Taking a bottle to a dinner party is for me a stressful affair, where things go wrong more often than not.
Firstly there is the etiquette – do you choose red or white? Do you present it to the host or hostess? Then there is the near certainty that the journey will shake up the sediment of any half-decent red, creating a ruby sludge inside.
Finally (and at the risk of sounding a right old curmudgeon) the chances are that your host will seize that rather nice 2009 Pomerol you’ve brought and secrete it in his sock drawer, persuading you instead to drink instead a glass of Majestic’s finest Corbieres, that largely tastes of acid and stalk.
One wine merchant I met recently had invented an ingenious route through this social minefield.
He always turns up for dinner with something decent in his family’s decanter – making it clear to his hosts that, whatever happens to the wine inside, he can’t possibly leave without this heirloom.
Works a treat apparently, particularly with port, and never a drop remains.
I have recently discovered an alternative winter-time solution though and one that always seems to make me Mr Popular, at no great expense. One word – Sauternes. A half bottle of decent Sauternes to go with the pudding goes down a treat.
When I first started learning about wine, Sauternes was a rare and costly thing, lapped up in vast quantities by the American market. The mysterious action of the black Noble Rot, that shrivels the grape in those low-lying vineyards and leaves each berry with just a couple of drops of concentrated juice, the infinite care of the wine makers, some of whom pick the berries with tweezers and make tiny quantities of this elixir as well as Sauternes’ long imperial history, all contribute in my mind towards its mythical status.
Since then though the market has turned ferociously against sweet wines and Sauternes prices have plummeted, while the rest of Bordeaux has been enjoying an unimaginable boom. This means you can buy some of the best this region has to offer for wonderful prices.
Sauternes is not of course glugging wine. But its wonderfully intense sweet apricot and hazelnut tones accompany all sorts of food well. In winter it is perfect with the puddings and tarts that are appearing again.
I have a selection of half bottles in my cellar that do the trick nicely. But I was delighted to see the other day that Berry Bros STILL has some Chateau Suduiraut 1989, one of Sauternes’ finest houses that sits next door to the legendary Chateau Yquem. They are selling a tasting box of four half bottles for £130 or £32.50 a bottle, which is criminally cheap for a 28-year-old wine at its best.
Now I just have to write my letter to Father Christmas...
Chateau Suduiraut, 1989 (Four half bottles for £130.20, Berry Bros & Rudd)