You can get a very strong and not always accurate view of a vintage by turning up on the wrong day. I turned up for the end of the 2010 vintage in Burgundy under sodden late-September skies; lines of rain-coated pickers were spread across the slopes looking like marauding beetles. Could the wines possibly be any good?
But then you can also get a surprisingly warped view of a vintage even if you wait for 15 months, until the tasting season starts. Usually the Burgundy specialists offer their wine for tasting in the January that falls about 15 months after harvest. In January 2010, I had a good look at the 2008 Burgundies and decided that they were in the main thin, hollow and unappealing.
What I didn’t know at the time was that most of them had still not undergone their malolactic fermentation. Retasting the wines in September 2010, I found that thinness has now transformed into elegance.
My first thought was, where's my tie? I do have one, specifically for occasions like this: an invite to the French Embassy, to taste all the classified-growth Bordeaux of the 1855 classification. The command came on a very stiff card, black embossed print, gold edging. Quite correct. Gold. This is Bordeaux. They mine liquid gold there. So. How the hell do I tie this thing?
It is a bit tough tasting at the French Embassy. They don't really understand the concept. There were no tasting sheets, and the bottles were randomly strewn along the grand tables. The vintages went from 2001 to 2006 according to the whim of the proprietor, and were proffered according to the whim of the charming and elegant flunkies. No one seemed to be spitting. But the chance to taste all the 1855 classification was enough for me to wheedle my way to the front of the throng.
It was a matter of tasting whatever I could lay my hands on, and by the end I'd done the lot.