It has been a long time since I have seen so many celebrated winemakers in the same room in London as there were last week at a tasting organised by Fields, Morris & Verdin, the agency arm of Berry Bros & Rudd.There were, for example, Roman Niewodniczanski of Van Volxem in the Saar; Petra Unger and Toni Bodenstein of Prager from Austria; André Ostertag of Alsace; Olivier Picq of Chablis; Jacques Carillon, Patrick Javillier, Henri Boillot, Jean-Nicolas Méo, Benjamin Leroux, Olilvier Merlin and the Bret Brothers from Burgundy; Jean-Michel Gerin from the Rhône; Roberto Bava, Claudia Cigliuiti and Barbara Sandrone from Piemonte; the Pallantis from Castello di Ama; Ricardo Palacios from Bierzo; Sophia Berqqvist and Jorge Moreira from the Douro; Jane Tiller, Margaret and Ivan Sutherland, James Healy and C P Lin from New Zealand; Kevin Arnold from South Africa; Bob and Louisa Lindquist and Jim and Isabelle Clendenen from California; Chris Camarda from Washington state; and Judi Cullam, Rick Kinzbrunner and Dean Hewitson from Australia. And this Jennifer's Diary-type rollcall includes only those I know. There were many more pouring at about 40 tables in the upstairs room at the RAC in Pall Mall. But because the Royal Automobile Club is so stuffy, and insists on jackets and ties (which has resulted in many a wine writer being barred from various events in the past), many of these wine farmers looked almost unrecognisable.
It was great to have the chance to taste so many wines, with a catalogue at least as large and heavy as that for many national generic tastings, although of course all I could do was skim the surface.
The one wine that remained in my mind and on my palate afterwards, as opposed to reduced to a scrawl in said tasting book, was a relatively simple one from Au Bon Climat in the Central Coast, one of those California producers of relatively burgundian Pinot Noir that I highlighted in Pinotphilia and other afflications. ABC's 'basic' Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir 2007 Santa Maria Valley, which Rick Kinzbrunner of Giacaonda and I agreed was the most beguiling Pinot Noir of all those they showed, which included several much smarter and more expensive 2006s.It'
This was/is pure essence of Pinot Noir - beautifully balanced and fragrant with lots of fruit and elegance and no trace of superfluous sweetness or alcohol. 'Wild Boy' Clendenen, he of the curly fading blond tresses (no rules against this yet at the RAC), is difficult to understand at the best of times, but I think what he was trying to tell me was that the fruit for this new bottling comes from vineyards that had previously been farmed by the Robert Mondavi group, who (a) no longer needed the fruit for their reduced range and (b) were always very good farmers so the fruit was particularly good. Apologies to all if I took the wrong end of the stick poking out of Clendenen's hair on this one. Perhaps purple pager Mel Knox* of San Francisco, who has long served as a sort of porte-parole for Au Bon Climat, will put me straight.
The main thing is just how delicious the wine is. The sort of thing you search for for some time in Burgundy. Wine-searcher.com lists several stockists in the US, UK and Germany. The UK retailer with the best price is not FMV's sister company Berry Bros (who charge £19 a bottle for it) but an online retailer that is new to me, www.slurp.co.uk, who charge just £15.75 a bottle BUT you have to buy at least six bottles, and their 12-bottle price is higher than Berry Bros' £194.16. Noel Young will let you buy just one bottle of it at £17.99, and I reckon that's a good buy, if you like gentle, fruity, dancing Pinot Noir that has no excess of tannin, acidity, sugar or alcohol but just enough of all four to make it a great drink already and any time over the next two or possibly three years.
In the US, Easy Beach Wine have it at $20.99 while in Germany K&U are listing it at €19.80.
* Mel did indeed pick this up, and got very exercised and confused about being called a porte-parole ('
Am I a talking door?? A cross between Jim Morrison and David Byrne?? I hope my career (and life) lasts as long as the latter's.' ) He then volunteered, 'Jim says that the vineyard he was talking about is in the town of Garey ( which is a store and a school near the winery). Mondavi planted it and then sold it. ' Before observing that 'nobody can keept track of all Jim's wines and doings.'