Wine Experiences of 2014 - part 1

Our Wine Director Tom Harrow looks back at the year that has passed...

An Indian Summer rescued what was threatening to be a disastrous Bordeaux and Burgundy vintage, England’s vineyards enjoyed their second sound harvest in a row, and Q4 showed the first up-swing in the fine wine market for three years.  More importantly 2014 saw the team at WineChap form the nexus of newly launched wine marketplace Honest Grapes and I drank some bloody good bottles around the world.  I’ve listed my Top 20 wine experiences of the year, which is a sneaky way of slipping more wines in as there were a few that came in pairs and even one quartet where it would be rude to single out individuals…

Not a dry month, quite the reverse as “Im No Quitter” piece for the Arbuturian staunchly advocated, but nothing especially memorable…

Leoville Las Cases 1983:  A charming fully mature claret from a favourite chateau, and the vinous highlight of Sunday lunch enjoyed with friends and a forerib of beef.  The first really memorable bottle of the year and the perfect circumstances to enjoy it.

MARCH Bollinger R.D. 2002: A sexy predator of  a wine, bold, luscious, a growl at the end, the best R.D. since 1996, celebrating the wine’s 50th anniversary in the same building in St James the first cuvée was presented by Mme Lily Bollinger herself.  My Champagne of 2014.J L Chave Hermitage 1998 & Alvaro Palacios L’Ermita 1993:  Randomly opened at a client’s house during the latter stages of a party in Notting Hill, warmed up by Leflaive Batard Montrachet 2001.  ’98 is a great year for the Rhone and the Chave was only just beginning to show its colours but the spectrum was vividly impressive even now. ’93 was the first vintage of this monumental wine from the master of Priorat, which is now undeniably Spain’s most highly sought after and most eye-wateringly expensive (£700 per bottle).

Ducru Beaucaillou 1996 & Montrose 1982:  Another memorable pair, this time out in Bordeaux during the now annual Easter tour I organise for a group of clients with a penchant for very fine claret.  A super-abundance of excellent wines was consumed over the weekend but these two were the highlights, both enjoyed during a private dinner at Pape Clement (whose of €15 per bottle corkage policy is a little known secret).Venissa 2010 & 2011:  Preceding one of my meals of the year at the restaurant of the same name, these remarkable wines of which only 5000 bottles are produced annually, from an ancient and practically extinct Venetian variety Dorano, are the latest project from the Bisol family of Prosecco fame.  A quite unique vinous experience, cultivated in the saline soils of Venice’s lagoon I wrote in How To Spend It  "imagine an aged Jura Savagnin with cleaner fingernails meeting the new wave of natural Semillon or Chenin Blancs from the Hunter Valley or Anjou and you are probably only slightly more confused than I am.”

Warre 1963:  In May we hosted the first of two 90th anniversary events for iconic British clothing brand Belstaff, illustrating key years in the company’s evolution with corresponding drinks.  Whilst the Ferte de Partenay Grand Armagnac from 1924 left an indelible impression, it was the marvellous ’63, the year Belstaff dressed Steve McQueen in the film ‘The Great Escape’ and arguably the Port vintage of the century, from @WineChapWillsy’s family cellar that really impressed.Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc 2001:  As part of PIWOSA’s Flying Rhino Tasting on Kensington Roof Gardens, WineChap compered a series of wine safaris hosted by the visiting winemakers.  One of the unexpected highlights was Adam Mason presenting two of his older Sauvignons from 2000 and 2001.  Mature South African reds are hard enough to find in the UK, but whites of this age are unheard of and these (particularly the 2001) surprised and impressed everyone who was lucky enough to try them.  This was the sort of perspective-altering treat one normally only enjoys when visiting an estate and the winemaker takes a shine to you!

Ridge Montebello 1985, Mouton Rothschild 1986, Vega Sicilia Unico 1987 & Penfolds Grange 1989:  At a tasting for clients in Lagos, Nigeria.  The Mouton (my second 100-point Bordeaux of 2014) was the form horse but you’d kick none of these out of bed.  The warm up act for this quartet was Masseto 2003 and DRC Echezeaux 2001.

Cristal Brut Rose 2002:  Overall Best in Show at Tom Stevenson’s inaugural Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships 2014 (@CSWWC14) dinner at the Savoy on 31st (an appropriate drop to swing against the hull of the good ship Honest Grapes which launched the next morning).

Livernano Puro Sangue 1999: This 100% Sangiovese in a 50cl bottle from a small estate in Radda in Chianti was gathering dust in my wine rack but I wheeled it out to do battle with a ’99 Brunello Riserva from a favourite producer – Fuligni, over a casual kitchen supper with friends.  To my surprise it was the superior wine on the night.  I remember visiting the farm (previously an abandoned hamlet, bought by a Swiss developer) accompanying the late Patrick Sandeman on a buying trip ten years ago, where we enjoyed a memorable evening with highly amusing guests and a gracious and understated host.  Savouring the ’99 this summer, I raised a glass to Patrick, another example of his ability to squirrel out the best new wines in Tuscany ahead of the competition.