Let me tell you about the best wine I’ve ever tasted
“I forget the name of the place; I forget the name of the girl; but the wine was Chambertin.”
I believe that the memory of a great wine has little to do with the wine and everything to do with the circumstances in which you taste it. I would say that 60 percent of your enjoyment of wine is tied to when, where and with whom you drink it.
As a wine writer, I get asked, “What is the greatest wine you have ever tasted?”
I could answer, “the 1865 Château Lafite (No, this is not a typo — a pre-phylloxera 1865 claret I bought at auction in Toronto in the late 1980s). I could also say “the 1960 Krug Champagne that Remi Krug poured on a Canadian visit in the 80s,” or “any of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti wines I tasted on a visit to the winery in Vosne-Romanée in 2009.”
But none of those answers would be honest.
Indeed, my most cherished wine memory involves a bottle of 1964 Domaine Comte Georges de Vogűé Musigny Cuvée Vieilles Vignes. I was gifted this magnificent red Burgundy by the man who taught me about wine, the late Gordon Bucklitsch, who ran wine courses at Grants of St. James’s in London. A Falstaffian former British Navy soldier, he became the model on whom I based Ezra Brant, my fictional peripatetic wine writer and detective in a series of wine murder mysteries.
I opened Gordon’s gift on February 13, 1975, the evening my son Guy was born. It was delicious, momentous, unforgettable. I drank the entire bottle by myself since my wife was otherwise occupied.
I was euphoric after the birth of my son and in the mood for a great wine. But now I ask myself whether I would have appreciated the Musigny as much if I had opened it at a dinner party that ended in a shouting match over some political matter?
Context is everything in life and in wine. During my first visit to Bordeaux in 1966, I was given a tour of Château Palmer by its part-owner the late Peter Sichel. (His German cousin of the same name, who gave the world Blue Nun wine, is still with us at age 95.) Upstairs at the château, Mr Sichel showed me the rooms where soldiers had been billeted when the German army occupied Bordeaux. The iron bedsteads and the graffiti on the walls were still there.
Afterwards, I had lunch with the Bordeaux shipper William Bolter and some friends at a restaurant on top of the hill in Saint-Emilion. We lunched outdoors as it was a beautiful, sunny day. We ordered a few bottles of the house red over the course of a convivial meal. I enjoyed myself so much that I bought a bottle to take back to London. I opened it on a cold February night, hoping to relive the experience, but it tasted terrible so I poured it down the sink!
Now I remember occasions by the wine I drank, with satisfaction. You may want to know what that 120-year-old bottle of Lafite tasted like. Well, it was on its deathbed, so to speak. For the first few minutes it showed its glory with a wonderful fragrance of raspberries. And then, right before our eyes, the oxygen turned it brown in the glass. But we were drinking a significant moment in history — the year the American Civil War ended. And as venerable British wine trade types say, nothing compares to pre-phylloxera claret.