I celebrated my fiftieth birthday last weekend and, as someone who spends much of their time advising other people what they should be drinking, I thought it only fair share the details of what I selected for myself.
As a rule I prefer small gatherings to large ones and so I booked the private 'Sitting Room' (which seats 14 people) at the wonderful Talbot Inn in Mells, Somerset, which is my preferred hostelry for three simple reasons: a) It's in a great and convenient location. b) The food is consistently good. c) The front of house team are always friendly and attentive. Fortunately, we were blessed with fine weather so we started the evening outdoors with a sparkling rosé 'Les Tonelles' – a bottle-fermented blend of Gamay and Gros Lot from Domaine Aubert in Vouvray. You might be surprised that a fervent oenophile would opt for something that is shameless 'easy drinking' on a special occasion but I think that is exactly what you want when relaxing with friends and it went down a treat.
Once we headed indoors to the table we were served the 'Pied de Samson' Viognier from Domaine Georges Vernay in the unimpeachable 2015 vintage. Although not a Condrieu per se it does have those inimitable white peach and apricot scents and flavours and it was absolutely delicious with an escabeche of red mullet with nigella yoghurt and shaved kohlrabi. I, like most of my party, plumped for an aged rump steak served with grilled spring onions, chimichurri and (superb) chips with a side of chilli greens for my main course. To accompany that we broached a double-magnum of Saint-Éstephe from Château Calon-Ségur in the excellent 2000 vintage. Happily, after over a decade in my cellar, the wine was in good condition and it proved to be crowd-pleasing mature Claret with a core of bright cassis fruit and tannins that are softening nicely with age.
After our main course we shared a selection of local cheeses with a Barbaresco from the Produtti del Brabaresco co-operative in their inaugural 1967 vintage. In mitigation the Bordeaux was a tough act to follow and I would probably file that under 'interesting old wine' rather than something to write home about. Happily, to accompany dessert, I had sourced a couple of bottles of Rivesaltes from Château Prieuré du Monastir del Camp also in the 1967 vintage which still has lots of vim and vigour and sweet, dark fruit and rounded things off perfectly.
Somewhat surprisingly my precious bottle of 1967 Bas Armagnac, a generous gift from our friends at Le Gavroche, survived the evening intact so I will have to report back on that on another occasion.