I was thinking about top end wine the other day and these thoughts sort of flitted across my mind…
It is very easy to want the best and to insist on the best if, unlike me, you can easily afford it, but what is the best?
Is the best what fashion dictates? What your peers say it is? What the price would suggest or what your own senses tell you?
It is intriguing that some wines are widely believed to be the best of their type and that once someone has enough money to afford them then that is what you should buy. Cristal, Dom Perignon, Petrus, Grange, Château Latour and Screaming Eagle all fall into that category.
These are all very fine wines indeed, but does that mean that I will enjoy them more than so called lesser wines? The truth is that wines, that are any good at all, are really more different from each other rather than better than each other and to me different wines suit different moods and times.
Absolute quality in wine is hard to define, but most of us know it when we see it. Personal preference can get in the way of a true quality assessment sometimes, but give someone a glass of great wine and they usually know it!
I also know great literature when I read it and great music when I hear, but in all honesty I do not want to listen to great music all the time and I do not want to only read great literature either. I like to lighten the load by more often than not reading page turners – good ones, but still not great literature. I like to enjoy music and I like to enjoy reading.
A diet of solely great wine, ‘the best’, would be very hard for me to digest. I have lost track of the number of wineries whose more basic offering is the wine that I would rather drink, as opposed to taste for interest. Truly great wine suits a thoughtful evening of contemplation, of enjoying the wine and food, in the same way that reading Ulysses suits a book club and not a relaxing afternoon on the beach.
If you just want to enjoy the moment, enjoy the company and have a pleasant drink then a more frivolous wine with less depth and less structure is usually a better bet, just as the new Michael Connelly or Harlan Coben will give you more real pleasure than Dostoyevsky.
Several generations of rappers and stars have made people believe that the only Champagnes that it is possible to serve are Cristal or Dom Perignon. Both are great wines, but both deserve more contemplation than being served at any old time. They really need some age for the complexity to show and they cry out for considered enjoyment. Quaffing these wines is the equivalent of glancing at a Van Gogh as you run past. If the occasion is about enjoyment and pleasure, then Taittinger or Louis Roederer non vintage Champagne would be much more fun and enjoyable – as would a fine sparkling wine.
After twenty five years in the wine business I genuinely think that the we should ditch the expression ‘the best’ and replace it with ‘the most suitable’.
Wines change with foods, moods change and really great wines dominate the senses and often have too much structure, tannins or acidity going on to give simple, enjoyable pleasure that can be appreciated without concentration.
Often on holiday a fresh, local white wine enjoyed whilst looking at a beautiful sunset can be as great an experience as any of ‘the best’ wines. It provides an enjoyable back-drop and does not dominate the senses.
Sometimes the wine is what the occasion is all about, but much more often the people you are with is what it is all about.
So waiter, a bottle of your most suitable wine please.