One type of wine dinner I really love to host – but haven’t done so in some years now – is “Mini Themes”. Here, rather than creating a single broad horizontal or deep vertical theme to frame all the bottles for the evening, we break these ideas into flights – in tonight’s case five. This approach has a few virtues. For a start, more variety of wine in an evening can lead to a bit more stimulation and discovery for the wine lover. It’s also easier to develop a complementary menu, as the wine styles flow easily with the dish matches. The only guiding principle is that the combination of wines makes some narrative sense within that flight. It might be a vertical of one wine producer, a horizontal of a region… but I also like with these mini themes to pull together wines with something in common, but that we wouldn’t otherwise connect at one dinner. Perhaps, from the art world we can create the term “wine diptychs”.
Let’s pause here for a moment to explore that source of inspiration. One of my favourite art books at home is one that accompanied Pace London’s joint exhibition of paintings by Mark Rothko and photographic seascapes by Hiroshi Sugimoto. Two artists of two provenance in two different generations working in two different media, but the connection is strong. I love this sort of experience in wine. So tonight we will explore that too.
We begin this evening somewhat classically with Piper Heidsieck’s ‘Rare’, a cuvée de prestige that deserves in moniker – only nine vintages have been released in four decades. The first – 1976, which we shall try this evening – was released in 1985 to celebrate the bi-centennial of Florens-Louis Heidsieck’s presentation of “a cuvée worthy of a queen” to Marie-Antoinette in 1785. So, our first flight is a trio of great vintages of Rare – 1976, 1988 and 2002.
Then the first of our “diptych” mini-themes – 1964: a bottle of Château Clos Fourtet from the St.-Émilion limestone plateau, recently released from the deep cellars of the estate, and an incredibly rare bottle of Château Musar from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. The vintage 1964 is renowned for both places. Tasting these two side by side will be very interesting.
Next two outside-of-France “first growths”, both of which have been vinous ambassadors for their respective countries for decades, both of which – stylistically to my mind – are acid-driven rather than tannin-driven. Both have traditionally demanded long-cellaring to see their virtues, and so here we have them in that almost universally great vintage, with a third of a century of age to their benefit, 1985 Vega Sicilia ‘Unico’ from Spain’s Ribera del Duero, and 1985 Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva. Despite differences in terroir and blend, both are made in similar long-wood-ageing approaches and with similar goals for longevity in mind. I often think of them together. It will be interesting to see how they compare in this flight.
The next diptych – centred around benchmark class Syrah/Shiraz, iconic representation of the Hermitage classic, and the Australian response, in adjacent classic vintages. Both, in my experience, are easily capable of delivering vitality and complexity with 50 or more years in bottle. These two are in their drinking apogee: 1982 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage ‘La Chapelle’, and 1981 Penfold’s Grange Hermitage.
Finally, a beautifully elegant pair from 1953. These two, in their individual ways, show what fine fruit, botrytis, and fresh acidity can deliver, even after two thirds of a century.
I’m looking forward to sharing this enjoyable and illuminating evening with you.
1976 Piper Heidsieck - Rare
2002 Piper Heidsieck - Rare
1988 Piper Heidsieck - Rare
1964 Château Clos-Fourtet
1964 Château Musar
1985 Vega Sicilia - Unico
1985 Biondi Santi - Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
1981 Penfolds - Grange
1982 Maison Paul Jaboulet Aîne - Hermitage 'La Chapelle'
1953 Domaine Huet - Vouvray Le Mont Moellëux Première Trie
1953 Château Doisy Daëne