I must admit to being in a slightly heavy state after emerging from the cellars of my favourite white burgundy grower, Noel Ramonet. I am not so much intoxicated by consumption of his wine, although that factor cannot be completely discounted, but by the domaine's sheer brilliance and the wonderful generosity of the man himself.
Noel's laid-back manner does not give the impression that he produces some of the greatest white wines in the world, yet that is exactly what he does.
A warm greeting was followed by a tour of the cellars, where I tasted his 1992 vintage. On entering the cellars I was immediately taken aback by the evocative smells emerging from the countless oak barrels providing a womb-like environment for the developing 1993 vintage.
The last time I visited I was on the Leeds United payroll, and Noel was surprised to learn from my patchy French that I had changed clubs and now played for West Ham. He seemed concerned and asked if they, too, were in the Premier League. I told him they were, and assured him I could still afford to pay for his wines.
It was two visits previously when I learnt of his passion for football and he seemed particularly interested when I told him that I played alongside Eric Cantona. A signed football shirt and ball were immediately requested, which I duly delivered last year. His gift, Chassagne Montrachet from 1959 - which he knew was my birth year - along with a 1978 Batard-Montrachet, were more than a fair swap. I was allowed to take possession of the latter only if I promised to drink it with 'etiquette' and not before the turn of the century - quite incredible staying power for a white wine.
My visit ended with a tour around Noel's personal cellar, which contained probably the greatest collection of wines I have ever seen in one room. Mythical wines such as Chateaux Latour, Lafite and Mouton-Rothschild of the 1920, '29 and '45 vintages were not only present, but, incredibly, in magnums. I suspect a swap system exists among the great growers in France and chateau cellars contain many of Ramonet's finest.
As I left, even though I had arrived empty-handed, I was given a bottle of his 1992 Montrachet, so freshly bottled it was still unlabelled. It reminded me of my first visit when I received a bottle of his 1983 Montrachet, the finest white wine it has been my fortune to taste. On Noel's orders, I decanted the wine and left it for nearly an hour. The flavour seemed to linger for an eternity. I shall definitely return next year, laden with souvenirs of whichever team I may be playing for.
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