The Senior Wine List
Ernest Hemingway said "Wine is one of the most civilised things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing". To aspiring writers he also advised "Write one true sentence"—simple enough if you're one of the best writers in history. As a long-time drinker, first-time writer I figured that quoting his one true sentence was surely the next best thing.
To study wine is to study human civilisation itself. When the drinker is imbued with a wine's culture and history, the best bottles resonate with their own past and speak with their own voice. Like Superman's icy shards of Kryptonic memory, each bottle can encapsulate a whole culture or evoke a lost time. More than this, in consumption we in-turn imbue each wine with our own memories too. As a result, to wine romantics there can be little greater pleasure than studying a restaurant wine list. Like a cookbook to an amateur chef, or a blank canvas to an artist, the wine list implies an infinite sense of possibility of discovery or reunion. This therefore is a personal list including some of the producers and wines that fill me with elation just to see their names in print.
I intended this article to be brief—instead like champagne in the hands of Dan Gurney at Le Mans it just continues to pour out. As a result I’ve decided to divide this article into sections and post as each is completed.
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 a bottle of Puligny-Montrachet on a Friday night. Contrary to the belief 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 arguably the best chardonnay wine in the world. I have 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 foolish sentiment of a dilettante—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. Pure white-floral elegance with steely precision and perfect poise. It is said that acid gives wines structure upon which the rest hangs. Montrachet is Grace Kelly’s slender lithe frame clothed in threads of finest cashmere, her soft perfume radiating scents of blossom.
Domaine Leflaive are my favourite white burgundy producer. The sight of their yellow cap, gold and blue crest promises warm smiles and sunlight. Their range offers a great breadth of choice at a wide range of prices—Macon to le Montrachet.
Whilst Montrachet or another Grand Cru seems an obvious choice, if I was to pick one bottle to enjoy again it would be the 1er Cru Pucelles. This is a sublime Puligny and the perfect example of why Leflaive are so good. Right now I’d drink their 2010, pairing it with Raymond Blanc’s excellent Comte soufflé on a Summer’s evening with friends.
Domaine Roulot, Meursault
If Puligny-Montrachet is Grace Kelly’s elegant frame, white bathing-suited, in High Society then compatively, Meursault is Bridgette Bardot in And God Created Woman. In the battle for the ascendancy of senses it is testament to the primacy of taste and smell (over that of sight and touch) that in my mind the bottle shape of Meursault is fuller than that of lithe Puligny—despite the fact that the same bottles are used. In Meursault the Burgundian bottle, already reminiscent of the sensual curve of hips, the arch of a woman’s back, and the burgeoning breast, seems much more voluptuous due to the memory of the senses and experience. If great white burgundy is lemon, butter and cashmere on the tongue—in Meursault that rich golden butter comes from Normandy.
Domaine Roulot are my favourite Meursault producer.
Enjoy Roulot’s Meursault Tessons, Clos de Mon Plaisir 2009 with Dover Sole in a dark romantic corner at J Sheekey’s. Refrain from suggesting dancing after, lest someone get hurt.
Ridge Vineyards. California
Wine, like cuisine, is the product of its place and maker. This is not simply about terroir. Wines, partly perhaps because of the metaphors of critics, too often take on the character and nationality of the people that create it. As a result American wines can be miscast as stereotypically overripe, HEMI-V8-powered, breast-augmented fruit bombs. Whilst the notion of stereotyping isn’t always true there is more truth than falsity in this concept to keep it relevant. Wine, no matter how interventionist the approach applied, cannot but be a product of the philosophy and hopes and of its creator. It is only when these defy staid stereotypes that notable exceptions occur—when this happens trends are bucked by innovators and the world changed for the better. One such innovator is Ridge wine-maker Paul Draper. Draper, after undertaking an extensive wine education in Europe, went on to mould Ridge as a maker of cool-climate old-world-type wines in California at a time when typicity in American wine was high-alcohol and high-ripeness. Ridge become most known after The Judgement of Paris of 1976, a tasting created by wine-merchant Steven Spurrier. Spurrier proposed to have a panel of respect critics blind-taste the wines of California’s new world against the very best wines of the old-worlds of red Bordeaux and white Burgundy. The critics selected were key figures in the French wine industry. This could have been like inserting the filmography of Vin Diesel under the selection committee for the Cannes Film Festival. As Spurrier knew however, the blockbuster view of Californian wine was a misconception; many great Californian producers were making well-crafted, tasteful, high quality, wines in an old-world style in defiance the stereotypes. The Californian wines which included Draper’s Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon held there own, giving official critical acceptance of Californian wine in the process.
Whilst I enjoy Ridge’s old world red Bordeaux-esque Cabernet (perhaps the best of its type in California), I have a particular love however for their Burgundian-style Estate Chardonnay. This is Gwyneth Paltrow in the Talented Mr. Ripley—evocative of the golden classical age of Hollywood past; Grace Kelly in modern form.
If I could enjoy it anywhere I’d drink the Ridge Estate Chardonnay 2014 on a terrace under dappled Californian sun, at a long table full of family and friends, overlooking some of the the most beautiful vineyards on Earth. Wine and a setting like this needs to include food to match. Here I’d choose Ottolenghi’s Chicken Marbella which I’d prepare myself for ultimate satisfaction. Chicken marinated in garlic, dates, olives, capers and bay and cooked in wine. Each ingredient has a rich gastronomic history transported from one culture to another across the globe.