The lunchtime talk turned (as it still occasionally does, despite soaring prices for top European wines) to great wines, and specifically First Growth Bordeaux that we had actually drunk – as opposed to merely sipped or tasted.
We actually had a pretty good wine to drink as we talked – the new, 2011, release of Paul Cluver Seven Flags Pinot Noir: a touch lighter than previously, perhaps, but elegant and fresh, very well balanced, if not totally compelling; certainly eminently drinkable now, but likely to age gracefully for a good few years. The table was a smallish one, with tasty Italian food, at A Tavola in Claremont, Cape Town – just hosts Paul and Liesl Cluver, sommelier Higgo Jacobs, retailer Caroline Rillema, and me and Angela Lloyd representing wine hackdom.
So maybe it was even a bit cheeky to discuss Bordeaux. But, when the question was raised, I recalled my first Premier Cru Bordeaux: Château Lafite 1981. It must have been in the mid-1990s, at the long-gone and (by me at least) much-lamented Hideaway restaurant, tucked away somewhere behind the National Gallery. I was having dinner with my friend Louise Hofmeyr of Welgemeend, who had taught me anything good that I knew about Bordeaux (in fact, about wine in general), largely based on her Dad’s cellar of Bordeaux – mostly fairly modest stuff, especially crus bourgeois from the later 1970s: fresh, drinkable, modest, balanced wines which have informed my taste ever since.
I must have been feeling extravagant on this evening, because there on the winelist was the Lafite 1981, at about R700, as I recall – even then a pretty good price, and I decided that this was something we had to do, though I’d never spent anything like this on a bottle of wine before. Hideaway owner (was his name Anthony Something?) told me that this, and a few other grand single bottles on the list, originated from the cellar of some rich man with a big cellar who was selling off some of his lesser-rated wines (lesser rated by Robert Parker, that is). The 1981 vintage has always been undervalued amongst the Parkerites, being a more classic, restrained one, eclipsed by the riper, richer 1982.
It was a lovely wine, and it literally brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for that, rich man. I daresay that the special occasion of this being my first top-label Bordeaux (though not Louise’s) was a good part of it – but let no-one ever deny that the joy of drinking wine is often about more than the mere stuff in the bottle. (Has anyone ever shed tears over a wine where a rapidly wrenched-off screwcap has tinkled onto the table?)
“Really tears in your eyes?” my friend Higgo Jacobs asked me today. I thought it better not to enquire whether he was appalled or impressed or just surprised, but yes, indeed! Ah, but I was young(ish) back then.
Wine-sentimentality doesn’t quite die with age, however. I would single out two recent local wines that genuinely brought a prickle or two to my eyes from their sheer, lovely marvellousness; one white, one red: Alheit Magnetic North Mountain Makstok 2013, which I totally forgive for the hypnotic length of its name; and the more tersely named Reyneke Reserve Red 2012 (a straight syrah this year; for the first time without any cab). Thus far, at least, these are firm candidates for my wines of the year. With any luck, better will come along, and I can fully burst into tears. But no need, no need.