Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is the memorable and entirely believable title of Hunter S Thompson's classic drug-fuelled novel of the early 1970s. Fear and Loathing in Bern, the sedate capital of Switzerland, sounds rather less probable, but could well qualify as a suitable title for this account of a recent tasting and wine dinner I took part in. It was also, I must confess, drug-fuelled.
This was not just any old tasting. This was billed by its organisers Rene and Malene Dehn (pictured above left) as 'The! Wine Tasting of the Year'. And they had good reason. In fact the line-up of wines was so exceptional that they even attracted possibly the most spoilt palate in the universe, that of John Kapon of New York-based fine-wine auctioneers Acker Merrall & Condit to fly in from Mallorca where he had been sampling the delights of a famous collector.
We were promised such stars in the fine wine firmament as Latour 1961 and 1945, Pétrus 1961 and 1947, Romanée-Conti itself from 1923 (fewer than 700 bottles produced) as well as a quite staggering array of other non-pareil bottles.
Dehn is a Dane who made a telecommunications fortune but is now well and truly bitten by the wine bug. This event was a follow up to another extraordinary event that had taken place in the royal hunting lodge outside Copenhagen two years ago. It had qualified as one of the greatest and certainly most varied, tastings and wine dinners that I had attended (more Latour 1961, my dear). In the interim Rene and Malene had moved to Bern and offered me the choice of Bern or Copenhagen for the follow-up event, following the same format of a tasting of the finest wines for a select (fee-paying) few followed by a long, multi-course dinner with more extremely fine wines for a rather larger number of participants.
The Dehns had meanwhile been amassing not only more great wines but an impressive amount of practical experience. Malene had worked the 2010 vintage with F X Pichler and Krutzler in Austria's Wachau. They had attended wine classes and conferences around the world. And when I contacted them the day after the Bern event, they were already in the vineyards of Spinetta in Piemonte helping with deleafing. Rene has also taken a share in the sumptuous Helsinki-based wine magazine Fine.
I felt particularly closely involved in this event - not just because I had been given the chance to decide on its location but because four of the greatest wines of my birth year 1950 were to be served, of which I had never tasted the Lafleur, Pétrus nor Conseillante. Not only that but in their sales pitch for the event, the Dehns had written: 'Join the "Queen of Wine" Jancis Robinson. We are hoping she once again can award some of the wines the very rare 20/20 points, as she did amazingly three times in a row at the last event.' No pressure then.
When I saw the line-up of dozens of great wines, especially the truly fabulous ones to be served at the pre-dinner tasting, I changed my flight to an earlier one. No point in risking missing a drop of these rarities because of an unexpected delay on the tarmac. So, rather than my usual split-second timing, I was able to check in to the newly renovated Schweizerhof Hotel opposite Bern station more than an hour before the 4 pm start of the tasting. Quel luxe!
This gave me lots of time to change into the suggested evening dress and to check the usual incoming tide of emails before going along the corridor to the Dehns' suite, where the tasting was to be held. As usual, I took my laptop so that I could record my notes electronically. I do this whenever it is practically feasible because, as someone who publishes thousands of wine reviews each year on my website, it saves so much painstaking transcription.
The tasting was extraordinary. Great wine succeeded great wine, starting with Dom Pérignon 1961 and a bottle of 1907 Heidsieck champagne salvaged from the bottom of the Baltic. And there were goodies that the Dehns had not even mentioned either on their website www.vinovisitas.ch or in emails to me. For example, to make a bridge between three truly outstanding red burgundies (including a 1928 Tâche and a 1979 Cros Parantoux) and an 1830 port we were served two wines blind. The first was so sweet and rich I wondered whether we weren't in Iberia. It was Mouton 1945! The next, if you please, was Lafleur 1947.
By the time we were ready to move down to join everyone else for the 11-course dinner and another 17 wines, we had already tasted some of the most famous wines of the world. And, perhaps significantly, without a spittoon in sight.
Even I would not bring my laptop to a posh dinner table so I left it in my room and swapped over to recording my impressions on my blackberry. At midnight, having most recently compared Yquems 2001 and 1976, even before the Taylor 1970 was served, I made my excuses and wove up to my room.
Ensuring I got the 7 am train to Paris the next morning (for yet another, quite unrelated, tasting) was no fun. I slept most of the way and then made the most of my next engagement, with Bollinger RD.
It was not until that evening that I thought I would review my notes from the tasting the night before. And then the most terrible thing happened. Or rather did not happen. I could find no sign of my tasting notes taken in the hotel suite on my laptop whatsoever. All those notes on exactly what was written on the label of the 1928 Tâche and which ship the 1907 champagne was dredged up from, let alone my carefully wrought attempts to describe wines that I may well never taste again - gone for ever.
Many hours of frantic calls with my IT-savvy son followed. He even came to meet us at London's Eurostar station on our return to check my computer himself. I am usually fastidious about saving what I write but can only assume that a combination of excitement and inebriation meant that I neither created nor saved a document for those notes. (Yes, I did check the recycle bin, and everywhere else.)
Ah well. Fortunately Rene was better at keeping his notes. And I was able to use them as back up for my own memories so as to put together a collection of tasting notes here and here. He gave two 20/20s, by the way, one for Latour 1945. My own was for the totally glorious Ch Lafleur 1950 - well worth flying to Switzerland for, however little I deserved it.