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.
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.