The wonderful fine wine collections of Professor Bipin Desai

Bipin Desai is a physicist by profession who graduated from Mumbai University and then travelled to the USA, starting with Illinois, where he gained his PhD. He has been a Professor in California University at Riverside since 1965.

Desai has recently been working on a major book 'Quantum Mechanics, with Basic Field Theory' which has been described as "an ideal textbook to learn basic and advanced topics in quantum mechanics" in a review by Gee-Kung Chang of the Georgia Institute of Technology.

However, Professor Desai is at least as well-known as a wine-collector and connoisseur.

He did not experience wine until 1970, having been teetotal for most of his life until then. It was only when he visited a friend in Geneva that this changed. He had taken a sabbatical and come to work at CERN.

The friend was something of a gourmet and Bipin Desai was taken to some fine restaurants serving excellent food and wine, sometimes over the border in the Burgundy region itself.

Desai was immediately hooked. He enjoyed wine and found that he had a good natural ability for understanding wine-tasting. He immediately sank into books on the subject, notably classics by Harry Waugh and Frank Shoonmaker.

Three years later, Desai went to his first proper wine-tasting after his wife, who has no interest in wine drew his attention to it. The Les Amis du Vin event, which included wines from the Bordeaux region only, was perhaps the point at which Desai's interest in wine became a way of life.

Not only did he encounter some truly exceptional wines (notably the 1966 Chateau Latour and 1961 Chateau Palmer), but also made several close friends. He began to seek out the finest vintages and attended auctions. Soon he had to develop a cellar.

Though not in the usual sense an investor, Desai took something of his mathematical judgment into the auction room and has generally only ended up with wines which have become worth more than he bid for them.

Ten years on from attending his first tasting session, Desai decided that he could make better use of the wines in his swollen cellar and decided to hold his own, initially with a few dozen people turning up.

This tasting, themed on 1961 Bordeaux wines, taken with dinner, was the start of the now famous Bipin Tastings. Some of these have been very extensive. By 1982 Bipin had collected wines from 122 Chateaux, and a 1961 tasting took place over three days.

Chateau Latour 1961
Chateau Latour 1961 - a great vintage

Desai has logged an extensive list of opinions of wines on his website. His views are enthusiastic, detailed and forthright. For example:

"This was hedonism at its purest! And complete opposite of 1971 Chave. High alcohol and intense richness overwhelmed everything, certainly the food in front of it. One should devise special recipes and meats (specially prepared game, for example) to go with wines like this or simply have it at the end of the meal." (On the 1989 Chateauneuf du Pape Hommage Perrin)

"In one cubic centimeter this wine packs so much sugar and acidity that there is no wine in this category that comes close to it. It has a lot of brown sugar quality but it is not overly sweet, and it is certainly not very alcoholic.

"Many years ago when I had it for the first time I was alarmed at the black color of the wine but my more knowledgeable friends assured me that it was because of the sugar in the wine and the nature of the vintage. It was perfect then and it was perfect today. One of the greatest wines of the entire tasting." (On the 1959 Steinberger)

Bipin's wine tastings show no sign of stopping, and he consults with friends for new themes. Those attending have included world-famous critic Robert Parker. He remains youthful despite being in his 70s and there is still a world to taste out there.


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