Ten Best Bottles - Dreams
So, let me get this out of the way. There is no straight Romanee-Conti nor La Tache. There is no room for Lafite-Rothschild and despite authoring a bible on Pomerol, not even Petrus. There is not a sausage from great vintages such as 1982 or even 1961. There is bugger all from the Loire, Alsace and you can keep your Champagne on ice. The New World is snubbed and the only Californian comes from a totally different era. Choosing ten bottles from over 30,000 is a difficult task when your palate is as privileged as mine and so there will inevitably be ommissions that will leave someone fulminating with rage. But that is the idea of lists. They are not written in any particular order and they demonstrate that there is nothing equals the transcendental joy of a bottle gently abraded by the passing of time. Ergo, the youngest was made nine years before I was born. I have tried to vary this top ten, to nod towards the great wines of Tokaji and Madeira rather than just listing the Petrus 1945, 1947 and 1949, none of which made the cut. And remember that these are great bottles that can vary from one to the other. What is common in all of these below is impeccable provenance.
Chateau L'Eglise-Clinet 1955 (from magnum)
It is difficult to pick one vintage of Chateau l'Eglise-Clinet from either the modern or the bygone era when the wines were made by Pierre Lasserre. But a magnum of 1955 (pictured) from Denis Durantou's family's cellar was a wonder to behold and epitomised everything transcendental about mature Pomerol.
Hermitage La Chapelle 1949 - Paul Jaboulet Aine
Served at Linden Wilkie's "Kings of the Rhone" dinner at Christies, the '49 La Chapelle was one of those bottles the left a table of experienced palates awe-struck in admiration. I have drunk the 1961 in this very same room, but even that did not come close to the profundity of this '49.
Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1945
This is an obvious choice. I have only tasted this legendary "Second Growth" once, at a Mouton Rothschild vertical in London, again organised by Linden Wilkie. He had paid a premium to ensure sound provenance and it repaid dividends. Only perfection would suffice. It was perfect.
Grands Echezeaux 1962 - Domaine de la Romanee-Conti
No doubt that the most famous Burgundy producer has produced better wines, but this is just one of those occasions when the bottle just entered another sphere. Joel Hopwood was kindly helping me with the design of Wine-Journal and I was repaying him in wine. This particular bottle was ullaged by 5-centimetres and so I had picked it up cheap. Warning him not to expect too much, you just had to laugh how magnificently it performed.
Tokaji Escenzia 1888 - State Wine Museum
Old Tokaji is the stuff of legend. Yet another rara avis unearthed by Linden Wilkie for a once-in-a-lifetime evening of rare Tokaji that stretched back to the 18th century in the company of Hugh Johnson. I recall that this was dark brown, almost black in colour and was so unctuous that swirling it in my hand left a depression in the centre. I was fearful of putting it into my mouth...surely it would be rancid. On the contrary, my mouth exploded with a kaleidoscope of flavours that was unbelievably vibrant. I am unlikely to encounter this ever again, but it left an impression that will always remain.
Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Auslese 1971 - Willi Schaefer
I have drunk this German Riesling in two occasions, but it is my first encounter that sticks in the memory. On a mini tour of German wine regions, the nicest gentleman in the Mosel disappeared after a quick lunch and returned to pour this nectar that surpassed any Riesling I have tasted.
Terrantez Madeira 1864 - Leacock's
Tasted at Roy Hersh's "Transcendental Terrantez" tasting in New York in March 2012, this was another one of those once-in-a-life events that encompassed almost every great bottle of the virtually extinct Terrantez. This is a tragedy since the tasting evidenced that it is, or at least was, Madeira's greatest grape variety. It is difficult to pick out one, but amongst no less than five bottles of the legendary 1864 vintage, it was Leacock's that encapsulated everything great about ancient Madeira.
Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion 1955
The late John Avery proffered this bottle for dinner at Southwold in January 2012, from a case, which had been bought on release and never moved. He was so nonchalant about stubbing his toe on this lost case, generous in bringing the bottle so indescribably effortless that it could move a man to tears.
Chateau Lafleur 1950
Part of an epochal Lafleur vertical held in Austria in June 2012, this was the first time that I had come face to face with the 1950 Lafleur. It was utterly sensational, as good as the Petrus 1950 that deserves to be in the top ten. When you think of the rudimentary, arcane materials that Marie and Therese Robin had at their disposal, the lack of winemaking knowledge, the 1950 is a remarkable Pomerol.
Cask F-10 Cabernet Sauvignon 1958 - Inglenook
The tasting of Inglenook back in 2008 was one of those profound tastings that culminated in four of five vintages of the fabled Inglenook from the 1950s, sourced from the Graham Lyon's cellar i.e. kept in perfect nick. I was already a big fan of great Californian wines from the past: Ridge Montebello, Heitz Martha's Vineyard and Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. But these were on another level: pure, sensual and sophisticated.
Honourable mentions: Krug Private Collection 1959 from magnum; Chateau Lynch Bages 1899; Marques de Riscal 1900; Le Corton 1906 - Seguin Manuel; Bienvenue Batard Montrachet Grand Cru 1988 - Domaine Ramonet; Montrachet 1898 - Louis Jadot; Chateau Latour 1924; Chateau Cheval Blanc 1934; Chateau Haut Brion 1945; Chateau Trotanoy 1947; Vieux Chateau Certan 1948; Chateau Palmer 1961; Chateau Lanzerac Pinotage 1961; Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1974 - Robert Mondavi; Chambertin 1985 - Domaine Armand Rousseau; Penfolds Bin 60A 1962; Penfolds St. Henri 1971; Chateau Gruaud Larose 1870; Unico 1962 - Vega Sicilia; Petrus 1950; Vouvray 1921 - Marc Breddif; Le Pin 1982; Chateau Haut Brion 1989; Croft Vintage Port 1945; Taylor's Vintage Port 1948, Chateau Suduiraut 1929, Vouvray Le Haut Lieu 1947 - Gaston Huet; Accaiaoly Terrantez 1802.
Ten Best Wines - Reality
O.K. Let's get real. I drink more than my fair share of top-end juice, but the reality is that it represents a fraction of the number of wines that cross my palate in a given year. So how about the affordable bottles that really made an impression? The following list reflects the regions I have covered in detail in the past few years, although I am well aware of gems from the Languedoc, Jura, Loire, Eastern Europe etc.
Cartology 2011 - Chris Alheit (Stellenbosch - South Africa)
This debut from Chris Alheit made a huge impression back in December - the best Chenin Blanc blend that I had encountered from South Africa. Chris's wine was lauded with praise that doubtless puts incredible pressure on whatever comes next. But that can be a good thing. Wines like this are every bit as exciting as any of those listed within "Dreams".
Aurego 2011 - Bodegas As Laxas (Rias Baixas - Spain)
There are so many Albarinos from Rias Baixas that I could have chosen from. This is peanuts for a wine that just whisks you off to the Galician coast.
5V 2010- Abel Mendoza (Rioja - Spain)
Abel Mendoza's whites have to be tasted to be believed. He manages to capture something ethereal in all his splendid white wines that focus on indiginous varieties. This is a blend of them all.
Coddington Vineyard Chardonnay 2007 - Kumeu River (Auckland - New Zealand)
Michael Brajkovich churns out scintillating world-class Chardonnay's year after year. His regular Chardonny is fantastic, his single-vineyard's as intellectual as any Burgundy you will find.
Cotes d'Avanos Narince/Chardonnay 2009 - Kavaklidere Winery (Turkey)
Just a delicious Turkish white from a country that I am certain will be better known for its wines in another ten years.
Nicolas Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 - Woodlands (Margaret River - Australia)
Australia is busy redefining itself down under. I loved the Cabernet's from Margaret River on the west coast and those from Woodland are both complex and ageworthy.
Antiyal 2010 - Antiyal (Maipo - Chile)
Contrary to reports, there are actually numerous Chilean wines that I admire. This recent release from Alvaro Espinoza represents everything that Chile can achieve...if things change.
Field Blend 2010 - Zorzal Wines (Mendoza - Argentina)
I was blown away by the Michelini bros. wines when I visited their winery in Mendoza last year. I could have picked any number of gems, but this just delivers a stupid amount of quality given the price.
Canteiro Single Cask 110 - Barbeito (Madeira)
Ricardo Freitas has spearheaded a renaissance on the Atlantic island of Madeira and his single cask bottles are with picking up now. Most are a giveaway at their price.
Banyuls 1944 - Chateau Sesqueille (Philippe Gayral) (Banyuls - France)
These ancient VdNs deserve a reassessment by many who have forgotten their beauty. Philippe Gayral should be applauded for rescuing these old lots and then selling them at very affordable prices.
Honourable mention: Tesco's Finest Fiano. I cannot recall the exact vintage, but it cropped up at the IWC competition one year and I thought it was just delicious. I included it within my top wines of the year and people thought I was joking. On the contrary, it was just a lip-smacking white vino for just six quid.
Ten Oldest Wines
Sparkling: Pol Roger Brut 1914
White: Meursault 1865 - Maison Louis Jadot
Red: Chateau Gruaud Larose 1831
Sweet: Chateau d'Yquem 1879
Fortified: Terrantez 1760 - H.M. Borges
The fortified will always be under contention. The culmination of Linden Wilkie's Tokaji tasting was two hand-blown bottles of Essenzia from the Saxon Royal Court that he purchased at Christies for an obscene amount of money. Hugh Johnson estimated that the latest they were probably bottled is the mid-18th century, although they were most probably around 1720. We will never know. The one thing I do know is that they were still not just drinkable, but pleasurable.