22 February We are republishing this free in our Throwback Thursday series.
5 February This is the first of five articles we plan to publish in a special week devoted to Spain.
I'd like to have gone to this year's Australia Day Tasting on 23 January but I had a long-standing commitment to a long-sitting lunch with nine fellow pensioners. (I'm sure Richard did a great job of covering the ADT instead.)
Some may remember my account of the last get-together of the 1950 Babes in 2015, a group of us in and around the UK wine trade born in 1950. We used to meet only every 10 years but realised that, ahem, it might be wiser to meet more often than that, so we agreed to subject ourselves to another bibulous gathering before our planned 2020 celebration of reaching our eighth decade.
Berry Bros & Rudd very kindly agreed to provide the setting again, an upper dining room at 3 St James's Street; the host, recently retired Simon Berry; and some extremely superior food. We paid for the food and brought our own wine. In quantity.
Because we used to be more numerous, and there were some fairly late falls by the wayside, we had been asked to provide a magnum each, which of course turned out to be far too much for a table of nine. Where participants had provided two bottles instead of a magnum, we opened just one bottle (two in the case of a premoxed white burgundy). As for the magnums, I hope that the delightful serving staff were able to enjoy the leftovers.
Those who made it this time around, apart from the hardy female 1950-vintage Masters of Wine (me and fellow wine writer Rosemary George), were Tony Stebbings of Smooth Red, who undertook all the organisation, Allan Cheesman, who ran Sainsbury's wine department in the glory days, Tim How, who was boss of Majestic wine warehouses ditto, Gerald Duff of Unwins wine stores ditto, Bill Rolfe, who dreamt up Pink Elephant rosé, David Hunter ex Sichel and WSET, and Tim Littler, who has jumped from Whitham fine-wine traders to travel via Golden Eagle Luxury Trains. He was just off to Ecuador.
But before then there were 12 wines and four courses demanding our attention. We gathered with a couple of bottles of champagne in one of the cosy drawing rooms that Berrys now field. Three classic whites at three very different stages of maturity accompanied our seriously refined wild mushroom tart with quail's eggs, salsify and hollandaise.
Then we picked at four red bordeaux with the roast and confit duck with its delicious little patty, followed by British cheeses stilton, Baron Bigod and Coolea, but most were agreed that the red wine star of the show was an extraordinary wild card I brought along from Spain (see below).
The Sauternes and the port (the only representative of our birth year) were just the job for the delicate riff on rhubarb cheesecake.
My tasting notes are below, but what did we talk about? Absent friends, wine-trade gossip ancient and modern, the parlous state of wine retailing in the UK and, I'm sure, much, much more.
Inter alia I told the story of the extraordinary red magnum I had supplied which was entirely due to the kindness and perspicacity of our Spanish specialist Ferran Centelles, always the source of great ideas. The Cariñena co-op (professionally known and approved by several of my colleagues round the table) celebrated its half-century last year by releasing a few extraordinarily packaged magnums of a stunning Garnacha that had been donated to the enterprise on its founding by one of its members. Its precise origins are unknown but the wine is thought to have been already 10 to 15 years old when the co-op was founded.
Ferran had kindly sent magnums to our JancisRobinson.com Christmas dinner on 15 December so that we could enjoy one together that night and then everyone could take one home. As you can see from the picture above of the empties on the morning of 16 December, this excitingly vibrant rich wine was packaged in most unusual magnum bottle shape (second magnum from the right) and labelled with simply typed labels tied on with string. No design agency could have bettered this look. See immediately below for close-up of the suitably wine-spattered label leftover from our 1950s lunch and a bit further below for my tasting note on this wine, and on the other 11 wines we enjoyed at the recent Vintage 1950 lunch.
I'm afraid the prevailing spirit of our JancisRobinson.com Christmas dinner was fun rather than work so I did not take tasting notes on what was served but there was a strong Spanish element because Ferran had taken the trouble to fly over from Barcelona for the night, and a fine Italian magnum to acknowledge Walter's presence.
The wines for the 14 of us (alas, Alder, Elaine, Max and even Michael were too far-flung to join us) were a magnum of Pol Roger 2002 Champagne, two bottles of Keller, Kirchspiel Riesling GG 2009 Rheinhessen, a magnum of Il Palazzone Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino, a magnum of Ridge Monte Bello 1991 Santa Cruz Mountains, the magnum of Cariñena from the 1950s described above and below and a magnum of Chivite, Colección 125 Vendimia Tardia 2001 Navarra. All were in great shape, even the super-sweet Spaniard at the end.
But again, it was the extraordinary Cariñena that elicited most comment and wonder. Is not wine a wonderful thing?
This was a slightly disappointing, inexpressive bottle without the usual drama of Dom P. Not much intensity, though it was still quite tight. Perhaps, because the 2008 is so unready, it was released a little too soon to plug a sales gap?
Rich, dark and intensely mushroomy. This style of champagne is one you love or loathe – it is so defiantly mature. Some of our 1950s group found it too much. I agree it is too much to sip as an aperitif but I think it could inspired some wonderful food matches: chicken with morels and a creamy sauce perhaps? Certainly not a thirst-quencher...
Magnum. This lovely wine was a gift from Jean-Christophe Mau to our 1950s Babes lunch.
Pale, very slightly oaky still on the nose. Lots of fun with a certain slightly oily sweetness but kept fresh by its blackcurrant-leaf aroma and correct acidity. Far from thin but very promising for the future. If I saw this on a wine list I would probably grab it with both hands. It looks to be well distributed in the US where it retails from about $30 a bottle.
Chablis-expert Rosemary George MW very kindly supplied two bottles of this wine.
Alas they were both unpleasantly oxidised. For a few minutes the second one offered freshness as well as richness but then followed the first down the plughole. What a shame. A pox on premox...
Magnum generously donated by Tim Littler who has long championed the wines of Louis Latour and claims you have to wait many a long year for them to prove their worth – even this one from the notorious heatwave year.
This deep gold, almost viscus wine was very rich indeed – teetering on the edge of heaviness – but with great vibrancy and huge appeal. Perhaps not the most complex but miles better than many a Corton-Charlemagne.
Another magnum donated by Jean-Christophe Mau, and another extremely user-friendly bordeaux.
Very deep crimson, modern but not excessive style. This would be a great wine to use to introduce neophytes to bordeaux with. Suave, fresh with masses of maturing fruit and the tannins present but not dominant. No great complexity yet but very well made.
I fear this may always be a little skinny and austere. It has not mellowed substantially over time and is still a little too tough and tart for its fruit weight. It won't fall off a cliff but I'm not sure it's worth waiting too long for.
Magnum. Delightfully rich and a great undertow. Slightly dry finish but excellent depth of fruit on the palate. This, from what was rarely a charming vintage, has lasted admirably.
Magnum. This is what claret is all about. Utterly correct, bone dry, straight-backed, not opulently fleshy nor fruity (cf Ch Brown 2010) but fresh and racy. Super-appetising. A health drink? Certainly not for sipping without food but this went admirably with the duck provided for us 1950s babes.
Magnum – and what a magnum! Sniffed out and provided by Ferran Centelles. An extraordinary rich, mature, lively wine that is believed to be the produce of one of the founding members of the Cariñena co-op. They brought the wines they had made in the previous 10 to 15 years to donate to the co-op and store there. This one was stored in concrete apparently (if I have translated the label correctly) until being put into distinctive magnums to celebrate the co-op's half-century in 2017.13.5%
This bright ruby wine was broad, biscuity and spicy with a touch of gaminess. Muscular, well structured and sweet, it proves just how good Garnacha can be. It reminded me on the nose of a particularly complex tea. Glorious.
Dark tawny. Rich but also managed to be extremely fresh and lively. Great stuff! It looked much older than it tasted.
This bottle had come from Ireland where it may well have been bottled but it was in great shape.
Pale tawny colour but still sweet and complex with a certain graininess. Very encouraging to see that a wine as old as the company round the table was still so vigorous – even if supposedly from a 'light' vintage. Huh.