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“I traded my tomorrows to remain in yesterday; whiskey tears are falling now; each one cries another day”
Tonight I drew the cork on a wine made four years before I launched my company. It was (still is, in fact, as I shall finish it tomorrow night) a 1998 Château Saint-Nicolas from Fronsac, a region once described as the “bridesmaid” of Bordeaux wines.
Bridesmaids by definition wear slightly less expensive dresses than brides and by implication Fronsac, sited on the Garonne River, 25k northeast of Bordeaux, is traditionally dressed down in status – and price – compared with its swankier neighbours such as Pauillac, Margaux, Pomerol and Saint Émilion.
According to Majestic Wines, from whom I bought a dozen of these beauties, the 1998 Bordeaux vintage was a tale of two halves, a bit like the Japan-Ireland rugby match a couple of weeks ago. On the Left Bank it was a disaster, on the Right Bank (home to Fronsac) it was one of the finest on record. Robert Parker scored neighbouring Pomerol and Saint-Émilion vintages as 96 points and I’d love to see his rating for the Château Saint-Nicolas, which has aged not like a bridesmaid but like a Queen.
Forgive the long vinous introduction but I’m feeling nostalgic as I reflect on our 17th anniversary (alas I have no 2002s in my cellar), which we’ve just celebrated.
Staying with the liquid theme, it’s amazing how many special bottles one collects during a career (now stretching to 32 years) in travel retail. With the Rugby World Cup in Japan now poised to enter the knock-out stages and an Ireland-All Blacks quarter final a strong possibility, I was reminded of two bottlings in particular. Both were given to me by Walsh Whiskey Distillery to honour previous clashes between the two nations.
The first was a specially labelled bottle of the appropriately named Writers’ Tears, sent to me after Ireland beat the All Blacks for the first time (though, alas, not the last) in history on 5 November 2016. That triumph (40-29) came not on the green, green fields of Ireland but on the distinctly un-rugby turf of Soldier Field, Chicago (home to the Chicago Bears NFL team).
As I was shedding them copiously in the aftermath of our first loss to Ireland in 111 years, more Writers’ Tears arrived, courtesy of owner Bernard Walsh and his devilishly creative communications man Conor Dempsey. Besides thoughtfully reminding me of the final score on the label, it carried the beautiful words of an old Gaelic folk song quoted at the top of this Blog.
While whiskey tears indeed were cried by an Antipodean author, it was the Irish who were shedding them a fortnight later when the All Blacks turned the tables 21 to 9 in a brutal return match in Dublin. Good sports that they are, Walsh Whiskey Distillery then sent me a personalised bottle of The Irishman, once more adorned with the score on the label.
There has only been one more match between these two great sides since – on 17 November 2018 when Ireland won again (16-9). No whiskey on that occasion but one suspects there might be a wager in the air in coming days if the two teams do meet in the quarter finals. Then again, a certain fellow whisky-producing nation wants a say in that equation. In fact, make that two whisky-producing nations – Scotland and Japan.
The two meet today in what promises to be an epic contest. Will we see a Scottish finish as complete and satisfying as a Craigellachie 17 year old Speyside single malt? Or will the Japanese draw on every grain of their talent and blend all elements of their multi-faceted game as smoothly and triumphantly as a bottle of Hibiki Japanese Harmony?
We will know soon enough. But should the Japanese triumph, and thus avoid the All Blacks in the quarter-finals, I say this to Bernard and Conor – bring the Irish on. You will need a new line extension. And I have just the name – Irish Tears Shed. Against it I will put up a bottle of Thomson Whisky Manuka Smoke from that great Kiwi (ahem) airport retailer The Loop (Aer Rianta International) for a bargain NZ$85. It took the Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirit Competition in 2016. A portent of things to come in Japan? Or if you prefer wine Bernard and Conor, how about a bottle of Matua Lands & Legends Central Otago Pinot Noir? It’s described as “brooding, intense and complex with just a dash of joie de vivre”. Just like the All Blacks. And they don’t make good bridesmaids.