Three bottles: Charles Lea

I don’t know Charles Lea very well.  But I’d like to know him better.  He first came onto my radar with THIS.  The sort of truth one can come out with when one is employer rather than employee.  And quite true, and even truer and even better in retrospect.  2011 Beychevelle now sells (or doesn’t) at, erm, £500 per dozen or so.

In the same way that one can often divine the quality of a winemaker’s wines without tasting them I think you can judge a wine merchant in a similar way.  So, whilst I don’t know him well I’m fairly certain that he’s one of the good guys.  His response to my introducing myself to him about this time last year – “Jossnotjosh?” – is just gravy.  Anyone who describes Latour as “aristo” just gets it in my book.

So.  The three questions:

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

The moment of discovery was really over a series of dregs. In 1976, straight out of school, and working in the photocopying room of a lawyers’ office in Paris, I shared a ‘permissive squat’ in the Rue St Louis-en-Isle with two friends. One used to bring back the fonds de bouteilles from Steven Spurrier’s Académie du Vin, which was next to his shop the Caves de la Madeleine, off the Rue Royale. Having helped to serve the wines, he had also heard the commentary, and passed on to us what he could remember as we tasted (drank) our way through the remains. I was hooked. (He went into law and is now a high court judge.)

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

I have a problem with this, in that I keep changing my mind, and of course the more wines you taste the more candidates there are. I hope that as my cellar finally starts to have some mature bottles in it that there will be many more. There were a number of vintages of Latour that we were privileged to taste while preparing (topping up and re-corking for specific events) while I was there as a stagiaire in 1977, and certainly they had the magic, but I’m not sure that there aren’t better wines being made now in many Bordeaux estates – but then there’s the wait! Red Burgundy has given me more moments that are close – close to angels but somehow not quite there. I think that it is this ‘near-missing’ that is the magic; there are no 100 pointers, just great wines, and they are so dependent on the moment.  If I have to stick to one, the Latour 1949, for its glimpse into history and its perfect aristo grandiosity.

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

It’s going to have to be a young wine, because however marvellous the mature ones are, they are what they are, while the young ones still have such potential. I think it is probably one of the 2012 Burgundies – from one of Dugat-Py, Perrot-Minot, Confuron-Cotetidot, Mugneret-Gibourg or Lignier-Michelot. However, because it’s more recent, the wine which I can still feel the shape of in my mind is 2010 Messorio from Le Macchiole. The Paleo is amazing this year, the Scrio too, but the Messorio is a lesson in how great Merlot can be, with an extraordinary balance and energy and above all a quality of tannin which seems to take control of the tasting experience, persuasively adding subtle power and length.

Thank you, Charles.