Thursday 18 October 2012

Known Unknowns: Nuits-Saint-Georges and Château Haut-Bana

So I look at the wine rack in the kitchen the other day, and there is a bottle in it which I have no recollection of purchasing. It's normally pretty easy to see what's in the rack and what's not, because the rack (as a rule) has almost nothing in it on account of me drinking everything before it gets a chance to stop moving, let alone age in a horizontal position. No more than five bottles in a rack that can hold forty-eight results in clarity and a simpler life.

Except that this time, I squint at the rack's contents and what do I find but a bottle of 2002 Nuits-Saint-Georges, which, frankly, scares the lights out of me.

'Where did this come from?' I bleat at my wife.
'I have no idea,' she says. 'Is it something special?'
'Is it something special?' I repeat. 'Well, it's only a 2002 Nuits-Saint-Georges. Where the hell did we get a bottle of Nuits-Saint-Georges from?'

My first inclination is to assume that we've stolen it from a shop or from someone passing through the house. My next inclination is to assume that we've inadvertently bought it, only we would never inadvertently buy anything that looks even half-way classy, given our unshakeable belief in the sovereign benefits of living a hairsbreadth above the poverty threshold. Then I start to wonder if I'm not over-reacting, allowing myself to be bullied by the bottle just because it has a smartly-printed label, a cork and a date. What do I know about Nuits-Saint-Georges, anyway? It might be famous for its pretentious demeanour and crappy taste.

I dig out my Ultimate Encyclopedia of Wine (1996 edition) and check out what it has to say about Nuits-Saint-Georges. A 'Tough, broody wine that usually needs at least five years to soften', is the bad news, but the good news is that Nuits-Saint-Georges is 'Among the best buys in Burgundy' if you get a decent one. Panting slightly, I then turn to the terrifying World Atlas of Wine (1985 edition, reprinted) for additional, if hopelessly out-of-date, confirmation. Jackpot, as it turns out: 'The quality is very high and consistent: they are big strong wines.' I close the book with a triumphant slap, before going off to check out the internet prices of such a fabulous drink. Turns out we're looking at anything between £30 and £70 a go, depending, and so I go back to my own bottle and stare at it in wonder.

Then I remember: it is a fantastically kind thank-you present from a family friend.

'It's from Patrick,' I announce, importantly.
'Of course it is,' says my wife.
'I knew that,' I say.

I carry on staring at the bottle. The problem is, now we've identified its provenance, what do we do with this stupendous thing? Kingsley Amis would argue that it must be drunk with food, but what kind of food? Where is there a meal intimidating enough to serve this drink with? I cooked a joint of beef the other day and even that simplest of dishes turned supertough, an epic of chewing as if we were trying to eat the Goodyear dirigible. PK (natch) would decant it with full honours, and drink it with or without food from a baby's-head-sized wine balloon, striking attitudes as he went. I am half-minded to binge on the whole thing and see what happens: I might break through to the 5th dimension; I might go blind. In the end, I do nothing, of course. It is just too significant a drink for me to handle. It is beyond my competence.

At which point I realise that I am already drinking something quite a lot better than I am used to. It's red. It's had a moment to breathe. I'm getting a nice musty, almost seaweedy nose, good balance of tannins and acidity, entertaining finish. There is also a date on the label and I had to pull a cork out to get at the grog in the first place. Mildly horrified, I inspect the bottle further. It turns out to be a Médoc, Château Haut-Bana. What on earth is that? Did I buy this? It costs the thick end of £9, almost twice my Platonic budget. I am caught in the middle of The Ipcress File and I am not Michael Caine.

'Where did this come from?' I bleat at my wife.
'Not again,' she says.


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