I don’t drink much alcohol these days, not that I was an inveterate boozer getting plastered every night even in my heyday.
I do know I never drank just for the sake of drinking, or to keep up with the crowd.
I also did not drink just anything on the basis that it was alcoholic.
I have never been a fan of gin, rum or whiskey but offer me a good vodka (not an oily one please) and I will be your friend for life.
Over the years I developed a taste for good wine, especially good red wine.
Maybe my taste for an ordinary white was spoiled for me by my introduction to it.
I was about 11, it was either while I was still at primary school or just after I started at the grammar school.
Dad’s brother sent him a special bottle of wine from a case of six, given to him by his father-in-law, as a Christmas present. It was a sweet white and therefore seemed appropriate as a pudding wine for Christmas Day.
I can still remember that first sip, it was sweet and fruity but still had a crisp aftertaste.
The wine was a pre-war Chateau d’Yquem and it was to be a decade before I would taste such sweet nectar again.
In between I tried beer (not really my scene); lager (much better than flat, warm beer); Chianti, Sauternes, Blue Nun; even Mateus Rosé.
Then towards the end of ’71 my editor, Brian Barratt, asked if I’d like to take his place on a press trip to London.
British Rail (as it was then) and Grand Metropolitan Hotels had got together to offer three-day package trips to London, staying at top quality hotels and dining out at some of the finest restaurants.
I didn’t have to think twice.
I joined the group at Rhyl and other journalists from North Wales were already on board – in a first class carriage of course.
Including our host and some partners, there were about 15 of us all together.
Our guide on this trip (a “freebie” as it was classed in journalistic jargon) told us that this was the last press trip of his financial year – it was September – and he had to spend the last of his budget otherwise it would be reduced the following year.
I think he knew a gang of journalists would ensure every penny was spent.
At this time Grand Met was a large company with a number of fine hotels and restaurants in London including the Mayfair Hotel (which was to feature in my life a few years later).
The Mayfair was our base and after leaving our luggage at the hotel we were whisked off to a restaurant in Half Moon Street where we dined and drank to our hearts’ content.
To show that this was a “working trip” and not just a “jolly for journos” we spent the afternoon being shown the workings of two of the hotels with visits behind the scenes including the kitchens and laundries.
That evening it was time for another big dining session, this time at an upmarket “Beachcomber Bar”.
After all the meals had been ordered our PR host asked four of us to pick out a wine and he would then order it.
I was no wine expert but I was one of those asked.
Two others both chose red wines of which he ordered three of each (most had professed a liking for red), another choice was a decent white and then I spotted it on the last – that magic name:
I didn’t look at the price or check the year – if they bottle it with the Chateau label then it is a good vintage*.
Our host still just glanced at the list and ordered two of the other white and two d’Yquem.
Although it is a sweet wine I kidded myself that you really needed a white with gammon (I had ordered steak at the previous meal so had chosen grilled gammon this time round.
I think I polished off one bottle of the exceptional wine myself, a couple of others had also professed an interest. Most were on red, however, and our host ordered at least another six bottles to satisfy them.
The evening was rounded off with coffee and liqueurs.
To my mind it was the best evening of our stay and surprisingly the majority of the group were down for a hearty breakfast the next day.
Day two involved a tour of London sights with a professional guide, including a drop-off for a hearty lunch, and a roistering good evening at another GMH premises.
The last day was a morning questioning some of the team behind the London trip plans followed by a slap-up lunch at the Mayfair Hotel restaurant.
Most of the party had a good post-lunch nap on the train home, although some of us were still up to afternoon tea in the first-class dining car.
That trip remains etched in my mind half a century later and I have never tasted a better white wine since, which is why I concentrated on good reds after that.
*Any chateau-bottled Chateau d’Yquem is considered to be a good vintage.
Exceptional vintage years are labelled as such.
If a crop does not meet the high standards of the Chateau it is bottled under a different label as a table wine.
If you ever find out about one of these anonymous vintages then snap it up because a Chateau d’Yquem “reject” is still way ahead of most other labels.