Legendary England cricketer David Gower is one of the most stylish batsmen to grace the game. He’s also a noted wine lover, so we jumped at a recent chance to quiz him on all things vinous. Yes he loves Malbec and is in awe of Ian Botham’s big beak … he also helped Allan Lamb open a bottle of Bollinger with an axe – and lived!
LW: David, how did you first get into wine?
My parents had spent many years in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) so were much more attuned to gin and tonics – all that quinine to counter the malaria! We came back to the UK and the orchards of Kent when I was six (in the early sixties) so the need to keep malaria at bay diminished. They were not great drinkers but wine did feature.
When I first started on the professional cricket circuit budgets were minimal with a weekly wage in mere double figures (the only hundreds were on the pitch!). I used to share a bottle of an evening with our roving press man, Martin Johnson, who at least had some sort of expenses allowance from the Leicester Mercury – but the only way we could afford to drink was to look at the price first.
If anyone remembers Arc de Triomphe it is unlikely to be truly fondly but it seemed to be ubiquitous in the late 70s in small provincial hotels. We moved onwards and upwards on the wine list when test cricket and bigger fees arrived!
LW: Who were the real wine people in the England cricket team?
My two best buddies were Ian Botham and Allan Lamb, both of whom know their wine well. They’ve certainly put in the hours! I always say that that Ian has a real nose for wine – it’s definitely big enough – and to give it full credit it works much better than mine. He has teamed up with Bob Willis and one of our longest standing (at least until 3 a.m. on a good night!) Aussie mates, the outstanding Maclaren Vale winemaker, Geoff Merrill, to make and market their own brand, BMW. No jokes, please, about any oily or metallic flavours!
We have all tasted some of the best on offer in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India too, where the wine industry is expanding rapidly. There is a very drinkable Cabernet that comes from the Grover vineyards near Bengaluru. Given that in the old days many a local scoreboard had my name up as Grover I had to try it and pronounce it very quaffable!
As far as the Caribbean is concerned they just stick to the rum but I remember one extraordinary night in Georgetown, downing 50-year-old Demerara rum with a dash of water on the recommendation of the head of the Guyanese navy. Even he would admit it is not a big fleet under his command but he did seem very qualified to pronounce on rum!
LW: Lamb and Botham sounds like a recipe for trouble?
Going back to Australia and our mate, Geoff, we used to spend some very happy and not particularly sober days off at his Mount Hurtle winery in the McLaren Vale.
One day, well after lunch, I somehow allowed myself to be the victim as Lambie attempted an Oz version of sabreage on a bottle of Bollinger. This was not the smooth and sophisticated practice of sliding a blade up the neck to casually catch the rim and watch the cork fly gracefully into the air but more the lumberjack’s version. I knelt with the bottle on my head, Lambie took a horizontal swing with an axe and caught the neck all right but about a third of the way down the bottle. As far as I was concerned that was a result even if there was understandably not so much left to drink by the time the explosion had subsided. It was my William Tell moment and I survived. That was what mattered!
Talking of Bollinger, we always had very friendly relations with the marque both at Lord’s, with Simon Leschallas, and through the distributor in Australia, my great mate, Rob Hirst. On the 1986-7 tour, I think it was, we had collared the last of Rob’s supplies of Bollinger RD, to the extent that in the last week of the tour he was ringing us to see if we could sell some back to him as he had clients lined up and no remaining stock. I’d like to point out that, while it sounds like we might have been overlooking the main point of an England tour, the business on the field, it turned out to be the most successful of tours. Whether we can claim that fine wines were entirely behind that success remains a moot point.
LW: Who are the big spenders in the commentary box these days?
Way ahead on that front comes … Sir Ian Botham. No surprises there! Somehow his expenses end up in a place where the figures become as diluted as he does! It does mean that he is the man to dine with, as he is not going to drink anything even vaguely ordinaire. He prefers Spanish to French anyway – some sort of Gallic phobia rather more than pure taste. When I am brave enough it allows me to pitch the Lynch Bages against his Vega Sicilia and that way we can both be happy.
Mike Atherton and Nasser Hussain are famously happy to allow Sky Sports’s credit cards to foot the bill for whatever else is deemed affordable by the bean counters and if I am out and about with them my challenge is to do what you might call a Laithwaite’s, i.e. to find something on the list that is both affordable and bloody delicious!
LW: Sounds like the commentary might get more colourful after lunch?
Now then! At Sky we have a no-drinking rule. We’re approaching 100 on our team by the time you include all the production crew and cameramen who all do their best to make us look good (against all odds!). So it would be grossly unfair, not to mention tempting fate, to allow alcohol to be part of the mix.
There are some in neighbouring commentary boxes, maybe on the admirable steam radio, who might wet a whistle or two, but we have to save ourselves until the close of play. Botham normally finds the urge takes him immediately he has finished his last commentary or studio stint for the day. Just the one bottle, of course!
LW: You’d remember Laithwaite’s when it was called Bordeaux Direct … even though we were selling less and less Bordeaux?
Going back to the time just after the Arc de Triomphe days, Bordeaux Direct came to the rescue. Good wine at prices that did not break the fledgling bank. What more could ask for?
LW: Do you have any wine traditions on Christmas Day?
My family, well it’s largely my wife’s family to be pedantic, tends to start slowly on Christmas morning. I am outnumbered by women but they do seem quite keen to start with some Champagne with the first bout of present opening.
We then tend to do a late lunch as the main feast with a mixed bird turkey roll from a local butcher and I will offer them white Burgundy, claret and red Burgundy. Personally I find the latter goes beautifully with the Christmas menu, refined but not too heavy, but my girls tend to prefer something fuller. As the host all I can do is cater for all tastes, starting with mine!
LW: What’s your favourite Laithwaite’s wine?
I have always said that one of the great joys of wine is finding new regions, new grapes, new tastes, new experiences. One of the things that has struck me over these last years is the extraordinary range of wines that Laithwaite’s can bring to your table and the cases that I have helped to select have been an education for me as well as an olfactory pleasure!
It has also been great to have access to the fine wine selection and I always look forward to Gus’s emails* with the next tranche of carefully chosen wines and the temptations within.
Of those more esoteric wines I am looking forward to taking delivery of my cases of Trapiche, upmarket Malbecs, the best of the best blended into one. I do love my old world wines first and foremost but these new Malbecs are stonkingly good. Forefather is another cracker.
LW: What’s the most common bottle opened in the Gower household?
Well, not everything we drink comes from Laithwaite’s. Sorry! My cousin, Richard, has a stake in a South African estate, Vondeling, in the Voor Paardeberg area near Paarl. We have been there many a time and it is the most gorgeous place with views looking across past Paarl rock to the mountains beyond. They have completely reworked the estate over the last decade and expanded the number of varietals available so the range is now a broad one. I think my favourite is the Erica Shiraz. At family rates it’s almost Laithwaite’s value!
*Gus McLean, our Fine Wine Manager, is David Gower’s ‘inside man’ at Laithwaite’s. If you’re interested in trying some of David’s favourite wines, or looking for similar recommendations, Gus is available by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone on 03330 148 202.
PS. Here’s a selection of David’s recent favourites from Laithwaite’s Wine. Many are fine and rare, so will not always be in stock at any given time. Your best bet, if you’re interested, is to call Gus – he’ll be happy to help.
Jim Barry McRae Wood Shiraz – Museum Release, Clare Valley
Rockford Basket Press Shiraz, Barossa Valley
Yalumba Virgilius Viognier, Barossa Valley
Cloudy Bay Te Koko Marlborough
Imperfecto Malbec Cabernet Franc, Mendoza
Trapiche Ambrosia Single Vineyard Malbec, Mendoza
Trapiche Ambrosia Single Vineyard Malbec, Mendoza
Trapiche Orellana Single Vineyard Malbec, Mendoza
Trapiche Suarez Lastra Single Vineyard Malbec, Mendoza
tres14 Malbec, Mendoza
Château Pontet-Canet, Pauillac AOC 5ème Grand Cru Classé
Castèllo Solicchìata, Sicilia IGP