My passion for wine: Robert Winston

Robert Winston People & Places Articles
  • Friday 20 January 2006

The fertility expert, life peer and TV presenter is as passionate about wine as he is about genetics, finds John Stimpfig

I hate to think how many pages Professor Lord Robert Winston’s CV must run to, but it’s probably not far behind the number of cases of wine lying in his cellar.

The drastically edited version is as follows. Born in 1940, Robert Winston graduated in medicine in 1964 before joining the London Hospital and then the Hammersmith where he began his pioneering work in gynaecological microsurgery. He founded the first NHS In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) Programme, while his research into embryology, genetics and human reproduction earned him yet more global recognition. He became a life peer in 1995.

His trademark moustache is, however, best known to audiences of his brilliantly accessible BBC TV series which have brought science to the masses. These include The Human Body, The Secret Life of Twins and, his latest small screen opus, The Story of God.

He admits to acquiring his wine habit early in life and vividly remembers his vinous epiphany. ‘My father died when I was nine and some years later I was rummaging around in his cellar and found a bottle of 1947 Gruaud-Larose. When I opened it at dinner, it was an astonishing revelation.’

As a result, he has grown passionate and knowledgeable about wine ever since and now has about 70 cases in his cellar. Unsurprisingly perhaps, quite a lot of it is claret. ‘The wines of the Médoc are the wines that I know best,’ he says. ‘There’s a consistent, definable quality to places like Pauillac.’

He’s also no stranger to the saleroom. ‘Though not so much now, as I just don’t have the time.’ Instead, he tends to buy most of his wine from Berry Bros & Rudd, Lay & Wheeler or online from Fine & Rare Wines. ‘I often buy en primeur, but not to invest. I don’t believe in hoarding wines purely to sell on for profit.’

Occasionally though, he does buy a couple of cases of first growths with a view to enjoying one and selling the other to pay for it. ‘I remember doing this for the 1982s when I bought Margaux and Latour. At the time, they seemed hugely expensive, but they more than covered the cost of the wines I drank.’

However, he’s at pains to point out he’s not the type who only drinks first growths from great vintages. ‘I’ve found that it’s well worth buying good, solid classed-growth châteaux in so-called off vintages because they can be excellent value. I’m currently drinking the 1994 Léoville-Poyferré which critics like Parker and Broadbent didn’t rate at all. But actually, it’s rather delicious.

‘As a rule, I don’t necessarily believe in saving great wines for special occasions or celebrations,’ he adds. ‘I’m quite happy to open a good bottle spontaneously with very little excuse – especially with fellow wine lovers who really appreciate what’s in their glass.

That said, he remembers fondly an indulgent evening spent seeing in the millennium. ‘We began with a beautiful Bâtard-Montrachet, followed by a fabulous magnum of 1953 Mouton-Rothschild. After that I served an extraordinary 1919 Richebourg, which just about stretched to 12 glasses. Then we finished the evening off with a 1985 Yquem and an 1880 Bual from Madeira, both of which were quite sublime.’

His hedonistic passion is Pinot Noir. ‘I adore red Burgundy, though Bordeaux was my first love. It’s more of a risk but, at its best, it’s incomparable.’ He lists favourite producers as Rousseau, Roumier and Trappet and, “of course”, DRC.’

In addition, Professor Winston has been enjoying more and more New World wines. ‘I’ve long been a big fan of Grange, but there are so many other great producers in Australia who are much cheaper and also offer terrific quality. I think that Chile too is producing outstanding reds at very good prices.

‘I don’t drink a lot of Champagne because it tends to give me heartburn. So unless it’s very, very good, I often just prefer a glass of white Burgundy.’ He also has a great passion for vintage Madeira. ‘Old Madeira has a complexity and subtleness that is unsurpassed by almost any other wine,’ he says.

Yet in spite of his career, he can be unscientific in his approach to buying wine. ‘A while ago, I was in Tuscany and bought a case of 1993 Brunello di Montalcino – on a whim. When I first got it home it was very disappointing. But now, it’s amazing how much it has changed for the better. So I’m rather relieved at the way it has turned out.’

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