Three Bottles. Episode I: “Three Wise Men”

Speak to a good wine merchant, maker, writer – speak to people that know their kit – and you will in many cases have an unending, unmapped, mine of information, if maybe one you have to dig at: the good ones won’t, and/or don’t show off or preach, but ask a few questions and you’ll learn something.  You’ll probably get some decent restaurant reviews along the way, plus some good stories.  Start joining the dots and you get something special, or at least that’s what I think, and that’s maybe the idea here….  It recently dawned on me that I know quite a few of these people.  The plan is to ask some simple questions.  The questions are:

1) What was the first wine/bottle that got you into the whole wine thing?

2) What was the first wine/bottle that took you closer to your maker?

3) What was the best wine/bottle you have had this year?

For the record, my answers are:

1) Two bottles of Chablis grand cru from Domaine Fevre.  The vintage would have been 1990s (the moment was 1996).  I’m cheating because it’s two bottles but the comparative nature of the tasting (or rather drinking) is/was rather the point.  Article on terroir to follow at some stage.

2) 2002 La Romanee, Domaine du Vicomte Liger-Belair.  See the first ever bit of vinolent drabble here.

3) I could pick 1993 Charmes-Chambertin Bachelet from the last episode, but will go for 1996 Meursault, Clos de la Barre, Lafon.  What old white Burgundy is all about – and old white Burgundy just doesn’t seem to exist anymore…

I thank my first three subjects for their contribution:

Simon Staples, Sales & Marketing Director of Berry Bros & Rudd.  Salesman extraordinaire, lover of life, gastronome and the maker of the best Thai curry (green or red) that you’ll ever eat.  Also suspiciously good at nailing blind tastings.  And, incidentally, he is the only one of these three that can sack me.

Stephen Browett, chairman of Farr Vintners, co-owner of Crystal Palace Football Club, and all round top bloke.  A genuine treasure chest of knowledge – this is the man you want on your team at a wine-themed quiz night.  I have to note that much of what has been written here would not exist were it not for his generosity.

Marcus Titley, Sales Director at Seckford Wines, and another man who knows his kit.  Marcus is who I phone up when I don’t know the answer to an obscure question on ridiculously rare or expensive Burgundy (though I never got that job after all…).  Need to know why a bottle of 1999 La Tache weighs more than a bottle of 1996?  Need to know the correct colour of the capsule on a 1976 La Romanee?  Call Marcus.  Well, call me first and I’ll email him while we’re chatting…

So, here we go:

Simon Staples:

1) I blagged a job as a wine waiter in 1988 at a lar-de-dar hotel in Marlow and fell passionately in love with Wolf Blass Yellow Label.   Decadent. plump.  Great value.  Got in trouble with the restaurant  manager for telling a customer we didn’t “do” french wines as they were tasteless……who’d have thought??!!

2) 1990.  Harrods Wine Department.  Still peddling the virtues of all things Oz I was somewhat awestruck the day I broke the neck off a bottle of 82 Mouton (by mistake).  Eeeeee Chihuahua!! Perfect liquid velvet.  I’ve been lucky to have had it 50 times since and it has never been as good. Heaven.

3) 1961 Latour at the chateau.  Finest drop I have ever tasted.  Port sweet with a finish like a marathon runner.  An incredible privilege.  For a mere mortal experience that can be repeated – just – a spellbinding magnum of 1990 Leoville-Poyferre.  I bought several cases of 2000/2005 to repeat the experience down the line.

Stephen Browett:

1) Coudoulet de Beaucastel 1977 in 1980 when I was a van driver at La Reserve.  Then Domaine de Trevallon 1979.  Bordeaux came a little bit later but my first ever first growth (that I will never forget) was 1976 Lafite in 1981 and it was probably better then, at four years old, than at any time since. Those 76’s really were “drink up quick wines”

2) A magnum of 1947 Lafleur from John Avery’s cellar that his father had bought direct from the chateau en primeur.  1952 Richebourg DRC and 1955 Musigny VV de Vogue made the earth move too….

3) Best wine this year probably 1981 Certan de May that continues to massively outperform the reputations of both chateau and vintage.  I seem to remember a gorgeous double magnum of Roc de Cambes … and at my age, and after 30 years in the wine trade, I tend to be more impressed by lesser wines punching above their weight than the heavyweights performing as expected.  1982 Grand-Puy-Lacoste at Chez Bruce recently was considerably better and more satisfying than Lafite or Petrus of the same year.

Marcus Titley:

1)  The need of a job got me into wine before any particular wine.  I got back from Inter-railing and was told by my Dad to get a job. I’d seen one of the early ‘The Wine Program’ films with Jancis which featured an interview with Baron Philippe de Rothschild. On the film Jancis mentioned that Mouton often commanded over £100 a bottle and growing up in a ‘Party Seven’ and gin and tonic house-hold this seemed impossible. One hundred quid for a bottle of wine, I thought I’d try the wine trade. I struggled along reading books and tasting wines that really only tasted of wine for a month or two when I finally drank a bottle of Montana Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. Wine Magazine had said it tasted of gooseberries and it did! It was a revelation and finally made me think it wasn’t all rubbish and that it might be worth sticking with.

2)  Wine v bottle. The wine was 1990 Vosne-Romanee, Cros Parantoux, Henri Jayer, tasted in 1991 in barrel with Jayer. I’ve been lucky enough to drink it on a few occasions and bloody hell that wine has always been marvellous. I can still ’taste’ it today.  However, the one bottle was 1971 Romanee Conti drunk in January 2009 with two customers and Max ‘Frenchy’ Lalalondrelle from BBR at The Square in London. My goodness me, what a wine: layers and layers of flavour. A hedonistic experience, almost a meal in itself and whilst I am normally a greedy fellow on these occasions the RC was also very ‘filling’: rather like the best tasting menu of small courses (pseud’s corner), so I wasn’t driven to gulp down as much as I could, but rather savour it in a rather nerdy way.

3)  I get to drink many great wines in a year, it’s the reason we all buy and sell the stuff, so choosing one is very hard. However, without looking at my diary, the first wine that springs to mind is a magnum of 1971 Richebourg DRC. There’s a theme here somewhere…..

Thank you again to Messrs Staples, Browett and Titley.

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