Take care this Christmas. Too strong a dish will overpower very fine winesby Barry Smith / December 10, 2015 / Leave a comment
When is it time to drink a truly great wine? The answer is not obvious. You may have a special bottle that you’ve been waiting for the right occasion to open. Wine is social but who will you choose to share this bottle with? Dinner companions may fail to notice how precious the wine is and simply glug it down. I saw this happen to the host of a large party of what seemed to be actors and filmmakers at a restaurant in the south of France. He had provided the table with decently aged bottles of Château Angelus. After he had tasted and the wine had been served, I witnessed him silently savouring the elegance of the wine, while the others noisily intoned to one another and quaffed the liquid in their glasses. The connoisseur looked on wistfully, wishing, perhaps, that at least someone would notice the beauty of the wine. I felt for him, and was tempted to join him for shared appreciation.
Another danger is telling people in advance that they are about to experience a rather special bottle, which runs the risk of it failing everyone’s heightened expectations. With wines, it is the moment that matters, which may be why the French say there are no great wines, just great bottles. And for all but a few people, a truly great bottle will speak for itself. It captures our attention, compelling us to appreciate each sip. It’s the wine’s beauty not the alcohol that is so intoxicating.
Such experiences and bottles are rare, and even better when unpredictable, though you can still plan for a special occasion by choosing a wine that you know will perform. To do so it has to provide a noticeable step up in quality, to offer greater complexity, more layers of interest. Such wines never overpower us: they are wines of finesse and elegance that give us as Alex Hunt, a wine writer and merchant, wisely put it: “A greater intensity of experience, not just more intense sensations.”
So when should you drink a special bottle? The festive season and the ushering in of a new year suggest themselves. But take care: these are moments for feasting and too strong a dish…