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John Stimpfig – ‘When wine, food and friends connect in the most magical way’

Almost exactly twenty years ago, I first met and interviewed the brilliant, beguiling Angelo Gaja, resulting in two glorious days driving around Barbaresco and Barolo. Despite being a rookie wine writer, Gaja accompanied me throughout, providing me with an astonishing running commentary on the region he loved so ardently.

Apart from Angelo’s cavalier approach to road safety, I recall an astonishing array of bottles, from his father’s legendary ’61 Barolo to his own single-vineyard Nebbiolos, including a 1989 Barolo Sperss and Sorì San Lorenzo.

As I was leaving, he proffered a large bag containing a hardback book and wooden wine box. The book was Edward Steinberg’s The Making of a Great Wine: Gaja and Sorì San Lorenzo. ‘It will give you everything I forgot to tell you, and drink the wines when you and they are ready.’

Inside the box were the ’89 Sperss and Sorì San Lorenzo. Ever since, I’ve been waiting for the right people, occasion and moment to broach one of these two
treasures. Finally, in August, the opportunity presented itself during our summer holiday in Scotland. En route to Skye, we were booked in for an overnight stay in the Borders with Sarah Kemp and her husband, Brian St Pierre.

Given that both knew Angelo and his wines better than me, I couldn’t think of anyone more appropriate. Angelo had attended so many Decanter events with Sarah, they were almost joined at the hip. Moreover, it was Brian who interviewed Angelo when he was Man of the Year in 1998.

Inevitably, there was a degree of anticipation as I eased the long cork from the Sperss. Happily, a quick sniff and sip showed the wine was in perfect condition and rude good health, before it was decanted. That night, we enjoyed several wonderfully memorable wines; a sublime vintage fizz, a magnificent 2001 SuperTuscan, a top 2005 Pomerol and a glorious 1998 Sauternes. But without a scintilla of doubt, the star of the show was the spellbindingly vibrant Sperss.

Perhaps our preference was unduly influenced by the 20-year wait and our shared affection for Angelo Gaja as much as the imperious quality of the Sperss. All I know is this was one of those rare full-circle moments when wine, food and friends connect in the most uplifting, magical way. And for that, we were all profoundly grateful.

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