The world has changed a lot since the charismatic André Simon founded the International Wine & Food Society in 1933. Almost everything that we take for granted, as far as gastronomy is concerned, didn’t exist. There weren’t celebrity chefs, households generally existed on the basis of one comprehensive cookbook, and the range of produce available was extremely limited. Not only that, but the globalisation of national cuisines hadn’t happened. Just think, Britain had to wait another two decades for Elizabeth David to bring Mediterranean Food into ordinary people’s homes!
Apart from the undeveloped state of British ‘cuisine’ there was also the serious issue of bleak economic times and impending war. Those wanting access to epicurean experiences needed to form their own Society, but chasing butter at the apparent expense of guns didn’t make them popular.
These days almost any wine or food experience is available to anyone with a functioning bowel and valid credit card. The imperative for a wine and food society is different to what it used to be.
I don’t think I’m alone in having questioned my membership of the International Wine & Food Society (IWFS). However, sufficient ‘good’ bottles have been shared with fellow members who also happen to be friends that the dips have been overlooked.
Last night’s IWFS tasting of ten wines from the 2000 vintage was one of the very good reasons why I stick around. It’s not that I haven’t had the opportunity of drinking wines as good (or better) than this. The thing is, if those ten wines had been in my possession they would never have lasted ten years. So, the IWFS is like a unit trust, or mutual fund, for pleasure. Every year the Society buys wines which it cellars until an appropriate opportunity arises. For people who regard rainy days as a reason to drink red wine, rather than a motivator for thrift, it’s a wonderful arrangement.
While I was disappointed by several of the wines, having the opportunity of having ten ten-year-old wines was fantastic.
My favourite wine could have been Champagne le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs, a gorgeously rich wine, with a fine acidic backbone. By comparison with non-vintage Moët it’s a bargain at around R400.
A pair of Burgundies, from Armand Rousseau and Domaine Jacques Prieur, followed the Champagne. I thought they were quite flat, flabby and unexciting, even going so far as to suggest that none of those praising them would have done so if the labels had been unknown.
By comparison, a pair of Piedmontese wines spearheaded by Aldo Conterno’s Granbussia Barolo, were bustling with fruit, dashing acidity and quite stern tannins. The Barolo was my other choice for wine of the night.
Then followed two clarets – Duhart Milon and Clos du Marquis – both of which suffered (in my opinion only, it must be said) from really hard wood tannins that may never get any softer. I suggested it would be nice to re-taste the wines ten years hence, and immediately was presented with a number of invitations to do exactly that. Sometimes dissension can be fruitful.
The Domaine du Tich from Sainte Croix-du-Mont showed what good value many botrytis wines from South Africa are. I thought was it a bit sulphurous, lacking in concentration and altogether quite one-dimensional. When drinking Sauternes-style wines I want to have the intense dried apricot and citrus peel flavours along with racy acidity, but this wine didn’t deliver.
The vintage 2000 tasting closed with Warre’s Vintage, which did everything it was supposed to.
In general, when it comes to special bottles, it remains my view that there’s “no time like the present” (click here to read my reasoning for that, which incidentally also relates to a Champagne from le Mesnil and an IWFS function). However, I’m pleased that these bottles were locked away for all those years, awaiting one evening of indulgence.