We never do things by halves at AWC Wine Academy. So, it only made sense that, for our first Cheese & Wine matching event, we asked well-known wine writer and presenter Susy Atkins to be our hostess.
Above: Susy prepares for the matching.
As many of you will know, Susy writes for the Sunday Telegraph and is a regular presenter on the BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen. She was thrilled to present on one of her favourite food and wine themes at our unique tasting facility. Over the course of the incredibly enjoyable and informative evening, Susy walked us through a series of fine wines, paired with various, equally impressive fromages.
According to Susy, pairing wine and cheese is enjoying an upswing in popularity at the moment. However, people are now paying much more attention to what they are actually matching. ‘The fact of the matter is that a lot of cheeses simply don’t go with certain wines,’ she told us, ‘so it pays to understand what works and what doesn’t. For instance, a big tannic red simply doesn’t go with a soft, creamy cheese. The balance and texture is all wrong. Successful cheese and wine matching is all about balance,’ she re-iterated. ‘It is not about contrast.’
‘Furthermore,’ she continued, ‘these days, people are finally discovering that white wines generally tend to provide better, more versatile matches than reds.’The first pairing of the night was something of a classic – a striking, 2010 Comte Lafond Sancerre with a Chabichou goat’s cheese from Poitou. Both come from the same, Loire Valley region of France and have a naturally affinity for one other. Goat’s cheese and Sauvignon Blanc just seem to go together – the acidity of the wine cuts through the texture of the creamy cheese perfectly. However, Susy did warn us that not all Sauvignon Blancs work as well as this. ‘Minerally Pouilly-Fumés and Sancerres are ideal, but many New Zealand and Chilean Sauvignon Blancs are just too fruity and can easily overwhelm the delicate cheese flavours.’
Above: Tasters evaluate the Sancerre and Chabichou match.
While the following pairing was a certainly a hit, it was undoubtedly a bit more daring. The 2009 JJ Prüm Riesling Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett from the Mosel region in Germany, matched with a hard Parmigiano Reggiano from Reggio Emilia in Italy was both unexpected and delightful.
The light-bodied, delicate Kabinett, with its piercing acidity and touch of sweetness, clearly wasn’t the most obvious match for the Parmesan, yet, as Susy pointed out – ‘Riesling is an extraordinary grape variety in that it has the ability to pair with all sorts of dishes.’ Having just come back from a trip to the Mosel, Susy said she had drunk Riesling with venison, wild boar and pork – and a lot of cheeses – all with great success. Everyone in attendance was quite enthusiastic about this match after trying it, as the slight sweetness of the wine perfectly enhanced the intense and savoury nuttiness of the unpasteurised Parmesan.
The third pairing was a luscious 2007 Hugel Jubilee Gewurztraminer from Alsace and an intensely savoury Mignon Maroilles from the Pas de Calais region. The soft texture and pungent aroma of the cheese was in perfect harmony with the natural sweetness and rosewater perfume of the Gewurztraminer. Interestingly, some tasters actually preferred this cheese with the previous wine (the Riesling). The touch of charming sweetness in both wines was able to lift and enhance the flavours of this strong-smelling, washed rind cheese.
Next up was a 1998 Gran Reserva Rioja from none other than the brilliant La Rioja Alta winery in Haro, Spain. The delicate, aged red wine was a joy to drink, with subtle, almost Pinot Noir-like notes and hints of leather, tobacco and strawberry fruit.According to Susy, ‘most red wines simply don’t go with cheeses, particularly if they are big and tannic. So, if you are going to serve a red wine, choose it carefully. For me, the best red wines are those which are more mellow and mature. Younger, New World wines with too much fruit and tannin simply walk all over cheeses and can really subdue their flavours. However, wines like Gran Reserva Riojas, which have already had a minimum of five years ageing in barrel and bottle, are often just the ticket.’
Above: Thoroughly enjoying the Rioja.
If the Rioja Alta was one of the wines of the night, the star cheese was certainly the Montgomery Cheddar from North Cadbury in the West Country with which it was matched. One of the most remarkable things about this deliciously rich and savoury hard cheese was the way its flavour and intensity changed over the course of the evening – just like a great wine improves in the glass.
Again, the success of the match was due to the balance of textures and flavours. No component overpowered any other and, for most tasters, this was the best match of the night.
Of course, no tasting would be complete without one of the greatest, classical food and wine matches of all time –Sauternes and Roquefort. At AWC Wine Academy events we always want to spoil the tasters a bit. So, we poured a sublime, 2003 Château Suduiraut. It was everything a top Sauternes should be – sweet, rich and luscious, with enough acidity to prevent it from being cloying. This also had a lovely, honeyed botrytis character and intense flavours of apricot, peach and marmalade.
The Roquefort Papillon Premium from Rouergue was also on top form, with its hallmark buttery texture and salty tang. This was an ideal ying and yang match, with the sweetness offsetting the saltiness in perfect harmony. Similarly, the oily texture of the Sauternes was just right for the creamy interior of the Rocquefort.As Susy mentioned, when pairing sweet wines with blue cheeses, you don’t have to limit yourself just to Sauternes. A good Tokaji or Vendange Tardive from Alsace will work just as well. So too would a good ‘sticky’ from Germany, Austria or even Australia.
Just for good measure, we also tried the Suduiraut with some of the other cheeses. Favourite pairings were matching it with the Parmesan and the Cheddar. Susy did warn us that Sauternes doesn’t work well with everything though. Her advice was to avoid crumbly cheeses such as Cheshire and Lancashire.
The last pairing was a slight twist on another well-known classic – namely Port and Stilton. However, rather than going for a red Port, such as a Ruby, Late Bottled Vintage or Vintage, Susy decided to show a wood-aged Tawny Port instead. The wine she chose was the 30 year old Tawny from Graham’s which was delightful – notes of espresso crème, hazelnuts, raisins, spice, caramel, mocha and fruitcake. It was a brilliant partner for the intensely spicy and tangy Colston Bassett Stilton from Nottinghamshire.
Above: New friends made and matching expertise gained!
At the end of the evening we all cast our votes for match of the night. Unsurprisingly, the Grand Prize went to the Rioja/Montgomery Cheddar pairing, with the Roquefort/Sauternes combo a close second place.
All in all, it was a fantastic evening, with wonderful fine wines, great artisanal cheeses and a master-class in the process of matching them by one of the UK’s most delightful and charismatic wine experts.
As a result, we intend to repeat this event early in 2012. If you would like to attend, please contact us at your earliest convenience as it is already proving to be quite popular.
All of the evening’s cheeses were generously supplied by La Fromagerie in Marylebone.
The wines tasted are as follows. All are available on request from The Antique Wine Company:
1. 2010 Comte Lafond, Sancerre, France - £288/case of 122. 2009 JJ Prum Riesling Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett, Mosel, Germany - £288/case of 123. 2007 Hugel Jubilee Gewurztraminer, Alsace, France - £336/case of 124. 1998 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904, Rioja, Spain - £720/case of 125. 2003 Château Suduiraut, Sauternes, France - £696/case of 126. NV Graham’s 30 Year Old Tawny Port, Douro Valley, Portugal - £426/case of 6We look forward to welcoming you into AWC Wine Academy in the coming months, whether for another cheese and wine event, for your own private tasting or for one of the other exciting events we have planned. To join us for a tasting or to reserve the Wine Academy for yourself, please visit - http://www.awcwineacademy.com - or contact Deborah Ives on +44 (0) 20 3219 5560. To purchase any of the wines which were covered in this particular tasting, please contact one of our staff wine experts.
Tags: AWC Wine Academy, antique wine company, Sauternes, tasting, wine school, wine education, marylebone, Susy Atkins, Chateau Suduiraut, Rioja, JJ Prum, Hugel, Gewurztraminer, Port
Education | Wine tasting
Last week, AWC Wine Academy hosted another delightful, fine wine tasting.
Expertly led by the inimitable and prolific Burgundy author, Mr. Robert Joseph, the tasting attracted some very serious white Burgundy lovers.
Burgundy is the wine region which remains closest to Robert’s heart and his knowledge of the wines, growers, vintages and terrroirs that featured in the tasting were nothing short of encyclopaedic.
No doubt this passion was helped by the fact that Robert lived in Burgundy for several years and knows many of the winemakers and estate owners personally. Throughout the evening, he was able to communicate his understanding and expertise in a way that truly brought the region and its wines to life.
Above: Fine wine tastings at AWC Wine Academy always start with a glass or two of Vintage Champagne. Wine Academy Assistant Alex Scheybeler (l) and Account Manager Lucy McMillan (r) prepare for the arrival of the evening's guests.
This passion also helped fuel some lively debate and precipitated plenty of pertinent, intelligent and quite wine savvy questions. However, no matter how detailed the question, Robert was able to answer with both wit and wisdom. No wonder he’s won so many awards or that Decanter Magazine once described him as ‘one the wine world’s 50 most influential wine people.’
Above: Perfectly chilled bottles, ready to be poured.
We tasted the wines in pairs and the first wine of the evening was the 2009 Chassasgne-Montrachet, Morgeot 1er Cru from Domaine JN Gagnard. Since 1989, the wines at this tiny domaine in Chassagne have been made by the highly talented Caroline Lestimé. It was an impressive start to the evening. As ever, the Morgeot was classy and elegant, yet maintained its depth and concentration – a true to vintage 2009 which will continue to age and improve. 91 Points.
Next was Jean-Marc Boillot’s 2008 Puligny-Montrachet. Whilst terroir certainly plays a part, Boillot is a master at producing complex wines even in the most demanding vintages. 2008 was an altogether different vintage from 2009 and this was reflected in the glass. This wine was more citrusy and tight than the 2009, with plenty of minerality and tons of crisp, fresh acidity. This particular Puligny comes from no fewer than nine parcels, all on the Chassagne side of the commune. It also includes some of the best lieux-dits, such as Rue Rousseau and Les Enseigneres. Out of the pair, most people in the room preferred the more accessible 2009, but Boillot’s 2008 also showed undeniably well. 90 Points.
The next pair of wines, from the same vintages as the first pair, was a clear step-up in quality. First was the 2009 Puligny-Montrachet, Les Champs-Gain 1er Cru from Camille Giroud. You may recall that that Camille Giroud was purchased by the famous American vintner Ann Colgin, of Napa’s Colgin Cellars, back in 2002. Though it is better known for its reds, this was silky, rich, creamy and sensuous – almost New World in style - with lots of ripe white peach and Bosc pear flavours. A real vin de plaisir. 93 Points.
Following the Camille Giroud came a more cerebral 2008 Chevalier-Montrachet, Grand Cru from one of Burgundy’s greatest negociants - Bouchard Père et Fils. Here, the Grand Cru terroir clearly showed through - complex notes of apples, greengage fruit, yellow plum, melon and nuts. This was also quite creamy, with a lot of butter, yet a nice savoury edge that was followed by very long finish. ‘Orchestral’ was Robert’s verdict. 94 Points.
While the Bouchard had been my favourite wine thus far, it was outgunned and outclassed by the sublime wine which followed it. This was Domaine Drouhin’s extraordinary 2005 Marquis de Laguiche Le Montrachet. It was simply breathtaking - complexity, power, eloquence and precision all rolled into one magical wine. Robert described it as being the quintessential ‘iron fist in a velvet glove.’ Without question, this wine is still in its infancy and will age (and improve) for decades. This had everything anyone could ever possibly ask for in a great Montrachet.
Above: Burgundy expert Robert Joseph leads the tasting.
What a pleasure and a privilege to drink such a wine! My tasting notes do not even come close to doing this wine justice - dry, fresh, rich and ripe with astonishing depth, weight and extract. On the palate, I picked up a bewildering range of flavours, including hazelnuts, minerals, white flowers, quince, pear and a savouriness reminiscent of rolled oats. The balance, complexity and length were almost beyond compare. To many this was, without a doubt, the wine of the night. 99 Points.
You would be forgiven for thinking that this would be a nearly impossible act to follow. However, the 2001 Chevalier-Montrachet from Château de Puligny did quite an admirable job – it actually performed extremely well. In part, this was due to the smokier, leaner style of the 2001 vintage and the fact that this wine was developing some superlative secondary aromas and flavours which added to its complexity. 93 Points.
The Château de Puligny’s sparring partner, the 1998 Le Montrachet from Etienne Sauzet also proved to be up to the task. It was beautifully mature and, perhaps not surprisingly, showed a gentle oxidative character which added a honeyed richness. Almond, hazelnut, mandarin orange, minerals and toast - another stunning wine from an excellent producer. 95 Points.
Among serious collectors of white Burgundy, it is inevitable that, at some point, a question about premature oxidation would be asked. The issue of ‘pre-ox’ showed up sometime around 1995 and haunted a number of wines and estates for several years. The question is why?
Robert took the question head on and suggested that it probably comes down to a number of factors. These included some suspect corks, varying levels of sulphur, riper wine styles and greater use of batonnage (stirring of the lees/sediment in barrel) during the process of élevage. Another theory is that the use of gentler presses may have excluded some of the natural phenolics which help keep oxidation at bay and protect the wines. In truth, it is unlikely we will ever know the conclusive answer. Fortunately, the issue is much less prevalent than it once was.
Above: Carefully considering the wines.
Eventually, we reached the last pair of wines. Both wines proved, without a shadow of a doubt, just how magnificently great white Burgundies can age if they are stored properly and given the chance. The first of the two was none other than the 1991 Le Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche from Drouhin – our second vintage of this wine during the evening. Naturally, the wine was showing its age, but it was doing so impeccably. By now, the colour on this wine had transitioned to a deep golden hue, yet it still had that wonderful acidity and honeyed richness which was also present in the younger vintage. These sublime flavours were married to savoury notes of spice, nuts and toast to create something utterly phenomenal.
‘This is what great white Burgundy is all about’, exclaimed Robert. I had to agree, as I found myself captivated by the wine’s sheer complexity, power and elegance. The finish was equally extraordinary. It was also fascinating to taste the 2005 and the 1991 side-by-side because you could see almost exactly where the younger wine is ultimately heading. 96 Points.
Last but not least, we alighted on the oldest Grand Cru of the night - the 1989 Bâtard-Montrachet from Bouchard Père et Fils. It was a fitting finale to this glorious evening. The wine was fully mature, with a complex, elevated nose, followed by a melee of flavours ranging from caramel and honey to nuts and spice box. Clive Coates once described this wine as ‘virile, powerful and [with] bags of life.’ I know exactly what he means. Even at 22 years of age, it is still going strong. 94 Points.
This was an incredibly impressive tasting. It was also a perfect example of how to conduct a Fine Wine Masterclass – with modesty, wit and humour. For instance, Robert candidly admitted, from the start, that it is simply impossible to know everything there is to know about Burgundy. ‘It’s just too complicated, which, of course, is part of its appeal. It’s one of many reasons why people keep coming back for more!’
Another reason is definitely the wines. As that is the case, I’m sure you’ll be interested to know that Robert is back at AWC Wine Academy on November 22nd to showcase eight, fantastic red Burgundies from some of the Cote d’Or’s top domaines. The evening is entitled – The Holy Grail of Red Burgundy. It should be quite the night and we very much hope you can join us.
We look forward to welcoming you into the building in the coming months, whether for the upcoming Red Burgundy tasting, for your own private tasting or for one of the other exciting events we have planned. To join us for a tasting or to reserve the Wine Academy for yourself, please visit - http://www.awcwineacademy.com - or contact Deborah Ives on +44 (0) 20 3219 5560. To purchase any of the wines which were covered in this particular tasting, please contact one of our staff wine experts.
Tags: Montrachet, Domaine Drouhin, Robert Joseph, Chassagne-Montrachet, Domaine JN Gagnard, Morgeot, Jean-Marc Boillot, Rue Rousseau, Les Enseigneres, Puligny-Montrachet, Les Champs-Gain, Premier Cru, Grand Cru, 1er Cru, Chevalier-Montrachet, Marquis de Laguiche Le Montrachet, Marquis de Laguiche, Chateau de Puligny, Etienne Sauzet, Bouchard Pere et Fils, 2009, antique wine company, AWC Wine Academy, Burgundy, Burgundy 2009, fine wine, wine education
Above: Old meets new at Château Cheval Blanc
Earlier this week, whilst visiting Bordeaux with an American client, I enjoyed the opportunity to return to Château Cheval Blanc and watch the inaugural vintage going into the newly constructed, state-of-the-art winery that is adjacent to the historic Château buildings.
This was my first trip back to the Château since their celebratory Grand Opening of the new winery during Vinexpo some three months ago.
The sight of the newly-installed cement tanks – with their distinctive pod shape - now full of fermenting grape juice is both memorable and impressive. One cannot help but notice the immense attention paid to absolute cleanliness here. The entire new facility resembles something between a clinical operating theatre, an opera house and a food processing plant.
During our tour, I also observed a number of small but important new details. For instance, not only does each vat now display the relevant reference information about the specific parcel from which the grapes contained within were harvested, it also shows the age of the vines from the relevant plot, often dating back between 50 and 100 years. It is clear that the ability to carefully track each individual plot has become absolutely vital to producing a successful modern vintage.
The 2011 growth cycle in this area of France has been one of continual challenges. Incredibly however, after months of inclement weather, during our particular week in Bordeaux (as was the case across much of Europe), a wonderful Indian summer had arrived.
I have no doubt that my friend Pierre Lurton, who spreads his talents between here and Château d’Yquem, will be especially excited about the prospect of another magnificent vintage. Thus far, it certainly looks to be something very special for the sweet wines of Sauternes.
However, here at Cheval Blanc, I couldn’t help but notice that the Cabernet Franc and Merlot berries coming into the winery required the strictest of selections during triage – a process that the many St. Emilion Mesdames and Messieurs on hand were approaching with both concentration and vigor. This harsh selection was necessary even though a significant part of the crop had already been dropped earlier in the summer during what is known as the green harvest, when unripe fruit is taken off the vines after a poor or uneven flowering period.
As I head back to London, my reflections are that, despite such a massive investment by LVMH, ultimately it is nature that still plays the leading role in making great wine. Surely my worst fear of further rising prices due to low yields (reduced from 35hl to 25hl per hectare) will not materialize this year!
By happenstance, en route back to the airport, I noticed Jacques Thienpont (Le Pin) and Alexandre Thienpont (Vieux Château Certan) messing about with a few final bunches in one of their roadside vineyards. I pulled the car over and we spent a few minutes casually talking about the past En Primeur sales campaign and the prospects for the next one. Candidly, Jacques explained that, “the little thing that holds children money in it, the savings, it is broken. The piggy bank,” he said, “it’s broken.” Jacques is a smart guy!
It seemed to me that this marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of the marketing!
Tags: 2010 pricing, antique wine company, Pierre Lurton, Bordeaux, Bordeaux 2010, Chateau Cheval Blanc, Chateau Le Pin, Cheval Blanc, Le Pin, Stephen Williams, The Anique Wine Company, thienpont, Vieux Chateau Certan, yquem, Chateau d'Yquem, Jacques Thienpont
Travel | Wine tasting
Since we opened AWC Wine Academy at our headquarters in Marylebone, it has been a real privilege to receive clients who occasionally stop by and taste great wines with our team. This is mutually beneficial because we like to stay up to date with vintages and our clients get the chance to share the expertise of those on hand.Earlier this week we had the pleasure of receiving one of our North American clients whose favourite tipples are the top wines of Pomerol. We decided to take a look at how the Right Bank wines from the 2000 vintage were coming along. Having tasted some of the Left Bank First Growths from 2000 recently, I felt that they were still too tight and tannic - not yet getting close to their best drinking window. However, on the evidence of this tasting, the Right Bank, Merlot-based wines are already more approachable. We began on a high with the 2000 Pétrus. Self-evidently, it is still a complete baby. This was immediately clear from the depth of colour – barely a hint of ageing around the rim of the wine. The nose is also full of primary fruit; still no secondary aromas at this stage. In the mouth the wine cascades over your palate, with sweet cassis, cherry and plum fruit, followed by an echo of cream and minerals. The acidity gives the wine a sense of vim and vigour with the tannic structure giving it the necessary stuffing to keep everything in harmony and balance. Significantly, while the tannins are beautifully ripe, they are just beginning to open up and soften. Although this will develop for several more decades (and will be worth the wait), it is undoubtedly very enjoyable already. 98 Points.
How do you follow Pétrus? The answer is, with difficulty. However, a bottle of 2000 Le Pin was the perfect foil. As with many Le Pin vintages, what struck me most was the accessibility of the wine – its texture noticeably silkier than the more muscular Pétrus. The fabulously perfumed nose was exquisite – blackcurrants, violets and camphor. The utterly refined, sweet and creamy palate was more of the same, with a finish that seemed endless. One cannot help but love Le Pin’s exotic, flamboyant and hedonistic style. This was right up there with the best vintages from this tiny estate. But will it age as well as the Pétrus? On this, the jury is still out. According to my tasting notes, there’s definitely no rush to drink this or the Pétrus just yet, as both will repay considerable cellaring. However, my money would be on the Pétrus to make the oldest bones out of this pair of sumptuous Pomerols. 97 Points. Last, but by no means least, we uncorked the 2000 Lafleur to see how it was shaping amongst such esteemed company. Happily, it too shone quite brightly – though closer to Pétrus than Le Pin in style. This wine is impressive due to the purity of plum and damson fruit along with the cedar and mineral components - all of which were cushioned by à point acidity, balance and texture. Again, this is still one for the cellar. Yet, like both the Pétrus and Le Pin, it too is beginning to come out of its shell as the tannins are now starting to mellow. 98 Points.On the evidence of this tasting, my advice would be to resist pulling the corks on these wines for a little while yet. However, if you do, you certainly won’t be disappointed. The message for our clients is - next time you’re passing through London, we would welcome you to stop by. We prefer a little notice though, so we can be sure to have the wines decanted and ready!
Further to this profound tasting, we wanted to provide you with the opportunity to enjoy these phenomenal wines yourself, particularly since we now have case quantities of these rarities available. As we’ve just tasted these wines and can comment first-hand on their exceptional quality, speak with one of our expert advisors today to secure them as your own.
I look forward to hearing your own thoughts on these wines and towards recieving you in our beautiful facility when you are next in London.
Stephen Williams, CEO
Tags: Le Pin, Lafleur, Chateau Lafleur, Chateau Petrus, petrus, AWC Wine Academy, antique wine company, fine wine, Jacques Thienpont, pin, private tasting, Stephen Williams, The Anique Wine Company, thienpont, wine education, wine academy, wine, wine school, wine tasting
Wednesday evening marked the official opening of the AWC Wine Academy. More than thirty VIP clients joined us in the new space for a night of first class education, stellar wine tasting and a bit of friendly competition. After many months of hard work by our staff, it was with great pleasure that we christened the facility with this inaugural event. After a glass of 2004 Franck Bonville Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru (our house champagne) and a few canapés in our reception area, we retired to the Wine Academy for the lecture and tasting portions of the evening. Tim Atkin, MW presided over the exclusive event and joined us in sampling all of the wines blind. As well as a Master of Wine, Tim is a frequent contributor to many wine publications, is a regular on BBC 1’s Saturday Kitchen and is a fabulous presenter.
Above: The tasting stage is set...
The theme of the tasting was ‘Grand Cru Wizardry’ and it was aimed at addressing the historic founding and modern role of the 1855 Bordeaux Classification. Many changes have occurred over the last 150 years and a lot of wine has been made, sold and drunk in the intervening period. Châteaux have been bought and sold and properties have made both good wine and bad. Reputations and prices have risen as well as fallen. The question we wanted to address with the tasting was whether the 1855 Classification is still relevant today. In coordination with the educational component, for all tastings in the new Wine Academy we like to ignite a bit of fiery competition. The goal of this particular challenge was to determine, from the choices given, the correct vintage and appellation for each pair of wines. So, after a complete and informative lecture about the history of the ranking system by Tim, we started in on the tasting.
The format was simple. We had 8 wines in front of us in two rows. Each set had two vintage choices associated with it along with the choice of any of the northern Left Bank appellations (no Graves, Sauternes/Barsac or Haut-Médoc were included in the tasting). Additionally, per the evening’s theme, guests were also asked to ascertain which of the wines was ranked - according the 1855 Classification - higher than the other.
Right: Tim Atkin, MW prepares for the lecture.
Each tasting table was grouped as a team with one of our staff wine experts serving as team leader. As we had 5 tables in contention, each group was given the name of a First Growth Château as their team moniker. The resulting competition was spirited and intense - many Premiership matches aren’t this fierce!
Starting off with Pair 1, the very first wine of the night was, in a word, spectacular. By popular consensus it actually went on to become one of the two ‘wines of the evening’ - certainly a good way to kick things off! Markedly elegant and with a brilliant purity of fruit, it was clear that whichever estate produced this wine knew exactly what they were doing. Fragrant and beguiling, the judicious use of oak was also noted. Wine number two was less clearly defined and showed slightly rougher tannins in the mid-palate and finish.
A testament to the exceptional level of wine knowledge in the room, most teams pegged the vintage as 2006 (versus the other choice, 2005) and three of the teams agreed that it was likely from the Margaux appellation. However, one guest actually threw down the gauntlet and claimed that he could not only identify the vintage and appellation but the producer as well. ‘Go on then,’ said Tim. Low and behold - he absolutely nailed it. As a prize for his impressive efforts the gentleman in question received a half case of wine number 1, which turned out to be the fantastic 2006 Château Palmer. Wine number 2 was also well received and it was ultimately revealed as Château Rauzan-Segla. However, the showcase of tasting skills put on by ‘Mr. Palmer’ was enough to put Team Mouton, captained by AWC International Client Account Manager James Woodhead, out into the early competition lead.
Pair 2 was arguably one of the most difficult to figure out. The first wine was fruity, forward and clearly well made, yet it lacked a certain ‘oomph’, particularly in the finish. The second wine was undeniably great - tobacco leaf, cedar box, red fruit, cassis and fine tannins all in perfect harmony - however somewhat confusing because the colour did not seem to accurately reflect the power of the nose and palate (there was a slight bricking to it).
To further complicate matters, the vintage choices were 2000 and 2003, both of which are formidable years. With the first wine appearing to be more like a 2003 and the second more like a 2000, many people were stumped. In the end, the vintage was identified as 2003, with wine 1 being Château Pontet-Canet and wine 2 (which was also my favourite of the evening) the neighbouring estate of Château Mouton Rothschild. The appellation was of course Pauillac, but what a fabulous and interesting contrast these two wines were! At this stage, Team Mouton was still the front-runner, however Teams Lafite and Latour, with Will Buckland (our head of Fine Wine Investment) and Julia Scales (our Head of Sales) at their respective helms, were tied for second and closing in on the lead.
The third set validated Tim’s earlier pronouncement that, "the wines of St. Julien tend to be a bit more tannic than Pauillac, but not as immense and backward as those of St. Estèphe.” By process of elimination, most teams quickly guessed that the wines were probably from one region or the other. But which one? Upon tasting wine 1, a number of guests were completely floored by its purity and structure. It was absolutely sublime. Wine number 2 had a bit more leafiness to the clearly Cabernet Sauvignon dominated nose, yet it was nonetheless delicious. The vintage choices were 1996 or 2000. Having just gone through the 2003 versus 2000 debate (with a few teams coming up on the wrong end), this decision was no easier! After all the teams had voted, the first wine was revealed as the 2000 Château Beychevelle and the second as 2000 Château Gruaud-Larose. Once again it was Team Mouton on top with Lafite and Latour nipping at its heels. Unfortunately, Teams Margaux and Haut-Brion were beginning to languish behind and concerns about relegation were entering the minds of the captains. By the final pairing, everyone realised that the appellation was likely St. Estèphe. The challenge remained as to which estates and which vintage the two wines were from (the choice was either 1995 or 1996). In many ways this was the most evenly matched pairing. Both wines had clearly defined structures and were of truly great quality. This was perfectly aged claret at its best. Most teams came around to the idea that the vintage was likely 1996 (as that year was slightly better on the Left Bank, with 1995 slightly superior on the Right), yet no consensus could be made as to which of the region’s top properties - Château Montrose, Château Cos d’Estournel and Château Calon-Ségur - was the odd one out. Passionate arguments were given for and against each estate.
Above: A fun and informative competition.
Ultimately it was Team Mouton that once again emerged victorious - correctly marking wine 1 as Cos d’Estournel and wine 2 as Calon-Ségur. This also meant that Team Mouton won the entire competition, with each member receiving a complimentary bottle of Grand Cru Champagne for their fine efforts. The final standings, out of a possible 16 points, were as follows:
Team Mouton – 14/16Team Lafite – 13/16Team Latour – 11/16Team Haut-Brion – 10/16Team Margaux – 9/16
Impressively (and despite his early warnings about the perils and pitfalls of blind tasting), Tim proved his mettle - correctly identifying 50% of the wines, from the vintage all the way down to the producer - and rightfully upheld his reputation as a Master of Wine.
Above: The evening's wines. Interested in tasting them yourself? Order here >>
In the end a fantastic evening was had by all. The positive feedback was overwhelming, with many guests already planning their own private events in the space or signing up to attend future tastings - which is exactly what we designed the Wine Academy for and why it is now open. We look forward to welcoming you into the building in the coming months for more exciting events of this nature.
To purchase any of the wines which were covered in this particular tasting, please contact one of our staff wine experts.
To learn more about our Team and the staff members mentioned in this post, please visit our staff profiles page.
To join us for a tasting or to reserve the Wine Academy for yourself, please visit - https://www.awcwineacademy.com - or contact Deborah Ives via email or on +44 (0) 20 3219 5560.
Tags: 1855 Classification, AWC Wine Academy, wine education, wine academy, wine school, antique wine company, Beychevelle, Bordeaux, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Palmer, Cos d'Estournel, Stephen Williams
From Burgundy, we flew to Reims for two days of spectacular private tastings, lunches and dinners with some of the greatest names in Champagne. Our tour began at Krug, where we were welcomed by the brilliant Julie-Amandine Michel who looks after all their VIP visits. Krug of course is no longer family-owned but is part of the ever-expanding LVMH stable. However, the Krug family continues to maintain an operational presence with Olivier Krug (who is the sixth generation family member to be involved in the business), present throughout all crucial points of the production process.
Above: Display in VIP Reception room at Krug.
Olivier was in Japan at the time of our visit, but Julie-Amandine expertly explained how little the family winemaking philosophy has actually changed since the founding of the maison in 1843. This adherence to tradition has even extended to the current management learning from Joseph Krug’s original 19th century diaries, in which he set out his exacting vision for the future of Krug Champagne.In those original entries, Joseph mandated that the multi-vintage blend was to be the first priority for the house – above and beyond any specific vintage considerations. Today the production approach remains exactly the same, with Krug’s multi-vintage Grande Cuvée receiving the greatest attention of all the wines.Nevertheless, over the past 168 years, a few things have changed. The first is that the Krug range of prestige cuvées has expanded beyond the Grande Cuvée and Vintage to include a rose and two single vineyard vintage Champagnes (the Clos du Mesnil and the Clos d’Ambonnay) as well as the Krug Collection series.One of the most distinctive aspects of the Krug house style is its oxidative richness. This results from the small oak barrels in which all the vins clairs are fermented and matured. This unique production technique is the maison hall-mark and is no easy feat. The difficulty was amply demonstrated during our visit by the fact that they were right in the middle of scrubbing all 5,000 barrels used in the process. This vital process is an astonishing and labour-intensive task - as well as something of a logistical nightmare to accomplish. As hard as it may be to complete each year, it was quite spectacular to see so many barrels out and being prepared by the winemaking crew. Normally, the process wouldn’t begin in June, but with the earliest Champagne harvest on record set to begin in August, the timetable had to be moved up.
Above: Barrels awaiting their annual cleaning.
However, it takes more than oak to make great Krug. Deep in the cellars, Julie-Amandine proudly showed us the state-of-the-art stainless steel storage tanks that have been custom built to fit snugly under the curve of the vaulted ceiling. Each tank holds the equivalent of just ten barrels, she told us. ‘It enables us to blend our wines much more accurately. Assemblage is as important today as it has ever been.’
Above: Custom stainless steel blending tanks at Krug.
We also toured Krug’s magnificent library collection where it holds vintages dating back to 1880. Sadly though, the door was well and truly locked. Equally impressive was the strength and depth of the estate’s reserve wines, which are vital for maintaining the quality and house style. At Krug, the Grande Cuvée could have as many as 100 different vins clairs and up to twenty different vintages in the final blend. Then came the tasting, which was conducted by Krug’s charming young winemaker Julie Cavil, whose birthday it also happened to be that day. What better way of celebrating than with a glass of 1998 Clos du Mesnil at 10.30am?
As Cavil pointed out, ‘Clos de Mesnil is the simplest of all our wines to make - being from a single year, a single vineyard and a single grape – Chardonnay.’ If the winemaking is straightforward though, the final product is anything but. The 1998 remains fresh, linear and elegant. It is drinking beautifully - just as a great blanc de blancs should – with notable complexity.
The regular 1998 vintage Krug was a bit more voluminous than the Clos du Mesnil, partly due to the inclusion of Pinot Noir fruit. However, as Julie pointed out, because of the year, it had a greater percentage of Chardonnay in it than usual. We ended the tasting with the Grande Cuvée. As ever, it was rich, round, fresh and full joie de vivre. This wine never disappoints and it is always a pleasure to drink – especially at elevenses!
One of the advantages of visiting Reims is that many of the city’s great Champagne houses are very close to one another. So, it was just a short walk to our next appointment at Champagne Louis Roederer on the Rue de Savoye.
Here we were met by the company’s Communications Director, Martine Lorson, who explained the house’s extraordinary history and heritage. Roederer is, of course, most famous for the luxury cuvée Cristal which was first created in the nineteenth century for Tsar Alexander II of Russia. Martine began our visit by taking us through the history of this privately owned estate. Today it is led by Frederic Rouzaud, who is the sixth generation to manage the company.Louis Roederer is unusual in Champagne in that it has managed to survive and prosper under private ownership while many of the other great Champagne houses have been bought up, slowly losing their independence to large luxury holding companies. One reason that Roederer has been able to stay independent is that, of the major Champagne producers, it owns the highest percentage of its own vineyards. Many of these assets were gradually built up in the 1930s and 1940s by Camille Olry-Roederer who cannily grabbed them when prices were severely depressed.
Above: Martine takes us through the family history and maps of ancient vineyards.
This has made Roederer largely self-sufficient in terms of its grape supply, guaranteeing both quality of raw material and financial stability. Consequently, the company’s cash reserves and balance sheet are the envy of Champagne. This surplus has also allowed it to significantly diversify its portfolio, with estate purchases in California, Portugal and France. Consequently, Roederer now owns the likes of Ramos Pinto, Domaine Ott, Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande and Roederer Estate.A tour of Roederer’s immaculate cellars followed - complete with a viewing of its more than 17 million bottles of gently maturing champagne. Although that sounds like a lot, Roederer produces a scant 3.5 million bottles each year – which equates to just 1% of the total region’s production. A particular highlight was visiting its remarkable reserve wine cellar – comprised of massive oak tuns, several of which are intricately and exquisitely carved. ‘These are the crown jewels,’ Martine said. ‘These reserve wines are what make Brut Premier and Cristal so special.’
Above: How do you keep track of where all the bottles are in the riddling process when you're turning each one by hand? With a good old slate and piece of chalk (pulled directly from the cellar walls of course).
The Roederer style always hinges on elegance and finesse but also walks the fine line between reductive and oxidative styles. Brut Premier is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir enriched with an average of 20% reserve wine, giving it a richness and roundness which counterbalances the freshness.
For Roederer’s vintage wines (including Cristal), chef de cave Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon has introduced more barrel-fermented wines and generally eschews malolactic fermentation in order to preserve the freshness. ‘We want to maintain that acidity so that the wines remain fresh and will age for a long time,’ added Martine.
We were honoured to be invited and hosted for lunch by head of the company, Frederic Rouzaud, at Roederer’s grand and majestic Hotel Particulier in the centre of Reims. Over an aperitif of Brut Premier, served from magnum, Frederic told us that when the house was built in the nineteenth century, it was situated out in the countryside. Since that time however, the city has completely enveloped it and now it is in an entirely urban setting.Shortly thereafter we moved into the dining room for an exquisite meal. A salad of langoustines and shaved truffles was paired with the sublime 2000 Cristal, which was just starting to show its class. This was followed by a classically elegant and restrained 1995 Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande with filet de boeuf aux girolles. With the cheese and dessert, we enjoyed a 1997 vintage port from Ramos Pinto. Rather like the different wines and vintages, the conversation ranged far and wide, from how the Champagne market will develop in China to the most recent en primeur campaign in Bordeaux and global demand for port. It was also fascinating to learn about Roederer’s ability to trace an individual bottle of wine through its entire distribution chain and throughout all of its various global sales channels. This wonderful – and extended - lunch was but a preamble to our evening dinner at Taittinger…
Tags: Champagne, Krug, Roederer, Louis Roederer, antique wine company, Vintage Krug, Grand Cuvee, Clos du Mesnil, Clos d'Ambonnay, Krug Collection, Cristal, Ramos Pinto, Domaine Ott, Chateau Pichon Lalande, Roederer Brut Premier
Stephen Williams, Founder and CEO
Stephen Williams began trading as a wine merchant in 1982 and wishes he had stocked his cellar with Château Pétrus on day one. Since founding The Antique Wine Company, Stephen has built The Antique Wine Group into an organisation with clients in 63 countries and a global network of offices, representatives and business groups. Regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in fine and rare wines, he has created some of the greatest wine cellars and collections in existence – in châteaux, palaces, wineries, hotels and private residences across Europe, Asia and North America. As a popular commentator on the wine industry, fine wine investment and the global wine market, Stephen is frequently quoted by both the UK and international press corps. Along with his regular lectures at AWC Wine Academy, this blog offers a behind-the-scenes view into the world of fine wine.
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