Specifically the ones I can remember without having to look at tasting notes. No scores – these were all perfectly brilliant.
1988 Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Mont Demi Sec
Taken by bike in the pouring rain one July day to The Square in Mayfair. It’s always nice to be preened over by not one but two sommeliers enquiring as to where it came from and did I have any to sell. (Bid For Wine and No). A kaleidoscopic drink that made me think of walking through meadows of wild flowers on a hot summer’s day. Technically off dry but age had brought far more interesting fullness and roundness to the wine.
2000 Damien Lareau Savennieres Le Belles Ouvrages
Wine writers always like to go on about potential conflict of interests when talking about free meals and gifts from suppliers. Balls to scruples, I was offered a lunch by a supplier and I went. And I loved it. We both got really pissed and I ended up reminiscing about Sunderland with the barman at a nearby hostelry before falling asleep on the train home and waking up in Wimbledon confused and dehydrated.
We ate exquisite Japanese food and put the world to rights over a couple of scintillating bottles. The notable food and wine pairing lesson was not that Claude Dugat’s 2007 Bourgogne rouge (think of fusty old leaf mulch with a whiff of freshly skinned rabbit) went remarkably well with the black miso cod but the insane, spectacular partnership of this incredible, unheralded mature Savennieres with the duck dish. More remarkable still was when I said I’d be interested in taking all the remaining stock and being told it had been sent to the destroy pile at the bonded warehouse some weeks previously.
1956 Domaine Henri Gouges Nuits Saint Georges
‘Execrable. Not only the worst vintage of the decade but one of the worst vintages ever’ wrote Michael Broadbent about the ’56s in Vintage Wine. Apart, that is, from a 56-year-old bottle that had been laid down in the cellars of Henri Gouges and was opened for me and a group of visiting sommeliers and merchants in October 2012. Old colour, browning-amber tones, smelt of earth and truffles with a touch of warm balsamic and kir about it. It whooped into the world and died shortly afterwards. Remarkable for such an inauspicious vintage and being a mere villages wine
1959 Weingut Fritz Allendorf Winkeler Gutenberg Riesling Auslese
A friend who worked in journalism until last year bagged a travel feature as his parting gesture to a well-known title. It took me and him to Germany to explore the Mosel valley. Some of it was great (we didn’t have to pay for anything) and some of it involved sitting uncomfortably close to elderly Germans in a rubbish restaurant in a dark cave. Still, we didn’t have to pay.
On our final night we stayed in Koblenz. The evening culminated in being nearly arrested for filming an irate McDonalds manager who was yelling ‘put down camera. I will come there and beat you. I will beat you’ because my companion wouldn’t take the meal deal. But prior to that it had been a night of serene food and wine at the decent Restaurant Augusta (http://www.augusta-koblenz.de/) served with grace by proprietor Andreas Remy. Andreas turns out to have seen a lot of the UK as he had a job selling customized beer glasses to breweries here in the 1980s.
After a week of not paying for anything and learning the word ‘schatzkammer’ (treasure chest) on the various wine lists we saw it was time to go big. 85 euros well spent on a classy Rheingau which had all sorts of peach, kerosene and honey flavours as well as a velvet smooth texture and a fatness that made me think of the best white Burgundies I’ve tried. Andreas promised to hide the empty bottle in a flower bed so we could claim it the next day but it had sadly, efficiently, been sent to the great recycling gods when we went looking for it.
2006 Dr Thanisch Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Beerenauslese
From the same expedition but without the drama of the Polizei this time. A visit to the cellars of Dr Thanisch in Bernkastel revealed the key differences between 2010 and 2011 Mosel rieslings: acidity.
Hankering, as is my wont, after acidity I loved the 2010s but this ’06 really capped the lot. The middle Mosel was very quickly laid waste by botrytis in 2006 producing scores of remarkably rich wines. This has decades of unravelling to do but was a triumph of indescribably luscious tropical fruit, white chocolate and honey stitched together with gossamer acidity, supple and lime like in it’s inclination.
1983 Reichsgraf von Kesselstaat Josephshofer Riesling Auslese
Bernkastel again. Our first lunch and the wine list was attacked good and proper. A follow on bottle of von Kesseltaat’s 2009 Brauneberger Juffer Sonneuhr Auslese was sadly corked though.
Any sense that Auslese should be riotously sweet was deflected by its age and this had the wonderful richness and intoxicating gravitas of a true noble. It might not be the best match with coq au riesling but it didn’t matter; the sun was out, the bill was paid and good times we’re being had.
2004 Clos Rougeard Saumur Champigny Les Poyeaux
The second bottle taken to The Square (see the Vouvray story above). A beautiful totem of sublimity from the greatest Cabernet Franc producer on Earth. Dark velvet, leather,cigars, prunes all dusky and sultry. Plenty of grip but an unfolding of charm. Is this really from a poor vintage?
2009 Bodega Noemia Malbec
Trade trip time. I was taken to Argentina along with several other independent wine merchants and it was a revelatory hoot. I’d been a bit cynical about Argentina’s capacity to churn out oceans of perfectly pleasant Malbec but had never tried anything that made me go ‘wow’ before.
A forty minute drive along a dusty track into the wilds of the Rio Negro region delivered me to the cellar of Bodega Noemia, as lonely a place as I’ve ever seen for the production of wine. Here the basis of the produce is a remarkable abandoned vineyard rescued from nature and cultivated biodynamically. They only make four wines but his was the one that made me pull out my wallet and say ‘I need to have a bottle of that’.
2008 Domaine de Montille Volnay 1er Cru Taillepieds
I’ve had my far share of 2008 red Burgundy in 2012, not very much of it made me smile or pine wistfully for the golden slopes south of Dijon. It all seems to be having a bit of a strop. Not so at de Montille; a truly ravishing nose of crystallized purity and power. Grace, charm, and heaps of flavour. Not a hair out-of-place. I tried it several times and even drank a bottle with a generous customer after hours one night. Spellbinding stuff from first to last. I defy anyone not to love this.
2000 Charles Heidsieck Brut
First in at the Liberty Wines portfolio tasting and they were still opening bottles. The cork was pulled on this and I could smell it from three metres away! Golden delicious, oatbran, toast and a bellowing bass note akin to Brain Blessed calling for a St Bernard rescue dog after an avalanche. A powerful and indulgent treat, maybe I won’t drink more than a glass because of that, but the one I drink I’ll remember for a very long time indeed.
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So there it is; eight top wines, only three of which I paid to drink. Any lessons learnt? Just a reiteration of Walter Benjamin’s famous maxim ‘all that is solid melts into air’ and that I like acidity.
Roll on 2013, there’s bottles awaiting me…