My brother loves making lists. You know the kind, ‘the best ten footballers of all time’ or ‘the top five albums of the 90s’.
We often play the game, naming our favourite sportsmen, top songs or the best Dylan tracks. Pelé, the Brazilian legend, is always top of the great footballers list. It’s a bloke thing, throw-away and lots of fun.
On a recent visit to New Zealand my brother was trying to figure out where my fascination with wine comes from. Then he asked me the question: what is the Pelé of wine?
I couldn’t answer. I argued that it was impossible. Yes, I could name the top ten wines I’ve tasted, but not the best wine in the world. He wouldn’t accept it, stubbornness kicked, and the discussion carried on for six hours.
I could have just named a wine and ended it there. But I stuck to my guns and tried to explain that the nature of wine made answering the question difficult. First of all, wine is subjective. It depends on your own taste. Just because a wine is expensive, sought after and rare, doesn’t mean you’ll like it.
Secondly, wine is different from season to season so did he want me to include a vintage? Thirdly, I’ve only tasted a small percentage of the world’s wine, so how am I supposed to know? The world’s greatest wine could have been made in 1850 and therefore undrinkable now. Are you starting to get my drift?
Finally, I argued that wine changes in the bottle, so is always a moving target. One test of a wine’s pedigree is its longevity. So, is the Pelé of wine still reaching its peak, its full potential not yet realised?
Lots of wine was consumed during the argument and we never resolved the discussion. We decided instead to discuss the best West Bromwich Albion player of all time, something that it is possible to answer (Cyril Regis).
The next day, slightly worse for wear, we went for a walk, and I decided to finally give him an answer.
I said: ‘The Pelé of wine is Chateau d’Yquem, probably’.
‘What’s that?’ he said.
I told him that it is a sweet wine from Bordeaux, France, famed for the meticulous way it’s produced, the miracle of nature that allows it to happen and the length of time it lasts in the bottle. It’s usually the most expensive wine in the world when sold at auction, which must count for something.
End of conversation, never to be discussed again. Though in the process I was able to express a little about the artistic and philosophical nature of wine, something my brother may never have considered before. I maybe even have given him a touch of insight into my fascination with wine.
The Pelé of wine, Chateau d’Yquem, is rare and expensive but worth every penny if you ever get the chance to try it. Here are a couple of new world examples of this very sweet wine, made in a similar style but far more affordable.
De Bortoli Noble One Semillon, Australia. The Maradona of sweet wine. It’s as good as Pelé, but has had a much shorter career.
Alluvial Anobli, Hawkes Bay. A new player. Young and precocious but with huge potential. Rooney? These full bodied sweet wines are made with Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes that have been shrivelled into raisins by botrytis. They are aged in oak and the best examples feature lots of acidity to balance the sugar. Marmalade, apricot and crème brûlée are common flavours and they are traditionally served with salty blue cheese.