In April a dinky little sample bottle of wine arrived on my desk from venerable UK Wine Merchant Berry Bros & Rudd. The wine in question was a tawny Port bottled by the famous shipper Graham, and coming from the 1952 vintage. Now, a 60-year-old wine being released onto the market is not an everyday occurrence, but then this wine was bottled for a very specific purpose: to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. As holders of two Royal Warrants, Berry Bros is the rather fitting purveyor of the very limited supply of this wine that is available.
I am lucky enough to taste many great wines, but as I tasted this extraordinary wine it struck me powerfully how context can be such a crucial factor in turning the enjoyment of a great bottle of wine into a truly profound and memorable experience.
In the past I have named the 1989 Château Haut-Brion as my ‘Best Wine Ever’. Although an absolutely exquisite wine, there’s no doubt it was the context in which it was drunk that etched this particular bottle on my memory: sitting one balmy July evening on the ocean-side terrace of a restaurant in southern France as the sun set on the horizon, the marriage of a brilliant wine, dream location and great company added another dimension.
Whilst context normally means people and places, this bottle of 1952 Port made me realise that a wine’s association with history can be equally compelling. How well I remember the aromas and flavours of the incredible 1914 Vintage Champagne from Pol Roger, drunk in 2007. Not only was this an extraordinary wine at over 90 years of age, but as I was reminded by Pol Roger’s Patrice Noyelle, it came from the vintage that heralded the beginning of the Great War: “It was harvested to the sound of cannon fire, but drunk to the sound of victory trumpets.”
1952 and all that
And so to the 1952 tawny from Graham’s, a wine that has sat in oak casks in Graham’s Oporto lodge for 60 years. A wine from 1952 is of course a perfect way to pay tribute to the UK’s long-governing monarch, but what other stories could this wine tell about that year?
- Winston Churchill announces Britain has its own atomic bomb
- US senate ratifies peace treaty with Japan
- Sun Records of Memphis releases its first recording
- First scheduled jet airliner service began with a BOAC Comet
- Last trams stop running in London
- Ernest Hemmingway’s “Old Man & The Sea” published
- USA bars Charlie Chaplin from re-entering after visiting England
- Clarence Birdseye markets the first frozen peas
- Agatha Christie’s ‘Mousetrap’ opens in London
- Worst smog in London ever, an estimated 12,000 die
- Myxomatosis introduced to Europe
- Average house price in the UK is £2,028
Quite some wine, and quite some context.