James Hal­l­i­day shares the wines he en­joyed at his 80th birth­day cel­e­bra­tions

In­trigued to know the wines James Hal­l­i­day en­joyed for his 80th birth­day? Here he shares the en­vi­able line-up from his cel­e­bra­tion din­ner at the Sin­gle Bot­tle Club.

Halliday - - Contents -

IN­DIAN WED­DINGS are like no oth­ers, span­ning places, dates and times. So it was with my 80th birth­day that fell on Au­gust 14 last year. There were eight wine din­ners in all, some se­ri­ous af­fairs, with de­cid­edly ex­pen­sive wines and a de­gus­ta­tion menu to match; oth­ers light­hearted, al­beit framed with­out re­gard to cost. It was im­per­a­tive that I kept for­mer Prime Min­is­ter John Howard’s ex­hor­ta­tion to avoid tri­umphal­ism in the front of my brain, like­wise my self-im­posed fatwa that for­bade speeches and presents. This was some­thing for­got­ten by those re­spon­si­ble for the fi­nal din­ner, the Sin­gle Bot­tle Club of Novem­ber 4, 2018.

Four tow­er­ing mag­nums of Cham­pagne opened pro­ceed­ings, ev­ery one achiev­ing at least one first-pref­er­ence vote; the ’98

Krug re­ceived more votes than any one of its fel­lows. Its tex­ture, struc­ture, depth and lux­u­ri­ant mouth­feel was em­braced by a sil­ver thread of mouth­wa­ter­ing acid­ity.

The dish that ac­com­pa­nied the trio of Cham­pagnes served at the ta­ble set the bar high for Hunter Val­ley’s restau­rant Muse and its chef Troy Rhoades-Brown, par­tic­u­larly in con­text of the six dishes that fol­lowed. First up came the quar­tet of Do­maine Bernard Moreau Chas­sagne Mon­tra­chet 1er cru Les Gran­des Ru­chottes. The best was the beau­ti­ful def­i­ni­tion of the crisp, tight ’14, which was a great ex­am­ple of a su­perb vin­tage. Not that the ’11 was show­ing its age; long and in­tense with its spray of all things grape­fruit, con­trast­ing with the rich­ness of the stone fruit of the ’15, bal­ance its car­di­nal virtue. The cork gods had scalped the ’10. The barbecued More­ton Bay bug was moist and full flavoured, yet very dif­fer­ent to the sweetly juicy chicken of the fol­low­ing course. In each case the re­main­der of the dish added both vis­ual and flavour ap­peal, yet weren’t the least heavy. Alas, three of the four Meur­saults were de­stroyed by their corks (gross ox­i­da­tion or trichloroanisole) leav­ing the bright, fresh and lively 1996 Roulot Meur­sault Charmes to show what might have been. As a re­sult of lengthy dis­cus­sions be­tween Iain Riggs (COO of the Sin­gle Bot­tle Club) and my­self, we agreed the Bordeauxs would be the next flight. The only two vin­tages of the 1930s in Bordeaux to catch at­ten­tion are the frail ’34s and the tan­nic ’37s, ’38 spoilt by rain. Para­dox­i­cally, it was a very good vin­tage in Bur­gundy and Cham­pagne. On the other hand, the Bordeauxs were a dis­tin­guished col­lec­tion of first and sec­ond growth wines.

I was par­tic­u­larly con­cerned they might prove to be an an­ti­cli­mac­tic fin­ish to the evening, so we agreed to present them with a light dish of gently spicy flavours, and taste them be­fore the Bur­gundies. The cork gods struck the low­est-ranked wine so hard (the Chateau La La­gune) it didn’t make it to the ta­ble. Thus the brightly coloured Chateau Au­sone was the first in the lineup, its red fruits still on full dis­play. The Chateau Calon Se­gur was dark and earthy, with volatile acid­ity a ma­jor is­sue, and the Chateau Lafite was just cling­ing onto life by its fin­ger­tips.

Then came the two wines that joined forces with the Chateau Au­sone to save the bracket: the Chateau La Mis­sion Haut-Brion, with its va­ri­etal char­ac­ter in­tact; then the Chateau Mar­gaux,

THE CHATEAU CALON SE­GUR WAS DARK AND EARTHY, WITH VOLATILE ACID­ITY A MA­JOR IS­SUE, AND THE CHATEAU LAFITE WAS JUST CLING­ING ONTO LIFE BY ITS FIN­GER­TIPS.

flow­ery and beau­ti­fully bal­anced. The Chateau La­tour? Corked. These Bordeauxs had been specif­i­cally shipped from London for this event, and a four-from-seven suc­cess rate was no shame for 80-year-old wines.

And so to the Bur­gundies, each of the two brack­ets pre­sented with the youngest wine first. The ’09 was pow­er­ful and ex­pres­sive, with su­perb tex­ture and struc­ture, decades of life

(and growth) in front of it. The ’10 has al­ready de­vel­oped some of the spicy notes that will in­crease with age, its fresh­ness and length a fea­ture. The ’12 of­fered fra­grant red berry fruits on a base of sweet earth, but was the least of the five wines.

The ’14 had ter­rific drive, in­ten­sity and pre­ci­sion, a blood brother to the ’10. This is a vin­tage that has been over­shad­owed by 2015, but of­fers much now, even more with a decade or so more. The ’15 was the star of the bracket, a mag­i­cal mix of fruit, oak, tan­nins and acid­ity. Seduction now and for­ever.

The move back to ’99 was al­ways go­ing to chal­lenge, the depth of colour sim­i­lar to all the other DRCs of the vin­tage. It re­sented be­ing opened, with brood­ing dark fruits, briar and spice. There was a ques­tion around the ta­ble that low-level ox­i­da­tion may be at work. Then came the sur­prise of the bracket, the ’00, with its highly fra­grant and flo­ral bou­quet, the palate el­e­gant and vi­brant. The very cool and late ’02 vin­tage gave birth to a tangy wine, with whole-bunch in­clu­sion driv­ing the palate. It was at the other end of the spec­trum to the ’03, the cooked berry notes and the tan­nins a store­house for medium-range fu­ture de­vel­op­ment.

The bracket fin­ished with a won­drous ’05 liv­ing up to ex­pec­ta­tions, and then some. It had ev­ery­thing you could wish for – ce­les­tial fra­grance and a long, silky palate. For me, it was the wine of the night.

The 1938 Chateau d’Yquem had lus­cious orange mar­malade flavours and great acid­ity pro­vid­ing bal­ance. The spe­cially bot­tled ’38 Sep­pelts­field Para was 80 years young, with mouth­wa­ter­ing rich­ness and length. And the 1900 Co­gnac was great, but in the tur­moil of the fin­ish, I ne­glected to make a tast­ing note.

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