine conclusive. It all makes for a noisy breakfast.

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