Max Beesley: My Passion for Wine
- Monday 24 May 2010
The first thing Max Beesley tells me is that he masqueraded as a Decanter journalist while dining in Las Vegas last year. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on whose viewpoint you see things from) he was rumbled. ‘I ordered this bottle of Darioush – my favourite Californian wine – and it was really cold.
I asked the sommelier to decant it and leave it alone, and they looked at me like I was a freak. So I said Decanter had asked me to do a piece for them,’ he grins. With, for… it’s a
fine line. ‘Things were fine, and they even asked me to a tasting of… what’s that wine beginning with S? Yes, Screaming Eagle. Then one of the waiters clocked me from a film…’
This is typical of Beesley’s encounters with wine. Part brazen confidence, part self-awareness of his lack of knowledge, he radiates energy and a desire to learn. He can’t help name dropping – hotels, restaurants, celebrity friends, first growths – but is keen to check the pronunciation of unfamiliar wine regions and grapes.
Describing himself as a ‘working-class kid from south Manchester’, he admits the wine world can be intimidating: ‘it’s all tied up with class and I don’t like that. It’s just a subject I’d like to learn more about.’
Growing up, wine wasn’t part of the picture. His mother limited herself to a Sherry at Christmas – ‘and then she’d have a hangover’ – while his father didn’t touch alcohol until he was 38. University years were more about snakebites than Sancerre, so he started with a blank canvas, but relished the challenge.
Whatever I do, I have to try and do it to the absolute best of my ability, to master it. It’s a weird obsessive-compulsive-disorder thing that’s probably linked to vulnerability and insecurity.’
You can see it in his professional life. Son of British jazz drummer Maxton Beesley and jazz singer Chris Marlowe, he was offered five music scholarships at the age of 11, and trained as a classical musician, studying piano and percussion. He has toured with James Brown and George Michael, among other musical icons – ‘I made a list of 20 people I wanted to play with before I died, or they did, and I’ve ticked off 18.’
Then, at age 23 he saw Robert de Niro in Raging Bull and was so inspired he decided to become an actor. Since then he has appeared in films and TV dramas such as Bodies, Survivors and Hotel Babylon, and is now writing a script and raising finance for his own film.
It was on set that he met his wine mentor, fellow actor Julian Sands. ‘I’d bought books, but the most information I’ve got is by sitting down with Jules. He’s a real intellect; a serious collector. He has an amazing cellar in LA, and he gave me freedom of it – I chose a Cheval Blanc 1947, and that set me on the road.’
Bordeaux and California are Beesley’s main loves, and he notes down bottles he’s enjoyed in a leather-bound journal. ‘I love Bordeaux, especially the 2000s, but also juicy Californian Cabernets. I like the contrast between the fruit bombs and the dry, antique styles.
I buy a bottle of Mouton or Lafite every six months, nothing too outrageous, plus the odd case of Ducru-Beaucaillou or Lynch-Bages, which I love. Usually an older vintage – I haven’t got the patience to store young wines. When I buy it, I want to drink it. Or I end up giving bottles away to friends.’
He sets himself a minimum £20 budget for everyday bottles. ‘If I spend less, I have a mouthful and regret it.’ For everyday drinking, he’ll stick with Bordeaux or California, or branch into Italy. And whites? ‘I’m looking into Rieslings. And I love Sauvignon Blanc. The obvious Cloudy rubbish.
I get it for £12 a bottle. I reckon it’s worth about £9, but I’ve seen it for £22.’ For Champagne, 2000 Dom Pérignon, or Roederer NV for everyday. His next wine mission? ‘Nailing Bordeaux – and Burgundy. I’m well into Pinots now. And Chablis, wow! I don’t like headachey, oaky, buttery Chardonnays, but love Chablis. Can’t wait to learn more.’
Splitting his time between London and LA, he doesn’t have a proper cellar yet, but has big plans. ‘When I’m a multi- millionaire – timescale maybe three years if my film does well – I’m going to buy a mansion in Buckinghamshire. There will be steps down into my cellar, a flagstone floor, probably beige, modern wooden racks and glass-covered storage.
The lighting will be moody, downlit, with medieval sconces on the wall. Then there’ll be an empty crate of something classy in the middle of the floor, with two chairs, a little Dickensian candle and some tatty wine glasses. Perfect.’