There is a certain amount of expectation when you’re a wine merchant that every bottle you bring to a dinner party or give as a gift is going to be exceptional. We try as many wines as we can but it’s not to say we have tried them all and sometimes we like to experiment on others rather than always ourselves. Our palates are used to dissecting wines based on their quality but taste is always subjective. We therefore try to gauge from those around us what else a wine can offer. This has been known to backfire and we have been given sideways looks for our poor choices. Great research for us but perhaps a less enjoyable experience for our chosen guinea pigs.
In July, when we were afforded a small amount of freedom, we escaped to Burgundy for a weekend to stay with friends. Not keen to take a flight at this time we decided a long drive through France would be a pleasant way to spend a few days and it gave us an opportunity to pack some “interesting” wines to share with our hosts.
Our trip to Burgundy happened to coincide with the hottest week they had ever experienced, with temperatures reaching 41°C. We drove through thirsty looking vineyards in the midday sun and villages empty aside from a few local cats searching for shade. Every time we opened the car door and contemplated a brief walk we were met by waves of desert heat that made us cower back into the air conditioned car. It was the sort of weather that provides no respite even at 2am. No cooling breeze emerges once the sun has set and no amount of stone flooring or fans are going to cool you down. Your best bet is to head to the freezer aisle of the supermarket and spend at least 40 minutes searching for frozen peas.
Our evening was spent on a terrace overlooking the Clos de la Chapelle vineyard, discussing the finer details of the region, whilst fighting off the local wasps. The wines we had so eagerly packed into the boot of our car had been slowly cooking throughout the day and our carefully curated offerings were feeling far less appealing.
A chilled, thirst quenching glass of Meursault improved things but our next offering was less successful. A 1971 Leoville Las Cases (a risk but we like to see how certain vintages have aged as they can surprise you). I shan’t put the abysmal outcome of this bottle down to the heat it was exposed to, I fear this was already a goner by the time we packed it. Brown and muddy in colour it turned to chocolate liquor the minute it hit the glass. There was barely a hint of fruit left and the cloying sweetness left us without any doubt of its demise.
It proceeded to get worse when a bottle of Volnay that we had thought it would be amusing to return to Volnay had become so warm it tasted like glühwein.
Our reputation was hanging in the balance when we were rescued by a Gran Reserva Rioja that tasted as though it had been made for that exact moment in time. The clear defined flavours of the Rioja cut through the warm, dense air that had been shrouding everything else. It had a brandy like finish that lifted the fruit from the glass and in turn balanced the oak. There was acidity enough to keep it fresh but a depth and complexity that made you stop and savour each mouthful. The heat became bearable, the food more flavoursome, and the setting more relaxed. A collective sigh, if you will, at the arrival of a wine that wasn’t intimidated by the unexpected weather.
2001 Marques de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Rioja Gran Reserva Especial DOCa £150 per bottle
Marques de Murrieta is a well-known producer from the region with a good reputation behind them. The Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva is their flagship wine and is usually well received. The 2001 surpassed our expectations though. The amount of age a Gran Reserva needs is a heavily debated subject with some believing that at least 20 years is necessary. In their defence, this wine felt like we opened it just as it was beginning to show its true colours. Perhaps five years ago it might not have felt so spectacular.