Three bottles: John Gilman

“The Very, Very Ripe, Very, Very, Very Tannic 2010 Vintage In Bordeaux-Miraculously, Some Great Wines Found Alive On the Battlefield”.  Now that is a title for a piece, and I do love a contrarian.  If only I had the balls to write what I actually think…

John Gilman publishes View From The Cellar.  And, clearly, he writes what he thinks.  I can say this about very, very, few wine writers or critic: I don’t think there’s an angle, an agenda.

I thank Mr Gilman for his answers, and think we share a view on those 2010s…

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

It was not really a single bottle, but rather a single wine tasting that really started me down the road to wine in a serious manner. I had already been working for a few years in the wine trade, while looking for a job on a political campaign (as my degrees were in political science and history), and was invited to join a group of wine collectors for a double blind tasting at one of the member’s homes. This was in the summer of 1987 I believe. The way this group worked (and whom I later joined and tasted with for many, many years) was that one person would host the tasting and put up all the wines, with the hosting responsibilities rotating, so we would each construct a tasting from our own cellars once a year for this group. The wines were just served in decanters with no preconceived theme, other than that they be “great wines”. Most of the group were doctors and several years older than me at this time (I was still in my mid-twenties), and consequently they all had far deeper cellars than I did at this time. I remember the first flight of wines were three red wines of absolutely stunning quality, which turned out to be 1970 Mouton, 1970 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Bosché and 1970 Pétrus! The host followed this with a flight of two red Burgundies- 1969 Jean Gros Richebourg and 1969 Roumier Bonnes-Mares. This evening was the turning point of my life and really has to be the answer to “that first magical bottle question”, despite it being five wines and several years after I really began to fall in love with the world of wine. But things have never been the same after that memorable tasting!

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

This question is easy for me, as it was the 1945 Comte de Vogüé Musigny “Vieilles Vignes”, which I was fortunate enough to buy two bottles of quite inexpensively back in my early days in the NY wine trade. I have to tell you the story of how I was able to get these bottles, as wines of that ilk were not readily available to me in those days, as they would usually be reserved for the very best Burgundy customers of our shop on the Upper East Side. At the time, I was the manager and primary buyer for this shop, but the owner also handled a lot of purchasing as well, and he had some sources in London that were not always the most reputable, but where he could often get some serious bottles. The two bottles of 1945 Musigny were added on to a shipment to replace some wine that had been ordered and paid for by the owner of the shop from one of his sources in London, but had fallen through for some reason. When the bottles showed up in the store, they had low fill levels (probably between 6 and 7 cm below the cork) and the owner rejected them as compensation for the missing wines that had been paid for. Somehow he was able to work out some deep discount for these two ‘45s, but did not want to sell them to his best clients and just had them locked up in the cellar. I asked him about the bottles and I am sure he thought that he could get his money out of them by selling them to me. I looked at the colors of the wines and they were perfect- brilliantly ruby red and this persuaded me that the ullage levels were not going to be a big deal. I think I paid him $100 a bottle for these and happily took both bottles off of his hands. The first one I opened with a Burgundy tasting group I belonged to in Manhattan, with everyone else in the group digging out comparably serious old red Burgundies to go with the 1945 Musigny. The lineup was really great- 1962 Comte de Vogüé Bonnes-Mares and Musigny “V.V.” and 1959 DRC Richebourg were amongst the bottles that our group culled to go with the ’45. I remember the trepidation pulling the cork on my bottle of 1945, as we had already had the other great bottles ahead of this and I was just hoping that the bottle would not be a disappointment. It was a complete revelation and remains to this day the single greatest bottle of red wine I have ever tasted! The perfume was so sweet, so complex and just filled the room as I decanted the bottle and poured glasses for my friends- it was just a level or two up in terms of magnitude from all of the bottles that had preceded it, and we had some great wines ahead of the ’45! On the palate the wine was all velvet and bottomless depth, with the combination of magical complexity and intensity of flavor that one can only find in Musigny, in my opinion. As we sat with our glasses, we talked about what was going on in Europe when the grapes for this wine had been harvested- Stalin and Churchill were still around, FDR had just passed away and millions were homeless or displaced because of World War II. It was as if Mother Earth had rewarded the crazy human race for stopping all of the cruelty of that war with one of the most beautiful wine vintages in the history of Europe!

What was the best wine/bottle you have had this year? –

This year has been a very, very good year for great bottles, so I am not sure that I can narrow this down to just one. Probably my favorite wines over the first half of this year would have to be the 1959 Latour à Pomerol, the 1961 Magdelaine, the 1978 Domaine Dujac Clos de la Roche and the 1959 J. J. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Trockenbeerenauslese. But, it has been a very, very good six months and this list leaves out dozens of wines that have been very close to as magical as those four.

John: thank you.