Which one wine would you choose?
- Friday 27 March 2009
One could argue that picking just one style of wine to drink for the rest of your life is not only a depressing task, but contrary to our rationale. After all, most Decanter contributors enjoy the variety of dozens, scores, ney hundreds of different wines each year.
Some protested, insisting that no single wine could represent everything they love about the diversity of the wine world. But pick one each they did, the criteria being that no individual producers or wines could be guaranteed: it was ACs, styles and/or regions that were needed.
So if they wanted to pick California Cabernet, they had to take the Blossom Hill along with the Harlan Estate. (In fact ‘California Cabernet’ was too broad a choice – we encouraged all our contributors to zero in on specific appellations.)
We were not averse to making them sweat over their final decision, and their selections provide a fascinating insight into the flavours and nuances of a wine that matters to them personally.
The wines that feature here may raise a few eyebrows – Bordeaux does not warrant a single mention – but each selection has a valid reason for being included, no matter how different.
The notion that this will be my final wine is chilling. But the answer would be Chambolle- Musigny, preferably a good premier cru or a mature grand cru, at least 12 years old. The colour will be a pleasing russet, losing the vibrancy of youth, and mellowing.
It will evoke the passage of time, inexorable but with a future. And then the aroma. Pinot Noir’s perfume is unmatched by any other wine, and Chambolle has more than most. Ageing, its red fruits take on those leafy, ethereal tones that would soothe, delight and tease me.
Next the texture, that soft lashing of silk as it slips down the throat. Finally, and inscrutably, the taste. The flavour will be predictable in general terms – red fruits, mulch, the elegance of decay – but indefinable in its nuances, as each bottle will vary ever so slightly. But it will have richness and delicacy at the same time, pungency and repose, harmoniousness and a dash of the unexpected.
Any queries about my desert-island wine tend to be met with 1978 La Tâche. 1978 is arguably the greatest red-wine vintage Burgundy has produced in my lifetime – certainly, it’s the best that I’ve been able to follow for its full course, from initial release to full maturity.
At 30 years, these are now great drinking and loaded with all the character I associate with the greatest Burgundies. Even a lowly village-appellation wine from a privileged site was great when broached recently.
And OK, Romanée-Conti itself would suffice, or indeed any DRC wine from that year (or 1964, or 1971, and so on) but hell, let’s go for the jugular – La
Tâche is it. Sublime perfume and silken texture are the hallmarks of this almost supernatural taste experience.
John Livingstone- Learmonth
One wine for life suggests being in a tight spot. So, I‘d love to finish the bottle and marvel that our good world, aided by a judicious gatekeeper, had been able to create it. Complex wines, with mystery and eloquence of place, would qualify: Pinot Noir, Syrah or Nebbiolo.
But I am going for white Hermitage, made from 80% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne, the vines aged 50 years or older, some of them on the wonderful L’Ermite site. I could spend a long time musing about the array of aromas and associations the bouquet provided; admire its rich, glinting, yellow robe.
Its enveloping palate would warm me in my time of struggle. Its weave between the power of the Marsanne and tang of the Roussanne, and its warm glycerol feel, would stimulate me.
I could spend days dreaming up dishes that would marry with it: different cuisines and textures, salty and sweet.Had I a few days to drink it, all its resources would hold tight. Then I’d go out and face the music.
Being condemned to drink just one wine for the rest of one’s life is
nightmarish; as I’ve often written, wine’s deepest joy is its unconfined diversity.
But if worst really does come to worst, then I’m going to choose Madiran. Why would I choose one of Europe’s toughest reds? Why a wine prone to reduction and fruit-tannin imbalances? Because, when it is good (and if Decanter is going to torture us like this, the least the editor can do is ensure a topquality supply), it is one of the most complete red wines I know.
Because I love tannin: the taste and feel of it in my mouth and my body. Because I love its craggy grandeur, and the way it resists air. Because I love its fundamental absence of sweetness. Because it makes me think as I drink… maybe more than any other wine.
There is no contest. It would have to be a wine that goes with every kind of food, that can be enjoyed at any reasonable temperature, ambient or chilled, which wouldn’t go off, and which didn’t need kid-glove treatment to show at its best. I’m talking about the world’s finest wine, of course: Sherry, particularly a dry amontillado.
I’d have to select the cabeceo (formula) myself, of course, to make sure it really was a solera-aged fino and not the medium, blended stuff which masquerades under the name in so much of the UK trade.
I think something with an average age of about 15 to 20 years
would hit the spot. As a child, from the age of about 12, I was allowed a very small glass of Sherry once a year on Christmas morning. It was probably to get me back to sleep, but the magic of those moments has never left me.
Sarah Jane Evans MW
If I were to be restricted to just one wine for the rest of my days, it would be Sherry – specifically amontillado. There are individual wines from around the world that have great appeal, but there’s nothing to match an amontillado. There are times when I prefer a fino or manzanilla, others when only an oloroso will do.
A fine, dry amontillado always gives me the echo of both – the delicacy, the refreshing lift of those Sherries aged under flor, as well as the developing nutty intensity of the aged wines, and the lingering, powerful finish. It’s unforgettably complex, but also made for pleasure.
It’s a wine you can enjoy at any time. There are also personal reasons that have little to do with vinous excellence. Alongside all the rational arguments, there’s a touch of Proust’s madeleines in my choice: just a sniff or sip of amontillado triggers off all sorts of fond memories of people and places.
Since this is what I would be glugging with meals on a daily basis for the rest of
my days, I’d look for mid-weight drinkability. But at the same time, I’d want a wine that would keep my interest. There would be nothing worse that getting bored with the only wine
you could ever drink.
I would plump for Chianti Classico. It is probably Italy’s best all-round food wine, but at the same time, when well made, (increasingly the case, these days) it is never obvious or banal, or simply too easy. It also has the huge advantage of variety.
You have the choice between the fresh and perfumed younger wines and mellow old riservas, but also between different cru zones and more or lesstraditional winemaking styles. In short, more than enough to keep your tasting faculties alive, while offering great mealtime drinking.
Beverley Blanning MW
If I’m not allowed the whole of Burgundy (and only a very spoilt child would be), I’ll settle for something completely different: Vouvray. Like the little girl in Longfellow’s poem, when Vouvray is good, it is very, very good, but when it is bad, it is horrid – which makes it an eminently suitable partner for the ups and downs of life.
It really would be dreary to have to drink something relentlessly good all the time; without the mediocre, it’s hard to appreciate the sublime. I love Vouvray’s blend of substance and refreshment, its sweetand- sour character and the fact it can be anything from shockingly tart to silkily rich and honeyed.
It can be uncompromising, it can surprise and it can delight, but best of all, great Vouvray lives forever – so I’d never be short of an interesting old bottle to discover and enjoy in my dotage.
If all the vineyards in the world were about to be wiped out and I was able to save just one region (well, the mood of the moment is apocalyptic), it would have to be Champagne. Mature vintage Champagne is the only wine that I will happily drink on all occasions, in all weather, with almost all food.
It soothes when I’m fractious and stimulates when I’m tired. When I’m cheerful it matches my mood. It also tends to make me sound like Madame Bollinger. It goes with Indian food, it goes with Thai, it goes with roast goose or pheasant, and it’s one of the few things that goes with hot foie gras, on the rare occasions hot foie gras comes my way.
A bottle of mature, really good vintage Champagne is my Christmas Day treat: a glass before lunch and the rest with the bird. Does my other half like it as much as I do? Do you know, I’ve never asked him. But he drinks it.
James Lawther MW
There are plenty of others that come to mind (Côte-Rôtie and St-Julien were seriously
in the frame) but in the end, Champagne wins out for its ability to appease, beguile, surprise and entertain.
Of course, it would have to be good Champagne, chilled to about 8°C, but thereafter I’d let the wine work its charm alone: the tingling bead on the palate, nuance of complexity, delicacy, freshness and length. Curiosity would be enhanced by the house style (a grower or house brand) or possibly even a bottle-aged vintage Champagne.
A 1985 unearthed from my cellar at Christmas still had the vibrancy and finesse to enthral, and enough sparkle to know it was the real thing.
My blood relatives weren’t wine drinkers when I was young, but my step-grandmother, Pearl, was a welltravelled foodie and lover of rosé Champagne. She would let me have an
illicit taste of it at her parties and dinners, and I recall feeling very grown-up when she let me sip from her coupe.
Looking back, Pearl was pretty savvy. Not only is rosé bubbly festive, it complements so
many dishes, from salads to seafood to red meat. Part white wine and part red, it’s the best of both worlds, and as satisfying in the dead of winter as it is in the heat of summer.
Brut rosé isn’t themost complex, ageworthy or revered of wines, yet it gives great pleasure, and reminds me of Pearl. I toast her.
The answer is Champagne. Because it is the perfect drink, if not the perfect wine: the most refreshing, the most stimulating, the most gluggable, or sippable. There is as much variety in Champagne as in, say, white Burgundy; more indeed.
From frothy, thirstquenching non-vintages to resonantly, sumptuously winey old vintage wines is a longer journey than from Chablis to Chassagne. And age, far from wearying good Champagne, adds dimensions and flavours you could never surmise from the raw, young fizz.
There is a lot of discussion about grower’s-own and single-vineyard Champagnes, with the suggestion that a blanc de blancs or a blanc de noirs is somehow purer, more virtuous than a classic cuvée with all thecomponents playing their parts.
Certainly these soloist wines teach you and I about terroir, and plenty about obsessive individualism. They also teach us that isolating one ingredient of a great dish just leaves you yearning for the others. A good blend is more than the sum of its parts.
In the unfortunate eventuality that I could only drink one wine again, it would be vintage Champagne. Why? Well, for a start, it would need to be a wine that, like tea or great music, I could never grow tired of. It would need to be a wine that would have my tastebuds tingling in anticipation of its uncorking.
It would need to be a wine that brightens a broad variety of occasions, from aperitif to celebration, and have an affinity with food. Vintage Champagne is not just any drink (with apologies to M&S). It’s an experience, an event, a drink that lights a spark, brightens an occasion and rarely lets you down.
There’s infinite complexity and variety in the many different styles of vintage Champagne: blanc de blancs, blanc de noirs, rosé, single vineyard, deluxe – not to mention the diversity of interpretation of style and vintage, to make vintage Champagne my wine for all seasons.
Ch’ng Poh Tiong
I find myself gravitating to that one variety, more than any other, that offers unrivalled versatility with practically every Asian cuisine, be it Indian, Malaysian, Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean or Chinese (whether Cantonese, Chiu Chow, Sichuan or
Flinty, floral, appley, citrussy and minerally, Riesling has all the splashin- your-face freshness you can endure, and the kind of cutting-edge poise and balance that a Bolshoi ballerina would envy. Riesling tingles and tantalises, whether bone dry, medium-sweet or über-rich.
This noble grape not only affords immense pleasure, it also reassures the wine lover that no make-up oak or winemaking gimmickry is needed to release its innocent purity and springtime fruit.
I drink Riesling from every conceivable country, region and privileged pocket of individual terroir on our earth. Restricted to one, the shrine at which I worship most is the Mosel in Germany. Riesling is the ultimate cool.
My cardinal rule over almost five decades of drinking is to seek out different wines; Alsace Rieslings will secure this aim for the future. My definition of a complete cellar is ‘the right wine for every occasion and mood’ and the horizontal spread of winemaker and crus across the region, combined with the vertical spread of vintages, would ensure this.
The youngest dry Riesling as an aperitif, more vineyard specification and maturity throughout the meal, ending with a vendange tardive or sélection de grains nobles.There is even Riesling Crémant d’Alsace for the times I desire fizz.
Since I don’t expect to abandon my profession, I’d continue to taste a vast range of wines (as long as I did not swallow). BYO would be a part of life. I might even drink beer, something I do only in our former colonies and Asia. Restriction will bring a daily regime of new experience.
What, only one? What a depressing thought. But if forced to choose, then Madeira. Why? Because it is a sipping wine, where a little goes such a long way. Because you can open a bottle and consume it, if you like, over months without its deteriorating.
Because you can relish its intensity entirely on its own, although it is marvellous with the fresh, lemony sponge known as Madeira cake. I like fragrance, I like acidity. I like sugar. Good Madeira has the first two in abundance, and nectar if you choose a sweeter style.
Noel Cossart (of the aristocratic Madeira family) relates how his great-grandfather used a few drops of very old Madeira on his handkerchief, as ‘more fragrant than scent’, adding that the old and very old wines were ‘worth every penny of their considerable cost’.
Indeed. And if only one Madeira? Then the tangy, medium-sweet Bual. Go. Find. Purchase. Savour.