It was a friendly casual dinner which finished with Château d’Yquem of a good vintage, as such dinners do…. In fact it was, and it did, though of course the Yquem was a rare treat. Sometimes these great evenings fall into place rather than are designed, and are the better for that. The wines were all wonderful – but taken in their stride, well discussed and prompting tales, though not dominating the conversation. And possibly worth reporting on, at the risk of a bored and irritated reader applying the vulgar description that I have used myself when reading lists of splendours enjoyed by others.
Who knows, there might be plenty of people out there wondering how their 1970 Yquem is doing and grateful for a report…. If so, I’m happy to say that, if our bottle was typical, it is doing just fine: remarkably, almost dry in effect and very elegant, quite the opposite of unctuous. Little botrytis apparent, but some honeyed bottle-age and definite notes of coconut. I see that Michael Broadbent, for whom such treats are not rare, described it (in 1990!) as “good, but uninspired”, which puts me in my place.
I suspect that the Yquem had more new oak involved in its making that any of the red wines we drank – which were, as Louise Hofmeyr (former owner/winemaker of Welgemeend) remarked, a tribute to the lack of need for heavy oaking. The evening began with a rather tired white burgundy, Olivier Leflaive Corton Charlemagne, which Louise had intended, on opening it, for cooking with – but despite some oxidation and loss of fruit it was still interesting enough for a glass or two.
Then we moved to two very young local wines, both of which are highly recommendable and, unlike some of the rest of the wines, easily available for purchase (or soon will be). Eben Sadie had been bottling his Sequillo White 2009 that day and brought along a bottle – I suspect it might be the best vintage yet of this excellent wine: fresh, flavoursome, beautifully textured. And Mark Solms of Solms-Delta had brought his Amalie 2009, the brilliant, rich vine-dried blend of Grenache blanc and viognier – the latter grape not nearly as obvious as it often is in any wine. The last white, before moving on to proper wine (ouch), at about half the alcohol of the previous, was a 1995 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese from S A Prüm, which was simply lovely in its harmony. Years to go for that wine before it starts declining, I think.
I had to mention that Eben and Maria Sadie were present, because I certainly could not have afforded one of the most rarefied and pricey of the wines he makes for his Terroir al Limit label in Priorat in Spain. This was Les Manyes 2006, from old garnacha (grenache) vines growing and yielding pitiably little fruit in the highest vineyard (850 metres) in Priorat. A big, black wine, of great refinement, harmony and complexity, drinkable though not exactly easy in its youth but surely likely to grow into something greater. (You can buy a bottle, and should do if you’re rich, from the Wine Cellar in Cape Town for R2950.) The other young red we had, and plenty cheaper, brought in by Great Domaines and probably available somewhere, was from the southern Rhône valley – the Château de St Cosme Gigondas 2006. The others enjoyed this more than I did: for me it was rather hard and austere, though perhaps it is just going through a dumbish phase in its youth; somehow, anyway, it’s charms missed me.
A good deal older, but still in fact a young wine, was a northern Italian wine from the fine 1999 vintage: Monchiero Montanello Barolo 1999. The Monchiero brothers used to sell their wines to the local co-op until the 1990s – the wine-writer Nicolas Belfrage calls them “reconstructed peasants” (!) with a couple of very fine sites, of which Montanello is one. Most unpeasantish wine, this was, still tannic, but with a lovely perfume starting to emerge. I wish I’d left it undisturbed for another five years at least, though.
If there’s still anyone reading, they’ll be pleased to know that I’m nearly at the of my self-indulgent recital, with possibly my favourite wine of the evening. Strangely, I mentioned in a very recent piece the great 2007 Côte-Rôtie from René Rostaing that Chris Mullimeux had served when opening his new cellar in Riebeek-Kasteel. On this evening we had his single-vineyard Côte-Rôtie, the La Landonne, from the 1989 vintage (the 2007 of that is also available from Wine Cellar, for R765). I wouldn’t claim that it was the best – as opposed to most satisfyingly enjoyable – wine of the evening; but there’s nothing like a properly mature, good red wine, and that’s what this one was – still with firm tannins (all grape tannins, not oak ones), but plenty of black fruit, a little liquorice, and the herbal/lily aromas and finesse that marked it unmistakeably as from one of the great appellations of the northern Rhône.
Not the sort or evening that could be easily repeated. I was very pleased that I didn’t have to drive home that night. Those that did, made it unscathed, and hopefully as satisfied as I.