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  • Jancis Robinson
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  • Jancis Robinson
15 May 2002

Surely the bargain of the vintage was announced on 15 May when Ch Belgrave, the much-improved fifth growth in St Laurent, came out at prices sufficiently low for Farr Vintners to offer it at £100 a case and Montrachet Wines to offer it at just £92. (You can see my tasting note on purple pages.)

Meanwhile Chx Cambon La Pelouse and Marsau, both making wines well above their official status, are also out at reasonable prices well under £100 a case. They're certainly not investment wines but would be useful for anyone starting a cellar.

Perhaps of more long-term significance for Bordeaux watchers however is that the last four events I attended in London's hectic wine tasting calendar were tastings of Italian wine. This is not just because I find the subject so fascinating, but a reflection of the changing interests of London's important wine trade which has for so long been fixated on Bordeaux. And only one of these Italian events was organised by an Italian specialist; the other three were dreamt up by the most conventional, traditional outfits imaginable (much as they would hate me to say this).

Justerini & Brooks of London SW1, for example, have a nice little business going. They hire a large room; circulate their mailing list of trade and well-heeled private customers; ship in samples of a wide range of Marc de Grazia's Italian wine selections (aimed principally at the US market); take the orders (a large order desk is always located near the exit); and hey presto! a risk-free Italian sales campaign with minimal effort.

I'm being rather mean here because their wine buyer Hew Blair works extremely hard at sniffing out the best in Burgundy, Rhône and elsewhere, but this Italian approach does seem to me less personal than it might be.

I shall be adding notes on the Barolos and Barbarescos I tasted in bottle at these events to my tasting notes but unfortunately many of the most delicious Barberas and Dolcettos I tasted were cask samples. It seems a bit much to have to buy wines like this en primeur... Surely we consumers should do our best to stem the tide that seems determined to have us bearing the cost of ageing wine almost from the fermentation vat.

Sassicaia features heavily in other Great Italians tasted recently and I'll be publishing notes on vintages from the early 1970s up to 1999 very soon. All I'll say for the moment is that the 1997 (tasted three times, including one completely corked bottle) is currently drinking beautifully - much finer than the 1998 in my humble opinion.