After ‘what’s your favourite wine?’ the question I’m most frequently asked is ‘so, how did you get into the wine business in the first place?’.

As I’ve said many times in this column, my passion for wine came first and foremost from French friends who generously shared their enthusiasm – both in verbal and liquid form – over countless meals and numerous vineyard visits. The warmth and conviviality of it all was completely infectious.

So, when I realised I was a quite useless (and miserable) fundraiser, it made perfect sense to quit and write dozens of begging letters to any wine company I could find. This I did at the same time as starting on the Wine & Spirits Educational Trust courses in Oxford.

It was on these courses that I met lots of lovely people who were equally enamoured with fermented grape juice and who — perhaps most importantly of all — seemed keen to share their bottles and culinary skills with their new found friends.

Their encouragement and perhaps slightly misguided confidence in my abilities at the time played a significant part in giving me the belief that a job in the trade was out there somewhere.

Many years on and a career established, I am thrilled to say that the friends I made then are very much a part of my life now. In fact, I spent the other weekend celebrating a 60th birthday with one of the gang.

As you’d expect, the wine flowed, the food was tasty and abundant and we all had the most wonderful time. My modest part in the affair had been to make a few suggestions on the wine front.

All the drinking we’d done together over the year had given me the benefit of having an idea about what wines would suit. We kicked off with the elegantly fruity Graham Beck Brut Sparkling from South Africa (£12.34 It’s a Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend and I’ve always enjoyed its lovely caramelised green apple notes, toast and a fine, creamy mousse.

The white wine was the remarkable, medium-dry Spring Vouvray Sec Tendre 2008, Vincent & Tania Careme (£10.25 The acidity is actually very marked but it is tempered by healthy levels of residual sugar. The green honey notes and the fragrant summer orchard fruits are beautifully fresh; a simply irresistible glass of white wine.

For the red, the final decision was an Italian delight — Rossi Riserva, Camillo de Lellis 2006 (£7.25 from the rarely heard of region of Biferno. This is, without doubt, the most alluring and sophisticated red I’ve tasted this year at that price. It’s a little earthy and with the aromatic charm of well-worn leather. The fruits are mature, ripe and lightly spiced.

The day was brought to a close with the Moscato d’Asti, Perrone Elio 2010 (£6.75 that is a refreshing, lightly-sparkling glass of wine to serve with pudding. I was thrilled that the wines seemed to be so well enjoyed; the whole day capturing the very spirit that so attracted me to wine in the first place.