Shortly before Christmas, in a very fortunate gap in the weather, I got together with 2 other guys in the wine trade, “Suffolk” who I worked with until recently and “Henley”who I know from a good lunch previously and 3 mutual customers/collectors/drinkers (I never think any one of those terms is quite right) who will continue the privacy by being known as “Halifax”, “Newcastle” and “Sussex”. The wine traders and one collector all came up from London the others from Halifax and Newcastle (yes, yes the names are unimaginative). The location was the Devonshire Arms Hotel – and I must come clean now and take no credit for the organising – this was all done by “Halifax” with a large number of the wines being sourced by “Halifax” and “Newcastle” and the others from the rest of us. It was a great meeting of minds and unsurprisingly everyone got on well. Having trained it up there – and you can tell the wines to be served were serious as there was on onboard drinking – we managed a quick walk down to the river in borrowed boots and coats.Post walk and before settling in for a “little” late afternoon tasting a bottle of Tattinger Comtes de Champagne 1998 was opened coutesy of “Henley”. Always a bit of a trade favourite and also relevant because along with a tasting we will come onto later this is the Champagne house that claims to have first “done” Blanc de Blancs. I will say now I haven’t had a great deal of Tattinger over the years but this was lovely, balanced and ready to go, a good loosener.

Right tasting one…now “Halifax” as is his wont tried to mislead us a touch here by serving the second wine blind having alluded to the fact it would be a different vintage of the first wine (which I brought along) it sort of was, sought of wasn’t:

Romanee St Vivant 2007, Domaine de La Romanee Conti – I think this amazed several of the assembled with it purity and the ease with which you could see it’s beauty – yes it was very young but in no way closed or harsh, very pure and primary and very “Pinot”. The demand for DRC and the prestige (hate that word) in which it is held often belies the elegance and “alwaysenjoyableness” of the wines. A top draw start!

RSV 1989 Leroy – (Served Blind) now weirdly the conversation did come onto Leroy while we tasted this (Halifax might have pushed us mischievously that way) and we all said how little we knew of her wines. This was tasting well, a little chalky which was why I guessed ’88, I was quietly pleased with being so close. A very pleasant surprise and a lovely wine. I would love to try more of her wines.

Corton Charlemagne 2000, Faiveley – this was I think by universal agreement a bit of a disappointment, it tasted older than it should have and whilst there was the depth (more of a Meursault than a C-C) it lacked freshness and poise. Interesting but nothing compared to the white Burgs later.

There was a quick break now to shower, wander about, phone the wife etc before the real “work began”.
Down in the bar the evening then started with a trio of Salon Vintages 1997, 1995 and 1988. This is especially interesting as the 1999 will launch in the coming months.

Salon 1997 – I have had this more times than I deserve but it is always good, very BdB, very precise, no mucking about, will age very well and I feel won’t shut down (as the 1996 might).

Salon 1995 – I remember going to the launch of this in Biarritz what seems an age ago. It divided opinion, I liked it (I am unapologetically biased) and felt it was putting on some weight, others thought it was a bit gawky and the least impressive of the three.

Salon 1988 – I have only had this twice before and as with a few 88’s I always think of it as a Page 3 Champagne “all upfront and in your face” and it is definitely unSalonesque in its richness but it was in check and actually complexly lovely. Wet down very well indeed and led into to dinner in style.

Right, dinner – I am not going to write about the food as it was good but not the point of the night and most people will think this is long enough already. My notes on the wine to will t more and more vague as we go on…it was a relaxing night and note taking would not have ben polite or enjoyable….this was drinking and enjoying rather than critiquing, it is not a competition after all.

Pair 1 – Bienvenues Batard Montrachet 1999, Domaine Leflaive – I was excited about this as I have heard such good things about the ’99 Leflaives but rarely tasted any, this was all gunflint and matches on the nose, quite incredible. Now that the year is fully done I have no hesitation in making it my white wine of the year. I will seek out ’99’s from now on.

Batard Montrachet 2002, Domaine Leflaive – so to the next door vineyard and some of the table (not quite me) preferred this to the BBM ’99 above, I can understand this as it was very very impressive from beginning to end, very complete and long. A fascinating wine – Chevalier often steals the glory at Leflaive but I tell you what these two would be right up there to my mind

Pair 2 – Laville Haut Brion 1983 & Laville Haut Brion 1990 – this was the most educational element of the day for me as I do not know the wines well, I have had a disappointing bottle of the 2003 and a great bottle of Haut Brion Blanc 1995 but that was about it for top Dry White Bordeaux. These two were terrific and nicely different but the same as well if that makes any sense. There is weight here and a definite sense of Sauternes without the sweetness, the 1990 was a little more opulent and the 1983 a little more dense and textured, a fabulous pair of wines and all 4 whites were in immaculate shape!

Trio 1 – Haut Brion 55, 82 & 89 – what a treat – two wines I have had once before and one I definitely haven’t!

Haut Brion 1955Supplied by “Sussex” in its tissue from a complete case (see bottle on right) and in the old (therefore conventional) bottle. The level was a surprise to the provider (you can see it is mid shoulder) but the wine sung well, the colour was firm and not over mature and there was good fruit there, lovely wine and did show the style of HB, a real treat and shows that levels can be very miss-leading.

Haut Brion 1982 – the last time I had this, probably 5 years ago, I remember thinking it was so balanced, that happened again, tasting it along side the 1989 was fascinating as it is a great wine but there is always a suspicion that the 1989 is a tad bigger and better. I am not so sure I thought this was gorgeous and complete.

Haut Brion 1989 – This was richer, darker and tasted at least the 7 years younger than the 1982. It is denser and I feel still not at its peak just yet. These three vintages proved the sense in the recently quote expression that you should “sell Lafite and drink Haut Brion”.

Trio 2 – I will have to admit that my memory from here on in is not very detailed but courtesy of “Newcastle” we were able to add too more legends to our list Mouton 1955 was fascinating as was the La Mission Haut Brion 1961 – neither of these I had ever had before. The La Mission was a little short which was a surprise but the breeding was more than apparent. The Mouton a little like the Haut Brion 1955 was a very pleasant surprise, with good solid fruit, amazing in wine from 55 years ago. As if that wasn’t enough we than had “Halifax’s” Pichon Lalande 1964 (from Magnum) and this was stunning, well above expectation, a good advert for buying the 4star vintages in magnum, it stood up well to its first growth friends. I will be interested to try other 1964’s on this evidence. None of the older Bordeaux were at that “farty claret” stage, all retained fruit.

Somehow a couple of relative oddities were squeezed in starting with a suggestion from “Suffolk” who clearly couldn’t cope with the lack of Rhone representation Crozes-Hermitage 1990 Alain Graillot a producer I know nothing of was lovely on the nose but weirdly almost completely absent on the palate…strange. Then our esteemed organiser chose a 1947 Scharzhofberger I am going to have to admit that both producer and sweetness level are no longer in my memory, the wine was good, alive and still complex with a dash of sweetness remaining, not that I have much experience of such things but it was what I expected. This led us into the….

The sweets – (pictured with the Leflaive’s above) the food and drink was hitting home by now and I don’t think I appreciated these as much as I could have but I have been waiting a very long time to try Yquem 2001 – several people who’s palate I really rate have told me it is the real deal – the nose is amazingly intense and almost round in it’s neverendingness. The palate weight and richness of texture is almost unique in my experience…there is no doubt that this wine will outstay (nice racing reference) any one alive today. It is amazing to think it is already 10 years old. It is the most intensely balanced wine I think I have had, I look forward to tasting it again. Climens 2001 did well not to be overshadowed but is not in quite the same class (what is really?) the wine is brilliant though and is drinkable, whilst not at its peak, now. What a finish. Amazingly Newcastle and Henley managed a few beers after but the rest of us were done.

In these times of premox and other things all the above wines being faultless was wonderful and may be a little lucky. The alarm clock at 5.50am the next morning was not nice but at least I was no off for a big friday lunch..the same can not be said of “Henley” and “Sussex” but they have survived….there is talk of a part 2 to this great evening, bring it on, a wonderful evening…

Many thanks to everyone involved and especially to “Halifax”.