A potentially thorny question for those of us in the wine trade is: What on earth to serve visiting wine makers? Last week I had not one but two wine-makers to stay and so had ample opportunity to ponder this dilemma. The short answer is: Nothing from their own back yard and certainly not their own wine unless it's part of an elaborate ruse.
My first guest was Fredrik Filliatreau, from Saumur Champigny, who I've known for years and is a close family friend. Fred was purporting to be in the UK on business and any rumours that he was actually over for a spot of chalk-stream fly fishing on the river Wylye should be ignored. Having been President of the appellation of Saumur Champigny while still in his thirties Fred is an authority on Cabernet Franc so that (and all Loire wines for good measure) were strictly off the menu. We served him a Corsican rosé from Domaine Saparale as an aperitif which seemed to meet with approval. The only problem being my thirsty neighbours who can hear a cork pop at 50 metres and are particularly partial to sophisticated saignant wines. To be fair they are a very jolly bunch and they entertained Fred with aplomb while Pippa and I faffed about in the kitchen. We then sampled a nervy Neagles Rock Riesling, in the newly shipped 2009 vintage, with a simple crab salad, followed by an organic red Côtes de Luberon, Château la Canorgue with a slow-cooked leg of lamb 'boulanger'. With a selection of English cheeses (from our local fromage-pusher Paul at Sagebury Cheese in Frome), including my new favourite 'Danegeld' made by Jamie Montgomery (do try it), we had a bottle of Gigondas 1990 from Domaine Saint Gayan. This majestic old Grenache was (like me) showing its age but it made a fine end to fun evening and we all retired to bed at a fairly sensible hour.
Two days later ace Aussie wine-maker Dan Buckle, from the celebrated, Mount Langi Ghiran estate in Victoria, descended upon us prior to the wedding of some mutual friends. Dan was somewhat less of a vinous challenge as he is a keen Francophile with limited access to French wines in his native Australia. We served Dan a sparkling Loire rosé 'Cuvée les Tonnelles' from Domaine Aubert, enlivened with a soupçon of Sirop de Pamplemousse Rose from Domaine Combier in Saumur, which we all agreed made a refreshing start to the evening. With our starter of steamed English asparagus we had a taut young Reuilly from Gérard Cordier followed by a roast chicken that I couldn't resist pairing with the 2007 'Vieilles Vignes' Cuvée of Filliatreau Saumur Champigny - as Fred had stayed with us so recently. Dan had brought us some great cheeses from Neal's Yard in Borough Market with which I struck lucky with a 1971 Saint Joseph from Rhône legend Ernest Trollat. I was correct in my guess that '71 was Dan's birth year and although he didn't actually weep with gratitude he definitely looked a little misty in the corner of his eyes.
It was great to catch up with both Fred and Dan and I look forward to inflicting similar damage to their cellars when I next visit them in Saumur and Melbourne respectively.