Periodically, and at year end, I comb the index of recent tasting books to see what stood out. Not all the great names turned out to be as magnificent as expected; others surpassed themselves.
Incidentally, Collins, publisher of the little red books I use to transcribe my notes has, after 47 years, ceased printing them. It is now producing a larger version range named Black n’ Red (like fish ’n’ chips – though for some reason without the first apostrophe – very common). I always resented the outrageous price of these plain lined notebooks, although the irrepressible and irascible Len Evans once said the pages were more interesting left blank than filled with my tasting notes.
But, as Serena Sutcliffe MW might say, ‘Revenons à nos Moutons’ – which reminds me of a recent Master of Wine tasting of 2005 clarets. Among the first-growth châteaux, I rated Mouton Rothschild very highly: expectedly fragrant, with a pure expression of its biggest contributor, Cabernet Sauvignon. Inimitable flavour, silky, good finish but would benefit from more age. My favourite was, and invariably is, Cheval Blanc. Among the other 2005s, I admired the new and greatly improved d’Issan, as well as Brane-Cantenac, Haut-Bailly, Canon and Palmer.
I have heard said that the 2005 vintage is overrated. To me, the 2005s are a wine-drinker’s claret and definitely not blockbusters; they have some of the charm of the 1953s. Readers might like to know that these tastings are not confined to MWs, so contact the Institute of Masters of Wine (+44 (0)20 7621 2830; www.mastersofwine.org) for information. Now to Burgundy. One thing is certain: quality has improved almost beyond recognition. The pace is set by Domaines Leflaive, Rousseau and Romanée-Conti.
(Look out for the new edition of Remington Norman’s The Great Domaines of Burgundy, due out now.) I produced my last bottle of 1990 La Tâche at a dinner at gentlemen’s club Brooks’s. My guests included Christie’s Burgundy specialist Anthony Hanson MW and property developer Peter Palumbo, who successfully bid for Lot 1 at my first wine auction at Christie’s on 11 October 1966: six bottles of 1878 Cockburn’s Vintage Port.
I had brought the wine to the club several days in advance to settle, and in true Burgundy tradition, poured it without decanting. It looked, in suitably large glasses, mellow and mature, its bouquet a subtle, fragrant evocation of the variety. But it was the warmth of the mouth which, as always, brought out the flavour. It was beyond description: a sweet, silky texture, multi-layered, great length and with an infinite aftertaste.
At the same dinner, I produced one of my most enjoyable German wines: a Rheingau, Robert Weil’s Kiedrich Gräfenberg Riesling Auslese from the excellent 2007 vintage: pale; with a lovely, delicately grapey, mouthwatering aroma; fairly sweet, but with an alcoholic content of only 7%. Light and not remotely cloying, it’s the sort of wine I use as elevenses, but which everyone else makes the mistake of drinking with a pastry-chef’s confection. On this occasion it was accompanied by Welsh rarebit. Delicious.
Among other verticals was a wine tasting dinner organised by Decanter contributing editor John Stimpfig for a major City company, featuring Latour. I was the guest speaker; but how I missed my amanuensis, Daphne, who customarily sits alongside, recording what I say.
So, my notes on the first six vintages were sparse, though I do recall the youngest Latour, the 2000, and the excellent, dissimilar twins, 1996 and 1995. It was easier for me to taste, note (and drink) the more mature vintages at dinner. The more-famous twins, 1990 and 1989, were superb, as was a fine ’85. The ’82 was strangely disappointing.
At a Roederer tasting, I noted its recently released Cristal Brut 2002. We English tend to drool over old Champagne, but this youthful Cristal was the finest, most refined I can recall: pale with a pure gold sheen; distinctive, effortlessly sublime, crusty nose, exquisite flavour, great length.
Lastly, and most recently, Tokaji. Not the ubiquitous Royal Tokaji, but Janos Arvay’s Hétfürtös Cuvée Edes Elet 2000: pure amber-gold; the highly original singed-honey Furmint nose; rich, perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. I have a glass in my hand as I write. It also went very well last night with two glorious English ice creams: our favourite, Jude’s, and Criterion Ices.
But why Arvay’s? I have a long friendship with the self-effacing owner, Christian Sauska, a charming Hungarian who emigrated to America and prospered. He returned to restore an 18th-century house in Tokaj, building a new winery at the back of the property, and it was there that the Mayor of Tokaj and I, each with scissors, cut the pink ribbon at the opening ceremony: I didn’t understand a word of his speech, nor he of mine, which ended with my singing our anthem, changing its last line to ‘long live Tokaj’. Heartfelt, but un peu lèse-majesté.
Written by Michael Broadbent