Four great wines I drank with Owen Williams

I met the late Owen Williams quite by accident. My mother had been friendly with the mother of an ex- girlfriend of mine, and she had suggested that she meet Owen Williams for tea and give him a lift to a play that he was going to review. Owen William’s must have been in his late sixties by then and virtually retired from journalism. He had been a top film and food critic and at one time was arts editor of a major local Cape Town newspaper, sister to a paper that I was later to write for, on and off for many years on a freelance basis.

We met at the tea and immediately hit if off. He loved wine and had lived in a house in the Languedoc for 20 years. There he drank a bottle of the local red at lunch and another at supper. So he had plenty of wine in his system. He loved the barren, arid, wind swept nature of the Languedoc landscape, or so he told me. He lived at the time I met him until his death in a small room in a modest hotel- residence in Sea Point, Cape Town.

The first time I met him to go out for a meal he suggested “Let’s go to Mario’s for dinner.” It was in Sea Point or Green Point, I am not sure. When we arrived he said “I was at the opening of Mario’s 30 years ago. For a long time Mario was the chef but when he died his wife took over the cooking. The food is good but not as good as when Mario was the chef. Men seem to make better cooks than women…” A typically Francophile view of cuisine.  

Gevery- Chambertin Les Cazetiers Louis Jadot 1988. I took this wine with me to Mario’s. We drank it in 1998. It was a pair of Louis Jadot red Burgundy’s, both 1998 that I had purchased at Heathrow airport, London in 1997. The other being the bum Corton drunk with Clive. This noble premiers crus was a stunner. My first, truly great red Burgundy from a fine vintage and just right at ten years. The colour showing browning round the edges. Cherries and gameness on the nose, same on the palate with a rich, luxuriant fruit. Silky and refined. 5 stars. What made it so complex was the simple but dramatic, contrast between the gameness and the cherries. The striking contrast of flavours.  

Owen liked to go to an Italian restaurant in Sea Point that served very rich, traditional Italian food. When we sat down he would invariably pull out a packet of a strong brand of French cigarettes and smoke one. “I really should not be smoking them” he would say as he reached for his asthma pump to counter act the effect of the cigarette. I did not smoke then. I do now and also suffer from asthma so I can relate to his addictive, dangerous situation. As I said the restaurant served very rich food, this was before I had my gallbladder out in 2005 and I could eat anything.

I liked their liver and onions with mash or veal with a very rich sauce. They also served a homemade delicious Italian cake. Owen would start his meal there with a martini. On one occasion he was unhappy with it. “This bar man does not know how to make a martini properly” he once said. “I will go into the bar and make it myself, next time he will know how to make one.” We had two great wines at this Italian restaurant.

E. Guigal Chateauneuf- du- Pape 1990. Drunk in 2000. I opened the wine, the aromas leapt out of the bottle. “I can smell the Rhone from across the table Owen enthused!” Dark brooding colour showing only slight loss of colour on the edges. Nose of green melon, tar, hot stones and spice. Massive palate. Pure striking tannins back dropped by oak in the background. A masterpiece, tour de force. Oak, fruit and tannin in perfect symphony. Yes, a genuine work of vinous art. Beyond scoring, beyond assessment. 10 out of 10. I might be wrong but I think Decanter wine magazine voted it as one of its if not its wine of the year. 

Kuentz-Bas Eichberg Gewurztraminer  1994. Drunk with Owen in 2000.  Roger Voss in his “Wines of the Loire, Alsace and the Rhone” rates Gewurztraminer as “the grape that has brought more fame to the Alsace region than any other.” He describes Kuentz – Bas as “A medium-sized firm producing excellent wines at all quality levels.” Hugh Johnson describes Kuentz-Bas as an “Alsace famous grower/ merchant, especially their Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer.”

A brilliant wine with a lovely perfumed nose. Not too forward or straight typical Gewurztraminer litchis and rose petals. Will develop further in 4 or 5 years. I remember the incredible bouquet of this wine. How the perfumed nose leapt from the glass, the richness and concentration of the palate. The concentrated sweetness and how it matched perfectly the rich food. Alsace wines are known to complement the rich food of Alsace and this wine matched the rich Italian food perfectly. I was somehow blown away by this wine and became very excited. I even phoned Jascha on his cell to tell him that he must try a glass of the wine tonight. But when he arrived at my flat a few hours later the ephemeral radiance of the bouquet had gone and like a rainbow it had faded into the night. 

The final and fourth wine drunk with Owen together with Carl was at my flat in 2005.  It was a bottle of Domaine Jacques Prier Musigny 1961. It is quite a story of how I came to purchase this wine. I was going for a walk on a warm summer’s day in Kalk Bay with Clive where he lives. We passed a second hand store and Clive noticed a table loaded with old French wines of fine providence. They were going for a song. “Buy the lot” Clive barked and then whispered “just keep cool and offer a thousand rand for the lot.” I took out my credit card and walked out of the shop with 12 bottles in a cardboard box.

The wines although of top breeding were very old and proved to be a right off except for the Musigny. So I suppose you could say that I paid a thousand rand for a bottle of wine. But it turned out to be a miracle wine. One I will never forget. Hugh Johnson notes that Musigny “Can be the most beautiful, if not the most powerful, of all red Burgundies.” And he lists Prieur amongst the best growers. Of Domaine Jacques Prier he writes “Meursault estate with amazing Grand Cru holdings from Montrachet to Chambertin.” 

The wine label was tattered showing its age, after all it was 44 years old. When I tried to open the wine the corked just dropped into the bottle in one solid piece. Something that has never happened before or since. But the cork was in good condition, it just dropped into the bottle. What a wine! Still youthful in colour with a lovely scented nose and a rich, intense palate. Amazingly youthful it seemed ageless, still young and could probably have developed for another ten-15 years. I wrote to Michael Fridjhon about the wine and he wrote back “that he envied me the experience.” He asked me whether there was a Calvet sticker on the wine and I replied that there was. He said that amazingly that it was one of the first wines that he had imported to SA. Now Owen William’s like so many of friends, it seems, has passed on, but as much as I remember Owen I remember the Domaine Jacques Prier Musigny 1961.   

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *