It’s been a big year for me, wine-wise. A year of firsts. My first Yquem (amazing), my first first growth (Latour 1975 – excellent), and many hundreds of significantly cheaper others have been thrown into my mouth and then thrown back out again, one way or the other. But I’m a man of simple tastes, so simple that my favourite white wine can be found for a graze under £9, which are both too expensive for me ever to buy for myself. So, here are a handful that stand out:
Red wine of the year: Vincent Paris St Joseph 2009. Drunk at home Paris is a fairly young producer in the northern Rhone who has built up an excellent reputation, and as I’ve spent the last couple of years exploring the more affordable outposts of that area he’s appeared on my radar several times. Cornas is his thing, but the St Joseph is his cheaper side-project and when I bought a mixed case of his 2009s this was the first to get opened. I was expecting it to be decent, but I wasn’t expecting quite so much character. Quite light-bodied, quite savoury, most excellent. It’s not enormously easy to find – I see the Cornas much more often – and normally between £15 and £18 when you do (though I was so excited by this that I bought an entire case of the 2010 from WineBear, where it works out at £13.70 a bottle, which I think is phenomenal value).
White wine of the year: Vasse Felix semillon/sauvignon 2010. Drunk at home. Repeatedly This costs £11.99 at Waitrose, but can often enough be found at £8.99 on a 20% off promotion. It’s lovely, sprightly, zippy, and perfect for summer or any occasion when you particularly want to make yourself or other people smile. If you’re starting to tire of sauvignon blanc, I would heartily recommend finding someone who’ll put some semillon in it for you – it sorts it out proper good, as any Bordelais will tell you. It was my very great pleasure to meet Vasse Felix’s lovely winemaker, Virginia Willcock, at a dinner in London a couple of months back, where she was making a brief appearance as she toured the world picking up awards for her brilliant 2010 Heytesbury chardonnay (the cheapest I can find that one for is £26.30 a bottle, which is a bit rich for me, though not bad value for what you’re getting). It’s worth keeping an eye out for the Vasse Felix label – she seems to make very good wine.
Sweet wine of the year: Chateau Coutet 1971. Drunk at The Square, December I’m not one for getting overbothered about wine and food matching, but sometimes you’re presented with – or might even fashion for yourself – something so perfectly perfect that it’s genuinely revelatory and transformational. This was one such moment, as an incredibly fine mature sauternes met a desert of simple elegance from Phil Howard (creme caramel with fat, juicy, boozy golden raisins and sauternes jelly), and the two got on absolutely famously. This is an incredibly good sweet alcoholic beverage, and it can still be purchased for £90 a bottle, which is a) a ludicrous amount to spend on 75 humble centilitres of sweet alcoholic beverage; and b) worth every penny. I don’t often see the point of spending more than about £25 on a bottle of wine, but this is something special to make special occasions specialer, and is thus deserving of a special exemption. I had it at a rather high-falutin’ bring-your-own lunch, which also brought my first Rousseau, that 1975 Latour, and also my …
Disappointment of the year: 1986 Penfold’s Grange. Drunk at The Square, December This was my first taste of Australia’s most famous wine, from an exceptional vintage. It was only ruddy corked. Runner-up: The Chocolate Block. A “cult” wine from South Africa that seems to be incredibly popular. I just don’t get it.
Unmissably good value wine of the year: Bricco Rosso Suagna Langhe Rosso 2007, The Wine Society The last bottle of this that I bought – from the 2008 vintage, which I won’t endorse as I haven’t tried it yet but is almost certainly ace – cost £6.25, which makes the price of nearly every other wine in the entire world look a bit silly. Clearly I’m not the only one who thinks this a bargain, as it has sold out, but given that the Wine Society also sold me the 2006, which was also excellent, I’m cautiously optimistic that a 2009 will turn up sometime soon, at which point I suggest you slam dunk a couple of bottles into your next order sharpish.
And that, my friends, is your lot. Here’s to another year of vinous exploration.