© Linden Wilkie, 3rd April 2019
The Fine Wine Experience has been in this incredible space for a few weeks now, as the noise of those finishing touches takes place around us. But already, as every day sees another pallet of wine arrive from JAS and the shelves fill, something special has happened. Instead of seeing wines in the abstract – as words on an ipad list or search result in our database of stock – each day I walk past the bottles on the shelves. It’s a very different fine wine experience. The bottles and labels evoke ideas of what’s inside the bottle in the way that print cannot. Often a bottle will catch my eye and remind me of another experience.
SOME IN-STORE VALUE SELECTION
The Fine Wine Experience is perhaps better known for having a wide selection of fine and rare wines – perhaps now one of the largest in the world. But I’m proud that over the past few years we have built up a selection of great domaines offering really lovely wines at attractive, more everyday sorts of prices. In fact, we currently offer 362 different wines under HKD500, and 103 of those are on the shelves in our new store. That’s significant, because it is now much more practical than ever to come in for a selection of everyday drinking wines, fill a carry bag or two, and take them home. There are easily enough choices to do this on the spot.
I get to drink a lot of very very good wine in the course of my ‘work’, but for home drinking I’m a lot more grounded than many people might think. My wife and I drink/share a bottle for an apéritif or over dinner quite regularly, and we love to find great value for money.
2016 Domaine Georges Vernay Condrieu ‘Les Terraces de l’Empire’
This wine is currently my wife’s favourite. I can’t complain either – I love it. It’s dry and with the sort of body and weight you might expect from a good premier cru Meursault. This wine really isn’t one of those overweight sorts of Condrieu. But, of course, the grape here is Viognier, not Chardonnay, so you get some wonderful aromatics – stone fruit and flowers. It’s really enticing. The other night I picked out one of Vernay’s other Condrieus (there are three in the range), for a dinner at Test Kitchen (recommended) just half a block away. Well, between us we’d finished this before the meal really got going, and – crucially – four minutes before our shop closed at 7:30 p.m., so I was able to rush back and find something else to drink with the meal. I think part of the success is the 2016 vintage, which naturally lifts the fragrance and tempers the weight. It makes this wine refreshing and satisfying, with or without food.
2013 Domaine Bachelet Côte de Nuits-Villages
With some domaines we might be happy to choose and drink a wine from their range that is from a fancy appellation, a grand cru perhaps. But we might ignore their entry level wines. The wines are competent because the work is competent, but no more. And then there are domaines like Denis Bachelet, where the holdings are small and the work is absolutely fastidious for every wine they make (read: every vineyard they tend). Denis, working with his son Nicolas, makes a Bourgogne Rouge - that humblest of AOCs - that I seek out to drink. And then there is the Côte de Nuits-Villages - his next level up. This wine is a really lovely Gevrey-like wine for little more than half the Gevrey village-level price. Perhaps, Denis would cringe at me writing that because he is humble, and might state that his Côte de Nuits-Villages tastes like a Côte de Nuits-Villages (should)! But few are as good as this one.
I hope you’ll forgive me lingering here for a minute more of your time, but I know that this appellation confuses even the seasoned Burgophile sometimes. That’s because it’s a bit of a catch-all AOC for villages (or parts of villages) that haven’t yet made the premier league. We’re talking Fixin, Brochon, Prémeaux, Comblanchien and Corgoloin. But that’s the key – you’ll find these villages along the base of the same slopes of the Côte de Nuits as Nuits-St.-Georges, Vosne, Chambolle, Morey, Chambolle and Gevrey – indeed, they bookend these more illustrious names on that exalted limestone strip. The key is that the character of the wine is similar. But the Côte de Nuits-Villages label is a little too close in name I think to that other appellation you see sometimes – Hautes Côtes de Nuits. The clue is in the word ‘Hautes’, meaning high. This is an AOC to take in all those higher slope vineyards as you head up west through the combes from the more famous villages. There are some good wines made here too, but it's not the same expression as Côte de Nuits-Villages. The key with Côte de Nuits-Villages is to find a domaine you already really like that also makes one. You are likely to be in for a great value treat – especially from an address like Bachelet.
2008 Château Couvents des Jacobins
I had the pleasure to drink this wine late last year, and it reminded what great value St.-Emilion can be. This wine is Grand Cru Classé after all. In more recent years, though, St.-Emilion has become associated with the blockbuster style of high-scoring superstars. Those looking for elegance look away, which is a pity, because there are estates like Couvent des Jacobins delivering exactly the elegant style they are looking for. They are just not getting the attention. This 2008 Château Couvents des Jacobins is a lovely example that needs a bit of air (2 hours in the decanter in my view), and then you have something with depth and refinement… oh, and for just HKD280. Really.
THE FINE WINE ROOM (or, the room that needs a better name than Fine Wine Room)
The little palace of treasures in our shop and we call it humbly the Fine Wine Room. Surely it deserves a better name, for when you step in here your heart rate will quicken. Today I thought I would browse, just to see what might catch my eye – beyond the more obvious icons, which are all very well represented.
Seeing a 3-litre of Domaine Bachelet’s 2011 Charmes-Chambertin had a twin effect. The first was surprise. You simply never see Bachelet in anything other than 75cl. But the second, immediately following the first, was “oh, I WANT that. Don’t write about that one.” So, I won’t. So it hasn’t made my list of three…
1945 Charmes-Chambertin, Seguin-Manuel
Back in 2005 a young Thibaut Marion had just taken over the family domaine and négocient. The cellar was full of generations worth of treasure that he sold at Christie’s in Paris – vintages back to the turn of the 20th century. After attending a Christie’s pre-sale tasting at which I tasted this wonderfully spicy full 1945 Charmes-Chambertin, I organized a tasting for The Fine Wine Experience in London and we tasted it again. I went to the Paris sale and bought a dozen (!) bottles of it. Some went into further events, and some went to clients. But over subsequent years I got to try it again a few times and always loved it. I have not seen this wine for some years now, but seeing this bottle in the fine wine room brought back a lot of happy memories. If you are looking for something special, perhaps this will create a happy memory for you too.
2006 Philipponnat ‘Les Cintres’
Actually I was going to write about 1975 Dom Pérignon which I saw on the shelf as it’s one of my favourite DP vintages. But then this Philipponnat caught my eye. Have I been asleep? What is this ‘Les Cintres’ cuvée? It’s another benefit of browsing the shelves – sometimes you see something you just don’t know. There’s the chance for discovery. I was extra surprised too because I have long been a fan of Philipponnat’s jewel single vineyard Champagne – Clos des Goisses. So I thought I would have heard of this Les Cintres. But no, I had to look it up. Essi Avellan MW’s website came to my rescue (a name worth following in Champagne). So ‘Les Cintres’ comes from a little parcel within Clos des Goisses, from Pinot Noir (70%) and Chardonnay (30%) ripe enough to justify ‘Extra Brut’ (4.5g/l dosage). Quoting here what the maison told Avellan – “We make Les Cintres only a when we can take a little part away from the Clos des Goisses blend without lessening it. It is made as a testimony of what the pure Pinot Noir heart of Clos des Goisses can be. When it is made, on an average 2000-2500 bottles are to be expected.” Oh wow! – that’s exciting, as if Clos des Goisses isn’t exciting enough already. I must try this – I suggest you do too.
THE MAGNUM ROOM
Churchill is quoted as having said that “a magnum is the perfect format for two gentlemen having lunch… especially if one of them doesn’t drink.” Apocryphal I think, even if the sentiment is Churchillian. When I worked in London I once heard a variation on the theme – “A magnum is the perfect format for two gentlemen having lunch, provided there is a bottle of Champagne to start and a bottle of port to finish.” You get the idea.
A magnum isn’t simply two bottles in one piece of glass, it's something inherently more generous, whether it’s on the table, in our cellar or simply in our imagination. The magnum format gives an impression of indulgence, generosity, and bounteousness that two bottles can never match.
It’s also well known to be an ideal format for ageing wine – slower, (or to put it in the reverse perspective of buying a mature magnum – more youthful and potentially fresher than two bottles of the same wine). Yet it’s also small enough to be practical.
At The Fine Wine Experience we love magnums, so much so that we have devoted an entire room to them. And, since buying a magnum is more an attitude than a simple label choice, why not stop by our new store with a magnum in mind first. Then, make your magnum choice second, in the room.
1992 Dominus, magnum
As a scion of the powerful Moueix family, Christian knew that running the likes of Château Pétrus would be more about small edits, than grand re-writes. It’s no surprise then that he fell in love with California, taking his studies at UC Davis rather than Bordeaux. Though the first vintages (from 1983) share that ‘80s fine wine zeitgeist for the winemaker as the artist (signed labels in vogue, and Moueix went a step further, initially putting a new portrait of himself on each year’s label), his logic was nonetheless firmly Bordelais: it's terroirfirst. Dominus sits on an alluvial fan at Yountville, its Napanook vineyard already famous for decades thanks to the pioneering work of John Daniels, Jr. who included it in Inglenook. I quite like the early Dominus vintages, but they can be a little coarse – the tannins too dry. I think Moueix really hit his stride from about 1991. This 1992 is top drawer, sophisticated Napa Cabernet, and is superb value for money. So, I think if you don’t buy this, I will.
1990 Quintarelli Amarone Riserva, magnum
This 1990 is one of my top ten wines of all time, a grail wine. It’s as rich as velvet, yet as aromatically complex as any wine you might want to put it alongside. The wine also has enormous personality – no ‘international wine’ saminess here. Mike is so mean – he put this magnum right by the door to the magnum room, and so I glance at it everyday and dream of it! I suppose my point here isn’t so much the Quintarelli – it’s that when you have some of your ‘best wines ever’ already picked out, you should pursue them while you can in larger formats. You’ll thank yourself later that you did.