Like a few winos that I know, I keep empties. Sentimental value, trophy cabinet. That sort of thing. Some of them are probably worth a few quid but, as with most forms of hoarding or collecting, space is an issue. So these days, if a bottle is going to be kept, one has to be discarded. It’s like picking a team. The 1945 Lafite is, of course, one of the first on the teamsheet but the honour of being Yohan Cabaye belongs to 1961 Palmer.
The bottles are all in my kitchen and I can tell you where and when and with whom each of them were drunk and, it struck me recently, there is a story behind each one.
There’s a man in the wine trade to whom I owe more than any spreadie could take. Much of vinolent’s early stuff was born of his generosity; he still does me incredible favours today. And – he probably doesn’t know this – he and his family helped me out during a particularly bad patch of my life, the patch that saw the conception of vinolent, and this is the real reason that I’d walk barefoot over broken glass for him, tomorrow, if he asked. Emotion aside, he also knows his wine, and has opened all manner of exceptional kit for me. So the pressure is on if he comes round for lunch.
Starter is easy: German. This is the one secret that remains a secret. You can drink outstandingly well for twenty quid a bottle in this category, even less if, like me, you like the very best kabinetts. I can’t remember the grower but it was either Selbach-Oster (you really can taste the slate) or Prum.
Secondi: a bit more tricky though one of the buys of my life on BBX was a case of 2002 Clendenen Family Vineyards, Le Bon Climat Chardonnay. I paid thirty pounds a bottle in bond and, tasted blind, you’d miss it for very serious Lafon. I used this as a blind tasting ringer on more than a few occasions and it always came up with the goods. Seriously good wine though I doubt there are more than a handful of bottles still in existence. It was one of those wines that you regret drinking, in that you wish you had some more of it…
Main course: this is where it gets challenging. I can’t afford 82 Latour (or, indeed, any other vintage). I can’t afford Rousseau (or, indeed, any other sexy Burgundy). I need to go off-piste.
For odd bottles off-piste there are two sources that spring to mind: Bazdad and Marcus. A look at Marcus’s list came up with the goods: 1995 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Le Secret de Sabon. I think it was £100 or so for the bottle, and I think I added a bottle of 1995 Clos des Papes to the order for a little less.
Le Secret de Sabon comes from a plot of 100+ year old Grenache vines which – and here’s the thing, I can still taste the wine, even though I’m talking about a bottle I drank four years ago – I guess, rather than know, are on sandy soil. Grenache on clay has this sort of milkiness to it whereas Grenache on sand is far more noble (or at least I reckon). I’ve seen the vat that makes Secret de Sabon these days, and it’s small. In 1995 there was less of it.
There’s no Parker note for this wine – not what you’d expect for something that, on paper, would we right up his street. Indeed a bit of research suggests that the wine wasn’t commercially released. Over the table, and over Mrs JnJ’s rather excellent beef stew, Mister B. and I came to the conclusion that it was, quite probably, a 100 point wine. It certainly trumped the excellent 1995 Clos des Papes that preceded it, and positively whipped the rather dirty 1995 Beaucastel that followed it.
In terms of scores both the ABC and the Sabon are easily 97+. The Secret de Sabon arguably a 100-pointer though probably 98 for me. They are both wines to be bought on sight, though seeing them is unlikely to say the least. But scores aren’t the point. The moment is the point: brilliant beef stew. Impeccable company. And emotion. Which is what the wine was created for.
More on points, scoring, objectivity and over-writing to follow…