Grand Cru Champagne and a tale from 1970's London of its most infamous notoriously drunken restauranteur.
Champagne brings out the best in all of us, or the worst as in the case of the notorious alcoholic London restaurateur Peter Langan, owner of the eponymous Langan's Brasserie in Piccadilly that he opened in partnership with actor Michael Caine.
Fuelled by up to 12 bottles of Krug per day, he was renowned for his hell raising antics, potty mouth and capacity to sleep anywhere. He would regularly challenge pretty young things to strip off in the bar in return for large amounts of champagne - often with astonishing success - and had a peculiar habit of cruising menacingly on his hands and knees under tables, biting unsuspecting female diners' ankles.
Langan was notorious for his sharp tongue and vehement reactions to any kind of criticisms, real or imagined. On occasion an outraged woman found a dead cockroach in the ladies' loo and complained. He put her right: "It can't be one of ours. This cockroach is dead. All ours are alive and healthy." He promptly swallowed it, washed down with vintage Krug.
On another occasion he barred Rudolf Nureyev for, as he quipped, "being himself".
And then there was the time that he didn't recognise Marlon Brando when he came into the restaurant, explaining: "The only thing I knew about him was that he is even fatter than me."
He died in 1988 at the age of 47 after a failed attempt at self-immolation.
Sadly we can't all afford to drink Krug every day so are always on the look out for a delicious well made Grand Cru champagne at a more modest price point.
The concept of value, particularly as applied to something as subjective as wine is nebulous at best and means different things to different people - you say tomato, I say potato, etc. - but for us it means wines that are significantly underpriced vis a vis their peers.
We have identified various reasons - dare we call them "value categories"? - to explain this phenomenon.
Black sheep: sometimes certain regions - or indeed entire countries (yes, I'm looking at you Germany) - are so tainted by the sins of their fathers that recent leaps forward in wine making quality fail to throw off the historical mantle of mediocrity and go unrewarded, resulting in some fantastic values.
Germany, Spain, Languedoc Roussillon, Rhone Valley & Beaujolais
Poor neighbours: some regions lie in the shadow of more famous neighbours and despite producing similar quality wines from often near identical terroir never achieve the dizzy price heights of them next door, even if in some cases - e.g. in Burgundy - the distances involved can be measured in footsteps.
Bergerac vs Bordeaux, Cotes de Francs vs St Emilion, Vosne Romanee vs Romanee Conti, Quincy, Reuilly vs Sancerre & Pouilly Fume
Undiscovered stars: in every given appelation there will be a hierarchy among producers of ability and recognition (and thus price). Sometimes - particularly in the case of young producers - there is a time lag between achieving the quality level and the market adjusting price accordingly.
Jacques Frederic Mugnier, Burgundy & Jerome Coursodon, St. Joseph, Rhone Valley
Weather freaks: most quality wine making in the world takes place in a narrow band of latitude wherein seasonal weather fluctuation dramatically affect the quality of the wine from one year to the next. Although recent improvements in viticulture and wine making mean that a ruined vintage is practically a thing of the past, there are certainly great fluctuations between one year and the next and vintage remains very important. All this said, in some generally perceived bad years there will always be a band of weather freaks who manage to beat the weather and produce a superior wine to that of their peers. Although those wines may be as good as those produced in a "better" year, in terms of pricing the wine will always be handicapped by the perceived vintage quality rating.
Chateau Pontet Canet, Bordeaux in almost all recent "off vintages" & 2003 Vacqueyras from Domaine Bouissiere
Little brothers: many wineries make 2 or 3 wines and work on the principle that they include only the very best grapes in the top cuvee, with the residual being effectively downgraded into the number 2 and 3 wines. The lesser wines are normally sold at a fraction of the price of the top wine but wine making quality focus remains the same, these normally represent excellent value for money.
Bordeaux second wines from the top chateaux & Declassified Chateauneuf super cuvees
Gilbert Grape: grape fashions come and go: this year it may be Chardonnay, next Merlot, next Riesling. Remember for example when Shiraz was so despised in Australia that it was baked into muffins?! Those in the spotlight naturally attract the best pricing. Meanwhile some grapes never seem to make it to the premier league hall of fame and thus languish forever undervalued.
Chenin Blanc & Grenache
Richard Dawson Owner of Parabola wine bar & the Devil in the grape wine co. Richard holds the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Diploma qualification and lectures at the Academie du Vin in Tokyo. He is originally from Edinburgh in Scotland, studied French at the University of St. Andrews and lived and worked in France prior to coming to Japan in 2001.