The 18-year-old white wine that cost £3.99

It was 1998, and already a few years into becoming a fully-fledged wine writer I still lapped-up anything new, anything unexpected, anything that might offer a genuine wine experience.

At the time, my now great friend and colleague in The Wine Gang, Joanna Simon, was the wine correspondent for the Sunday Times, and one of the wine ‘voices’ to whom I listened most avidly. In her weekly column she recommended a wine from the Safeway supermarket, priced at £3.99, that she proclaimed should age and improve for a decade or more. And what was this bargain basement Vin de Garde? Not a Claret (already far too expensive by then) and not, surprisingly enough, even a red wine.

The wine was a dry Chenin Blanc, from the Montlouis region of the central Loire Valley. Intrigued, I bought a couple of them and tucked them away in my cellar, where they have lay, undisturbed, for 17 years.

labelI have occasionally come across the bottles as I looked for something to drink from the cellar, but by-passed them in favour of grander whites from Chablis or Alsace, fearing I may have left it too late for these cheap wines. In May 2015, however, the stars aligned and one bottle was retrieved. Through the glass the colour looked deep but good (no browning) and so after half an hour in the fridge I popped the cork. And what do you know? The wine was absolutely marvellous, still full of life and perfectly balanced. The epitome of mature Loire Chenin at its best.

Clos de Cray, Montlouis Sec 1997, France
Pouring a brilliant buttercup yellow, the nose soars from the glass, a mysterious and wonderful melange of old waxy parcel string, fresh butter, lanolin and the zest of lemons. There are honey and flower nuances too, in a deep, intriguing layering of scents, some Botrytis notes perhaps. On the palate it has a fairly rich texture, and that butteriness is there, an old wine obviously with notes of honeyed oxidation, but sweet, ripe apple fruit, before a thrusting, sharpened-steel core of acidity slices through, all fresh citrus and salts, into a long, balanced finish. 93/100.

Well Jo Simon. What can I say? I have one remaining bottle that now has your name on it, surely to be shared at some point in the future?

The back label: “The Clos de Cray vineyard is sited on a high plateau overlooking Montlouis. The Chenin grapes are hand-picked with several passages through the vineyard to select only the ripest bunches each time. A light pnuematic pressing is followed by vinification at 18 – 20ºC with indigenous yeasts.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *