Looking Back, Looking Forward: From 2016 to 2017
As 2016 draws to a close I can’t resist some brief reflections on the year that has passed. I haven’t made my usual sequence of ‘Wine in Context’ posts (like these from 2016) this year, simply because I have had too much on my plate over the past few week to ruminate that much. It has been a madcap race to the end of the year! It makes me wonder why this time of year is often referred to as the ‘holiday season’ – it hasn’t seemed like much of a holiday so far.
The year has been rich with interesting bottles, but I have a confession to make. I find lists of “here are my best 25 bottles of the year” a little boring, and also a little detached. Wine is about context; sure, when it comes to critiquing wine to aid buying decisions, there isn’t really any valid method other than lists of tasting notes and scores (anyone who comes up with a new system that works is going to make a big name for him/herself very quickly). But when it comes to looking back over the year for your ‘best bits’, is that really the way we should think about wine?
Reflecting on 2016 I think the ‘wine moment’ that really stands out for me was my visit to meet Alphonse Mellot Senior (pictured below) in July. I spent perhaps three hours in his company, scampering through the Alphonse Mellot cellars in the heart of Sancerre, enthralled by his anecdotes and his confidently voiced opinions. The fact that the wines were fabulous also helped of course. And what is more, these aren’t ultra-rare unicorn wines from the 1940s, as anybody with a few quid can buy and drink his wines. I necked the entry-level 2015 Sancerre Blanc just last week, widely available, very affordable, and it was great. Although it was perhaps the 2012 Cuvée Edmond that most impressed during the visit, as well as a whole host of red wines.
Was there an equivalent wine moment in Bordeaux this year? Yes, and I think my visit to Château Cos d’Estournel in December was the highlight. It wasn’t the lunch I shared with Aymeric de Gironde and Dominique Arangoïts that made the visit so enjoyable, nor was it the wines we drank (2008, 2005, 2003 and 1989) even though there were three great wines there. I enjoyed the visit so much firstly because we took a really good tour of the vineyards together, something that is rare during a visit in besuited-Bordeaux. And because it was great to taste the different varities of 2016 from vat; this is a vintage with a lot of promise, a year in which Bordeaux seems to have done rather well when much of France was blighted by the spring frosts.
These were my two highlights of 2016, but there were lots of other great wine moments. In the Loire I enjoyed calling in on Henri Bourgeois, where I expanded my knowledge of Sancerre’s ability to age, I raced down to La Tour Saint Martin to taste the latest from Bertrand Minchin, tasting the 2014s and 2015s with Matthieu Baudry was great fun (and the wines promise a lot….I mean, in 2015, a lot), and I found the same joy at Charles Joguet. I called in on Domaine de la Noblaie during the summer, and just before harvest, both visits informative and fun, and I enjoyed checking out the vines with Benoit Amirault too. In Bordeaux I had a fine vertical tasting and dinner at Château Lagrange that sticks in the memory, but on the whole I try to avoid the boozy party scene in this region. There is a continued potential for conflict of interest here I wish to avoid.
I had a few good dinners during the course of the year, the most memorable at La Tour in Sancerre, and Social Wines & Tapas in London. Yes, there are plenty of stuffy restaurants that offer more ‘fine’ dining experiences than that second choice (and I dined at a few), but it was one of those dinners where everything went so well, and the meal seemed to build in a crescendo of delights, that it left a lasting impression on my taste buds.
As for other significant developments during 2016, it was great to see that Richard Leroy seems to be able to continue hitting the bull’s eye with his zero-sulphur wines; I must check in on the 2011 (the first zero-suphur vintage) sometime soon. I was delighted by the revitalisation of Domaine aux Moines by Tessa Laroche (pictured above), and by my discovery of Domaine Jaulin-Plaisantin. I enjoyed greatly trips to London to taste on Decanter panels (the Decanter World Wine Awards and three panel tastings for the magazine – the most recent, looking at Loire Chenin Blanc, yet to be published), and looking back to Bordeaux 2006 at Ten Years (a large tasting) and Loire 2006 at Ten Years (not such a large tasting), as well as many more recent vintages of course.
I capped the year in a fabulous manner by buying a house in the Loire Valley. It is about 30 minutes south of Chinon. It has been a long and tiring process, co-ordinating a bank, an insurance company, an agent and a notaire, but we have at last jumped the final hurdle. We signed yesterday, December 30th (hurrah!!). So there is a lot to look forward to in 2017, with my first trip out to Winedoctor House (I did think about rechristening it as that, but actually settled for something more generic) set for January 7th. Looking forward to 2017, expect more reports from Chinon, Bourgueil and St Nicolas de Bourgueil…..
Best wishes for a Happy New Year to all!