Nothing but the best?

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.

DP1998Several 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.

5 thoughts on “Nothing but the best?

  1. I concur, Quentin! No one can walk on tip-toes all the time. Everyday wine-drinkers (and everyday-wine drinkers) know better. Wine is something to enjoy, not to intellectualise too much.
    To read this kind of thoughts from a wine-educator and writer like you is both refreshing and encouraging. Wish there were more like you. I am sick and tired of the highbrow comments on wines no one ever has a chance to taste and the blasé approach of the so-called specialists who measure the quality of good wines by substracting points from a non existent perfection. Perfection is not my idea of wine, I look for personality, style – I even like some small faults when they add to the character of the wine.
    I love your comparison with books – it is exactly what I feel, there are days I would give of my entire collection of great masters for one small easy-reading and cunning book.
    I guess this is not the kind of things that will make us very popular in the poshiest circles of the wine intelligentsia, but hell, I will drink to that!

    Hervé Lalau
    Wine writer

  2. Thanks Hervé, that is great to hear. I was worried people would shoot me down!
    Most of the time drinking wine is about pleasure and enjoyment, so wines with personality do it for me.

  3. Hi Q. Hope you’re well.

    Interesting article, and I couldn’t agree more. I know your taste for the eclectic and oft forgotten – more people should take a gamble and experiment.

    I find that once you get over say £20-£30, the level of what is “best” diminishes so quickly. Although I’m a fan of DP, I was just as happy the other night drinking Green Point ZD. Special occasion wine, is for most of us, meant for a special occasion. If you drank it every day, you’d be bored of it. People want the names to show off – surely you’re drinking what’s in the bottle, not the label! If you switched the contents, how many people would actually know?

    I taste (drink) a lot of wine and I still find the real excitement in finding those rare gems which have character and tipicity, class in a glass, and don’t cost the earth.

    It’s great that you’re doing the legwork for some of us!



  4. Thanks Mark, that is a kind comment and I agree with you: People who only drink the stuff with famous labels should be made to drink some of what the rest of us have to endure from time to time.
    Anyway, look on this as a public service; tasting more brands very soon….

  5. Nice info! Very cool post.I have looked over your blog a few times and I love it.Doesn’t it take up a lot of time to keep your blog so interesting ?

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