Memories of fine wine
I was sitting at my desk when a messenger arrived to say that all students had to report to the assembly hall immediately. Once all the boys were seated (no girls in those days) the headmaster took centre stage and burned eight words into my memory bank: “The king is dead, long live the queen.”
And then there was September 11 and our lawyer, who we were meeting with, told us that a plane had just hit one of the twin towers. A few minutes later, now in a furniture store, we were told the same thing – but about a second aircraft.
Sandwiched between September 8 and 11 is the most important and happiest day in our home – and a time for great wine. It was on the tenth day of this month that a young woman said goodbye to her mom and dad, her brothers and sisters, and boarded a plane bound for a small mid-Atlantic island. She only knew one person there and had spent only nine days with him. “Back home within a month!” her dad said. Well, she is home and last week, together we celebrated this date for the forty-fifth time!
Last Tuesday, before we knew of the sad news to come, we notched up our dinner wine and opened a bottle of 2017 Pine Ridge Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which was just such a treat. We chatted about visiting the owner and his wife at the winery and arranging a special wine dinner for them in Bermuda. Here are the winemaker’s notes: “Optimal conditions for fermentation and barrel ageing produced a dark ruby wine with inviting aromas of cinnamon, blueberry, blackberry, vanilla and cedar. A juicy mid-palate shows flavours of cherry and layers of texture. The natural sweetness of the fruit balances the bright acidity and follows through to the lingering coffee and vanilla cream-laced finish”. $76 (Stock #6036).
And now it is September 10, and my wife reminds me that her first meal here consisted of a bacon and lettuce salad that I had made. She who never forgets anything also remembers that I opened a bottle of Chateau Margaux to accompany it. It was probably of the 1966 vintage. We happen to have stocks of 1995 Chateau Margaux Premier Grand Cru Classé 1855 that placed second on the Wine Spectator’s top 100 list of 1998 with this review: “97/100. This still broods seriously, with dark plum, currant and blackberry fruit, studded with charcoal, singed tobacco and cedar notes, and backed by a serious grip of roasted earth. The gorgeously long finish is driven by old-school tannins, with the smouldering edge going on and on. A brick house of a margaux, with more charcoal than graphite, more austerity than elegance and more power than refinement.” *#2 Top 100 of 1998* (JM) (11/2014) $1,010.25 (Stock #9606).
We also have the 2016 vintage of this classic that took its place, with three other great wines in 1855, as they were judged to be the best among thousands. Here is what James Suckling thinks of the 2016 Chateau Margaux: “It’s very friendly and warm on the nose showing flowers, such as roses, and red fruit. But then on the palate, it lets you know how serious it is. Full-bodied, yet reserved, extremely tight and well-formed with super polished tannins that go on for minutes. A solid and typical margaux with all the personality and beauty in strength. Try after 2027.” $1,125.00 (Stock #9610). A word to the wise – I would not suggest serving with a bacon and lettuce salad!
It has now been decided to postpone the “big meal” for a day and I go to town to pick up wahoo nuggets, French fries and coleslaw. We pour side by side, 2020 Drouhin Vaudon Chablis and 2020 J. Lohr Arroyo Seco Riverstone Chardonnay from California. Wines and Spirits rates the chablis 91 points and writes of floral earthiness and hints of freshly churned butter. The Somm Journal awards the Californian chardonnay 93 points and comments on fresh peach and tangerine, vanilla nougat, and a toasty finish. Even though we enjoy both, and chablis is one of the favourites of my wife, especially the Drouhin, we both decide that the New World wine marries better with the rather spicy wahoo nuggets. Drouhin is $31(Stock #8181); J. Lohr is $25.50 (Stock #7988).
Now it is Sunday and sizzling tenderloins of beefsteak are served with creamy mashed potatoes and fresh veggies. I raid our small cellar and come up with a bottle of 1996 Shafer Hillside Select, Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon from the heart of Napa Valley. “How can we drink this?” my wife says. “This is the bottle that John and Barbara Shafer gave to us when they joined us for a wine dinner in our home.” I explain that we just have to get on with drinking some of these old wines and just live with the memories.
In 2007 Connoisseurs Guide rated it 95 points and wrote, “One of its richest, most succulent renditions to date. Currants, black cherries and sweet oak abound still, and the wine does a fine balancing act between being slightly supple and polished and still having an appropriate backbone of varietal tannins. It outdoes the vintage in terms of its richness and range and sheer wealth of fruit, and it has the right pieces in all the right places to grow for a good many years.”
How did we feel about it after 26 years? Well, it was certainly a treat, but to be totally honest I feel that it may have peaked at 20 and was just starting to lose a touch of its exuberance. Just great to have though, with memories of standing in this storied vineyard with John.
I do think that Hillside Select is one of the world’s most consistently excellent wines and here are the ratings of the vintages that we have in stock: 2012 98 to 100 points and the same for the 2013; 2015 98 points; 2016 100 points and 2017 98 points. What other wine in the world can do that? Prices range from $323.65 for the 2012 (Stock #6891) to $370 for the 2017 (Stock #6836).
• This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. Contact Michael Robinson at email@example.com. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554) and Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355). Visit www.wineonline.bm