Leafing through the latest issue of Wine Spectator magazine I happened to notice that their 2015 Wine of the Year was Peter Michael ‘Au Paradis’ 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s not a wine that I’ve ever tasted, but it does stir up a lot of memories of what is probably one of my finest wine experiences.
Even now, with winemaking in the southern part of the UK developing all of the time, I’ve often lamented that I don’t live anywhere in the thick of it. I think how wonderful it would be living in perhaps Italy or Spain and having near access to multiple world famous destinations to tour. It feels like I would never have a weekend free!
Some years back I was reading an article on a UK wine hotel and had probably already started assuming that it wouldn’t be anywhere near me, when I realised that it was. It was literally ten minutes away by car and, on a warm day, possibly walkable.
I’m referring to The Vineyard at Stockcross, which has been owned by Sir Peter Michael since 1996. With over 3000 bins available it was, at the time, a multi Michelin starred establishment (Head Chef John Campbell has since departed) and was somewhere I had no excuse not to visit. I eagerly booked a room and downloaded the extensive wine list in readiness of tasting some amazing and rare wines. At the time (and to be fair, to this day) my main wine passion is Champagne (which readers of my blog will know rests heavily on Dom Pérignon), and so that was the focus of the night.
I pre-selected the 1966 Dom Pérignon to be ready and chilling in an ice bucket on arrival in the room, and the 1970 Dom Pérignon to be served with dinner. These Champagnes certainly still rank amongst the highest value wines I’ve ever drunk, but having checked their current retail prices, what I paid then seems like a bargain! The whole trip however was a calculated indulgence (I could have taken a cab home, but decided that staying there would top everything off), and these two mature vintages were chosen specifically as they were the current releases when both I and my wife were born.
Upon arrival at the hotel when giving over my personal details, I’m convinced that there was a confused glance from the receptionist. Upon checking my details and spotting my home address was only around the corner, I think she was trying to work out why I was staying there at all. The answer lay in my room, and what greeted me was the glorious sight of the chilled 1966 Dom on the table. Rather than unpacking, I opened the bottle. It is still the oldest Champagne I’ve ever tasted, and I can recall its rich herbaceous woodland tones, with baked apple and dark honey very clear on the palate.
I contacted their sommelier with a view to choosing a pre-dinner aperitif, and was suitably impressed when he invited me to look through their locked wine vault which, years later and knowing much more about the subject, I really want to do again. I was still in the mood for celebratory bubbles so probably didn’t fully absorb their collection of impressive Bordeaux and Burgundy, or perhaps even their focus on Californian Cabernets, showcasing the owners US interests. I switched back to a fresh vibrant Champagne and selected the 1996 Krug, which was a dream.
And so to dinner which, for a 2-star Michelin restaurant, definitely played second fiddle to the wine. Not that the food was bad – far from it – but this was when Michelin food was characterised by adding foam to the top of every dish, and it became a little bit much. Perhaps as a response to the money that I was spending (the exact prices I paid for each of the bottles is etched in to my memory) we were given the top table which was set away from the main dining area and overlooked the other guests. The 1970 Dom arrived and, although having only slightly less age than the 1966, was showing a much younger profile and went well the fish dishes I’d chosen. As a closing gesture, my sommelier was happy to gift me two Dom Pérignon branded flutes (boxed ones too, not the ones we had been using!) as a reminder of this one-off evening. Alas the glasses are long since gone, but the memories remain.
There was one further bottle of red picked from the wine list to round off dinner, but following the excesses of the Champagne, it went mostly undrunk and I have no recollection of what it was. I still live just around the corner from The Vineyard and I do often think about going back, however I know that it can never live up to that amazing experience.
I’d love to live that night again, but it truly was a one-off. No second chances.