17 March 2022
A matter of taste.
By Robert Kilconner
Temptation comes in many shapes and sizes and this time the Devil chose as his vehicle an email from the Wine Society. Some time ago Chateau Latour withdrew from the en primeur system, under which wine is offered for sale before it is bottled on the basis that the bottles will be delivered in due course, on the grounds that it would rather sell its wines when they have matured. Now the great moment has arrived and you can buy the 2014 at the modest price of £498 a bottle.
Regular readers of the rich sophisticated prose offered by the Shaw Sheet will have a vision of how a typical article is written, the author sitting in an elegant room on a superb Chippendale chair with a view of downs and moorlands and, at his side on an 18th-century silver tray, a bottle with which to reinforce his inspiration. “No, my dear”, he says to the beautiful girl who came running when he rang his bell, “not Medoc today. It is a Thursday. So time for a Pauillac, a Latour perhaps. Left hand bin in the cellar and the ones ready for drinking are at the top.”
“Yes Mr Bond, I mean Mr KIlconner” she replies.
Well, I hate to disappoint you but it isn’t quite like that and £498 a bottle is well beyond my drinking budget.
So what about the second wine then, a 2016 Les Forts de Latour at a more approachable £199? That I read is a great wine, muscular and with precision, but for me alas the wonderful flavours are tainted by a bitter memory. Many years ago, as a major celebration, I bought a few bottles of that, in those days the price was in two figures rather than three, and kept the final bottle in my cellar as a future treat. One evening my teenage daughter, returning from a party, came to wish me good night and told me she had taken a bottle from the cellar as her contribution.
“I knew you wouldn’t mind, Daddy, but I was careful not to take one of your nice new bottles so I took an old dusty one instead. After all it was only going into the punch.” Yes, you can guess the rest.
No doubt the prices charged by Latour are perfectly fair for their excellent product but I will not be taking up the offer for two reasons. The first is my £25 rule. There are those to whom a really good bottle of wine is a real experience full of textures, hints, clarity, poise, nuances, notes and God knows what else. Alas my palate was never of that calibre and in any case it has faded over the years. When I was at school there was an institution called the Socratic Society under which young masters used to ask groups of older boys round to discuss current affairs and drink claret. I cannot remember the details of the discussion, no doubt it was as pretentious as 18 year old boys could make it, but I do remember the pleasure of drinking good wine. It wasn’t Château Latour of course but it was of good quality and served with cheese biscuits. Altogether one of the best moments of a boarding school education. I do not think I would be capable of enjoying that wine in the same way now. In any event I work on the all too realistic rule that I cannot distinguish quality beyond £25 a bottle and that puts the Latour offerings beyond my budget.
Actually there is a second reason for not buying very expensive wine and that is the squirrel impulse. Shocked by my own profligacy I justify the purchase by reflecting that the wine is to be kept for a very special occasion and put it in the deepest recesses of my cellar. There it stays and stays either to become thin and undrinkable or to form an unexpected bonus for my executors. Neither really justifies an outlay of £500 or even £200 today.
There are of course people with wonderful palates. The late Andre Simon for example who when asked if he was concerned that his smoking might ruin the finest palate in Europe replied, in French of course, because he was French and not merely out of affectation:
“if you have a real palate, you can taste the flavours through the smoke.”
To men like M Simon the Latour would be a bargain, but alas it is not for me.