Three bottles: MLR

March 1st 1999.  9.30am.  I have the letter somewhere: “Report to Michael Ragg, the London Shop Manager”.  And I did.  The beginning of my career in the “proper” wine trade; the beginnings of a lot of things including a relationship with an address that I remain very, very, fond of – 3 St James’s Street – and, of course, the man himself.

Enough reminiscing.  Well, in a while.  Michael Ragg ran the shop at 3 St James’s Street in the days when we still put the shutters up at the end of every day.  When we weren’t allowed to dust.  When there was no wine on show.  When customers were given a small list – about 5”x3” and 70 pages thick – that they were expected to choose from with the help of young men like me.  We had a lot of fun.  A lot.  In 2003 Michael left, as I had (for the first time) to go to Burgundy.  A year later Mischief and Mayhem was born.

A constant risk in the wine trade – maybe any trade – is friendship.  Become too friendly with your customers and eventually you’ll sell them less wine.  And on the other side of the coin it is all too easy to buy wine from people that you like (even if that is part of the enjoyment of a bottle).  The thing about Ragg’s wines is this, though: they’re rather good.

Enough smoke-blowing.  I thank Mr Ragg for his answers, with a hazy memory of opening bottles of Sancerre Rose in a garden in Fulham as the sun came up.  On a schoolnight.  Those were the days.

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

A bottle of 1968 Chianti Classico, grower unknown, drunk in 1988. I was living in Florence and spotted a clearly old bottle, standing upright and dust-caked, on an upper shelf of our warm ( it was August ) local osteria, which the proprietor was happy to sell. 1968 was my parent’s wedding anniversary, hence the purchase – I didn’t know at the time that 1968 was a car crash of a vintage for most European regions, nor that it was an extremely good vintage in Tuscany, indeed being 18 I knew very little about anything, but the purity, freshness and ripeness of the wine were extraordinary, and that was the revelation, that something so old could have this degree of intensity and sheer life.

What was the first wine/bottle that took you close to your maker?

Extraordinarily difficult question, but as an answer is required I would have to say 1955 Quinta do Noval Nacional. Our shared former employer in St. James’s Street gave me the opportunity to taste a number of wines of legendary status, all the usual suspects from Bordeaux and elsewhere – this actually happened too early in my career, as my yardsticks or reference points against which to consider the merits of such wines were simply too limited, but what a nice problem to have – since moving to Burgundy 12 years ago I haven’t tasted a single drop of Ch. Latour and hard to see that changing any time soon. I’ve wandered from the point – the 1955 Quinta do Noval Nacional was the first bottle of Nacional that I had ever tasted and it was stunning, simply stunning. There isn’t much I can really write about it, as descriptives such as concentrated or complex are meaningless in this context. It was perfect in 1998 and it probably still is.

What was the best wine/bottle you have had this year? – OK, the past twelve months.

Now, if I had responded to Three Bottles in a timely fashion, all would be straightforward – a bottle of 2010 Meursault Les Perrières, Domaine Comtes Lafon, completely outstanding, delicious and drunk with huge pleasure in February – nothing simpler. In early April however I was working in the US, and our importer there kindly opened a bottle of 2009 L’Ermite Ermitage Blanc, M. Chapoutier at dinner one evening. I have never tasted any vintage of this wine before and it was simply a revelation, layered, precise, rich without a trace of heaviness, pure, astonishingly long and truly beautiful – unquestionably the best bottle of the last 12 months.

The problem, which you will have spotted, is that this means my Three Bottles do not contain a Burgundy and therefore something is profoundly wrong. Possibly you might consider a Four Bottles format with a ” What was the best Burgundy you have had this year? ” question?

Thank you, MLR.