A voyage through fine wine off Sardinia

25 June 2022

9:00 AM

25 June 2022

9:00 AM

One could get used to this. I come from seafaring stock, albeit distant. ‘Anderson’ suggests Viking antecedents, especially as my forebears came from the Shetland Islands. Yet there must have been something wrong with the first Anderson. Other Vikings reached Normandy, Sicily, even Byzantium. At the very least, they found the odd monastery to plunder. Later, their Norman descendants compensated for cultural destruction with cultural creation. But to endure the rigours of crossing from Norway and then disembark on Shetland? Was my remote ancestor seasick, or mutinous, or did he rape the cabin boy? We will never know.

A millennium or so later, life at sea was rather different. We were on a yacht, cruising between Sardinia and Corsica. A golden sun presided over a sapphire sea as we sailed among islands, beneath limestone cliffs topped by fishing villages – some fortified. In the background were granite mountains of infinite antiquity. This was a landscape made for mythology plus long history. You might expect to encounter a trireme laden with amphorae, or a Barbary pirate ship searching for slaves. Such expeditions were regular until shortly before the US Marines arrived at Tripoli in the 19th century: hence the fortified villages.

Our expedition was enhanced by a superb crew. If they were merely pretending to take pleasure in our pleasure, they are all entitled to a gold Equity card. Among them was a hugely promising young chef who delighted in making local ingredients sing: superb fish, often raw, including sea urchin, a delight of mine – but reinforced by forays into wagyu beef.

The wine did not fall short. Which was best: the Krug, the Dom Pérignon or the Polly Roger Cuvée Winston Churchill? I could have tried to rack my palate into differentiating between magnificences. Oddly enough, I preferred to luxuriate across them and award gold medals all round.

Our host was an oenophile. At lunch, we concentrated on premier cru chardonnay – Puligny-Montrachet, Chablis, Meursault – interspersed with some excellent Sardinians, not to mention the best Vermentino I have ever tasted, an Antinori Bolgheri Blanco 2017. Leaving aside a 2011 Yquem, as good as expected, the finest white was a Chassagne-Montrachet Les Vergers Guy Amiot 2006, with everything a great white Burgundy should display and not yet at its summit.

Dinner allowed reds to triumph. A ’99 Haut-Brion and a ’95 Rene Rostaing Cote Rotie La Landonne were contrasting excellences. One knew what they ought to do. So lift the glass to the nostril, delight in the overture and then move reverentially to the symphony, and the grandeur. It was everything one expected.

As was the bottle of the voyage, an Armand Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Clos St Jacques ’08. Armand Rousseau regularly exhausts superlatives. Yet even by those standards, this was a splendid wine.

When the viewer is equipped with a great red, or a serious cognac, plus a cigar, dance is an excellent spectator sport. As the sun made a final curtsey behind the mountains, now god-haunted with nightfall, and the sea grew lustrous under a full moon, two enchanting girls took the floor, dancing with mischievous grace. Although neither will see 35 again, they wove enchantments like wood nymphs, or indeed young goddesses. How can we know the dancer from the dance? They added a garland of laurels to a sublime voyage. What glorious fun.

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