Of grand wine and the occasional tear

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.

paul_cluver_seven_flags_pinot_noirWe 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.

lafite 1981It 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.

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