What’s in a name? Super Fine Wine Tasting (Lafite, Beaucastel, Penfolds, Huet, Prüm…)
Over the past few years I have spent many an evening tasting and discussing all manner of wines at the West London Wine School; Bordeaux verticals, Burgundy horizontals, the finest Riesling from Germany, the best the New World has to offer. There is always a theme, be it grape variety of region, but once a year all bets are off as Jimmy organises a tasting he refers to simply as his Super Fine Wine extravaganza.
Prüm, Joly, Gaja, Beaucastel, Penfolds, Errazuriz, Huet… names that would make any wine lover blush. And this year’s event featured the most expensive wine ever tasted at the school at £580. As you can imagine, these tickets sold out very quickly. In my experience, the names don’t always deliver; big ticket prices mean big ticket expectations. Without giving the game away, the wines certainly spoke of their regal prominence on this super fine Friday evening, but its not always the most expensive wine that takes away the top prize…
What better place to start than with one of the greatest Riesling producers in the world, and one of the best £20 bottle of wine available in the UK:
JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 2011, Mosel (Fine & Rare £24.00)
A slightly funky, sulphurous nose to begin with, but those of you with any experience of young Prüm wines will be familiar with this! It soon blows off to reveal aromas of lime, mango, passion fruit and a sweet lick of honey. The smell is incredibly clean and pure, with a few floral notes lingering at the end. The palate is fresh and clean; there is a delightful balance of fruit and minerality, with tangy citrus, rich mango and just a touch of sweetness. One of my go-to wines and I will never get bored of the exquisite balance. 93 points
From Germany we move west to the spiritual home of Chenin Blanc, the Loire. I love this grape in so many of it’s styles but unfortunately there is one style I cannot get along with… and that is the oxidised style of Savennières, especially from the controversial Nicolas Joly:
Nicolas Joly Clos de la Coulée de Serrant 2005, Savennières, Loire (Christopher Keiller £85.00)
The familiar nutty and bruised apple oxidative aromas hit me between the eyes immediately but I’m still trying to love this wine! There is a hint of sweet honey and an earthiness I’m just not familiar with in a white wine. The attack actually surprised me with a clean and fresh hit on attack, but quickly the alcoholic warmth takes over (15%!) and I really struggle to find any fruit at all. Its mineral and earthy and there is a huge whack of acidity… but where is the bloody fruit?? I can’t score this wine as to be perfectly honest, I just don’t understand it. The Savennières fans at the tasting enjoyed it though.
Time to move onto the reds and I was so excited about the lead-off wine; I have wanted to try some Gaja wine for quite some time and although this wasn’t from a great vintage, it certainly whetted my appetite and I will be seeking out more opportunities to taste the wines from this Piedmont royalty:
Gaja Barbaresco 1987, Piedmont (Fine & Rare £218.46)
Brick red, bordering on tawny colour showing it’s age and a little murky with lots of fine sediment. The nose gives away the wine’s age with musty notes of leather and damp forest floor, but there is still plenty of cherry fruit character, all backed up with notes of tea and dried herbs; I like it a lot. There is plenty of freshness left in the wine with spiky cherries on the attack, before the earthy notes take over. The flavour are delicious and earthy but just don’t hang around for long enough, the tannins are a little drying and I jus wanted it to last for longer. What I smelt and tasted upfront is right up my street… I think I need to find a bottle from 1989 or 1990… 92 points
Time to head back to France and try a couple of Cru Classé wines from the Medoc; we start with Troisièmes Cru Chateau La Lagune:
Chateau La Lagune 1990, Haut-Medoc, Bordeaux (Majestic £60.00)
There is a real green-tinge on the nose to begin with before the blackberry, even with a hint of cranberry fruit hits you right between the eyes. Supporting the fruit are notes of cedar, a touch of pencil shavings and a real gravelly nature. The fruit on the palate is elegant and fresh with incredible acidity stealing the show. There is plenty of oak on show but the fruit is there with black cherry giving way to baking spice and just a hint of the greenness that was evident on the nose. A very nice wine but doesn’t have the structure to give it the length it perhaps deserves. 92 points
I bet you thought this one would be kept till last… but no, the Lafite showed up hallway through this excellent tasting…
Chateau Lafite-Rothschild 1995, Pauillac, Bordeaux (Fine & Rare £580.86)
The first sniff is majestic; concentrated, elegant blackcurrant, cassis, liquorice, cedar and a fresh mineral note underpinning it all. This is a wine os polish, poise and shouts of money. Medium body with fresh acidity and a lovely silky texture. The fruit is to the fore with blackcurrant and blackberries leading the way, unveiling sweet spice, cedar and earthy graphite. A delightful wine with muted power, enormous length and superb breed. Excellent. 95 points
The best wine of the night, eh? You’d have though so… but for me the best was yet to come… and at almost 10% of the price!
Chateau de Beaucastel 2001, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone (Bordeaux Index £60.96)
For some reason the only thing that comes to mind initially when I stick my nose in is the sweet smell of Play-Doh! When I get my nose in again it has given way to blackberry and plum fruit, black pepper and dried wild herbs de Provence. There is a wild and smoky note (from a doe of Mouvedre perhaps?) that makes the aroma truly beguiling. The palate is a cocktail of black and red fruits that simply explodes on the tongue, leading the path to a seemingly endless smoky and spicy finish. The acidity is beautifully judged and there is wonderful tannic grip providing a beautiful balance. There are years and years ahead for this wine and I will be trying to secure a few more for my own enjoyment. Brilliant. 95 points
From 10% Syrah to 100% Shiraz – this is a bottle I picked up as part of the fantastic #WineSwap project and I felt it needed an appropriate occasion to open… and we needed an Aussie representative in this great tasting!
Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2003, South Australia (Cadman Fine Wines £67.50)
Hugely concentrated and smoky nose, with a ton of brambly fruit, liquorice and an elegant, almost delicate note of white pepper. The texture is pure silk with plenty of fresh raspberry, wild blackberry and deep plum fruit exploding on the tongue. The acid is bright but subtle and the finish is long and fruity, if just a little bit warm. I would love to try this wine again and it certainly warranted its place in this fantastic line-up. 93 points
From Australia to California and a mega-oaked Cabernet from a producer I’m not familiar with that scared me on paper… 30 months is oak anyone? I was afraid my love affair with Cali-Cab might be over…
Silver Oak Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley, California (n/a UK £85.00)
There is a lot of polish and money on the nose; vanilla, coconut and other baking spices. But there is plenty of fruit hiding behind it, raspberry and cranberry, giving way to concentrated blackcurrant. The palate is dense and intense on the attack but gives way to a surprisingly delicate experience. The fruit is fresh, the acidity is good and the tannins are tight and firm. This is an excellent wine with great balance and beautiful length… despite the ridiculous 30 month “oak programme”! 93 points
From California we headed south to Chile and a wine I have wanted to try for quite some time. I’m a big fan of Errazuriz’s entry-level wines, now it was time to check the links up the quality scale:
Errazuriz Don Maximiano 2007, Aconcagua Valley, Chile (Eton Vintners £52.50)
I’m not entirely sure a wine can smelly chewy… but this one does! Slightly stewed blackcurrant and cassis but with a minty freshness and even a touch of smoke at the end; very expressive Cabernet. On the palate the wine is super concentrated with a great whack of cassis liqueur, supported with hints of mint and tobacco. The tannins are fine, mellow eve, and the finish is fine and long. 93 points
After a fine exhibition of red wines it was time to try something sweet; and if you read my write-up of the recent Huet tasting, you’ll know there wasn’t much that could go wrong here:
Domaine Huet Clos de Bourg Vouvray Moelleux 1989, Loire (Fine & Rare £134.40)
Caramelised oranges, marmalade and a touch of the tropics on the nose; clean and pure minerality with just a hint of earthy, heather-honey. The texture is thick and syrupy with lashings of acidity and a whole basket of citrus and crisp apples. Then comes the sweetness and the tropical fruit that just seems to go on forever. Sweet without ever being sticky, amazing balance and outstanding poise. Pure class. 94 points
And as the night was about enjoying some of the finest wines from the finest regions, where better to end our journey than Porto:
Fonseca Vintage Port 1985, Porto, Portugal (Roberson £80.00)
Fresh red fruit fills the nostrils ahead of the dried, almost candies fruit that follows and just a touch medicinal. There is some volatile alcohol at play here but this is still early days for this beauty and the fruit really does shine through on the wonderful nose. All of this comes to life on the palate; the red fruit is surprisingly fresh and pure with lovely hints of dried spice and dried fruit on the exquisite finish. The alcohol will meld with the fruit over time but this one is a keeper, one to enjoy for Xmas 2025! 93+ points
A vinous marathon of humongous proportions; its fair to say I quite enjoyed that one.