I am in the very fortunate position of being able to drink, taste, glug an awful lot of very good wine, frequently very expensive wine. Given that I’m in the business of selling it, it’s no bad thing that I can make a very strong argument for why it’s worth it. It may seem strange, but the argument for dropping £500 on a bottle of trophy claret is pretty much the same pitch that the supermarkets will make for dropping a fiver on some Bergerac: it’s about value.
A bottle of 1961 Château Palmer, for example, will set you back anywhere between £1,500 and £3,000, depending on who is selling it and where it’s been. This may seem a little excessive but (1) what price a life moment? And (2) what price the pinnacle? I’ve had this wine on two occasions. On the second occasion the moment was rather dampened by the company, but the first I shall remember forever – right up there with first loves (and more), wedding days and play-off finals. Moreover, I have tasted at the pinnacle. 1961 Palmer, is about as good as it gets if claret is your thing: this is the private island in the Carribbean, the 1957 Testarossa, the Bridget Bardot. This is playing Baccarat with James Bond (Connery) in Monte Carlo. You get the idea. £3,000? Bargain.
The trouble with the pinnacle is once you’ve been there everything else has a great deal to live up to, and one can become increasingly dismissive of very, very, grand hooch. In 2011 (the vintage, not the year) at least one of the Médoc grand crus was branded as “shite”, for example. This is a reflection on value (grape juice has to do something special to warrant a few thousand pounds a case); it’s also a reflection on how high the bar can be set (just how do some wine writers “judge” Pontet-Canet one week, Picpoul de Pinet the next?).
And the more you taste the higher the bar gets. 1945 Lafite, anyone? 1967 Yquem? 1959 Haut-Brion? I could brag on and on.
What stops me bragging is my wallet and its lack of serious content. I’m not one of those bitter malcontents that denigrates what I can’t afford (I’m just a bitter malcontent) but my love of the finest that the vine can offer is at complete odds with my financial position (and to some degree the cause of it). So, whilst I can say with authority that the Berry Bros bottling of 1961 Ch. Palmer is superior to the chateau bottling of same (and that it’s better with sausages and the wife rather than posh food and American wine critics) my personal qualitative research is conducted further down the line. This is not without reward: there is very little to beat finding a diamond in the rough. So, three bottles:
2007 Bourgogne Blanc, Olivier Merlin
Bought for less than a tenner. Mr Merlin is quite possibly the best winemaker in the Maconnais and I like him to boot. Nothing he makes costs more than twenty pounds a bottle but he invariably achieves something very special. I drank this about a year ago, having just returned from tasting scores of grand cru white Burgundies that came in at a thousand pounds a case plus, and feeling that for the most part they were rather a waste of time. At nearly five years old this wine was just at the point of full ripeness, just at the jack-knife of the dive, and had something that very few of the grand crus I’d been tasting had: character. Brilliant.
2007 Kumeu River Matés Vineyard Chardonnay
Another grand cru Burgundy-slayer. With a screwlid to boot. Taste this blind and you’d go for Corton-Charlemagne from a skilled winemaker in a slightly modern style. I bought a case with a special dinner in mind and drank the lot inside a fortnight. Impeccably crafted. £25 a bottle or so as opposed to £250…
2009 Roc de Cambes, Côtes de Bourg
I might be late but I’ve decided to call the 2009 Bordeaux vintage. These are exceptional wines. They’re also rather pricey. If you want to play the speculator buy some Lynch-Bages; if you want to play Mr Bling then buy some Cheval Blanc. If you want to meet your maker buy some Latour. If you want to know what energy, dynamis, electricity tastes like in a wine, then buy this. £400 a case in bond and it will whip, truly whip, two of the above in my opinion. In terms of value quite easily the best wine I’ve tasted this year.