There are few wine tasting venues that can match the regal splendour of Vintners’ Hall in the City of London and we are inordinately grateful to the Vintners’ Company for allowing us to visit periodically. Bedecked in oak panelling and dazzling with silverware amassed over 6 centuries this is a great setting for a wine tasting especially when the wine makers themselves are present.
On Monday evening last week 6 of our long-serving (possibly long-suffering) suppliers joined us in London to show off their wares.
Laurent Bunan, from Domaines Bunan in Bandol, was showing off his superb white and rosé wines which are little-known on these shores but are hugely popular on the terraces of the Côte d’Azur; where they make an ideal accompaniment to freshly caught seafood. Laurent also exhibited a brace of Mourvèdre-based reds. The Mas de la Rouvière 2004 is beginning to soften with bottle-age and is packed with briary, hedgerow fruit that puts one in mind of warming stews and braises. Laurent’s flagship ‘Cuvée Charriage’ is a belting great blockbuster – approachable now, if decanted, but a wine that will mature well over a further 5 years.
At the neighbouring table Christine Campedieu was dispensing samples of her inimitable Collioure. Her white ‘Les Canadells’ is blended from 70% Grenache Gris and 15% each of Grenache Blanc and Macabeau. It is slightly resinous with wild herb notes and a long, elegant finish – enough to transport one to the Catalonian coast at sunset as the waves lap against the shore... Christine’s red wines named ‘La Pinède’ and ‘Puig Oriol’, after the vine plots, are blended from Grenache mixed with Carignan and Syrah respectively. Both have a strong sense of terroir and a fine concentration of fruit. I thought the ‘La Pinède’ was the slightly more forward drinking of the two but if I can convince ‘her indoors’ that the kids don’t need new winter coats I might invest in both for the Cave Personelle. Not to be overlooked is Christine’s seductive, sweet, dark Banyuls Réserva. It is infused with complex raisin and fig flavours and is one of very few wines that can cope well with chocolate – or Christmas pudding for that matter.
Patricia and Olivier Luneau met at wine school in Beaune and honed their craft in New Zealand. They run a forward-thinking vineyard in Mentou Salon producing fruit-accentuated wines of enormous charm. Simon Hoggart recently described their Menetou Salon Rosé wine in the Guardian as being: “So delicious – fruity and rich and round and yet with a real strength.” Their white wine, made from pure Sauvignon, was also showing very well in the current 2009 vintage. They must have mixed feelings about that as they lost three-quarters of the potential harvest to summer storms - fortunately they’ve generously agreed to uphold our usual allocation. Patricia and Olivier were also exhibiting their delightful red Menetou Salon Pinot Noir that has a bright berry-scented bouquet and a savoury palate of ripe red fruit and supple tannins. It would make a splendid partner to a plate of charcuterie or crusty bread and a good coarse pâté.
Bruno Ribière, who has the privilege of working with small parcels of ancient vines in the Roussillon, drew quite a crowd with his characterful range of wines that are incredibly evocative of their sun-kissed locale. Encouragingly, Master of Wine (and aide-de-camp to Jancis Robinson OBE) Julia Harding even put in a personal order for some of Bruno’s dry white Catalan Grenache. It is highly distinctive with an almost sherry-like palate and a long, mineral-edged finish. Bruno is equally well known for his dark, earthy, reds as testified to by a trio comprised of a brooding Carignan (from 130 year-old vines), a rugged Côtes du Roussillion ‘Cuvée Tradition’ and his dense, age-worthy ‘Cuvée Cana’.
Our only ‘no show’ of the evening was young Nathalie Margan from Château la Canorgue on the Montagne de Luberon. Sadly Nathalie was laid low by a virus on the eve of our tasting and was unable to join us. Fortunately her wines spoke for themselves and were well received in her absence. Château la Canorgue has pioneered organic viticulture since Nathalie’s father Jean-Pierre first set up here in 1978. Their white Côtes du Luberon, blended from Rhône staples Grenache, Clairette, Roussanne and Marsanne is grown at quite a high elevation and is fresher and zestier than most. Their delicious coral-pink Luberon rosé wine (from a blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah) is also clean, crisp and palate cleansing – it works well with or without food. An intriguing Vin de Pays called ‘Béret Frog’, made from (almost) pure Syrah (with a notional dash of Grenache) drew the attention of veteran wine scribe Malcolm Gluck who observed: ‘Plump yet very gripping tannins provide solid buttressing to svelte, mellow fruit.’ The more senior Château la Canorgue red (40% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 30% Carignan) has more complexity and length but reflects the same diligence and skill in the cellar and will be drinking well this winter.
Last but by no means least we were delighted to welcome Emilie Boisson from the acclaimed Domaine du Père Caboche in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Emilie and her father Jean-Pierre (who is serving his third term as mayor of the town) produce a fresh, racy, consistently pleasing white Châteauneuf-du-Pape from a blend of 40% Roussanne and 20% each of Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc and Clairette. It is vinified in stainless steel and the malolactic fermentation is blocked by a combination of chilling and filtration. It is one of few whites from the appellation that is zesty enough to be drunk comme aperitif and is a personal favourite. The Boissons, however, are best known for their Grenache-based red wines that have been described variously as ‘sexy’, ‘seductive’, ‘hedonistic’ and ‘voluptuous’ (you get the idea) by no lesser personage than Robert Parker. The entry level ‘Petit Caboche’ is a cracking Vin de Pays, packed with red berry flavours over supple ripe tannins. It is a failsafe ‘crowd-pleaser’ for dinner parties and people suffering withdrawal symptoms from Downton Abbey. ‘Château la Côte’ is a precocious, (new to us) fruit-accentuated Côtes du Rhône Villages in the awesome 2009 vintage that proved very popular on the night and is a shoo-in for our next annual list. 2007 was a historic vintage in Châteauneuf’ so it was a treat to taste the Domaine du Père Caboche red which is drinking really well right now with a lovely warming palate of black berries and cherries and subtle briary undertones. I managed to cajole a swan-song 100 magnums from Emilie when she was still on a post tasting high - if you’re wondering what to drink this Christmas you could do far worse. Finally we finished the evening sampling the flagship ‘Cuvée Elisabeth Chambellan’ again in the magnificent 2007 vintage. It is deeper and darker than the ‘regular’ bottling and comes from 100 year-old vines on La Crau plateau. It made for a terrific finale to a wonderful evening. The general consensus from all parties being that we should do that more often!