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 – 14/16
Team Lafite – 13/16
Team Latour – 11/16
Team Haut-Brion – 10/16
Team 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.