Determined 1950s lunching

1950s Babes lunch bottles 2021

1 January 2022 Tony Stebbings reminds me, 'One very small point: you mentioned that our last get together was 2015. In fact we did meet up again  in January  2018 as we decided to meet every two and half years. That was the lunch where  you brought the magnificent  magnum of Carinena Garnacha [unearthed by Ferran], definitley the wine of the lunch!!'

30 December 2021 We're republishing this free as part of our Throwback Thursday series.

27 December 2021 Imagine this, plus the magnum of champagne at the beginning and the port at the end…

The equivalent of 18 bottles between eight people strikes me as a bit excessive, non? And when I tell you that the occasion was a weekday lunch…

But you may remember that the group of UK wine-trade professionals born in 1950 to which I belong is far from faint-hearted and does not lack thirst. We try to get together to celebrate significant years in our teeter through life. The first was a trip to Paris for lunch on what was then the new Eurostar train under the Channel. And we have tried to meet up every 10 years since then. But at the gathering in 2010 we decided we were all getting so old that we’d better meet every five years. Just to be on the safe side, you understand, so as not to leave too many bottles undrunk. So we met again in 2015, also in the handsome boardroom of Berry Bros & Rudd thanks to hospitality extended by then-chairman Simon Berry, since retired.

To celebrate the year in which we all turned 70 we were planning a trip to Bordeaux, including lunch at Ch Palmer. But this was 2020 and you may remember why this, along with myriad other celebrations, had to be cancelled (like its successor planned for 2021) so we were determined to meet for a lunch in London, at least, in 2021 and we duly met at the end of October. The Vintners’ Company in the City of London kindly provided us with their boardroom, Searcys chef and efficient serving staff (for which we eventually and willingly paid).

As usual, I bleated in advance that it was a bit ridiculous to suggest that each of us provide a magnum or two bottles for the lunch. As usual, my concerns were waved aside. I suppose you don’t get to survive so many decades in the wine trade unless your ability to metabolise alcohol is superhuman. (And I should make clear that by no means all bottles were drained.)

Ten of us were expected and most had sent their wines on in advance. But on the morning, Joanna Delaforce cried off because of a terrible cold and so was unable to bring the bottle of Henriques & Henriques 20-year-old Terrantez madeira (of which we have four appreciative tasting notes in our database) advertised on our menu card. Then Anthony Sykes, who had already dropped off his magnum of champagne, had suddenly to be on childminding duty because his latest grandchild had just been born, so that was 18 bottles between just eight of us.

1950s lunch menu at Vintners' Hall late 2021

As usual, I was hard at work at my desk beforehand and ran things so fine that I was halfway to the tube station before realising that I’d forgotten the two bottles I’d so carefully left by the front door (a true sign of senility), so had to dash back for them. But when I got to Vintners’ Hall, because of our reduced numbers, it was, surely sensibly, decided to open just one of my bottles containing Coche-Dury’s distinctive style of white burgundy.

My fellow Master of Wine, fellow wine writer and fellow female ‘1950 Babe’ Rosemary George provided a magnificently preserved magnum of Chablis (she’d managed to find one from 1950 for our Parisian foray) while Tim Littler, the most generous wine donor, made up the triumvirate of white burgundies with a Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne 1992 that, like all of us, was showing its age a bit.

Before we sat down I had been asked to check the line-up of reds, most in magnum decanters and – our livers may have groaned – they were all in good nick. The three fully mature clarets were a real treat – from three very disparate decades but all at full tilt of maturity. Allan Cheesman’s Alter Ego de Palmer 2006, perhaps supplied to remind us of the cancelled (postponed?) lunch in Margaux, was just right for drinking now, as was David Hunter’s Ch Léoville Barton 1985, so dear to Anthony Barton, and, only just past its best, the UK-bottled Ch Beychevelle 1961, kindly provided by Gerald Duff. (Apparently the Léoville Barton had been chosen by Allan Cheesman and Tony Stebbings from a long list of David Hunter’s wine collection.)

Tim How’s Napa Valley Cabernet that followed, no matter its impeccable credentials, inevitably seemed too much, like a champion wrestler intruding on an old ladies’ tea party. Tony Stebbing’s magnum of 1994 Châteauneuf, on the other hand, rather faded into the background.

By this stage we had nobly worked our way through poached rainbow trout with the white burgundies and Lake District lamb with the reds, moving on to cheese. As for conversation, it was inevitably wine-oriented, or perhaps more wine-trade-oriented. David Hunter, most of whose working life was spent at the WSET, is our in-house wine-trade historian and, thanks to him, I made a note of when Peter Max Sichel of New York will turn 100, on 12 September 2022, and listened to many a story.

Now it was the turn of four strong and sweet wines, two of them carrying our very own vintage. Rosemary had found a 1950 Rivesaltes Ambré from Domaine de Rancy (I have enjoyed the 1998 currently offered by The Wine Society recently) and Tim Littler (again) a bottle of 1950 Ch Gilette, Crème de Tête, the hugely distinctive Sauternes that’s long-aged in concrete not oak.

Tim Littler used to run wine merchant Whitwhams, specialised in Massandra Crimean wines, and now runs a luxury rail travel company – when the pandemic permits. He provided a bottle of 1880 port with quite a story attached (see the tasting note below). After the lunch he was off to Switzerland to meet up with one of his parties on the Orient Express. He’s not the only one of our group in tourism; Tony Stebbings, who organised this lunch, runs with his son Adam Smooth Red, a company specialising in bespoke tours of Bordeaux.

Tim How, ex head of Majestic, spends much of his time sailing nowadays and looked very happy and healthy. Ex Unwins Gerald Duff retired from the wine trade a year ago and now volunteers at his local hospital. Allan Cheesman, forever associated with Sainsbury’s wine department, which he used to run, describes himself now as ‘grandad and grumpy old man’ as well as non-executive director of Vindependents, on the Awards Supervisory Board of WSET and a senior judge at the International Wine Challenge and Decanter World Wine Awards.

Perhaps we women are the most active of our group. Rosemary’s latest book on wines of Roussillon is reviewed by Tam here and, I hope, I don’t have to explain how hard I still work. But I love it!

Dom Coche-Dury 2012 Bourgogne

Cool, dry and tight with lots of struck-match effect. Super-fresh yet with masses of fruit in the middle. It was a pleasure to introduce my fellow 1950-ers to this producer. I think they were impressed, not least by the quality of this example from such a lowly appellation – but then I would argue that the variation in quality and style of Coche-Dury's wines is so much narrower than the variation in price.

Drink
2018
2026
17 +

Dom Louis Latour 1992 Corton-Charlemagne

Very deep gold. A little soft and round and definitely on the way down but actually rich, fun and satisfying – so long as you're not looking for a savoury, tense white burgundy.

Drink
2007
2018
16.5

Ch Palmer, Alter Ego de Palmer 2006 Margaux

Magnum. Notably smooth and very Margaux. Very flattering and sumptuous to drink now. Sweet start and perhaps just starting to dry out but still lovely.

Drink
2014
2024
17

Ch Léoville Barton 1985 St-Julien

Magnum. I think this is a particular favourite of Anthony Barton's as it was the first wine he made without any intervention from Uncle Ronald. It was certainly looking gorgeous. Silky tannins and cedary fruit. Special, mellow and unusually smooth for this wine. Bone-dry finish. A treat to drink Léoville Barton with so much age on it even if the fruit may be slightly fading.

Drink
1998
2026
17

Ch Beychevelle 1961 St-Julien

A 60-year-old château-bottled wine generously donated by Gerald Duff.
Really lovely: soft and fully evolved with just a hint of brown sugar. What a treat! Even if it's past its peak.

Drink
1980
2020
17.5

Paul Hobbs, Beckstoffer Dr Crane Vineyard 2012 Napa Valley

Magnum. After all those subtle relics from Bordeaux, it was inevitable that this powerful young Californian would seem a bit brash and sweet. This is a famous vineyard and there's a hint of mint. I didn't check the alcohol level but am pretty certain it was high.

Drink
2017
2027
16.5

Rancy, Ambré 1950 Rivesaltes

A long-aged vin doux naturel made from Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris.
Lots of rancio character. Deep and rich. Very clean. Treacley and pruney flavours. Lots of sweet, strong pleasure.

Drink anytime
17

Whitwhams, Millennium Port 1880 Port

Donated by Tim Littler who used to run Whitwhams. Cristiano van Zeller (ex Quinta do Noval) discovered this 1880 port in 1999 at a winery in Regua that was closing following the death of the owner. Cristiano was interested in acquiring stone lagares (foot-treading tanks) for his new winery but they also asked if he was interested in any old stock. Most was uninteresting but at the rear of the winery were three 20,000-litre casks, two empty but one containing 10,000 litres of 1880 port, 10,000 litres having evaporated during the intervening 119 years. The intention was to bottle the wine as 100 years old (for the millennium) but that was not possible. According to the Port Wine Institute it could only be called 'over 40 years', so the name 'Millennium Port' was chosen and the wording, agreed with the PWI, on the back label. The wine was bottled in 2002 by Niepoort after adding 5% of their 1945 vintage.
Dark blackish green colour. Rancio-issimo! Very pungent and concentrated. More of a curiosity than a pleasure. Great story!

Drink anytime
15.5