We all agree that wine-tasting is highly subjective. That one’s state of mind, the company one is with, the time of day, what has been drunk before… and after, for that matter. The chances that all these variables can be 100% replicated is nigh on impossible. Why, in that case, do we persist in reading other people’s tasting notes?
In this particular case, the circumstances around the bottle of wine in question were pretty darn exceptional. Before I start with the tasting note, let me set the scene :
New Year’s Eve 2013. I was invited to spend a few days with a friend and her family on the Loire-Atlantic coast. One of the advantages of having a beautiful château as your country house is that it’s easy to host a dozen family members and friends during the festivities. I had been before, exactly ten years ago to the day. It is rather strange staying with someone else’s family, getting to know all the nuances of who’s who. If you’ve ever seen François Ozon’s film “Huit Femmes” you’ll know what I’m talking about. Just substitute the snow for torrential rain.
However, because all the bedrooms in the main house were taken, I had drawn the short straw: I would be sleeping alone in the haunted “Duck House.” I was put in the top bedroom, in which there was a patio door, giving onto a rusty balcony and a large tree-branch which would sway in the wind and occasionnally bat against the window. The lights in the Duck House would flicker, the floorboards would creak, and somewhere, sometime door-hinges would squeak with a draught. During that first night, at 4.54am, I could swear I heard somebody walking up those stairs.
Fast forward to New Year’s Eve itself. We’d spent the past three days eating and drinking. In between the heavy rain, we would nip out to the surrounding forest and marshland to give the dogs some exercise and unwittingly stumble upon a wild boar or family of deer.
Inevitably, every mealtime the conversation at some point or another would turn to other people’s paranormal experiences of staying in the Duck House. I’m not easily spooked, but needless to say, with all this talk of rapists, ghosts and rattling chains, by the 31st, my nerves were pretty frayed.
“Exclusive Vintage” 2004 Grand Cru, Brut Zero, Blanc de Blancs. Unlike the big labels whose whopping marketing budgets mean for worldwide recognition but often a mediocre quality, Exclusive Vintage is a selection of great years from small anonymous growers based in Avize (Côte des Blancs). I’d brought this bottle as our aperitif before the big blow-out meal.
The bubbles are delicate. The limestone soil is instantly apparent. There’s plenty of reassuring fruit characters – of green and yellow stone and citrus fruit. There are sweet floral notes. A little honey. Honeysuckle, actually. The mouth carries through on all those initial promises, and also offers a sharp minerality and a certain amount of toasted-butter-brioche, but it’s not over done.
Overall it’s a fine drink, well-balanced and refreshing. Best of all though, it steeled my nerves for the rest of the stay and gave me the courage to go back to the ghost house for one more night. I would definitely recommend it, but I hereby challenge you to find a haunted château in which to drink it!