Assault on 1950 livers

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Today's Throwback Thursday was published last Monday. 

Since sending out my weekly email last Friday, I have had several puzzled recipients asking me to explain what I wrote in the subject line: Wine trade poisoning. 

This was not, I‘m afraid, a reference to a juicy new scandal but to the lingering and very personal effects on my brain and body of a wine-trade lunch last Wednesday. I belong to a small group of British wine professionals – traders and writers – who happen to have been born in 1950. I can’t remember who came up with the idea but in 2000 we decided to celebrate our half-century with a day trip to Paris on the relatively new Eurostar, bibulous lunch included. (Most of us used up our vintage 1950 wines on this trip.)

In 2010, to celebrate entering our seventh decade, we held a re-run kindly hosted by Simon Berry (1957), with additional guest Jasper Morris MW (also 1957), in the atmospheric first-floor boardroom of Berry Bros & Rudd overlooking London’s St James’s Street. By then our numbers had swollen somewhat, while our general physical state had arguably deteriorated. So it was decided that it would be safer, and more fun, to increase the frequency of our celebrations to every five years. Which is why our 1950s Babes (sic) lunch was set for last Wednesday. (Should you be at all interested in such self-indulgence, you can read about both the 2000 and 2010 celebrations in  1950 vintage lunch.)

Babes they may be but most unfortunately several 1950 babes fell by the wayside. The incredibly youthful-looking John Livingstone Learmonth is still regaining his strength from a debilitating illness. Anthony Sykes, past Master of the Vintners’ Company, is suffering from pneumonia. Bill Rolfe’s wife was, sadly, too ill to leave. And Joanna Delaforce, more puzzlingly, claimed not to be able to leave her builders. So our number was slimmed down to wine writer Rosemary George MW, David Hunter of WSET, ex CEO of Majestic Tim How, ex head of Sainsbury’s wine Allan Cheesman, fine-wine-trader-turned-luxury-rail-trip-organiser Tim Littler, ex Unwins Gerald Duff, ex Davys Tim Langley-Hunt and fifth-generation wine merchant Tony Stebbings, who was in charge of the organisation and, particularly, wines.

Perhaps we should blame him then for the ludicrous over-provision of liquid. We were all asked to supply a magnum, or two bottles. And when the day came, our numbers were down to the nine shown here (L to R before going in to lunch: Tim How, Tim Littler, Tim Langley-Hunt, David Hunter, me, Rosemary, Tony Stebbings, Allan Cheesman and Gerald Duff) plus our youthful host Simon Berry, who was appointed group photographer.

The food, listed below, was one of the finest meals I have ever had at a wine-trade table. The wines, described below, were sumptuous, and copious in the extreme. How Tony Stebbings, with co-conspirators, managed what he referred to the next morning as ‘a cleansing ale’ afterwards, I shall never know.

Cornish crab with avocado, kohlrabi, lime and lettuce foam 

Shoulder and fillet of lamb, gnocchi, capers and carrot 

Cheese and fresh fruit 

Poached peach with white chocolate, grapefruit and lemon

Admittedly I had to co-host a wine dinner for 16 that evening, which did not help my recovery, but the following day Nick and I hosted porty Alastair and Gillyane Robertson of The Fladgate Partnership for lunch at Portland to celebrate – wait for it – their 55th wedding anniversary. Toasted with a mere half of Krug Grande Cuvée and a bottle of Ch Musar 2001, it seemed a very gentle affair.

There is now even talk among the 1950 Babes of celebrating our 67.5th birthdays….

Ch Smith Haut Lafitte 2013 Pessac-Léognan

This magnum had apparently been given to Tony Stebbings specifically for this lunch when he visited the château recently. You can see me nursing it in the picture, It showed very well as an aperitif. Possibly a richer vintage would have demanded food but it had just the right amount of creamy Sauvignon fuminess for our purposes.

Drink
2015
2019
17

Dom Pinson Frères, Mont de Milieu Premier Cru 2002 Chablis

Magnum. Rosemary, Queen of Chablis, brought this mature magnum of golden but fresh wine. Tasted without food it seemed to be slightly green and tart but the tart accompaniments to the crab had the effect of filling out the palate of the Chablis that still has lots of life left in it. 

Drink
2010
2020
17

Ch Smith Haut Lafitte 2001 Pessac-Léognan

Magnum bought at the château by Tony Stebbings that is in absolutely great nick. Minerally rich with a dry finish. Transparent and sweet, its only flaw is a slightly sudden finish. And it may not have the stuffing for the very long haul.

Drink
2010
2022
17.5

Ch Palmer 1982 Margaux

Magnum. Dark ruby with a rust-colour edge. Fragrant, sweet and round though it doesn't taste as though it has that much life left in it now. 

Drink
1992
2017
17

Ch Léoville Barton 1976 St-Julien

Magnum. I bought this for the occasion from Reid Wines, to celebrate the first bordeaux vintage I bought en primeur, but have long since consumed the modest wines I was then able to afford. The wine now tastes just a tad tart, the fruit having receded a bit even in this famously long-lived wine.Very respectable but not charming and not absolutely thrilling. Not that different from the 1970 Mouton from bottle served next.

Drink
1990
2012
16.5

Ch Mouton Rothschild 1970 Pauillac

From two bottles bought by David Hunter at swashbuckling retailer Augustus Barnett after the oil crash of the early 1970s for £3.99 a bottle. Of course Mouton was a mere second growth when this was made!  Perhaps this examples certain taste similarities with fellow second growth Léoville Barton 1976. The fruit is receding and there is not a great deal of charm left. A hint of meatiness but none of Mouton's appealing spiciness and concentration. Drink up.

Drink
1990
2013
16.5

Ch Haut-Brion 1970 Pessac-Léognan

Magnum. Just a coincidence that we ended up with two 1970 first growths. And I'm delighted to have re-tasted this wine after a very disappointing bottle noted here.  This was very much alive and kicking – with lots of Haut-Brion minerals/warm bricks notes still and real intensity. Maybe it just slightly faded on the finish but this was a robust, very convincing bottle. Long lived too! Perhaps my favourite wine of this 1950 Babes lunch.

Drink
1980
2020
17.5

Dominus 1991 Napa Valley

Magnum. A really excellent wine. Rich, round and subtle with an attractive warm earthiness underneath but no suggestion of overripeness. Great balance and life. I think I underrated its longevity in the two previous notes on this wine.

Drink
2000
2022
18

Taylor's 1985 Port

Still going very strong from a bottle via a decanter. (The Robertsons served Fonseca 1985 at their dinner that night to celebrate Fonseca's bicentenary.) Lovely hazelnuts nose and soft, spicy and sweet on the palate. Tannins fully resolved but still vigorous too. 

Drink
2010
2025
18

Dom Pérignon, Brut 1976 Champagne

Magnum – our second from the heatwave summer of 1976 about which we 1950-ers enjoyed reminiscing.
This one seemed a little old, austere and fruitless to me – but this may simply have been the effect of tasting it immediately after Taylor's 1985 vintage port – in which case I apologise.

Drink
1990
2005
16