Not a bad question as it goes. My bet on the game’s result fell through but I’d have money on the fact that the spectators in Box 16 at Selhurst Park last Saturday were the only men drinking fifty year old vintage Port prior to watching the game (it is a sad fact that drinking it during the game would be illegal – or at least drinking it “within view of the pitch” would be – but that’s something else). And not just any old fifty year old Portuguese, one of the best: 1963 Fonseca.
Briefly: the football. Palace 4 Middlesbrough 1. A fair result. Palace goals by Glenn Murray (1983), Peter Ramage (1983) and Kevin Phillips (1973). Middlesbrough’s goal scored by Faris Haroun (1983). A theme here that I didn’t expect but there you go. A brilliant game for a Palace fan – this season being the reward, that comes round about once a decade, for supporting your local team – a team that has a habit of underperforming.
Briefly: Crystal Palace Football Club. My team, having been born in Beckenham and then grown up in Sydenham, Forest Hill and Dulwich: from 1985 to 1994 I could see the TV tower from my bed. Owned by a series of what Ian Holloway would describe as “people” over the past few decades, the club has flirted with the FA Cup, the Premier League and, almost, Europe. And like most flirts it has come unstuck a few times, going into administration twice in the past fifteen years. The current owners bought the club out of its most recent administration, and one of the owners happens to run a rather successful wine merchant. If anyone was going to be drinking 1963 Fonseca at the football over the weekend they were going to be watching the Palace.
Back to the point: ten blokes, ten wines. Our host, Mr S., asked that we each bring a bottle. Nine of us did. Mr Ten got a lot of stick, and rightly so (though in my eyes he made up for it in that he seemed to know Croydon well). Three entries were Champions’ League quality, another three solid Championship stuff. The rest were, I’m afraid, non-league. Indeed one was a Bromley Common Sunday morning. Herewith the Champions’ League:
Fonseca and Taylor. It’s one or the other, in that the difference is stylistic rather than qualitative. I lean toward Taylor, the bigger of the two wines, though this may be prejudice.
At fifty years old, a decently stored bottle of 1963 Fonseca is just about peaking. Garnet as opposed to ruby in colour and the spirit just dominates the fruit. I confess to rushing this a little on account of the impending kick-off, and I am ashamed. At a couple of hundred quid a bottle you could say that this is expensive but I would beg to differ: unimpeachable class at the pinnacle of its maturity. Thoroughbred lineage. Legendary, and rightly so, vintage. An experience. Two hundred quid? I pay twice that a month to South West Trains. Bargain, and brilliant.
1994 Riesling Grand Cru, Rangen de Thann, Domaine Zind Humbrecht
This had been sitting in my cellar for three years – a magnum, and a grand looking one. One of those bottles that waits for an occasion, though I never thought that occasion would be a football match.
The first thing about this is that it wasn’t crystal clear. It was cloudy, very cloudy. Part of this was down to the three trains I had to catch to Norwood Junction, though much of it is down I think to the natural style of Olivier Humbrecht’s winemaking. No cold-filtration here, nor the pasteurisation that the bottle of Louis Latour Marsannay had gone through (and survived, I add, though this was League One at best). In terms of taste: this was mature Riesling or, rather, maturing Riesling. And it had two things that get me excited in a wine: character and energy.
1970 Calvados Pays d’Auge, Christian Drouin
OK this isn’t and wasn’t wine. It’s distilled cider. Though as distilled cider goes this was pretty good. After fermentation, distillation and forty odd years in a barrel you could still taste apple peel here. And, like Calvados should, it reinvigorated: a perfect Trou Normande.
The point of all this drivel? It’s about dates and quality. In 1963 someone picked some grapes in Portugal. The same in Alsace in 1994. In 1970 someone picked some apples in Normandy. On February 16th 2013 Glenn Murray scored two (one of which was a peach), Ramage one, Phillips one and Haroun another. And me and a few blokes got drunk on seeds that were sown decades ago.
And, for me, there remains a bit of a spark, a bit of something special. Focussing on the Fonseca: I have a vision of a man picking grapes in September 1963. Of men and women treading grapes, of a country I am ashamed to have never visited, of a year before I was born. Of a sunny day. And somehow, that man, that day, that harvest was caught in a bottle, which my friend Mr S. opened on Saturday, nearly fifty years later, prior to Crystal Palace (this is my terroir, my home) giving Middlesbrough a tonking. And I felt a connection. Brilliant. Viva Palace.