I met my wife in April 1996. Along with 1995 this was one of the best years in my life so far (though this year is looking pretty good). I can name the place – not just the town or the immediate environs (Tanlay, Yonne, Burgundy, canal) but I can tell you the exact position to within about ten feet (trickier than it might sound because we were on a boat). I can tell you which borrowed car I was driving in the minutes up to it (my boss’s crappy BX), even the last track on the CD player I listened to before I met her (4 M.B.; Lloyd Cole). I’d say that I’d made my mind up within about thirty seconds.
This isn’t about the powers of memory: a misspent youth put paid to that and I can barely remember what I had for breakfast – fish laugh at my inability to file and retrieve information – it’s about the facts, or about the moment, about the subject.
So, likewise, if not in the same league, I can tell you where and when I tasted the most beautiful of wines. Every wine merchant has their top five, top ten. The recollection of these and their recital an occasional game whilst travelling in a group to some winery or whathaveyou. So: my top five, and exactly where.
1927 Taylor: 3 St James’s Street, SW1. Pretty much bang in the centre of the shop, four feet from where the old steps used to come up.
A stunner, and for more than one reason. This is a real cracker of a wine, a wine with everything. Richesse, balance, fruit, layered complexity: everything. And when you open a bottle of this age, and its contents are still living, it’s a bit of a miracle. When they are more than living, when they are vibrant, energetic, youthful, it’s transcendental. You have this beauty, this living beauty, playing and dancing on your tongue and yet you can’t help – or at least I can’t help – thinking of the year. The summer of 1927. The peasant (forgive me if this is presumptuous) who picked the grapes. No aeroplanes in the sky above him, no phone ringing, no telly when he got home. I have the picture of the sun on his back, and God’s beauty all around. My glass of the fruits of his labour are so much more than a drink, so much more than a photograph. Just stunning.
2005 Ch. Margaux, Margaux: at the chateau, in the tasting room opposite the old stables.
I’ve been to Margaux a few times (he says nonchalantly). It’s perhaps Bordeaux’s most beautiful chateau – though I’d rather have Ducru-Beaucaillou myself or, even better, Les Carmes Haut-Brion – and one of the world’s greatest wines. The security guard in the car park rather takes away some of the glamour and, if I’m honest, the wine doesn’t always remove my socks, which is rather what first growth claret is supposed to do. The boss, the regisseur, is Paul Pontallier. And Mr Pontallier is, I reckon, the best salesman I have ever met. I’m often in awe of him, not the wine. Taste with Mr Pontallier and his words will subliminally find their way into your notes – it’s quite impressive.
His, or their, 2005, though, reduced the psychological size of this man from Empire State to fieldmouse: you didn’t even know he was there. My comrades faded from my vision, with the exception of Big Phil, who I briefly considered mugging for the contents of his glass. This was the first time in Bordeaux that a wine had taken me higher, taken me to Elysium. Yer man Parker’s score of 98+ is his biggest travesty of his “under-scoring” of the top 2005s. 2005 Ch. Margaux is quite the most beautiful, seductive, enticing and perfect young claret you will ever see. This could draw sailors on to the rocks from miles away. A siren.
2009 Ch. Latour, Pauillac: at the chateau, in the tasting room where the spittoons look like they could fit another purpose, if you know what I mean.
The young claret that knocked 2005 Margaux off its unpriceable pivot. I confess to being a Latour nut. Latour is the first growth that I support, if that makes any sense. But it’s a long way from Selhurst Park in terms of quality: Pauillac and the Palace are two quite different passions. Not only does Latour have perhaps the best terroir in the whole of the Medoc (so Pauillac 1, Thornton Heath 0), the commitment of the owner and the management to make the very, very best is absolute. Latour has made what is arguably the wine of the vintage in seven out of the past ten years (09, 08, 06, 04, 03, 02, 01. And Jancis likes the 07, I’d give them the 06, and only the Goddess that is Margaux takes away 05. Jury out on the 00).
2009 Latour is a theophany. It’s beyond the stars. It had me questioning my existence and purpose. A few colleagues, notably Big Phil and our glorious leader, confessed to a bit of weepiness. I confess to dark thoughts on top of this. Not just to a beautiful melancholy on the sheer beauty that I had glimpsed but will never own, but to fire, to anger, to the other side. Would I see this again? I think you should have the message.
2002 La Romanee, Vicomte Liger-Belair: at the Ch. de Vosne-Romanee, in the cellars, with Louis-Michel Liger-Belair drawing the wine’s “shape” in chalk on the flagstone floor.
The agents for this wine are a rather posh lot, and I can’t help but feel that they are fans of the Vicomte’s lineage or breeding as much as they are of his wines, but that’s something else entirely. I thank them for giving me the opportunity to taste this (and for paying the rent for a couple of years).
The Liger-Belair cousins have both inherited some seriously good vineyards. Thibault (less posh, and a nicer man would be harder to meet) has some cracking grand cru plots in Echezeaux and Richebourg amongst others, and Louis-Michel (an equally nice bloke)also, though he has the gem: La Romanee, which sits just above Romanee-Conti.
This was the first barrel sample that ever took me closer to God. It inspired the very first bit of vinolent drabble, written almost exactly a year ago. Here it is.
1961 Ch. Palmer, Margaux: in Guildford GU1. My living room to be precise. With sausages.
This one again inspired some early vinolent drabble. Here it is. But to elaborate, or add, a little, this was as much of a surprise as the 1927 Taylor in that it was not only alive, it was kicking and dancing and singing and whispering poetry into my ear. Herewith one of my favourite pictures. It doesn’t look much like a lifetime moment, but it was.