You’d have thought that a magnum of 1990 Pétrus would be a tough act to follow. Certainly very, very hard to beat (though Neal Martin says that I should try the 1989…) So after what is almost certainly my best wine of 2015 (more to follow) I thought that I was most likely done for the year.
And then on Monday evening I meet my good friend and former customer Mr Angry for a drink in the Wine Bar at Fortnums. Mr Angry has been one of my favourite people for a few years: about as long as the wine bar at Fortnums has been one of my favourite places for a drink. On the surface of it, it’s just a wine bar in a shop and, given the nature of the shop and its location, you’d assume that it was an expensive wine bar in a shop. But it’s actually very reasonable, and one of the best places in London to share a bottle with someone. You don’t have to stick to the list – you can choose from the shop (paying £15 corkage) and this is where it gets fun.
As is my habit, I was early, and had 20 minutes or so to browse. The range at Fortnums isn’t – my new word – kaleidoscopic, which is no bad thing. Too much choice is an enemy of our time and frequently a waste of it. The range is tight, but does cover all bases: if white Burgundy is your thing you can buy yourself a bottle of Batard-Montrachet Leflaive or a bottle Fortnums’ Own White Burgundy, or something from every step in between (though in terms of red Burgundy, at least half the wines appeared to be from the 2011 vintage, one that I’m not entirely sure about).
By the time Mr Angry showed up I had marked my naps and had one for whatever he might fancy. Champagne: Jacquesson 738. This is seriously taut, very vinous kit which develops into something very appealing with a few minutes in the glass. White: Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay. It is no longer a secret that the wines of Kumeu River are about the best value whites you can buy; they knock their Burgundian counterparts sideways in blind tastings and, moreover, they don’t oxidise after a couple of years. Red: New Zealand Pinot Noir all tastes the same but I was tempted by Dry River Pinot (not sure on vintage) though it was a bit spenny at £80 or so. Ridge Estate Cabernet looked a possibility though I soon found the eventual winner, or at least one of them: 2012 Barbera d’Alba Cerretta, Giacomo Conterno.
I’ve tasted twice with Roberto Conterno (#brag) and he is one of those thoughtful, calm and unpretentious winemakers that genuinely impress. He’s a little like Frederic Mugnier or John-Louis Chave in his quiet and unassuming concentration, and he makes wines in a similar style: no make up, no fancy music, no bells and whistles – just the best. And, for £50 or so, plus the £15 corkage to drink it in the bar, I thought this a bargain because to me it’s what a good, or great, bottle of wine should be about: quality, character, individuality. It told a story.
The choice went down well. So well that we needed another bottle. And God was on our side, and the shop had a bottle of Conterno’s other Barbera – Francia. And this was even better. The Cerretta had a little more poise, was perhaps more linear, but the Francia had it all. It wasn’t just more open, it was more complete.
And, oddly, these two bottles struck me just as much as the Pétrus. It may well have been the company, or it might be the value – I don’t know.
Mr Angry: thank you. Again.