This article originally appeared in the Winter 2021/2022 print issue of Quench Magazine.
LONG BEFORE I GOT INTO THE WINE WRITING BUSINESS, I VISITED THE HOME OF A SPANISH FRIEND WHOM I HAD MET IN LONDON, ENGLAND.
His family owned a bodega in Jerez de la Frontera, where at lunch and dinner three generations of the family would come together around a large table. There, children, as young as four, sat with the adults, and in front of each place was a small copita. As the bottle of fino sherry was circulated around the table, an ounce or so was poured for the children and then watered down.
The father of my host, who owned the bodega, saw the look of surprise on my face as the children raised their glasses to toast me as a guest in their house.
“You seem surprised that the children are drinking wine,” he said to me. “As you see, what they are drinking is diluted. This way, we are teaching them to respect alcohol and to pay tribute to the wine that has put food on our table.”
In the following years I have been privileged to lunch or dine in the homes of many European wine families, and I have witnessed the same sharing of wine with children too young to hold a driver’s license. I contrasted this with my own upbringing in London and Montreal. My parents did not drink alcohol, but they kept a bottle of wine for sacramental purposes. Every Friday evening my mother would light the Sabbath candles, and my father would say a prayer over the bread while pouring a thimble of wine into a silver goblet.
The blessing was in Hebrew – a prayer recited over a cup of wine immediately before the meal on the eve of the Sabbath, which translates as, “Blessed art Thou, oh Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”
This same ritual of wine and bread is central to the Christian faith as the Eucharist – a commemoration of Jesus’s Last Supper with his disciples. After reciting the blessing over the wine and bread, my father would raise the goblet and take a sip, barely wetting his lips. Then he would pass the goblet to me.
Now, that bottle of wine my mother brought out every Friday night was stored thereafter in a heated linen closet.
I mentioned that she only poured a thimbleful, which meant that the bottle lasted for at least a year. Resting in that warm environment, it began to oxidize as soon as the cork was pulled. Naturally, it was a sweet kosher wine. The result was that the wine tasted like lukewarm prune juice.
After such an introduction to wine, how then did I become a wine writer?
It took a lot of beer as a McGill student to rinse away the memory of that Friday night wine, I can tell you. When I went to Dublin for post-graduate work Guinness also helped; but it wasn’t until I moved to London in the 1960s that I began to take an interest in wine. I signed up for a training course at Grants of St. James’s, a leading wine merchant in London. The course was given by the late Gordon Bucklitsch, who ignited my interest in wine and made me realise there was a world of pleasure to be had from the fermented grape beyond lukewarm kosher wine.
In thanks for his awakening in me a love of wine, I modelled my wine writer detective, Ezra Brant on him. Bucklitsch taught me that there are two stages in an oenophile’s life. The first is the discovery of wine. The second is the revelation of fine wine.
RIP Gordon Bucklitsch.