Classic Wines of the World

(by peter & susie)

There was poetry in the air during our latest wine tasting as a full house in the Winchester Hotel du Vin drew inspiration from nine beautiful wines as well as our usual fun and games.

This was our Classic Wines of the World tasting, part of our Masterclass series. Previously, Susie had run a very popular event focusing on some of the finest wines of Champagne. This time we were looking at some traditional highlights of the wine world, mainly French, although also featuring Germany, Italy and Portugal.

As for the poetry – well, that was down to a crowd who were quite clearly up for a great evening of wine tasting, as well as being imaginative and interested. In short, our kind of crowd.

Following a thirst-quenching glass or two of Majestic’s very toothsome La Marca Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene (from £8.99),we tasted the following wines:

  • Champagne Lanson Gold Label Brut vintage 1999 (c.£40, widely available)
  • Puligny-Montrachet La Garenne 1er Cru 2007, Etienne Sauzet (£65, Berry Brothers & Rudd)
  • Pommard les Perrières 1998, Vincent Dancer (c.£40)
  • Château Pavie Macquin 2007, St-Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé (£44, Berry Brothers & Rudd)
  • Château Giscours 2001, Margaux, 3ème Cru Classé (£65, Berry Brothers & Rudd)
  • Barolo 2004, Giovanni Corino, 14.5% (c£30, Justerini & Brooks)
  • Lieser Niederberg Helden Riesling Spätlese 1997, Schloss Lieser (c.£30)
  • Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas Vintage Port 2001 (c£30-35, widely available)

(We’d pulled several of these wines out of our private cellar so we’re not sure about availability on all of them, especially the older vintages.)

As ever with the classics, the wines tended to divide opinion. The Giscours, for example, got a decisive thumbs-down from some but was lauded to the rafters by others. The Pavie-Macquin, meanwhile, being more modern and voluptuous in style, tended to please those who didn’t like the Giscours.

We love this kind of dynamic in a tasting because it really brings home just how subjective and personal taste is, and how important it then is to know your tastes and buy wine to suit you. For those who didn’t like the elegant austerity of the Giscours but appreciated the succulence of the Pavie-Macquin, the lesson was to steer clear of clarets dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon and instead choose Merlot-based wines. Or choose a richer style of Cabernet Sauvignon, such as those from Australia, Chile or the USA.

Our tasting notes of these wines, made in the afternoon (22/3/11) follow below. Our favourite was the Giscours, but all of the wines were showing very well indeed.

Feedback on the night was very positive, and some people were kind enough to write afterwards to express their thanks. Some comments included:

‘Thank you for a really enjoyable tasting last night. You covered an awful lot of ground and gave us a lot of food for thought as well as some super wine to taste. Everything was on a level that we don’t often experience at local tastings. And it was good fun! Keep up the good work.’ (Paul)

‘If you need of gift idea, or just a fun night out, check out @wineschools. My husband went to a course last night and thoroughly enjoyed it.’ (Tweet by Jo)

‘Had a lovely time. You were both very knowledgeable and it was very entertaining.’ (John)

‘Great course – I loved it and all the lovely wines you gave us to taste.’ (Phil)

As our spring season of courses draws to a close, we’ll be posting more dates for the autumn very soon. As ever, the first to know of our new dates will be subscribers to our free wine club/newsletter (click on the link to join).

Several people on the night enthusiastically suggested the next Masterclass be on top New World wines, something we will definitely look to do.

Peter and Susie’s tasting notes on the wines

Champagne Lanson Gold Label Brut 1999, 12.5% – elegant notes of glazed nuts and roasted apple: some definite evolution here even if the relatively pale, vibrant colour doesn’t suggest it. Fine, balanced, very fresh and focused on the palate. Still very tight but beautifully succulent and soft-textured too. Approachable now but will age for many years yet. Harmonious, classic blend of grand cru Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Not a showy wine but a delicious one. And will improve with time. 7.5-8/10

Puligny-Montrachet La Garenne 1er Cru 2007, Etienne Sauzet, 13.5% – very refined complex nutty aromas, with hints of cream, truffle and minerality. Fluid and cogent on the palate, with plenty of lemony acidity and mealy/savoury elegance. Tight, smoky, savoury. Definite evolution on the palate but still young. Drinks well now but will age well over the next 2-3 years. Steely, tangy. 8/10

Pommard les Perrières 1998, Vincent Dancer, 13.5% – a wine with a great sense of heritage and tradition from a young, brilliant grower. Really gamey, wild blueberry nose, with dried and fresh fruit. Quite a leathery style, feral and slightly raisined. ‘Peaty’, as Susie deftly puts it. But from a fairly senescent nose comes a vibrant, juicy and delicious palate profile, full of vibrant fruit, and steely freshness moulded with a softening texture. Soft, spicy, warm and delicate for Pommard – harmonious and drinking very well now. 7.5-8/10

Château Pavie-Macquin 2007, St Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé, 14% – this blend of 84% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon is an excellent example of modern-style, new wave St-Emilion. On the nose it could almost be from an altogether warmer New World climate, with its notes of roasted plums, cream, coffee, toffee and blueberry. In the mouth it’s fluid and generous with firm savoury tannin and a full body. Rich – but savoury and grounded. Young – oak is still evident. Generous Right Bank style of Merlot – bit hot on the finish. Not our favourite style but it’s still young and will suit many who prefer a richer style of red. 7.5/10

Château Giscours 2001, Margaux 3ème Cru Classé, 13% – absolute classic. Lovely elegant aromas of tobacco, stewed cassis, graphite and cedar. Developed and scented, with notes of cigar box, plums and warm earth. So inviting. On the palate it’s juicier than the nose might suggests, with a beautiful refined texture that’s both grippy yet also smooth and structured. Savoury. Drinking beautifully well. Again, not a showy style but one that majors on grace, stylishness and an almost ethereal finish. Could have more length and persistence, but it’s wonderful Margaux. Will age well over 5 years, but it drinks very well now. 8-8.5/10

Barolo 2004, Giovanni Corino, 14.5% -classic aromas of crushed violets, roasted plum and tar. Attractive and sensual. Young but approachable – succulent, big, broad and beefy but holds itself elegantly. A lovely combination of traditional character and modern bearing. Cherries and dark chocolate in a savoury style. 7.5-8/10

Schloss Lieser Niederberg Helden Riesling Spätlese 1997, 9% – lovely aromas of roasted cream, candied limes and kerosene. Sublime. Classic aged Riesling. On the palate it’s a very light style but one that delivers superb persistence too. Fresh, golden buttery charm allied to citrus acidity. Defined and gorgeous. Notes of honey and elderflower. Could be longer but it’s showing very well for its age and vintage. 7.5-8/10

Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas 2001 Vintage Port – served as a mystery wine for our Wine Options game, a fiercely fought contest on this occasion (talented tasters the lot). Lovely floral nose full of rich blue and black fruits. Heady and appealing. In the mouth it’s smooth but fiery, classic vintage port, with a notably creamy, elegant texture. Still very, very young – needs at least 5 years before it starts drinking, maybe then another 20-30 to come into its own. Lovely lift and concentration. Not the biggest style but a concentrated Single Quinta style, very well made. 7-7.5/10