With some frequency the commercial vagaries of my profession give way to the social history of the task. Never more so than at present. This is the time of year where our office is frantically preparing for our forthcoming annual wine tasting. We make this something of a grand affair, partly to thank our customers, to keep our office on its vinous toes and to bring together winemakers and vineyard owners from around the world.

The venue has traditionally been one of the grander country houses dotted around the county. This year our choice is the splendid Wolterton Hall in North Norfolk, the former home of Horatio Walpole. The house suits me well showing more of its Death in Venice side than some of the more polished anodyne properties that make up our heritage attractions. In addition its vinicultural links are not tenuous. Horatio’s elder brother, our first Prime Minister Sir Robert out at Houghton Hall, was no stranger to the commercial vagaries of the wine industry either having had a number of less than legal importations of Claret, Burgundy and Champagne impounded by the customs men out at Lynn. How naturally we will blend into such surroundings.

The attendant winemakers will be dropping in from around the globe and the logistics of getting them and their wine, in the same place at the same time requires near military strategy. One such visitor, a former city broker and now famous vineyard owner, Mike Daymond-King from South Island New Zealand, will be one of our guests and to this end we spent some time on the telephone recently, he with his midnight glass of Pomerol and me with my breakfast coffee. His conversation centred mainly on the wines of his that we wish to show at this year’s tasting. Now Mike is a very committed man, no lakes of wines or cheap inspired offerings for the bargain end of the supermarkets, his principal wine this year will be the stunning Bordeaux blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon being the only red New Zealand wine to grace the pages of Gordon Ramsay’s wine list, as well as picking up the gold medal for Best New Zealand Red this year, the wine is coincidentally known as Tahi – Maori for number 0ne. His enquiry was what other wines should he despatch before his arrival. Now you will be aware of the giant strides New Zealand has made in making Sauvignon Blanc its own. From the grape’s heartland in Sancerre, Sauvignon has settled down perfectly with its new life in South Island. “Why” he asked “do we drink such vast quantities over here?” I thought the answer was obvious, obvious that is until I tried to find one. Now we are all aware of how luscious the grape can be, grown in near perfect conditions there with its herbaceous style and heady bouquet of tropical fruits, and it is a wine not unlike Gewürztraminer, tasting remarkably similar wherever it is planted and has therefore been, an excellent starting point in learning to recognise different grape varieties when tasting blind.

“But why” asked Mike “are we not examining other varieties”, many available in both North and South Islands. So what governs our desires and choices? We are doubtless one of the biggest wine importing countries in the world, mainly due to the fact that we have spent most of our history brewing beer and distilling world-class whisky. The need for wine began comparatively recently with gentlemen such as Sir Robert importing their chosen French wines and later, Queen Victoria making famous the German wines of Hockheim, under the slang term – Hock. The ordinary British imbiber came much later as wines increasingly became egalitarian products and made commercially available to us all.

Now most of the time such new recruits to global wine say to me, you’re the expert, you tell me what I should like.

Having listened further to Mike on the demands of the English sensibility, a bombshell hit me. I realised that my average customers know more about wine than almost any citizen of a wine making country I know. We have all spent many a happy day on holiday in the Southern landscape of France, the arid corners of Spain, the hills of Greece, glugging happily on the local wines. So I might add do the French, Austrians, Spanish and the Germans. Local wine has been our byword for immersing ourselves in the apparently undiscovered areas of Europe. I too have tasted many such offerings, normally made by the bartender’s brother in the next village, the whites often being unfiltered heady examples in unlabelled bottles resembling the colour of the local cart-horse’s urine sample and the reds barely out of barrel, where-upon the mellowing experienced charges us to demand that two cases be deposited in the boot of our Volvo, driven badly over farm-tracks back to our kitchens in Norfolk to be shared with unsuspecting friends.

This process has in my experience, not always proved as exciting as it seemed when Jean-Paul lit his fourteenth Gitanes and told us we were life-long friends and that marriage to his eldest daughter would be a mere formality next time we were in town.

These mistakes, albeit utterly pleasurable, have been part of our learning curve. They have shaped us in our desire for new experience and granted courage in our future wine-selection. In a sentence we have become the most adventurous wine selectors in the world!

Dear Jean-Claude in his village outside Carcassonne has probably never tasted wines beyond his immediate purview, Bordeaux may be a treat, the Loire Valley and Burgundies tasted only by Japanese Bankers thousands of miles away. His tenuous grasp of the produce of Rioja or Tuscany will be tempered by his fiercely loyal defense of his own country, and the wines of Southern Hemisphere regarded as overblown boiled sweets made by amateurs. Whereas we in the space of twenty years have unwittingly discovered, tasted and compared wines from hundreds of regions and probably dozens of countries.

In short we have gained such experience almost by accident, and when cornered we can offer opinions on a myriad of grape varieties almost unknown by anybody but the residents of their country of origin.

So readers take heart when you next taste a new wine and discover new bouquets and smells. Put away that rising sense of intimidation, forget the need to take a language course in order to understand a wine label and take great pleasure in our wonderfully cosmopolitan view and congratulate yourselves on probably the most well-honed and open-minded outlook on the planet.