Given my vocation as a “wine writer”, one might expect me to recall sepia-tinged memories in the family library, when my aristocratic father, an epicurean and wine connoisseur, offered his eldest son a sip of Yquem or Latour one fateful evening.
Alas my childhood chalice was never filled with wine and in reality until my mid-20’s, wine and I were complete strangers and alcohol consisted of cheap cider and Sunday roasts accompanied by boxes of Liebfraumilch or for special occasions, the ubiquitous Matéus Rose, a tradition upheld today despite my best efforts.
I was born the eldest of four sons on 12th February 1971, an under-rated vintage, and enjoyed an uneventful but enjoyable childhood in sunny, coastal Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, a place of mudflats, cockle sheds, tacky nightclubs and trenchant Conservatism.
Born of moderate intelligence I was blessed with grammar school education courtesy of Westcliff High School for Boys that instilled its traditional values of Conservatism and conservatism and kept us segregated from the adjacent Girls' School just in case we deflowered them with lascivious thoughts.
Puberty brought spots and a passion for music that remains in my heart to this day, as witnessed by hundreds of antique vinyl twelve-inches stockpiled in the spare room. An erstwhile DJ with an eclectic but impeccable taste, I will not accede to middle age whilst my burning desire for new music remains undiminished.
In 1989 I left for Warwick University and spent two-years living in Coventry, a town devastated by new buildings after the Second World War. Inebriated days were whiled away drinking ruby port and Blue Bols, sometimes on the same evening and despite failing my first year, graduated with a useless 2:1 degree in Management Science bereft of any career plan.
I pretended to work for Lloyds for a couple of years before packing my suitcase for Tokyo in 1994 to work as an English teacher and immerse myself in another culture, since when Japan has been almost a second home. I returned after a fairly eventful year and in 1996, whilst on probation for what can only be described as "the most boring insurance job in the world", an opportunity arose within a Japanese export company where I would be responsible for the wine.
Well, how could I say "no"?
Lo and behold I inadvertently found myself procuring an inordinate quantity of unheard of wines such as “Latour” and “Petrus” without the foggiest what the hell I was doing. So I enrolled myself for WSET certificate at Battersea College and those first dozen tutorials lit the touch paper that ignited my passion for wine. My epiphany arrived with a glass of Chateau Montrose 1982: my eyes and olfactory senses were opened and I fell in love with fermented grape juice. Returning to the office still savouring that Saint Estèphe, I wrote a perfunctory tasting note as a memento of the occasion, unwittingly germinating the seed of my career.
Four years later I passed my WSET Diploma, had traveled regularly to European wine regions and visited nearly all the major chateaux in Bordeaux several times; all the time recording my notes for no apparent reason except to assuage my archivist nature.
Bored one rainy Monday afternoon, I began writing an independent website, wine-journal.com in June 2003 that somehow ended up with over 100,000 readers and three years later, my penmanship was requested by the most influential wine critic in the world, Robert Parker.
I presently live in Guildford, Surrey with my wife Tomoko, who herself is a very gifted taster and my daughters Lily, vintage 2005 whose favourite wine is Château Pétrus 2000 and Daisy, vintage 2007, who is currently teetotal.
— Neal Martin