Sunday, 17 July 2011

A splendid tasting

Back at work on Monday, from the two superlative weeks in Le Marche, and I remembered that I had agreed to run a tasting for 12 of the team at work. One of the guys had managed to organise a room in a local hotel, so we had a suitable venue for a bit of 'oenophilic activity'.

I had billed the tasting as 'the best from John's cellar', and so I picked a representative selection of the great wines of the world, most with a bit of bottle age as well, and thus not that is widely available. One of my 'fears' when presenting a selection of high quality wines is that you can get a bit blasé about what you are paying for. So, by way of setting the tone, and also to establish the 'quality factor', we kicked off with an unexceptional bottle of Campo Viejo Rioja, a fiver from Asda. Not a bad wine, however, once you take tax off, it is a £2.50 bottle. This allowed me then to talk about what you get when you do 'choose up the list' - lower yields, grape selection, winemaking techniques, barrel ageing etc etc - as well as demonstrate the key elements of tasting

We kicked off with a bottle of a lovely Californian, Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir 2007. This is all you'd expect from classy Pinot - blackberry, raspberry and black currant. Lots of depth of flavour, and a stylishness as well. Definitely new world in inclination, but with more than a nod to the Burgundian. Think Kevin Spacey and you'd be about right.

The comparison was with a Volnay PC Clos de la Chapelle Nicolas Potel 2002. This came through with the traditional silkiness so often lacking in Volnay - not today! Lovely strawberry fruit, real length and depth of flavour, and just the right amount of tannin. We had grissini and a few cheeses to try with the wines, and as always, just nibbling a small piece of Keen's Cheddar will make a whole heap of difference to the way you experience the wine.

By now the assembled crowd had started to get into the swing of things. I was delighted that everyone could really like one or the other (always a relief when everyone likes at least something!) and we started to get a bit of 'old vs new world' banter going.

So, onwards now to the cabernet-dominated wines. Firstly a Château Batailley 2002, 5th growth Medoc, from an 'all-right' year. As a side story I can remember being in the Loire valley when buying this wine, strangely! Anyway, on to the wine. Worth noting first of all that this was double-decanted at about 4pm, and drunk at about 7.30. It really responded very well to that opening out of flavour, no question. Yet again, this reminded me why good claret in particular benefits from several hours exposed to air. Batailley is from Pauilliac, home of ripe, blackcurranty cabernet sauvignon, with a good wedge of merlot (and, no doubt, small dollops of some or all of Cabernet-Franc, Carmenère, Petit Verdot and Cot or Malbec). This had developed lovely violet and meaty flavours, and really demonstrated the great length you get with well-produced wine.

As a total contrast, Grosset, Gaia, Cabernet, 2003, from the cooler parts of Australia's Clare Valley. A blend of cabernet sauvignon (75%), cabernet franc (15%) and merlot (10%), this is a perfect contrast to the Bordeaux. Even though the wine has now spent over 6 years in bottle after 16 months in oak, it still felt young and fresh, with life ahead of ti. But..ah, how lovely the fruit tempting not to wait! The nose was an intense dark berry, meaty, earthy concoction, and on the palate, a taste that was substantial, well-knitted together, and with a finish into the middle of next week.  Again, decanting helped. Also pleasingly, a split in the group along similar lines to before - yet again proving that Oz doesn't have it all its own way!

The final pair showcased Shiraz - or should have done. Alas the Chateauneuf du Papes Vieux Telegraphe 2001 was not at its best. Not corked, just that the fruit had faded and this wine was, perhaps, 'overcellared'. A real surprise to me, I must say, as I thought VT would go on much beyond this. The fruit was still there, and, like an old gentleman, you could see its former elegance, but now it was tiring. I have subsequently tried another from the cellar and had a similar bottle. So, it has turned very quickly, as this was fine last year. The old saving is true, " is much less of a tragedy to drink a wine too young than too old..."

We moved swiftly on to the final red, d'Arenbergs top wine, the Dead Arm Shiraz 2001. Curiously names, apparently 'Dead Arm' is a vine disease caused by the fungus Eutypa Lata that randomly affects vineyards all over the world. Often vines affected are severely pruned or replanted. One half, or an ‘arm’ of the vine slowly becomes reduced to dead wood. That side may be lifeless and brittle, but the grapes on the other side, while low yielding, display amazing intensity. Anyway, this was the biggest, hugest, chompiest, mouth-fillingist whoosh of plums, berries, spice, soft tannins and flavour! All told, a true hero of Oz Shiraz, and to my mind one of the best I have tried. I shall relish my final bottle!

So, there you have it. A most enjoyable experience, yet again showing me how much I love doing this sort of thing, and when it is with an interested group, so much the better.

I'd better start planning the next one..

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