Our first Master Class, focusing exclusively on Tuscan wines, was held at AWC Wine Academy recently and it was a tasting I had been looking forward to for quite some time. Clearly I was not the only one, as all of the tickets were sold out well in advance of the event. The heavy demand resulted in an extensive waitlist, so we have now scheduled an additional session for anyone unable to make the first one. Given the popularity, I recommend your register for it promptly. Understandably, with the range of impressive Tuscan wines we planned to show, there was a palpable excitement leading up to this event. Italian wines in general and Tuscan wines specifically are hot topics these days, with demand for top wines from these regions continually on the rise.Additionally, we were delighted to welcome our expert speaker for the evening, Master of Wine Michael Palij. Michael is, without question, one of the world’s leading specialists on Italian wines. In addition to writing for Decanter Magazine, he also writes all of the course material related to Italy for the Wine & Spirit Education Trust.Along with his academic credentials, Michael is an engaging and charismatic presenter. He is able to add colourful insight to his lectures due to his very personal knowledge of and experience with the wines, estates and people of Tuscany. Michael was certainly able to call upon his expertise for this Master Class, conducting an extremely interactive session, which was a joy to attend.
Forty years ago, ‘great’ was not a word that was generally associated with Tuscan wines. At the time, the category of very fine wine barely even existed in the region. So what has changed? According to Michael, many of the advances can be traced back to the dramatic establishment of the Super Tuscan movement. Led by the likes of Piero Antinori and Nicolo Incisa della Rocchetta, these Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines were controversial, glamorous and most importantly, different. Crucially, they were also of an extraordinarily high quality. These wines helped establish Tuscany’s fine wine credentials at a time when they were sadly lacking. Interestingly and perhaps more significantly, the Super Tuscan movement also spurred a revivalist ‘Risorgimento’ with Tuscany’s native Sangiovese, which Michael described as, “an underrated but truly world-class grape variety.” “The key to the success of Sangiovese comes down to where and how high it is planted. While the French have terroir and attitude,” Michael told us, “Tuscany’s secret is that they have terroir and altitude. In Tuscany, how high up you plant is often the critical factor.”“You also have to remember that Italian wines are primarily meant to be enjoyed with food. Sangiovese is no exception,” he added. “As a variety, it has a lot of tannin and quite a kick of natural acidity. These wines have a real heft to them. They will certainly age and improve, but ultimately they are meant for the dining table.”
Above: Master of Wine Michael Palij lectures on the finer points of fine Tuscan wines.
We began our tour of Tuscany’s greatest wines in the southerly coastal region of Morellino di Scansano. Morellino became a DOC in 1979 and a DOCG as recently as 2009, largely because of the pioneering work done by Elisabetta Gepetti at Fattoria Le Pupille. The wine we started with was her single vineyard, Poggio Valente from the 2005 vintage. This is a Riserva which is only made in great vintages. According to Michael it is also, “without doubt, the top wine of Morellino.”The Poggio Valente is a blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Alicante, a variety which adds more depth of colour. At seven years of age, this was showing lovely black fruits and a touch of earthy tomato leaf. There’s plenty of grip, weight and acidity, with excellent integration and balance. “This is what Morellino should be all about,” Michael pointed out. “This is not a vin de garde though, it is really a wine for early or medium term drinking. This is probably at its best now and will be for the next five years.”
Above: Account Manager Annabel Dent takes careful tasting notes.
The next wine was one of Michael’s professed favourites, Fontodi’s 2006 Vigna del Sorbo, a Chianti Classico Riserva from Panzano. At 500m in elevation, Panzano is right in the heart of Chianti Classico, often making it too cold to completely ripen Sangiovese. However, in exceptional years such as 2006, it matures to perfection. Giovanni Manetti’s magnificent wine proved a prime example.A blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, there were more red fruit expressions in this wine than in the previous, including raspberries and redcurrants, on both the nose and palate. It had a lovely elegance and lift to it as well, with more refined, silky tannins and an abundance of refreshing acidity. Michael informed us that he had actually tasted the 1990 Vigna del Sorbo the day before and thought that this wine would age just as well, if not better. “This is brilliant today, but you should really wait another 20 years before you open this wine.”
If we wanted certain proof of Tuscany’s ability to age, we got it with our next wine, the 1995 Vigneta Bellavista from Castello di Ama. Owner Marco Pallanti was one of the pioneers of the single vineyard, ‘cru’ concept in Tuscany back in 1978. This 22 hectare vineyard now produces one of his finest wines. Selection is extremely strict and Pallanti only makes Bellavista in the best vintages.
Above: Account Manager Lucy McMillan quizzes a taster on his thoughts.
Beautifully constructed, this wine had great finesse, complexity and elegance. The primary fruit was still there but is now giving way to tertiary, bottle age flavours of sous bois and minerals. Also interesting to note was the alcohol level. As Michael pointed out, this bottle was 12.5%. “Now, ten years later on and with global warming, the current release is listed at more like 14.5%.”
The fourth wine was the 2005 Brunello di Montalcino from La Fiorita, owned and run by one of Italy’s best known ‘flying winemakers’, Roberto Cipresso. Heading over to Montalcino and moving forward a decade, we were now seeing a completely different style and expression of pure Sangiovese. This was a big wine at 14.5%, but it holds it together very nicely. Quite modern in style, with a bold, rich and forward expression, this wine had spice, intense black cherry flavours, firm tannins and superb acidity. Ultimately, this was a beautifully balanced and utterly beguiling example of Brunello di Montalcino.I have to confess that I did struggle slightly with the tannic structure of the next wine, Soldera’s 1999 Case Basse. This was also a Brunello di Montalcino, but it is produced in the southwest of the region. Michael has visited this estate many times and regaled us with stories about the beauty of the gardens and vineyards. The property owner, Gianfranco Soldera, is something of a legend in Tuscany. His interests are not geared towards chasing ratings or critical acclaim. “He just makes wines that he personally likes to drink,” Michael told us. Though this wasn’t my personal favourite of the night, many, including Michael, absolutely raved about it, describing it as, “one of the greatest Brunellos ever made.”
Fortunately, nearly everyone in attendance agreed on the next wine, Piero Antinori’s 2004 Tignanello. This is, of course, the original Super Tuscan and the wine which caused all the fuss and brouhaha back in the 1970s. It was the first Sangiovese to be aged in small oak barrels and also the first wine in modern times to use Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. Today, the blend is roughly 80% Sangiovese and 20% Cabernet.This was a huge pleasure to drink. It is wonderfully lush, plump, and fleshy and it is absolutely brimming with creamy, plum fruit flavours and baking spices. As Michael noted, “it is a very generous, ‘come hither’ sort of wine, largely because it gets a complete, new oak treatment. Significantly, Antinori only utilizes 50% new oak with [neighbouring property] Solaia, but Tignanello gets a full 100%.”Following the Tignanello, we tasted the current latest release of Ornellaia, another Super Tuscan legend, which was founded by Piero Antinori’s brother, Lodovico. Michael explained that this estate was really born out of an internal family feud between Piero and Lodovico. However, this initial conflict was only the beginning of the drama that has befallen Ornellaia in recent years.
In 1999, the Mondavis of California became serious shareholders in the estate. When the Mondavi Company was subsequently taken over by Constellation Brands, the corporation felt that Ornellaia did not fit within their portfolio of global properties. In a subsequent, bizarre twist, Constellation then sold Ornellaia to the Antinori’s arch-enemies, the Frescobaldi family. It all sounds a bit like something out of an Italian opera performance. In spite of all the management changes though, the estate and the quality of its wines have remained very much intact.This particular Tignanello was the 2008, which is admittedly a bit too young to drink still, yet was fascinating to taste due to its ripe, modernist style. The mix is a classic Bordeaux blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon with the rest comprised of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and a bit of Petit Verdot.
As is our tradition here at AWC Wine Academy, we always like to liven up our tastings at the finish to make them as interesting as possible. Therefore, the last three wines were all tasted blind. The first was definitely my wine of the night – an absolutely fabulous 1997 Solaia which was a complete tour de force. The wine showed extraordinary class, elegance, complexity and length. Michael agreed, pointing out that you could put this alongside a really good First Growth Bordeaux and it would not look out of place.
Just to prove the point, that is exactly what we did! The next wine was an equally superb 1996 Château Mouton Rothschild. Last, but by no means least, the third wine in the trio was Nicolo Incisa della Rochetta’s 1997 Sassicaia from Tenuta San Guido in Bolgheri.
Personally, I felt that the Château Mouton Rothschild and the Solaia just edged the Sassicaia. Ultimately though, the line between these three extraordinary, Cabernet-based wines was incredibly thin. Interestingly, when Michael asked for a show of hands, almost everyone picked the Mouton as the mystery First Growth – an impressive feat. Yet, for the evening’s preferred wine, it was much more evenly spread out. Although the greatest number of people (11) voted for the Mouton Rothschild, both the Solaia and the Sassicaia were just behind it in the popularity poll. Indeed, talking to people after the event, it was clear that the Mouton Rothschild did stand out. This was not because it was necessarily better than the two Tuscans. Simply that it was noticeably different. In other words, the concept of terroir is alive and well, as is the future of great Tuscan wine. Below is the complete list of wines tasted on the evening. All wines are currently available on request from The Antique Wine Company and prices quoted are in bond.
To join us for a tasting or to reserve AWC Wine Academy for yourself, please visit - http://www.awcwineacademy.com - or contact Deborah Ives via email or on +44 (0) 20 3219 5560.
Tags: Mouton Rothschild, Wine Tasting, wine academy, wine education, wine school, poggio valente reserva, fattoria le pupille, vigna del sorbo, chianti classico, chianti classico riserva, michael palij, master of wine, vigneta bellavista, castello de ama, brunello di montalcino, la fiorita, case basse, soldera, tignanello, antinori, ornellaia, tenuta dell'ornellaia, solaia, sassicaia, tenuta san guido, tuscany, tuscan wine, italian wine
Education | Wine tasting
It’s been another enthralling week of fine wine tastings at AWC Wine Academy. On Tuesday, we enjoyed some breathtaking Grand Cru Burgundies. On Thursday, it was the very finest of Bordeaux, where we compared the likes of Pétrus, Latour, Haut-Brion and Cheval Blanc. As the saying goes, it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it!
Our primary interest was in conducting a head-to-head tasting of the best estates from the Left and Right Banks of Bordeaux. The plan was to do this with eight wines, in four vintage pairs, followed by a final mystery wine. For this event, we were delighted to welcome several of our top clients alongside a number of American Express International Currency Card and Centurion cardholders. The knowledge of the attendees and the quality of the wines being served promised to make this our most impressive tasting yet.
In addition, we were delighted to welcome back wine writer (and co-founder of the International Wine Challenge), Charles Metcalfe as our host. Charles had already proved his mettle by hosting our magnificent 1990 Bordeaux retrospective a few weeks prior. On this occasion however, Charles wasn’t the only wine writer in attendance. I was particularly pleased that Robert Parker’s UK colleague Neal Martin was also able to join us. I’m a great admirer of Neal’s writing and his palate is top notch. I’m certainly looking forward to reading his new book on Pomerol, which he has just completed, when it is published in September 2012.
Above: Journalist Neal Martin and Account Manger Lucy McMillan discuss the upcoming wines.
One of my definitions of truly fine wine is that it doesn’t just engage and intrigue our palates; it must also engage our intellect. This process of engagement is something we strive for at all Wine Academy tastings as we find it is integral to both understanding and enjoyment. It is important that wine tasting be both fun and interactive so that people leave with smiles on their faces, having been entertained just as much as they have been informed.
Our primary technique for getting people involved is to put them into teams and to encourage them to taste the wines blind. We taste wines blind for a number of reasons. First and foremost, not knowing what the wine is in advance removes any pre-existing prejudices that could easily influence the way we regard and rate particular wines. Additionally, because tasting wines blind is more challenging, it is also much more fun!
Above: Purchasing Manager Berenger Piras pours the wines.
Moreover, putting people into competitive teams adds immeasurably to the atmosphere of the evening and is something people invariably enjoy. This promotes inclusiveness and, as a result, tasters tend to ask more questions and become more involved. As a result, they often learn more too – almost without even realising they’re absorbing the information.
Charles began with a short, insider’s guide to the key differences between the Left and Right Banks and how those differences influence both the flavour and structure of the wines. On the Left Bank, the wines are generally dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, thanks to the prevalence of gravelly soils in the region which allow the variety to thrive. On the Right Bank however, Merlot is more common and it tends to do well on the heavier, clay-based soils.
However, as Charles pointed out – there are always exceptions. In Saint-Émilion for example, there is still quite a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon planted in its cooler soils. Additionally, at the likes of Château Ausone and Château Cheval Blanc, significant quantities of Cabernet Franc make it into the final blend.
Above: Charles prepares for his lecture.
The first two wines set the standard for the evening. Wine one was a stellar 2004 Château Margaux from the Left Bank, which was both magnificent and completely true to its trademark, elegant style. As Charles pointed out, the First Growth was, “perfumed, graceful and classical; everything good Margaux should be all about.” I noted lovely cassis fruit, finely tuned acidity and supple tannins from this underrated vintage. 93 Points.
The Right Bank counterpart (wine number two in this pair) was the 2004 Château Angelus. Somewhat counter-intuitively, this was darker and deeper in colour than the Margaux, with more tannin and grip on the palate to match - which is perhaps why some tasters mistook this for the Left Bank wine of the pair. Whilst I enjoyed Hubert de Bouard’s 2004 Angelus and rated it 91 points, personally, I think it needs a bit more time in bottle.
I wasn’t the only one who preferred the Margaux over the Angelus. When we took a vote on which of these wines people preferred, Margaux was the favourite by a nearly 2 to 1 margin. In total, 19 tasters chose it versus just 10 for the Angelus. At this early stage of the competition, Team Latour (perhaps aided and abetted by Senior Client Relationship Manager, James Woodhead), had swept into an early lead by correctly identifying both the vintage and the respective origins of both wines.
The next pair presented a bit of conundrum. Wine three was revealed to be Gerard Perse’s 1998 Château Pavie, a Saint-Émilion Grand Cru. The estate is a favourite of Robert Parker and he rated this wine 95 points, while predicting that it will last for at least 50 years. High praise indeed, yet not without appropriate basis - you can see exactly where he’s coming from when you taste this wine. Again, much like the 2004 Angelus, this was deep, tannic and powerfully extracted, with fabulous flavours of black cherry fruit. 94 Points.
Of course, 1998 was correctly regarded as a great Right Bank vintage. Unfortunately, that means that many Left Bank wines from the year are regularly overlooked. The magisterial 1998 Château Latour, wine number four, ideally proved the point – these 1998 Left Bank wines are not to be missed! This Latour was commanding, powerful, beautifully delineated and exquisitely balanced, with lovely fruit, cedar, minerals and a terrific amount of length. 95 Points.
As many people pointed out, the Pavie improved considerably in the glass – it clearly has a long life ahead of it. However, the overriding consensus was in favour of the Latour. It just pipped the Pavie by 11 votes to eight with the remainder of tasters undecided.
By now, all the teams were warming to their tasks as the competition heated up and the quality of the wines was increasing in kind. The next pair was simply stunning and it began with a 1996 Château Pétrus. This was a gem of a wine, with poise, power, brooding black fruit, lovely sweetness and that tell-tale spiciness that so often characterises great Pétrus. I rated it 97 points. Paired with it was the 1996 Château Haut-Brion which was a lovely contrast. The Haut-Brion was more evolved and had more smokey and savoury notes. It was also lighter in body, with finer grained tannins and flavours of liquorice root, cigar box and creamy cassis. 95 Points.
It was a tough call between these two wines. The Pétrus was just slightly preferred and it won-out with 11 votes against 10 for the Haut-Brion. Significantly, put perhaps not surprisingly, it was also voted the wine of the night, just edging out the Haut-Brion which came in second overall. Meanwhile, in the team competition, the Lafite table was challenging Latour as they correctly nailed both the vintage and the respective region of origin.
The last pair of wines hailed from the 1995 vintage and did nothing to tarnish the extraordinary levels of quality tasted thus far. First up was Pierre Lurton’s stunning Château Cheval Blanc. Beautifully crafted, with an almost unimaginable purity of fruit, this was benchmark Cheval Blanc at its elegant best. While drinking beautifully now, this will also age and improve for many years to come. 98 Points.
Paired against it was a much more intense Château Mouton Rothschild which was both rich and powerful. It brought an interesting sensation of total completeness with it. The firm and beguiling structure had notes of cured meat, Morello cherry, dark soy and black olives set atop the tannic framework. 94 Points.
So, which wine went down as the best from this final Left versus Right pair? The answer from the very enthusiastic and increasingly competitive audience was the Cheval Blanc, by a hair – just 10 votes to 9. Meanwhile, the team competition was also down to the wire and was only decided in the final round, with Team Latour sealing an impressive victory over Team Lafite.
However, neither the evening’s wines nor the competitive elements were quite done and dusted. What remained was an individual, blind tasting round of the ‘Wine Options’ game. The wine in question was revealed to be an older vintage of Château d’Yquem…but which vintage?
By process of elimination, the triumphant taster eventually emerged, to great applause from the attendees, and was rewarded with a half bottle of the wine in question - a sumptuous, honeyed, marmalade-laden, richly-textured 1983 d’Yquem which I rated 97 points.
Above: A taster admires the evening's wines.
Once again, it was quite a night at AWC Wine Academy. Great wines, great people and great fun. What more could you possibly want?
At the end of this remarkable evening we took a vote on which were the top wines of the night. Here are the results: [Please note that all of these wines are available on request from The Antique Wine Company]
- 1st Place -1996 Château Pétrus – Enquire for pricing- 2nd Place -1996 Château Haut-Brion - Enquire for pricing- 3rd Place -1995 Château Cheval Blanc - Enquire for pricing- 4th Place -1998 Château Latour - Enquire for pricing
For each paring, here is how the voting tallied up:Pair 1 – 2004 Château Margaux: 19, 2004 Château Angelus (Enquire for pricing): 10
Pair 2 - 1998 Château Pavie (Enquire for pricing): 8, 1998 Château Latour: 11, Undecided: 8
Pair 3 - 1996 Château Haut-Brion: 10, 1996 Château Pétrus: 11, Undecided: 8
Pair 4 - 1995 Château Cheval Blanc: 10, 1995 Château Mouton Rothschild (Enquire for pricing): 9, Undecided: 10
We look forward to welcoming you into the Wine Academy in the coming months, whether for another exceptional night of Bordeaux, 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: wine school, wine tasting, yquem, wine academy, vintage, The Antique Wine Company, Stephen Williams, Pierre Lurton, Mouton Rothschild, Margaux, Grand Cru, d'Yquem, Fine Wine, Cheval Blanc, Chateau Petrus, Chateau Pavie, Chateau d'Yquem, Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Mouton, Chateau Cheval Blanc
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
Recently, many of my favourite wines have come from the stellar, 1990 Bordeaux vintage. Having opened and enjoyed a great number of 1990 bottles over the past year, there is no doubt in my mind that the vintage has now hit full stride. At the moment, these wines are providing enormous drinking pleasure.
As wonderful as they are individually, enjoying these wines alone cannot replicate the focus and feedback provided by a dedicated, horizontal overview. Tasting a wider range of wines, from both the Left and Right Banks in a single sitting, allows for a more comprehensive look at the entire vintage.
Therefore, it is no wonder that I was so looking forward to our most ambitious tasting at AWC Wine Academy yet – a 1990 Bordeaux Retrospective – hosted by writer and broadcaster Charles Metcalfe.
Of course, 1990 was the third ‘great to excellent’ vintage in a row in Bordeaux (not unlike the most recent trio of 2008, 2009 and 2010). It was also a very dry, warm year and, as Charles reminded us, July and August were extremely hot and sunny. In fact, July was the hottest it had been since 1949 and August was the sunniest since 1949.
Above: The line-up of 1990 Bordeaux.
As a result, by the end of August, some vines were so stressed from the lack of water that they started to shut down. However, necessary relief arrived with some September rains and the ripening process resumed. A further downpour on October 7th prompted some to pick sooner rather than later. However, those who waited were richly rewarded. Once again, fortune favoured the brave.
We began the evening on the Right Bank with the 1990 Château Gazin. This highly respected estate is tucked up into northeast corner of Pomerol where its nearest neighbours are none other than Château Pétrus and Château Lafleur! At 24 ha, it is also one of the biggest estates in Pomerol. For the quality it provides, it remains one of the appellation’s best values. Here the soil is predominantly clay, which is extremely useful in hot vintages like 1990 because it retains more moisture and remains cooler. Further, as this is on the Right Bank, we are firmly in Merlot territory. Gazin regularly contains as much as 90% Merlot to the final blend, with the remainder comprised of Cabernet Franc. As a testament to the quality of the terroir here, in the past, Château Pétrus actually purchased some of Gazin’s vineyards and integrated them with their own.
Arguably, the turning point in Gazin’s recent history occurred in 1988 when the present incumbent, Nicolas de Balliencourt took over management of the estate. Just in time too, as the impressive 1990 vintage was right around the corner. The 1990 Gazin was sweet, soft, plumy and savoury, with hints of tobacco leaf and some sous-bois maturity - just as one would expect. To me, this wine was evolved and drinking beautifully. Elegant, refined and possessing surprisingly good acidity, the tannins here were also notable in how deliciously soft they were. 93 Points.
Above: Charles Metcalfe was our expert tutor for the evening.
The next wine was the 1990 Château Calon-Ségur. The 3rd Growth estate sits at the far, northern edge of St-Estèphe and for many years it was run by the redoubtable Denise Capbern-Gasqueton, who was quite the character. Mme Gasqueton unfortunately passed away in September of this year. However, the estate is now managed by her two daughters and they are doing a wonderful job. Perennially known for its fabulous, long-lived wines, the individual now responsible for carrying on Calon-Ségur’s winemaking traditions is Vincent Millet, who took over chief production duties in 2006.
As many of you will know, the wines of St Estèphe have a reputation for being tough and tannic, particularly in their youth. Now at 21 years old, this perfectly-aged Calon-Ségur had shed its youthful exuberance and had become the exact opposite. Fully mature, it was sleek and sensuous with a slightly smoky character. There were still some excellent, primary black fruit flavours remaining - mainly cassis and mulberry - as well as some lovely sandalwood notes. Secondary and tertiary flavours were also coming through with hints of earth, mushrooms and undergrowth, all of which added to the impressive complexity. This wine was exquisitely balanced, with ripe tannins and a generous finish. 92 Points.
From St-Estèphe we headed south to the commune of Pauillac and another rising star of the Médoc, Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste, which is owned by the charming Francois-Xavier Borie. I’ve always loved GPL, as it can offer tremendous value for the quality it provides. While it has showed top form over recent vintages, the question was whether the 1990 would showcase the same level of excellence?
The answer was a resounding affirmative. In terms of pure quality to price ratio, the 1990 GPL absolutely stole the show. For a start, the colour was still impressively deep and it had an incredibly intense nose – with notes of tar, black cherries and cream. On the palate, the fruit was still redolent of blackcurrants, with firm tannins that were only just starting to yield a bit of grip. Compared to the Gazin and the Calon-Ségur, this was showing more concentration and staying power. I think this wine will continue to improve and be delicious for at least another decade. This was an astonishing effort which was well worth a score of 95+ Points.
Above: Wine Academy Assistant Valeria Rodriguez refills glasses at the Haut-Brion table.
We then took a short jump south to St-Julien and a real Left Bank legend - Château Léoville-Las Cases. Owned by Jean-Hubert Delon and managed to his exacting standards, we all had very high expectations for this superb, ‘Super Second’ estate. We certainly were not disappointed. The 1990 Las Cases continues to march on with vim and vigour. At first the nose was a bit tight, but it opened up spectacularly as the wine developed in the glass. The palate exuded class and concentration with cedar, cassis, blackberry and lead pencil shavings. The texture was plush and pure, with supremely elegant and refined tannins. The length was beyond description. This is benchmark claret from a great terroir and a great vintage. What more can you ask for? 97 Points.
How do you top a wine like the 1990 Las Cases? With a classical First Growth like Château Haut-Brion, that’s how! While the 1989 Haut-Brion is undoubtedly a legend (repeatedly rated a perfect, 100 points), on the strength of this tasting, so is its younger sibling. The 1990 is now approaching its prime and it is providing enormous drinking pleasure. The colour and freshness belied its age, suggesting the wine has plenty of stuffing left to last it for the long haul. Polished and pure, with dark black fruits, cassis, sous-bois, cigar box, meat, minerals and wet stones, it was an absolutely sumptuous wine. The finish, balance and texture of this wine are extraordinary. 98 Points.
Fortunately, we still had one red wine remaining in the line up and so we crossed back over to the Right Bank for the 1990 Château Cheval Blanc. This happens to be one of my favourite wines of all time. Interestingly, it has also garnered magnificent scores from both Parker and Robinson over the years – a testament to its quality, as they don’t often see eye-to-eye.
True to form, this proved to be the most popular wine of the night, just edging the Haut-Brion in the final attendee vote. To me, this represented everything that a Cheval Blanc should be. The greatest Chevals are never over-done or unnecessarily extracted and this was a quintessential example - both fresh and elegant. The perfume of this wine absolutely leapt from the glass and the colour was still so dark that it gave almost no concession whatsoever to age. In the mouth it was lively and vivid, with a good attack of mid-palate acidity and the world’s most luscious, cashmere-like tannins. It continued to grow ever more expansively in the glass – with layer upon layer of exotic scents and flavours revealing themselves. I picked up leather, coffee, red fruits, plums, violets, graphite, pencil shavings and cedar. This was utterly magnificent and it is now flirting with perfection. 99+ Points.
The last wine from the 1990 vintage was another liquid legend – Château d’Yquem. It was the perfect ending to a perfect tasting. Rich, honeyed and powerful, this wine offered everything that makes d’Yquem so special- an incredible sweetness, a luxurious texture, en pointe acidity and a spectacular sense of balance. On the palate, botrytis-infused flavours of coconut, apricots, honey and brioche explode in succession. It is no wonder that Parker gave the 1990 d’Yquem a 99 point rating or that he predicted it could last for more than a century! 99+ Points.
Above: Tasters listen carefully to the rules of 'Wine Options' before the final, secret wine is poured.
The final wine of the night was a last minute, unannounced addition. We often like to introduce a challenge of sorts to our tastings for a bit of competitive fun and this evening was no exception. The final wine was poured and guests were told it was, in fact, another vintage of d’Yquem, poured as a thank you to everyone for attending. Tasters then had to try and figure out which exact vintage the wine was from.
The colour was much darker than the 1990 and the nose was noticeably more developed. The fragrance was reminiscent of stepping outside just after the air has been cleaned by the rain. Fresh, enticing and beguiling - with loads of butter toffee and caramel - this was a fabulous, older bottle of d’Yquem. Eventually the vintage was revealed to be the spectacular 1959. While this wine was more than 50 years old, it was clear that it had many more decades of life left in it. The winner of the ‘options’ game ended up taking home a bottle of the 1990 Cheval Blanc for his efforts. Just goes to show - you never know what kind of wonderful luck may find you at an AWC Wine Academy tasting! 94 Points.
Ultimately, this tasting reconfirmed just how epic the 1990 Bordeaux vintage has proved itself to be over time. As these wines were all perfectly stored, they have all aged extremely well. Most importantly, they are now providing the optimum amount of drinking pleasure and they are great value options compared to many more recent vintages. Stock up on these stellar 1990s soon as they are simply amazing.
We look forward to welcoming you into AWC Wine Academy in the coming months, whether for another Bordeaux 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: AWC Wine Academy, Chateau Cheval Blanc, Chateau d'Yquem, chateau haut brion, Chateau Haut-Brion, Haut-Brion, Leoville Las Cases, petrus, Sauternes, gazin, calon-segur, calon segur, chateau leoville-las cases, The Antique Wine Company, Stephen Williams, vintage, Wine Tasting, wine school, yquem
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
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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