Matt Monk of the Whalley Wine Shop list wines that have made him stop and think

It’s a question I’ve often been asked. Though I’m sure I’d been drinking wine for some time, I do remember the wine that made me stop, think, and wonder.

I was with a large group of colleagues in Johannesburg. (In a previous life I was a member of long haul cabin crew for British Airways and, as crew, we always went out for drinks and a spot of dinner) The restaurant? What used to be a church, called Gatreels in the Central Business District.

I don’t know who picked it or why they chose that wine. Being a crew night out it was unlikely to be the old adage of “mid-priced on the wine list must be good”. At one point in the meal I stopped talking for a change, topped up the empty glasses and took a sip.

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Autumn leaves on the vines in the vineyards at Boschendal, South Africa

Now the earth didn’t move cosmically, it didn’t stop spinning; I didn’t hear heavenly music or have fireworks go off in my mouth, but it did make me stop and think. It made me assess what I tasted: the aromas, the flavours. There were layers of complexity to this wine. I had so many questions.

Now, at the time I knew a little about wine; a day and a half in my 12 weeks training course with British Airways, in a room next to the engineering bays at Heathrow Airport. But looking back, my wine knowledge then boiled down to: Fizz, White or Red.

But now, the game had begun. I got back to our base and signed straight up for the company’s dedicated wine course. Six months later and I was on it: the Wine and Spirit Education Trust Intermediate course. I think it was six-eight weeks before I sat the exams: a multiple-choice paper and wine tasting with the head Wine Buyer of British Airways…

Now I see why there had been a six-month waiting list: the chance to taste some wine, not just from Economy and Business Class but also First Class and Concorde!

That was in the early nineties; a lot of time, changes and wine have…

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