THE WINE LIST
There is something great about a wine list, like a cookbook or a blank page to an artist there is a great sense of possibility. These are the wines that I'd be disappointed if I didn't get to drink one day again. Since 2007 I've drank over 1500 wines. I know this because I have a Numbers app which records every wine I've tasted. This is a list of my favourite producers
Domaine Leflaive, Puligny-Montrachet
It was white burgundy, and indeed a Puligny-Montrachet, that started it all. The first bottle of truly fine wine that I ever purchased. When my first daughter was born me and my wife, newly house-bound, would drink Puligny-Montrachet on a Friday night; despite the impression that fine wine is elitist and expensive we found it cheaper than going out. The Montrachet vineyard which borders the now namesake villages of Puligny and Chassagne produces the ultimate expression of Chardonnay. I’ve met otherwise sensible people who have expressed a dislike of Chardonnay in general – to anyone who has tasted even the most reasonable white Burgundy this is the ultimate foolish sentiment of a dilettante and tantamount only to a man announcing that he doesn’t like blondes. If you could bottle Grace Kelly in High Society then Montrachet is what she would taste like. Steely, poised, refined and extremely well put together. It is said that acid gives wines structure upon which the rest hangs. Le Montrachet is Grace Kelly in a bathrobe hand-woven out of the finest wispy threads of cashmere.
Domaine Leflaive are my favourite producer. Their range offers a great breadth of choice at a wide range of prices – Macon to le Montrachet. As a result Leflaive has joined me at the dinner table more than others.
If I were to pick one bottle of Leflaive to enjoy time and time again over my life it wouldn’t be their Le Montrachet however or even another of their Grand Cru. For me the 1er Cru Pucelles is sublime and the perfect example of why Leflaive are so good. Right now I’d drink their 2010 Pucelles with a Comte soufflé.
If Puligny is Grace Kelly in that white bathing suit then Meursault is Bridgette Bardot. Full of all the same great characteristics but the refinement and reticence that come with perfection are replaced in a warm embrace – less mannered perhaps but no less divine. In the battle for the ascendancy of senses it is testament to the power of taste and smell, over that of sight and touch, that in my head the bottle shape of Meursault over Puligny is fuller – despite the fact that the same bottles are used. Here the Burgundian bottle, already reminiscent of the sensual curve of hips, the arch of a back, or the burgeoning breast seems more voluptueous due to the memory of the senses. Bordeaux by comparison is taut high shoulders and big business – Angelina Jolie perhaps.
Meursault 2014. Enjoy with Dover Sole.
Ridge, Montebello Chardonnay
Ridge are one of America’s great wine makers. In the Judgement of Paris. Whilst I have enjoyed their Estate Cabernet and Montebello it is their whites that I think are more impressive. To me this is unequivocally the greatest white wine in America. It rivals white burgundy. Here my love and metaphor resorts to geography. This is a wine to be enjoyed on a terrace under dappled California sunlight overlooking some of the most beautiful vineyards on earth. California echoes the great life. Freed of the history. Not the stuffiness of the old world but of relaxed living a soft slipcover sofa inside. The expression of the American dream.
Montebello 2014. Enjoy with Chicken Marbella. Dates, olives, capers.
Lanson Black Label
To uncork Champagne is to celebrate that life is good and full of promise. As an eternal optimist I drink as much champagne as anything else. Lanson Black Label. For me this is the chilled bottle anticipating the arrival of friends the soft warm sound of a saxophone or Ella Fitzgerald. My typical champagne at home is Lanson Black Label, a tip I learnt from Hugh Johnson is to keep it in the cellar for two years prior to drinking. One of the major advantages with Lanson and my is one of the most frequently discounted grand marques. When this happens buy all you can afford. To not do so is like admitting that you’ll never drink champagne again. If that’s the case you’ve descended into pessism and may as well give up now.
Standard Black Label cellared for two years served with almonds.
Fabulous quintessential champagne. Here I could be talking about Louis Roederer, Pol Roger - the same applies but Bollinger has graced my table more than any other. Go for a good vintage simply for bottle age. This is the wine of family feasts and celebration. Weddings, births and announcements. The ultimate expression of a life well lived.
Bollinger 2008, Pol Roger 2008, Louis Roederer Blanc de Blancs 2009. With Petrossian caviar on plain crisps. With fried sage leaves.
A sommelier in the Connaught once told me that he thought that the brilliance of Krug was down to controlled use of brettanomyces. Brett is a dirty word in the wine world due to its association with for cork taint. Until that point I’d always considered Krug like Puligny in sparkling form - to hear this quip was a bit like hearing some hack reporter announce that Grace Kelly’s prim, proper, perfect Tracey Lord had a penchant for sodomy. Sadly whilst I have spent evenings with Krug I’ve not got to know her fully. Whilst she’s has the fine manners of a Harvard graduate you can sense by the twinkle in her eye that she has read Marquis de Sade. The most educational Champagne you will drink. Krug is so luxuriant that it will make you blush. Redolent of the finest truffles and Hermes leather – hedonistic to extremes.
Warrant keeper to the upper class Mark Birley would open a fresh bottle every day, Jeffrey Archer would notably have it poured at parties for Tory grandees in his apartment overlooking to the Thames. If the public criticise the luxury of millionaires then they do so frequently out of jealousy as much as anything else. If champagne is at all sybaritic then Krug is its ultimate expression. best that life can afford or perhaps not afford with enough regularity. However in the current world where even I can enter the Ritz Paris then for £150/$150 or anyone can live the life of a millionaire for next to nothing. I’ve met many billionaires and the money weighs one down as much as frees one. But here for a respitive song you can experience their life at it’s best. In that respect Krug is perhaps the best value wine in the world.
Krug Grand Cuvee – whilst Clos Ambonnay, Mesnil and the vintage to an extent are soaring singular purity. The quality of Krug is more exuberant when together. Truffled eggs benedict-style on brioche toast with ibérico ham and manchego cheese the perfect food for the morning after.
The fresh taste of summer. Light, seemingly demure but with a great shoulders. Brings to mind Angelina Jolie - Never a bad thing.
Miraval – the key to Miraval is that is should be enjoyed as fresh as possible and so the most current vintage.
Enjoy with Tuna Nicoise around the pool overlooking the ocean in Provence but I would recommend deep-frying olives in breadcrumbs and adding these to the dish too. The wine is the perfect foil to the retained fats.
Sine Qua Non, The Pontiff
The greatest rose you’ll ever experience. I’d rather drink one bottle of this than a million cheap rose. In an example why you should only buy what you love.
One vintage only. Pink peppercorn and chilli laced scallops
From Moulis and therefore often overlooked. Undoubtedly of Grand Cru Classe quality. Legend says that the owner of Lafite once mistook it for his own Premier Grand Cru. The underdog in sports. Agincourt st crispins day. . English dominance. English love of Bordeaux. Leicester city winning the English premiere Leaugue against overwhelmingly odds. Mismatched.
2005. Sunday roast at home. Roast beef, Yorkshire puddings, sprouting broccoli, mashed potatoes and unusually I like celeriac remoulade and chilli jam Sometimes when it all goes well - nailed it! The best meal in the world.
Clos du Marquis, St-Julien
One of the best choices on restaurant lists. Made by Leoville Las Cases. Based in my favourite appellation. Geographically and oenologically based between the power of Paulliac and the aria of Margaux <check HJohnson>. Prince Harry.
2005. Slow cooked lamb with flageolet beans.
Leoville and Langoa Barton, St-Julien
An understanding of terroir. Like Elizabeth and Jane Bennett from Pride and Prejudice. Harry and William
Chateau Cos d’Estournal
Perhaps the best looking building of Bordeaux. Built in great oriental style with gates imported from Zanzibar. Cos undertook considerable investment in the early 2000s and was perhaps the most outwardly looking of the great traditional estates. High investment resulted in a wonderfully international style. Many complained about the Parkerisation of wine. St Estephe is often considered the most rustic and agrarian. Cos is like the farm boys of fiction - Superman and Luke Skywalker.
The controversial 2009. Expect to pay around £200/$200/Euro200 a bottle which is a steal when you consider the amount of discussion that this wine created.
Wagyu beef in black bean jus and Chinese spring roll cooked by Helene Daroze
The first first growth I ever tried. Rich inky.
Michael Broadbent gave the 1945 6 stars out of 5. Parker gave it 100 every time he tasted it only because he couldn’t award it more. If cheap wine is a watercolour this is the rich oil impasto of a masterpiece. Artists paint it’s labels.
1986. Argentine steak cooked by Francis Mallman.
Towers over its neighbours. Solid dependable.
2005. Steak bordelaise in bone marrow jus with truffled mashed potatoes
The film Sideways is noted for promoting Pinot and being detrimental to Merlot. At another point in the film he quotes “I’ve come to never expect much from a Cab Franc and this is no exception”. It unveils the duality then that Niles bottle is a 1961 Cheval Blanc.
In emulation or Sideways I’d choose the 1961 with an hamburger (although I’d have mine from the Ivy West Street)
Domaine Michel Lafarge, Volnay
Gevrey Chambertin has been described Iron fist in a velvet glove. Pinot noir. When the weather turns I start to long for red burgundy. Makes me think of aged oak floors patinad smooth with family usage and of the warmth of candlelight. Coziness and friendly Burgundian conviviality and contentment.
2002 with Boeuf Bourgoignon in a stone farmhouse after a wet dog walk.
Rene Engel Vosne Romanee
Borgogne is about the producer.
2002 with shepherds pie
Arnaud Rousseau Gevrey Chambertin
Just the velvet glove. Volnay is the lightest of the Cote de Nuit reds.
2002 with goose.
International style. Use of Syrah. Made by Giocamo Tachhis
2005 . Beetroot Veggie Burger with aged smoked cheese. Has to be followed by Tiramisu.
Older, amazing aging. This is tradition with a capital T. This is Clark Gable in Visconti. The smell of tradition.
1988 leg of wild boar seasoned with wild thyme
Sassicaia was created after its owner noticed that his terroir was similar to the great estates of Bordeaux. Robert Parker. I’ve enjoyed Sassicaia at Christmas. One of the unique pleasures of wine is about taste memory history and repetition <Proust> High Cabernet Franc.
1988 whilst listening to a Child’s Christmas in Wales - ideally with my children tucked up in bed.
Harlan Estates, Proprietary Red, Oakville
Harlan is less a wine and more the result of a singular patient pursuit of perfection. (patience seems absurd). The greatest premium cult wine in the world. Talking with Harlan - the best of old world manners in the new world. It has inherited the world.
Mascot for value.
Promontory is said to be even better too.
Wine is about memory, legacy and remembrance (and possibility). Respect and dedication to our ancestors and a desire for the best life for our descendants. Plant grapes but have to wait for the harvest. We have children but have to wait years until we can share a bottle. 2019 appropriately Harlan’s birth year. <Echo the Anticipation of the opening paragraph> with my son. Like the wine list itself the joy of a wine is sometimes about anticipation. I’ve been blessed to drink many great wines. Sometimes the best wines are the ones we haven’t had yet, sometimes these have even been bottled.