When It Comes to High-Quality Drink, Are the Old Ones Really the Best?
It isn't just Champagne that's available as vintage. Vintage Cognac, previously called Early Landed Cognac, is not particularly common, but Thomas Hine has just launched a whole range. The phrase "early landed" refers to the process of shipping a particularly fine Cognac from Jarnac in South-West France to Bristol in barrels, where it is cask-aged in deep chalk cellars for many years before being bottled. The chalk keeps the temperature steady, giving the aged Cognac a certain finesse. There are eight individual vintages now on release from Thomas Hine, dating from 1953 to 1983, all with nice three-figure pricetags attached.
-- Thomas Hine Grande Champagne 1976. €116. Enquiries: as above
Most Armagnac is blended from a number of eaux de vie (the term for the grape spirit before it's been aged) of different ages, although a very small amount of vintage-dated Armagnacs can be found. Armagnac producers do not tend to have the money and power of the great Cognac houses and therefore the word ``vintage'' doesn't necessarily guarantee quality here. As with Champagne, the producer's name is of the utmost importance.
-- Baron de Sigognac 1973. €67. Enquiries: www.farehamwinecellar.com
-- Domaine de Miquer 1980 Bas-Armagnac. €68. Enquiries: as above
-- Vintage Armagnac is also all available from www.vintagearmagnac.co.uk
Most wines will feature a date on their label, but only in certain regions does this symbolise a particular quality. While regions all over France - Burgundy, the Rhône, Languedoc - produce some stunning ``vintage'' wines, the word vintage is still very much tied to the region of Bordeaux, and collectors of fine wines are guaranteed to have plenty of vintage Bordeaux in their cellars. It would be fair to say that pretty much every recent year has been a good year for Bordeaux (except for 1991 and 1992 when it bombed), so which one you choose really just depends on how much you're willing to spend. 1988, 1989 and 1990 were a trio of outstanding vintages across the region and are well worth paying top dollar for, and 2001 saw the release of some pretty amazing stuff, too.
-- Château Mouton-Rothschild 1997. €127. Enquiries: www.chateauonline.co.uk
-- Château Mouton 2000. From €20. Enquiries: Lea & Sandeman (www.londonfinewine.co.uk)
-- You could also try wine merchants Berry Brothers & Rudd (enquiries: +44 (0) 870 900 4300; www.bbr.com) or Justerini and Brooks (enquiries: +44 (0) 20 7484 6400)
By Katie O' Neill