Top Wines of 2011 – Part One

Top Wines of 2011 – Below are the first 6 of my 12 most memorable wine experiences of the year (not quite one each month as notes suggest March was drinkably forgettable). It was tough narrowing the shortlist but I have concentrated on the those which were a privilege as well as a pleasure and also have not included multiple vintages or cuvees of the same producer. In several cases the setting may have influenced the experience but, as any wine is improved by good company, so even great wine can be enhanced by circumstance.

WineChap (@WineChapUK)

January

Latour 1953: Two weeks in to 2011, the bar was set high for best dinner party of the year c/o Nicole & David Williams (@CriticalCouple) who invited Jason Atherton to prepare truffled versions of dishes due to appear on the opening menu of Pollen Street Social in April (UK’s fastest ever Michelin winner, BMW restaurant of the year). Alongside was a remarkable catwalk parade of stunning wines including Cristal ‘83, Unico 94 (both from the WineChap cellar), Pichon Lalande, Margaux, Petrus, and two vintages of Latour – but it was the appropriately truffley ‘53 which topped the bill.

April

Dom Perignon Oenothèque 1975: Enjoyed at The Ledbury for my birthday lunch (the day after it won highest new entry in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, second in UK only to Fat Duck) alongside a special menu prepared by Brett Graham for the occasion. I was being hosted by Pascal Tingaud, Dom Perignon’s chef, who memorably remarked that his starting point for pairing Dom Perignon with dishes was the emotion the wine creates.

May

Roxanich Malvazija Antica 2006: Any wine that can be quite so compelling after 48-hrs with no sleep, wine pairing feasts either side of a wine fair (Croatia’s Vinistra), a bevy of varying lethal local digestifs and then a cigar matching must be special. Mladen Roxanich’s biodynamic 170-day skin contact Mavasia (introduced to me, alongside Mladen, surreally at 2am by Hunter & Frankau’s Simon Chase) was not only a sublime match to a Romeo y Julieta Exhibition No #4 but has continued to impress during subsequent, more orthodox tastings.

Mark Haisma Clos de Beze Grand Cru 2009: Mark (ex Yarra Yering) is a self-confessed ‘acid-freak’ – thus lover of crunchy cool-climate Pinot Noir, and makes a commendable Bourgogne Rouge and some terrific, sinewy Gevrey and 1er Cru NSG. Carefully selecting parcels from growers he works with in the Cotes de Nuits to make his own wines, ’09 was his first Grand Cru vintage – and what a year to pick. Although young, my tasting note for his Clos de Beze reads ‘power and almost scary intensity, Cardinal Richelieu in a goblet’.

June

Clos des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2000: The highlight for me of Extreme Wine, La Verriere’s intensive wine course in Provence, where I was reporting on proceedings for Twitter and compering the final night party. After 5-days of fine wines chosen by Clive Barlow MW, guest of honour Paul-Vincent Avril brought some magnums from his acclaimed estate to dinner but it was the completeness of his unoaked white which exceeded all expectation.

July

Penfolds Grange 1966: Dublin’s Patrick Guilbaud restaurant was the scene for an extraordinary tasting this summer – a pairing of the ‘Super-Sixes’ – Dom Perignon Oenotheque and Penfold’s iconic Grange from ‘66, ‘76, ‘86 and ’96. I was en route from Sweden to Pamplona for the fiesta but could not miss such an exclusive event, hosted by Penfolds’ head winemaker Peter Gago and Dom’s eonologue Vincent Chaperon. Although both bottles of the 100-point ’76 Grange were out of condition – ‘best enjoyed in an aromatic ethnic restaurant’, the ’66 – all prunes and perigord truffles left in the sun, fattened in the glass to more closely resemble Grand Cru Burgundy. A perfect mature wine.