The cave personelle is going to take a hit this year as my partner, Pippa, racks up her half century in September and our eldest son, Alfred, turns 18 in November. Finding suitable wines to mark both occasions is going to be an interesting challenge. Alfred had the good fortune to be born in 1998 - a sensational year for Rhône wines – particularly those from the sunny south. Happily, I was in a position to lay down some magnums of Châteauneuf-du-Pape when he was a baby so I am sure we will broach some of those at a family gathering with a view to keeping the balance for subsequent anniversaries. I am particularly looking forward to revisiting the 'Le Vieux Donjon' 1998 that should really be coming into its stride. Our old friend Rhône expert John Livingstone-Learmonth gave it six stars (out of six) and made the following notes: "Exciting wine – boom! So much pleasure in the glass. Persistent, robust, full, fine – what more do you want?" He also observed that it tasted 'younger and fresher' than many 1998s so hopefully we will be able to enjoy it well into the future.
Pippa's birth year of 1966 was historic for English football and certainly wasn't bad for French wines. Sadly, I don't have anything from the Rhône in the 1966 vintage but I do have a few bottles of Bordeaux courtesy of my father. Although Michael Broadbent gave the 1966 Bordeaux vintage four stars (out of five) in his trusty 'Wine Vintages' guide he did add the caveat: "Minor wines, lacking flesh, are drying out and well past best." And that was written twelve years ago! Perhaps I shall resort to the old wine trade trick of adding a couple of centimetres of ruby Port to the bottom of a decanter before serving to enrich the wine with a bit more sweetness and fruit. It's all fairly academic as I don't have sufficient quantities to serve at a party only for friends to taste for amusement value. With regard to actually fuelling a gathering I think it's best to forget all about birth years and just serve people what they like. In Pippa's case that is pretty straightforward as she has a penchant for aromatic white wines especially Cassis and Condrieu. I have recently had some success introducing her to Christine Vernay's unimpeachable 'Pied de Samson' Viognier which is not a Condrieu per se, as it hails from the upper plateau (and is consequently great value) but further down-grades have not been well received. That would go very well with Thai cuisine and we are blessed with a superb Thai restaurant in our home town of Frome – the Thai Kitchen http://www.thaikitchenfrome.com/ - where Pippa is a not infrequent diner.
Personally I am looking forward to Alfred buying me a pint in one of our local pubs – hopefully not one where he is already well-known. Worryingly, having made some barbed comments about bearded real ale enthusiasts in my youth, I find I now share my Dad's predilection for a well-kept pint of bitter. I daren't think ahead to my own 50th birthday celebrations next year (although I do have one precious bottle of the legendary Château d'Yquem 1967) but at least our other son, Will, was born in another cracking Rhône vintage – 2001.