“The first quarter century” by John Ducker

Time has a habit of slipping away unnoticed, and I find it astonishing to realise that my own association with CHARLEMAGNE stretches back to the beginning of the ‘eighties! Was I legally of age to consume alcohol then, I wonder? No, don’t answer that one. Unless I am mistaken, the Club started life at the end of the ‘seventies under the aegis of Richard Rogers, proprietor of “Côte d’Or” Wines, Pitshanger Lane – a shop which now dispenses tutus, leotards and ballet shoes for the young ingénues of W5 and W13.

Maybe Richard’s founding of CWC was not altogether altruistic as, understandably, it was also a vehicle for the promotion of his wines which, as the name of his company implied, were weighted towards Burgundy….a rather more affordable commodity at that point of time than it is today, perhaps. I remember that in the early days the club membership seemed marginally less interested in learning about wine and rather keener to drink plenty of the stuff within a social framework – and, perhaps I am being unkind, but I think some of our guest speakers may have had an uphill task in educating our palates on those innocent evenings of yesteryear in Broughton Road.

I remember some of the speakers, too: the man from the local off-licence who smoked incessantly during his presentation and promoted one of his wines as being “purely for the ladies”, as it was nice and sweet! Again, the man whose sole task in life seemed to be to write descriptive notes for back-labels – why he wasn’t short-listed for the Mann/Booker Prize for fiction I cannot imagine! I hadn’t yet assumed the role of CWC Tastings Organiser myself, so I wasn’t personally responsible for having allowed either of them on board. Which brings me to the point that in the ‘eighties, wine companies were falling over themselves to provide qualified speakers to Wine Clubs free of charge, with a view (obviously) to generating sales.

How different a picture today! The thirst for wine, let alone wine education is alive and kicking. Wine Clubs proliferate, and many serious wine merchants run tasting courses or events alongside their core business. Compared to those earlier days the current proliferation of wine is astonishing, today’s wine choices are bewildering – but is everything beginning to taste the same? Discuss, if time permits! Glossy magazines positively drip with ‘hype’ over the latest discoveries or prizewinning bottles, and wine education itself has become something of a specialised industry, often delivered at the highest levels of expertise. Clearly we are paying more attention to the stuff in the glass these days, and that’s no bad thing.

One of the great benefits of any Wine Club of course is that one may well get the chance to taste wines one might not normally be able to access or afford for oneself, and I thank CHARLEMAGNE for the opportunity of tasting and sharing some quite astonishing bottles. Sandy Leckie, Lena Inger and I organised a tasting of finest and rarest Clarets featuring first and second growths back to 1945, and including Ch.Latour 1961 (which then cost £100 a bottle)… a supercharged wine with the ‘velvet glove’ syndrome: subtly nuanced as it developed …. and developed ……and developed …..in the glass. Worth every last penny I’d say – yet what must it cost today? I am making the rash assumption that one could still access it! A 1945 Ch. Leoville-LasCases faded spectacularly in the glass from a bottle ullaged to about half-shoulder, but not before delivering a ‘swan-song’ of ephemeral aromas and scents – unforgettable! I can still recall, too, the exceptionally delicate, persistently fragrant taste of Warre Vintage 1927 Port, the legendary ‘vintage of the century’ brought generously to us by Bill Warre himself and, on another occasion, a succulent late harvest Anjou-Rablay 1928 which for all its complexity was still as fresh as a daisy thanks to the high acidity of ‘Pineau-de-la-Loire’ – (Chenin Blanc.)

Members, and former members, of CWC have also ‘made good’ in the wine world: John and Jean Trigwell established a flourishing wine-tours business at one point of time; Sandy Leckie, Lena Inger and I trained (at different times) at the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and are now ourselves accredited tutors with years of experience behind us – yes, where does time go? Sandy, of course, with his own highly successful company “The Wine Education Service”. CWC also owes much to the expertise of members like John Douglas whose lay knowledge of Port and Madeira is exemplary, and to Christos Ioannou who has ventured bravely into wine education let alone the hard world of the wine trade itself.

Such is the allure of wine that there may well be others within the CWC ranks who have succumbed to a professional engagement with it, and I apologise for not mentioning them here. In writing all this I have taken a few moments off my preparation for a Spanish tasting for later in the week and – purely in the interests of ‘research’, you understand – I happen to have a glass of the delightfully smoky old-fashioned white Rioja from the Marques de Murrieta’s Capellania Estate by my side.

The very least I can do is to raise it to CHARLEMAGNE and its members herewith, with my very best wishes for the next quarter-century at least!

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