A few years ago, I took a 40-year-old bottle of Spring Mountain Vineyard Cabernet to a restaurant in the charming, wealthy little town of St Helena, in the middle of the Napa Valley. The wine was the celebrity of the evening. I offered a glass to the sommelier, and our neighbouring tables got wind of it, then the cooks. Soon there were people coming from far corners of the dining room to beg a taste of the fine old wine. California, and especially Napa, is famed for many things, but it’s rare to taste older bottles – and even more so from the smaller properties, which in the early days were far too preoccupied with selling the stuff to lay down decent libraries. Even today, winemakers frequently complain that they can’t persuade their owners to save enough cases of each vintage.
If old bottles are rare in their home state, they’re even rarer abroad. But they are available if you know where to look. Luckily, on our doorstep we have two establishments with world-renowned collections of American wine: the Vineyard hotel at Newbury, an hour to the west of London, and Hedonism in Mayfair. Romain Bourger, UK Young Sommelier of the Year in 2016 and the Vineyard’s head sommelier, offered his premises and some wonderful bottles; Alistair Viner of Hedonism pulled out some fine dusty specimens; and Dave Allen, director of specialist California importer the Vineyard Cellars, completed the panel.