Review of the Year 2018 - Neal Martin
BY NEAL MARTIN | DECEMBER 18, 2018
Wine of the Year: 1955 Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru – Domaine Georges Roumier
There are several candidates for my wine of the year. In the end, one glistens in my vinous memory bank more than any other. Unannounced, Christophe Roumier poured the 1945 and 1955 Bonnes-Mares blind at the culmination of a decades-spanning vertical last February. Even before their identities were revealed, there was no doubting we were in the realm of the ethereal. The 1955 Bonnes-Mares, made by Roumier’s grandfather, stopped the clocks and prompted choirs of angels. It is unlikely that I will drink it again; once is more than I could ever have dreamed.
Runners-Up – The Top 40
This is embarrassing, but here it goes. Many of these wines have not been published on Vinous… yet. I list them in chronological order, not by merit. Are they the best or the most memorable? Probably a mixture, and if you think I am showing off, you should see the bottles not on this list. Thanks to all those who shared these remarkable wines - you know who you are.
1846 Terrantez Madeira – Lomelino
1906 d’Arche Crème de Tête
1906 Malvasia Madeira – Lomelino
1928 Domaine de Chevalier Rouge
1945 La Tâche – Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
1947 Figeac (en jeroboam)
1947 Grand-Echézeaux Grand Cru – Domaine René Engel
1948 Taylor’s Vintage Port
1949 Forster Jesuitgarten TBA – Bassermann Jordan
1953 Haut Brion (en magnum)
1955 La Mission Haut-Brion
1957 Musigny Grand Cru – Domaine Georges Roumier
1958 Romanée-Conti Grand Cru – Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
1958 Cabernet “Classic Claret” - Inglenook
1962 Clos de Tart Grand Cru
1971 Scharzhofberger Riesling Beerenauslese – Egon Müller
1972 Musigny Grand Cru – Domaine Joseph Drouhin
1973 Meursault Goutte d’Or – Domaine Buisson-Battault
1975 Laville Haut-Brion Blanc
1978 Morey-Saint-Denis Village – Domaine Dujac
1978 La Tâche Grand Cru – Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
1978 Jurançon Moelleux – La Clos Joliette
1982 Chablis La Fôret 1er Cru – Domaine Vincent Dauvissat
1985 Cornas Vieilles Vignes – Domaine Alain Voge
1985 Musigny Grand Cru – Domaine Georges Roumier
1986 Meursault Rougeot – Domaine Jean-François Coche-Dury
1989 Chambertin Grand Cru – Domaine Charles Mortet
1990 Vouvray Moelleux Goutte d’Or – Philippe Foreau (Domaine du Clos Naudin)
1991 Meursault Les Perrières 1er Cru – Domaine Pierre Morey
1991 Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru – Domaine Raveneau
1991 Richebourg Grand Cru – Domaine Méo-Camuzet
1999 Côte-Rôtie Côte Brune – Jamet
2005 Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru – Domaine Jean-François Coche-Dury
2005 Romanée-Conti Grand Cru – Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
Budget Red Wine of the Year: 2017 Graft – Van Loggerenberg Wines (South Africa)
Although I believe South Africa excels in whites more than reds, that does not imply there is no treasure trove of incredibly well-priced, beautifully crafted Syrahs, Cabernets and Cinsaults to choose from. I will go for the 2017 Graft, the Cinsault/Syrah blend from Van Loggerenberg Wines. It is under $40 and tastes like it costs twice as much.
Budget White Wine of the Year: 2016 Pecorino – Terre de Chieti (Italy)
This Pecorino gem is a trifling £7.99 from Ocado and Waitrose. The label depicts three sheep that could have been drawn by a six-year-old, presumably to appeal to consumers who buy on cute labels. Ignore price, wide availability and sheep: this stonkingly good Pecorino bursts with flavour. Trust me, I am not trying to counterbalance the obscenely expensive rarities mentioned above. I genuinely love this wine. In fact, the Martin household has two or three bottles permanently stocked in the fridge for evenings when I want to quaff something decent and delicious without thinking too much. [Postscript: Mrs. Martin just informed me it is currently reduced to £5.99.]
Yes, I know the label looks a bit childish, but I wish all supermarket wines could be this good
Odd Wine of the Year: 1946 Cheval Blanc
I love odd vintages – the odder, the better. (A bit like people.) Contenders this year include a 1977 Corton-Charlemagne from Bonneau du Martray, a 1909 Château Margaux, a 1931 Yquem, a 1946 Puligny-Montrachet Clos de Cailleret Rouge and a unicorn I will open just before Christmas. In the end, I choose the 1946 Cheval Blanc because a) this is the only postwar Bordeaux vintage I had never tasted, b) it is lost for eternity between 1945 and 1947, c) it tasted great, and d) it’s my dad’s birth year.
Best Tasting Of the Year: 1958 Dinner at Bistro de l’Hôtel
This is a difficult one. How about that once-in-a-lifetime 12-vintage Romanée-Conti dinner at The Connaught? Yes, it really happened. What a chance to examine the wine without thinking about the cost. Or was it the epic Bonnes-Mares vertical with Christophe Roumier in London? The Lafite-Rothschild tasting back to 1868, or the ancient off-vintage Clarets opened at Arbor in Hong Kong? Mr. D.’s epic 19th-century Terrantez Madeira tasting, or the historic vertical of Lafaurie-Peyraguey that included 28 vintages between 1906 and 1945?
In the end, it must be the 1958 dinner at Le Bistro de l’Hôtel in Beaune, organised by a munificent friend from the other side the Atlantic. There are a number of reasons. Firstly, I love exploring single vintages and especially lesser-known years; however, it is extremely rare for such horizontals to encompass different regions, and this dinner included not just Burgundy, but Italy, California, Red Bordeaux, Sauternes and Port. Secondly, because our host, who was himself born in 1958, invited winemakers whose umbilicals were also cut that year. Third was being able to compare the 1957 Musigny from Roumier against the 1958 Romanée-Conti, which does not happen every day. And maybe most importantly, for the bonhomie and laughter that accompanied the entire evening.
Most Interesting Winery Visit: Belair Marquis d’Aligré
My visit to Belair Marquis d’Aligré with the inimitable Jean-Pierre Boyer in May was easily the most memorable and fascinating winery visit. In 20 years of visiting Bordeaux I had never encountered a property so wilfully and joyfully stuck in the past as the world changes around it. Boyer was as charismatic as I anticipated, photographed beautifully and served as a pertinent reminder that money does not buy soul. It is a visit that I shall remember for a long time.
Restaurant of the Year: Brat (Shoreditch, London)
Brat! That emulsified whole turbot followed by the heavenly marriage of fresh grouse (shot by Brett Graham of The Ledbury) paired with 1962 and 1964 Latour in such impeccable company could not be bettered. Runners-up: Arbor in Hong Kong, La Lune in Beaune, Yakiniku Futago in Tokyo, Noble Rot in Holborn, La Trompette in Chiswick and Core by Clare Smyth in Notting Hill, London. Best single dish? Unquestionably it is Mrs. Martin’s lasagne. After declaring that she was going to make the best lasagne in the world, annoyingly, she did just that. Runner-up is Clare Smyth’s deconstructed take on Maltesers, cunningly entitled “Core-teser,” appearing on Vinous Table soon.
Best Wine List: Tour d’Argent (Paris) & Noble Rot (London)
The wine list at Tour d’Argent, built up over many years, was everything I hoped it would be, and it made me wistful for the days when you could delve into old Burgundy without breaking the bank. Noble Rot is only two years old, so their list is built from scratch, but it continues to surprise with a gallimaufry of hidden gems from esoteric wine regions and a seasoning of rare older vintages. Plus the food at Noble Rot is better than it has ever been.
Book of the Year: Killing Commendatore (Haruki Murakami)
Murakami is my favourite author. Killing Commendatore was met with indifferent reviews, and a scathing one in the New York Times. Ignore them. This is his best since Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. If you love Murakami, you will love his latest metaphysical novel, which slowly but deftly weaves its narrative through that liminal point between reality and the surreal. It is one of Murakami’s most cohesive and surprisingly affecting books. It’s also his sauciest.
Most Embarrassing Moment of the Year
Praising actor Dominic West for his part in The History Boys when in fact it was fellow actor Dominic Cooper. Thank God by that point it was late in the evening.
Most Tiresome Topic of Conversation
Brexit/latest Tweet from Trump/natural wine.
Nightmare Scenario of the Year
Dining with Donald Trump, discussing Brexit whilst drinking a natural wine that tastes like cider and wee (but has an amazing back story).
Film of the Year: A Quiet Place (dir. John Kransinski)
It is rare to find an emotive horror movie. This one is set in the near future, and Earth has been invaded by creatures that kill at the slightest sound, pushing humankind to the brink of extinction. Cue one very quiet movie where you spend much of the time on tenterhooks, praying that nobody makes a noise. Yet there is real emotion too, thanks to the superb Emily Blunt as the pregnant mother trying to keep it together and giving birth whilst being stalked by an alien. Also, I must mention Wes Anderson’s brilliant stop-start animation Isle of Dogs.
TV of the Year: They Shall Not Grow Old (BBC)
Peter Jackson will forever be associated with The Lord of the Rings, but his retelling of World War I, They Shall Not Grow Old, packed more emotional punch than the entire nine hours in Middle Earth. Silent monochrome newsreels are rendered sharper and coloured, and once-mute soldiers find voices. The past is thrust from the pages of history to what feels like the present, exactly one century after the Armistice, to humbling effect. Killing Eve was super cool if not quite the masterpiece it thinks it is; the second series of The Handmaid’s Tale was riveting but depressing; and A Very British Scandal was witty and supremely well acted by Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw.
Gig of the Year: The The at Brixton Academy
Procreation tends to curtail gig-going. Fortunately, my sprogs have reached “dumpable” age, which means Daddy can occasionally throw himself into a sweaty mosh pit instead of helping them with their trigonometry. There have been some great gigs this year: Mitski at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Loma at a tiny gig at the Lexington, Let’s Eat Grandma at Heaven nightclub. To be honest, I’m not into the lucrative nostalgia circuit, but I make exceptions for two artists who were enormously important when I was growing up: Soft Cell and The The. In 2018, against all expectations, I saw both. The The at Brixton Academy was perhaps the best, partly because Matt Johnson has been a recluse for 20 years and I assumed that I would never see him perform again. Their comeback was full of energy and emotion, the songs eerily prescient and Johnson an even better performer now than when I saw him back in 1993. And if you thought the recorded version of Jools Holland’s legendary piano solo on “Uncertain Smile” was thrilling, wait until you hear the live version when the DVD comes out.
Album of the Year: I’m All Ears by Let’s Eat Grandma
This is the first year when I feel guitar music made negligible impact. I have defended it for years, but Arctic Monkeys, Mitski and IDLES apart, I found little to commend. Pop rules. In fact, pop is the most innovative genre of music at the moment. My album of the year is the sophomore album I’m All Ears from Let’s Eat Grandma. Given their youth, it is a remarkably mature and ambitious album that marries, pop, industrial, house, indie and psych to dizzying effect. Another album I want to mention is Lily Allen’s No Shame. It is a very fine album whose middle section contains four consecutive songs that just blew me away. Perhaps it is because she is tabloid fodder, but I cannot think of any artist that reached the calibre of “Family Man,” “Apples,” “Three” and “Everything To Feel Something.”
Song of the Year: “Two Slow Dancers” – Mitski
“Two Slow Dancers” is the devastating, sombre finale to Mitski’s brilliant Be The Cowboy album. Seeing her sing this live in London, you could have heard a pin drop.
Other songs that pleased my ears in 2018:
“Three” – Lily Allen
I remember watching Lily Allen perform this on Later… with Jools Holland. I admired the beautiful melody and her affecting voice, the lyrics that one presumed ruminates upon Allen’s celebrity lifestyle. Then about one minute in, she deftly reveals the narrator is not Allen but her three-year-old daughter, asking why she is left at home while Mum goes out again. So simple and yet such a devastating twist; a dilemma that anyone who has to be away from their children will instantly relate to.
“Donnie Darko” – Let’s Eat Grandma
Epic 10-minute final track to Let’s Eat Grandma’s lauded album that fuses early Chicago house with Pink Floyd to stunning effect. Seeing this live was magnificent.
“Thank U, Next” / “No Tears Left to Cry” – Ariana Grande
Ariana rules. Not just for the respectful and mature manner in which she coped with the Manchester terrorist attack, but for refusing to lie down and releasing one pop gem after another. “Thank U, Next” is just a classic, an ingenious put-down but appreciation of her ex-boyfriends over a killer production. “No Tears Left to Cry” also deserves a mention.
“All the Stars” – Kendrick Lamarr ft. SZA
Stunning meeting of two heavyweights from the Black Panther soundtrack. Incredible production and I love SZA’s slightly cracked voice on the uplifting chorus.
“Deep Pockets” – Gaz Coombes
The former Supergrass frontman released a couple of brilliant tracks from his solo album this year. This would have me making shapes on the indie dancefloor.
“Fast Slow Disco” – St. Vincent
Oh, yes! Annie Clarke turns one of the standout tracks from last year’s Masseduction album into a hands-in-the-air dance anthem. Don’t watch the video on YouTube unless you are very broad-minded.
“Tonya Harding” – Sufjan Stevens
Apparently the ice-skater herself was a bit dismissive of this song that accompanied the excellent film. It is spectral and utterly beautiful.
“Don’t Miss It” – James Blake
Spectral. Minimalist. So devastatingly affecting.
“Faceshopping” – SOPHIE
Uncompromising industrial electro from transgender artist SOPHIE, the most in-demand producer of the moment. Yes, it is hard to listen to, but it’s completely absorbing.
“4Ever” – Clairo
I don’t know too much about Clairo but I just love the squelchy synth bass line and dreamy vocals.
“Tieduprightnow” – Parcels
“Tieduprightnow” borrows heavily from Chic and before you can yell “Plagiarism,” you’re clicking your fingers to the groove.
“Hunnybee” – Unknown Mortal Orchestra
What a strange but hypnotic song. It starts with what sounds like the string coda of Purple Rain and then suddenly changes into a dreamy pop song with a bouncing bass line and a guitar lick you just cannot get out of your head.
“Mother Maybe” – Kadhja Bonet
Gorgeous psychedelic soul from the honeyed voice of the talented Kadhja Bonet.
“Nameless Faceless” – Courtney Barnett
Loving Ms. Barnett’s take on American indie at the moment. This just bursts with vim.
“Cut and Run” - Slaves
Two minutes of sonic assault by guitar. Wish there was more like this.
“1950” – King Princess
Earworm of a chorus here, a clever song about lesbian longing dressed up as contemporary Country & Western.
“Everybody Wants to Be Famous” – Superorganism
Just so… 2018. A young collective fronted by a Japanese girl, Orono Noguchi. Her deadpan delivery is a perfect counterpoint to the timely sentiment of the song.
“Dancefloor” – Tracey Thorn
The best song never written by the Pet Shop Boys. Anyone who grew up making funny shapes in discos will relate to this.
“Deep End” – Lykke Li
The highlight of a sadly overlooked album from Swedish singer Lykke Li, this is a wonderfully produced song that has a sense of majesty in the chorus.
“Four Out of Five” – Arctic Monkeys
The only indie band worth listening to these days; the only band trying to push forward and unafraid to wrong-foot their audience. What next?
“Done for Me” - Charlie Puth ft. Khelani
Charlie Puth released a debut album that was rightly panned by critics and came back with some great pop bangers. including this superb two-way with the über-hip Khelani.
“Slow Burn” – Kacey Musgraves
A gorgeous Country & Western-tinged ballad, the kind that Taylor Swift used to make before she went all “attitude.”
“Sucker Punch” – Sigrid
So good that it rather outclassed Robyn’s comeback at the same time.
“This Is America” – Childish Gambino
If you watch one video this year, then watch “This Is America,” a visceral, shocking and unflinching indictment of the titular country.
“Girlfriend” – Christine & The Queens
Just amazing production here – this catchy song sounds so 1985 and just pops out of the speakers.
“Wide Awake” – Parquet Courts
Spiky indie pop from the fabulous Parquet Courts that puts a spring in your step.
“Make Me Feel” – Janelle Monae
As his former pal, Monae has more rights to rip off Prince than anyone else, and his pioneering spirit probably lives on in her more than in any other artist. Dirty, minimalist and funky as hell.
“Suspirium” – Thom Yorke
This spectral, spooky yet beautiful song from the film Suspiria could have come from Radiohead’s last album. Yorke is a true genius.
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Looking Back To Go Forward: Lafite-Rothschild 1868 – 2015, Neal Martin, July 2018
Last Man Standing: Bel-Air Marquis d’Aligre, Neal Martin, May 2018