I guess many readers have some form of wine group. Be it the single bottle club (SBC) or the ubiquitous Beef and Burgundy Club (BBC), wine groups abound whenever passionate wine lovers gather.
One thing I’ve always noticed in my groups is generosity. The unwritten creed is that a shared treasure is better than a hoarded one drunk alone. The joy of sharing something you love with others underpins the best groups, and when there is collective understanding of what works for your group, then you can really get into some serious wine and food fun. Educational, stimulating, confounding, surprising…we run the gamut of emotions when the group is in sync.
The Greeks called this form of gathering a Symposia, where the ancients would gather to discuss philosophy and life, and felt that the sharing of wine helped grease the tracks of their thoughts. I doubt they wrapped their wines in foil to hide the label, and there was no ‘New World/ Old World?’ opening question from whoever provided the bottle, but we are not so different today.
I came across some vintage wine dinner lists recently, which echo this ancient art of generous sharing of wine and food. Take the Latour dinner from 11th August 1962, held in Melbourne. This was one great dinner. The food is classic 60’s fare: smoked salmon, King Prawns, Fried chicken livers, followed by Wing Rib of Beef with traditional sides. Passion Fruit Pavlova fills the dessert cliché, followed by Stilton -what else? – And coffee.
The wines? These were not disguised, simply served in the following order:
1946 Great Western Brut
1953 Eitelsbacher Karthauser Hofberger Auslese
And to finish…
1947 Chateau LaTour Blanche
Mind you, although I have had some wonderful wine dinners, I’ve experienced some absolute shockers as well.
The person that brings the completely wrong wine for the occasion, not bothering to think about the common “rules”. You know, you are having a 90’s Napa theme, and someone decides to bring a cheeky Languedoc 2012 rose, because it’s curious!
The tight one who at the same dinner nudges back Harlan 98, and brought the Carlo Rossi! And don’t forget the bore, who will critique everyone else’s wine to death, and extoll the virtues of their own contribution. Then there is taking call after call…
Simple rule of thumb is; they never get invited back. Whilst there is nothing at all wrong with the wines mentioned above (I love a cracking little rose, especially now as Shanghai starts to heat up), it’s all about appropriateness. That’s where having the unspoken, unwritten ground rules made clear is so important for any group.
This comes from, in my experience, having a great understanding and intuitive sense of your other members. That in itself takes the wine group event to another level; sharing what you love with others you hope will also, if not love, at least greatly appreciate what you brought to the table.
Take my current group. When I arrived in Shanghai three years ago, I pretty quickly found likeminded people, both in the trade and outside, all sharing a deep passion and love of wine.
The group existed already, way before I arrived, and had long established ground rules. It was neither pretentious nor took itself too seriously. It was made up of people who have a profound knowledge and passion for wine. Amazing palates; eclectic cellars; generous natures.
We follow fairly standard practice…New World, Old World? Country? Variety? Year? Until we zero in on what we think the wine is. We never need to worry about what each will bring. There is a deep understanding of what would both challenge others and please them. We choose with each other in mind.
Last week’s event is a perfect example. We had two birthdays to celebrate, and our group swelled to 7. There are two rules: the wine has to be unavailable in mainland China, which gradually gets more and more difficult; or if it IS available here, then the vintage must be 10 years old plus.
Trips around the world take on new meaning as we all hunt for wines that are impossible to source in Shanghai. We can’t help but consider where each of us has been as we try the wine…” Hmmm, he was in Napa last holidays, and this definitely is Cab country…or did he go to Chile recently…?”
For the wine lovers, here is the line up. You can draw your own conclusions about the membership of the group from the wines we bring.
2004 Tokaji Muscat Lunel 3
2001 Cuvee Frederic Emile Trimbach Riesling
1998 Vina Tondonia Rioja Reserva
Paired with escargot, charcuterie, fois gras, salad, and truffle sandwiches.
2006 Rose des Riceys “En Barmont” Olivier Horiot
2010 Hirsch Vineyard Sonoma Pinot
1964 Chateau Batailley
1999 Orion Old Vines Syrah California
2003 Mitolo Savitar
2003 Harlan Estate
Paired with Australian Tomahawk, risotto, truffle soup, and a range of sides.
2002 Chateau Doisy – Vedrines
Apart from the 64, which had lovely tobacco and classic Bordeaux nose, but had not lasted the distance and was well past it, the wines were all in top form. The Trimbach was perhaps not as wonderful as I hoped, looking shy and tired, although in reasonably good shape. They represent a snapshot of the varying tastes and styles we love, and love to share.
And so. Wine groups and wine dinners abound. It seems generosity is the key to the best dinners that I have ever attended. And the fine art of sharing. This seems to be the cornerstone for any great wine dinner, or wine group.
Write and tell us your favourite wine group experiences. Share the wonderful…and not so wonderful.