There’s a special place in purgatory for people who back out of industry dinners. “Something came up”. Yes, of course it did. No doubt the realisation "I have to spend an evening with my colleagues”. You have a fictional “migraine” whilst the rest of us see a cheeful banqueting 10 regenerate into a sparse 7, because apparently Brian is also “stuck on a train” and Jenny is “looking after my sister… she’s just been dumped and I don’t want to leave her alone”. Stopping the sentence just before “with her Netflix subscription and the new series of House of Cards”.
Last week that hateful person was me. And uniquely in recorded history I REALLY did have a last-minute reason. An operation. The doctor rang the day before with a spare slot. I took it. At 7.30am on the day of the International Wine Challenge Awards he set about me with a general anaesthetic, a knife and no mercy. You don’t want to know the details – seriously, you don’t – but I wasn’t going to sit comfortably for a week. With a heavy heart and numb portion I let a couple of people know I couldn’t make it that night.
There was a moment’s silence. “No, seriously… you HAVE to come” they said. I thought maybe they’d not heard. A general anaesthetic. A significant slice. Bed rest for two days says the doctor. House arrest for a week.
“Yeah, yeah… we get that. But still, you HAVE to come”.
“Well… er…” There was a pause here. Then “Ed’s dropped out. He’s stuck on a train. We’d have two empty seats. It would look embarrassing at the table.”
And so it came to pass that I sat there, wishing I’d bought a ring-cushion and more co-cocodamol, for the three-hour awards ceremony. If you’ve not been, it’s a fun evening. If a long one. There are awards before dinner. And more awards after. Cheery wine merchants ascend the stage for Best List and whatnot. Happy wine and sake producers step up for a range of assorted trophies. You want to know how happy? See this guy
That's Kuji Kosuke, showing how it feels to be winner of Champion Sake with his Nanbu Bijin Tokubetsu Junmai 2017. I love him.
Between courses we chatted and I shifted position delicately. We’ve just finished filming series two of The Wine Show, and the inter-course gossip was high quality. There was an anecdote about a Hollywood actor that still makes me wince, along with recollections of six months travelling around the world drinking wine in glamorous places with funny people. As the evening drew to a close, I was in the middle of a particularly involving tale when I vaguely heard the hosts talking about someone “discovered by the producers of The Wine Show in a film of him sitting in a bath of wine.” I wondered if it was something a bit like this.
I can’t imagine there are many more videos like this out there. Turns out there aren’t.
With that I went from over forty years of being “a bit of a personality” to “IWC Personality of the Year”. For many years at school, end of term reports were variations on “Joe is quite a personality. But perhaps talks too much and lacks application when it comes his studies”. This remains true. But now I’ve managed to win an award for it. I think my former teachers and I can call this one “a draw”.
Cleverly, the organisers of the IWC ask the winner to give a short acceptance speech. In the US this would be banned as a form of Cruel and Unusual Punishment. For both the winner and the audience. The winner has ten seconds to think of something that will be recorded, broadcast and forever appended to the moment they won a prize as one of the foremost communicators in the world of wine. The audience has around a minute of listening to someone talk to them without the aid of a script, edits, re-records, preparation or sobriety. And indeed high on adrenaline, panic and the parting, whispered words at the table “you’d better thank us or you’re fired…”. To know what that looks like – it’s here.
Actually, if I’d had a month to prepare, I don’t think I’d say any different. A career in wine, newspapers, radio and now television, has found an unlikely home for a very particular set of skills. Skills singularly useless elsewhere.
Most importantly, what did we drink? At the awards there are lots of the award-winning wines floating around. But we chose a few from our friends at Berry Bros & Rudd. All come with hearty recommendations, although a quick look at the web site suggests we may have bought the last of a couple of them. They really were very good and I found they made a particularly dreamy match with the co-cocodamol.
2014 Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Kabinett, Selbach-Oster, Mosel (£16.95) is pure and clear as petrichor, only sweeter and fruitier. There’s a vibrant, wide-eyed feel to this; magical with spiced flavours and summer salads. 2016 Miraval Rosé, Famille Perrin, Côtes de Provence (£19.95) should becelebrated for its delicate, wild strawberry fruit, the herbal aromas that persist on the palate and savoury spice on the finish that makes it so good with food. It will forever be known – however – as the estate Bradgelina bought. Although if that introduces more people to the charms of Provence Rose, then that’s no bad thing. 2014 GRUS de Alcohuaz is from the highest vineyard in Chile, 2,200m up in the desert Elqui Valley. There were just 8000 bottles of this intense, wild, deeply fruity blend of Syrah, Malbec, Petit Syrah and Grenache. It blends the rich cake-like fruit of a sun-baked vineyard with the precision and focus of a vineyard on the limits of viable production. Probably because it comes from a vineyard that’s both. There doesn't seem to be any of the inaugural 2014 vintage left, but look out for future releases. Finally we had 2010 Sagrantino di Montefalco, Passito, Fattoria di Antano, Umbria. This was concentrated and heady, gently sweet but like a wild fruit, not a sticky. Magical with chocolate, even better with cheese. We drank the last of it I think, unless there's some in the new Berry Bros and Rudd Pall Mall shop.