Maggie Rosen meets the Scottish polo captain who’s taking his Champagne obsession to extraordinary lengths, starting with an 1892
Full disclosure: this interview with Peter Crawford – professional polo player, physiotherapist and Champagne nut – took two meetings. The first, over bottles of Moët 1961 (disgorged 2003), Philipponnat Cuvée 1522 Grand Cru 2002; Gosset NV; and – I think – Heidsieck NV, was certainly lively but note-taking ultimately faltered; hence the second meeting which, although mostly about Champagne, was alcohol-free.
Some might say ‘too much fizz for too few people’. Not Crawford, who at just 30, has tasted more of it than most. ‘I want to try as much of it as I can,’ he says. ‘I tend to go for big guns – Krug, Moët, Dom Pérignon, Veuve, Taittinger, Laurent-Perrier, Pol Roger, Bollinger, Roederer and Ruinart.’
Noting a few others, he nostalgically reels off his latest. ‘Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque 1985 in jeroboam, very nice! Pierre Gimonnet Vieilles Vignes 2002 in magnum, fantastic! Krug 1996, awesome!’ While his speech, like his writing, is dotted with exclamation marks, Crawford exudes a sincere, ungimmicky gusto.
He has a lot of Heidsieck NV because ‘there was a special offer at Sainsbury’s’ – although he warns against the ‘new batch’ (disgorged 2009) of Charles Heidsieck. ‘Truly bad. Don’t know what they have done to what was one of my favourite NVs. Tastes like bad pear cider.’
Even if Moët’s Esprit du Siècle is the best wine he’s ever tried, it’s to Pol Roger that the conversation repeatedly returns. The project that has consumed much of Crawford’s energy and resources is to host an unprecedented vertical tasting of Pol Roger, starting with 1892.
It will feature all vintage bottlings including Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill and its predecessor, the PR Réserve Spéciale. Though not sure whether to involve the rosés, he’ll definitely have the one-offs – royal wedding cuvées and the like.
His obsession began with a bottle of 1988 Pol Roger in the back room of an Oddbins, where he worked during a stint at St Andrews University. ‘It was everything you could want in a young Champagne: bright, exciting, promising so much – and delivering. For me, it was The One. It may still be my favourite young vintage. I got sucked in.’
Collecting seriously for six years, he stores most of his wine in an outbuilding at his family’s 18th-century farmhouse in Fife where, at 10.5°C, the natural temperature is ‘bloody cold, but perfect for Champagne’.
He has close to 3,000 bottles, though prefers to be vague, lest his frugal-minded father – a farmer and above all a Scot – raise an eyebrow. Champagne comprises 95%, while white Bordeaux and Port make up the rest. He also likes Barolo (particularly old Borgogno) and Madeira. His other tipple is Coca-Cola, kept in a 1939 American vending machine.
Neither his father nor his three older siblings are as infatuated with wine. But one of the previous owners of his house drank well: when the grounds were excavated for an extension, the earth yielded hundreds of crushed bottles of 1870 Lafite – ‘probably to keep the rats out’, he says matter-of-factly.
Schooled at Aysgarth, Harrow and Glenalmond, Crawford won a Hurlingham Polo Association scholarship to play in New Zealand before heading to St Andrews. He studied maths but left early to pursue polo, and eventually finished a Masters in neuromusculoskeletal physiotherapy at Hertfordshire University.
He now divides his time between a global polo career and a physio practice in London, which fund the vet bills for his 11 ponies – and his Champagne habit. As captain of the Scottish polo team, he was twice chosen as most valuable player, winning back-to-back Festival Cups at Gleneagles.
Yet any suggestion that he sell some wine – he has rarities, large formats, older vintages, as well as tradeable youngsters like Krug Clos d’Ambonnay – is met with derision. ‘I don’t buy to invest. I’m not interested in the value except when it relates to what I’m willing to pay to drink it.’
Although not yet scheduled, the Pol Roger tasting is imminent. He’s only short of a few vintages – 1911, 1914, 1928 Grauves, and a few from the 1980s not released in the UK. He’s pretty sure Pol Roger will help out. After all, it’s ‘just for fun’.
Written by 10/06/2010