Blind tasting. One of my favourite activities in the world. Maybe even my favourite. Tied in first place with padding along the beach in North Denmark.
I will never forget the first time I met Rajat Parr. The entire evening is etched in my memory. I had heard on the grapevine that he was a pretty good taster. Pretty good to say the least. Phrases like “the best blind taster in the world” had been thrown around. So, his reputation preceded him. It’s difficult to know how much truth lies in rumours like these, and I wasn’t sceptical, but I was curious to see whether he really was that good or whether it had been exaggerated.
I was coming back from Burgundy a couple of years ago. My plane was delayed by two hours, so I landed at 8pm instead of 6pm and I was particularly exhausted. Michael Sager texted me when I landed and said, “come to Hackney Road, Raj is in town and you need to meet him.” I very almost didn’t go but Michael persisted and just said “come on!!!” so I dragged my tired butt onto the train and out to Hoxton.
There is an amazing little wine shop in Chassagne-Montrachet – Caveau de Chassagne – that has a separate list if you ask nicely, where there are all sorts of incredible wines hiding – think Henri Jayer old vintages for dayzzzzz. I can’t exactly afford Jayer, but there’s also a great Rhône list and on that trip, I had spied a bottle of Hermitage blanc by Guigal, in my birth year – 1991. It was only around 40 euros so it got stashed in my suitcase straightaway.
I didn’t know at the time that this would be serendipitous and that that bottle would be the wine that would define one of the most important vinous memories of my life.
I had originally planned to drink it with my dad (sorry dad) but when I arrived at Sager + Wilde and was introduced to Raj, Michael whispered to me, “let’s blind him on something!”
So, instead of choosing something from the list, I got that bottle out of my suitcase behind the bar.
Michael and I gave a glass to Raj and leant back, like excited school children waiting to see who got the lead in the school play.
Raj swirled the wine glass in his hand absentmindedly, chatting with us, took a sniff and instantly said, “Hermitage.” He hadn’t even tasted the wine.
He took a sip, and said “Guigal. Early 90s.”
My brain exploded. I was completely and utterly speechless. Dumbfounded. It was the perfect way to meet someone who has today become such a dear friend and mentor. It is perhaps the single moment that told me, you are on this path for good. That was it. I was hooked. Transfixed. Obsessed. This is not a drill.
When we showed him the bottle, there was no celebrating, just a small smile and a shrug. Raj is an incredibly humble man and he reflects the importance of humility in the face of wine.
I can only aspire to one day be sitting in a wine bar, to be introduced to someone just embarking upon their career, to be challenged to a blind tasting of their birth year wine and to nail it casually in one go.
Raj, thank you.