Thirst Things First
In his inaugural wine column for Spear’s, cellar dweller Marlon Abela brandishes his corkscrew and sets out as he means to continue with a decent Romanée-Conti
WINE BECAME A very important part of my life at the comparatively tender age of eleven. It all began when my father was entertaining an old friend for dinner and had opened a bottle of Château Margaux of the great 1961 vintage (the mark of a true friendship). I was sitting beside him when he turned to me and said: ‘Son, you need to understand the importance of this in your life,’ and he poured some into my glass to taste. As I lifted it, he reached out and stopped me. ‘No. Just smell it first.’ That was the start of the wonderful journey through life that was to come.
Since then, wine has become an inherent part of both my business and personal life. Fortunately I am able to filter my passion into my restaurant and fine wine business at work and I am privileged enough to be able to include great food and wine in my private life. Some may say it’s an obsession, and it’s difficult to argue otherwise! In this column I am going to try to help you to get as much pleasure from wine as I do.
I’m always looking for new discoveries, and today great wines are produced in many different parts of the world. What attracted me to writing this column is that Spear’s has given me complete freedom to express my opinion. I will be writing not as a wine critic but as a seasoned consumer. It will be a very personal journey based on bottles opened and drunk at private dinner parties or with groups of friends. I score wine out of 20, based on my initial expectations, how the wine is drinking currently and its potential for ageing.
One of the prevailing things about wine is that you often expect ‘great’ and are regularly disappointed, or the other way around. I’m lucky enough to have opened and tasted some of the greatest wines in the world. Typically, I like to compare wines side by side, either by vintage, grape variety or producer. A generous friend of mine recently treated me to a La Tâche ’96 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, arguably the greatest domaine in Burgundy. ’96 was heralded and positioned as a great vintage in both Burgundy and Bordeaux, yet in my opinion it has not lived up to expectations in either region.
Both areas suffered a drought of fine vintages after 1990, so ’95 and ’96 were over-hyped somewhat. The wine was beautiful on the nose as you would expect, with aromas of ripe red fruit, meat and a little vegetal, however to me it was a little short on the palate and didn’t have the harmony I expected (17.5/20). Simply put, it didn’t have the ‘wow’ factor.
We went on to open the Romanée St Vivant 2001 from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, which by all accounts should be the lesser wine. We were to discover that it wasn’t (18/20). 2001 Burgundy and Bordeaux are underrated. Aubert de Villaine (wine producer and co-owner of DRC) rates the 2001 as one of the most successful vintages, even more so than the highly esteemed 2002. With a beautiful pinot noir nose as you would expect, the pinot was of a purity, elegance and harmony that I have rarely come across. The wine for a Burgundy was velvety with an incredible length and was drinking perfectly. It is the purity of pinot noir that makes it so great, and the element which ardent wine collectors seek to find but seldom do.
I’ve tasted all the wines of the ’99, ’02 and ’03 Domaine vintages side by side, and it seems to me that the Romanée St Vivant is growing from strength to strength and on some occasions is showing better than the Richebourg — the ‘Grande Dame of Burgundy’. When I want to spoil myself, this is what I drink. Yes, these are the greatest and some of the most costly wines in the world, but the prices are sometimes inexplicable: La Tâche ’96 is £1,600, while the Romanée St Vivant 2001 is £650. I admit that this isn’t the kind of wine one would typically read about in a wine column, but that is the perspective and angle that I will bring to the table.
Marlon Abela’s Recommendations of the Season:
Wines that are currently available, drinking well but also have potential for ageing and have been somewhat overlooked
1. Domaine Georges Vernay Condrieu Terrasses de l’Empire 2009 Aromatic, bold, complex, a serious alternative to a Chardonnay.
2. Domaine Raveneau Montée de Tonnerre Chablis 1er Cru 2008 Pure, vibrant but multi-layered Chardonnay. This wine has all the aromatic qualities of the perfectly made Chablis.
3. Domaine Jacques Prieur Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru 2007 Aromas of damson, liquorice and a hint of smokiness. A very pure expression of pinot noir. Phenomenal value for money.
4. Château d’Ampuis Côte-Rotie La Mouline 2006 Packed with fruit and spices with a prune-like nose, aromas of black pepper and olive, excellent chewy texture, a wine on steroids!
5. Château Latour 2001 Perhaps the best Bordeaux of this vintage. Quintessential Latour, overshadowed by 2000, 2003, 2005. At a recent tasting, many preferred the 2001 over the 2000.
More information on the wines and prices is available at winesearcher.com