The first Decanter Fine wine event I attended was from the New World in May 2011. Friends were bored for weeks with tales of divine excess, and the frightening lack of spittoons.
Many wines stayed with me. I still hanker after Au Bon Climat Isabelle Pinot Noir (£40 a bottle), though think it is better kept as a fond memory. We have near finished enjoying three cases of Chilean Viña Ventisquero’s Grey Chardonnay, winner of our – not entirely rigorous – tasting of over 30 wines to find the “best affordable buttery chardonnay” (£11 on the day, still good at £12.30). And, when I can find it, I clutch as many bottles from the Wakefield winery in Clare Valley, Australia to my chest as I can. Their entry level Cabernet Sauvignon from Majestic, at £8.79, is excellent value for money, and I’d suspect the Chardonnay is similar. However, what makes me really happy is drinking these: the St Andrew’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (£25 to £35) and the St Andrew’s Chardonnay (£20ish). I digress.
So on Saturday, I made my way to the Landmark Hotel in Marylebone for Decanter Magazine’s Fine Wine Encounter, with a fabulous friend (Fabulous for short) and a brace of husbands. Over a 10.30am strategy planning session, and prophylactic chocolate croissant, these infamous words were uttered by Fabulous “I have never spat any good wine, and I am certainly not going to start now”. 11am it started.
Kicking off with the Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande Masterclass, a £95 ticket treated us to 12 glasses of Bordeaux before midday. These were introduced by Sylvie Cazes who joined the château earlier in the year, and Mark Bingley, Master of Wine.
Pichon Lalande (to those in the know) is classified as one of just fifteen second growths in the 1855 Bordeaux Classification. Basically a pretty stonking Bordeaux, as witnessed by a) the ticket price, b) the fullness of the room, and c) the 1985 Grand Vin. For me, the main learning was that I will have to wait some time until I can afford Bordeaux wines I enjoy.
Of earlier wines tasted, the Chateau’s second growth would have been the impoverished enthusiast’s favourite, Reserve de la Comtesse 2003 at £30 a bottle. For me not quite worth it. Bingley, whose delightful vignettes accompanied every other swirl-sniff-slurp-and-spit, noted it was “still young; an hedonistic little sexpot of a Pauillac”. Put like that perhaps I’ll give it a whirl in another five years.
Staying with Pichon Lalande, we moved onto the Grands Vins or First Growths, and tasted the 2007, 2005, 1995, 1985, 1989, and 1975 vintages. In that order, they were described by Bingley as: young; young (hot summer); vintage for the long haul, and top Pichon of the 90’s though would trade it for a 1996 if having it with lunch; gilded youth, “Will it get better? I don’t know, but it’s just soooo nice now.”; the 1985 is rather more charming; quite pleasant, firm finish. My money is on the 1985, which if pressed for tasting notes I would refer to as a Jerusalem Artichoke of a wine. In a good way. At over £150 a bottle, I will not be revisiting it for some time.
The rest of the day went past in a glorious blur.
By the Cerreto table we got chatting to a couple of gentlemen in their fifties supping the Barolos and Barbarescos (to my mind, the best in the run of Piedmont tables). As I pointed out the Piana Barbera d’Alba 2010 for cheerful gluggling now, one turned to me and shook his head “I need something to keep. A wine I’ll want to stay alive for”. Ceretto’s Bricco Rocche Prapò, Barolo 2005 is on my Christmas list to keep me going at least until middle-age. I am sure I shall find another for then on.
In the Decanter Awards room, the International Medal winner of “Red Bordeaux Varietal anywhere in the world (including France) over £10″ came from China. He Lan Qing Xue, Jia Bei Lan, Ningxia 2009. Very enjoyable, and appropriately priced at £15-£20, were it available for sale in the UK. I will certainly be calling Justerini and Brooks for half a case of Voyager’s Estate Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot 2005 from Margaret River at £24.03, which won a Silver Award. The chap behind the bench was extremely enthusiastic about a Portugese wine currently £4.29 at Tesco, the 2010 Tagus Creek Shiraz & Trincadeira voted “Best international red blend under£10″. I wasn’t. At the sweet end of the table, there were very excited noises about Bodogo Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttunyos 2006, winner of “Hungary Sweet wines over £10″, at £56.56 for 50cl from Noel Young Wines. Sadly it was was too crowded to try.
For champagnes, Taittinger’s Prélude Grands Crus, with a slightly higher percentage of Chardonnay than usual, was a step towards a Blanc de Blancs and great value at £30.
Nearby, my other half troubled the Croatian winemaker “Saints Hills”, and raved about the Sv Lucia Dinga? 2009, from the Croatian grape Plavac Mali linked somewhere in its history to zinfandel. A deep, dark wine, but for me too heavy on the violets. I’d love to give it another go. Their white Nevina 2009 – a creamy, uplifting and complex blend of chardonnay and malvasia (a Croatian grape ) – was divine. As yet, neither are available in the UK.
And lastly, at the Chateau Bastor-Lamontagne & Chateau Beauregard table I tasted truffle in CB-L’s 2009 Sauternes, and then could think of nothing else. Except perhaps where I could buy one of Beauregard’s Pomerols.
In all, the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter is a wonderful day out. You are guaranteed at least six months of superb drinking ideas.
I caught up a little later with non-spitting Fabulous. She was clutching business cards to her chest, swaying a little, flanked on one side by a recent business card donor and on the other by the person she had married . “Look – these men keep flirting with me. They are Old and Ugly.” Proper nouns. She paused, took a breath, then “They look JUST like my husband.” We left.
On Sunday morning, looking over texts to friends that were there on the day, I caught sight of this one “Dozing on sofa with Masterchef. The last few Sauternes must have got the better of me.”
The last few Sauternes. Joy.