I think it was the late wine guru André Simon who said "there are no great wines, only great bottles". How often do you find that a supposedly great bottle you've spent a fortune on or brought up from its dusty perch in the cellar turns out to be a disappointment? Or conversely, been pleasantly surprised by a wine with no apparent pedigree? I would be amazed if at least some of the bottles you've most enjoyed this year haven't been unexpected pleasures. Maybe it was the food that offset them, the company that made them dazzle, or the occasion that made an unremarkable wine memorable. For however great a wine's reputation, it's the context that makes a wine.
I doubt you'll be surprised if I tell you that most of my wines of the year have been enjoyed through drinking rather than tasting. A couple of exceptions prove the rule. First was the 2004 F X Pichler, Riesling Smaragd Loibner Steinertal, £22.50, Waitrose, Canary Wharf, a magical, complex Austrian dry white, a true expression of its Wachau terroir. The other bottle was amazing as much for the vicarious pleasure of a taste of something as pricey as the 1995 Krug, Clos du Mesnil, £495 (yes, a bottle!), Berry Bros & Rudd, as for the explosive mousse and length of flavour of a wine clearly not designed to be drunk by ordinary mortals.
A trip to the Roussillon unearthed Gérard Gauby's brilliant, mineral-rich 2003 Le Soula, Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes, £18, The Wine Society, £41.32, A & B Vintners (01892 724977), £43.50, magnum, Raeburn Fine Wines (0131 3431159). Defying the torrid 2003 vintage, it's a thrillingly intense, hot-vintage-defying blend of grenache with sauvignon, marsanne and chenin blanc. A wine served blind by the sommelier at L'Oranger in St James's, London, took me completely by surprise: it was the 2003 Cabidos, Vin de Pays des Pyrénées Atlantiques, a golden honey of a late harvest wine made from the petit manseng grape by Comte Philippe de Nazelle, with exotic flavours of peach and mango, a slight sherried whiff and a touch of spicy oak. Speaking of golden treats, I had some fun serving the amazingly rich and luscious 2001 Château Suduiraut, £39, 37.5cl, Berry Bros & Rudd, blind to some "wine friends". They were convinced this golden elixir from Sauternes was Château d'Yquem. If only I'd bought a case.
Why I was bringing wine into Australia totally foxed customs, and the magnum of 2001 Ceparello, Isole e Olena, £67.01, Liberty Wines (020-7720 5350), brought for a wine-show dinner in Perth, was just as much a mystery to the Australian wine judges. This majestic, pure sangiovese from Paolo di Marche was the perfect expression of a top Tuscan red, as much an epiphany as the 2001 Percarlo IGT, San Giusto a Rentennano, £29.50 bottle / case, H & H Bancroft (020-7232 5450), enjoyed eating out one night with my wife at L'Osteria di Giovanni in Florence. The summa cum laude of the San Giusto a Rentennano range, the sustained sour-cherry fruit quality and polish of this supertuscan chimed perfectly with the most succulent bistecca Fiorentina imaginable.
For a tasting put on for a customer of the Shipton-on-Stour merchant, Edward Sheldon & Co, I was asked to select a number of fine wines including an excellent 2003 Chateau Léoville Barton, but when it came to roast guinea fowl at dinner, nothing came close to the astonishing Château de Beaucastel 2001 Hommage à Jacques Perrin, Domaine Perrin, £182.20, Edward Sheldon (01608 661409). Its sibling, the 2001 Château de Beaucastel, is a Châteauneuf-du-Pape classic, a delicate balancing act of peppery flavours in a bold framework of tannins aimed at preserving the immense concentration of blackberry fruit. A great wine and a great bottle to boot.Reuse content