Vaughan Johnson of the eponymous wine shop on the Cape Town Waterfront is a true renaissance man. Not only does he sell wine and swap Champagne muselets (those gaily painted metal disks which fit between cork and wire cage of which he has over 700); he also is a great pamphleteer like his namesake Samuel Johnson. A History of the World has recently been joined by another slim volume: World’s Greatest.
While you may not agree that Abba’s Dancing Queen (1978) is the acme of popular music and may wonder why Francis Bacon fails to make the “artists and sculptors” category when David Hockney and Lucien Freud do, on most things Johnson is sound. His wine division fields three from SA: Eben Sadie’s Columella, Vin de Constance from Klein Constantia and the wines of Rustenberg.
Few would quibble over the appearance of Winston Churchill (1874-1965) among political leaders. Which could explain why Johnson is a big fan of Pol Roger non vintage Champagne which he retails for R483 when Pick ‘n Pay discounts Moët and Veuve to R339 next door. Winnie is indelibly linked to Pol Roger and as brand guru Martin Lindstrom proves in buy.ology (Random House 2008) psychological buy buttons are pushed by emotion rather than rational thought.
When tasted blind, most people prefer Pepsi to Coke (it’s sweeter) but when tasted sighted, Coke is chosen three times out of four as the world’s most refreshing burp is a cultural icon. Ditto for Churchill in former British colonies (Johnson lists the British Empire 1600-1997 in his “empires” section). The greatest Briton of the last millennium (as judged by a BBC poll) and his favourite fizz are far more potent than crusty old French widow Clicquot or portly French monk Dom Pérignon.
Johnson was dispensing history and hilarity at Wakame, the spectacular sushi palace in Mouille Point about to be demolished, at a vertical tasting of five vintages of Pol Roger Blanc de Blanc. Presented by dashing Great Domaines importer Derek Kilpin, the tasting started with a 1988 vintage labeled Chardonnay Brut. “Bloody Yanks should learn that Blanc de Blanc means Chardonnay” grumbled Johnson. Twenty years old, the wine was still delicious with a fine mineral mouse, but quickly became tired in the mouth and mushrooms grew in the glass after twenty minutes.
The rich, big and fat 1990 was totally different. In fact Johnson remarked it didn’t even taste as if it came from the same house. It was his third favourite of the flight. The best came next in the shape of a massively fresh and racy 1996. “It’s like filling in one of those service appraisal forms they leave in your room at a grand hotel. All the boxes get ticked 10/10.”
The 1998 was judged “not as magical” and the finish was definitely shorter. Johnson’s runner-up bubbly came last. From 1999, it was declared “very good to excellent” with an impressive yeasty character and great intensity. All good news for Kilpin as of this he has stock.
So if you’re looking for a present for someone for whom Churchill is more than a cigar size or a battle tank, a bottle of Pol Roger 1999 fits the bill, along with instructions to drink it sighted for maximum emotional impact.