Laithwaites recently opened the doors on their 38th Vintage Wine Festival and, fittingly for the ever expansive world of wine, it was bigger than ever before. Not only were they showing over 380 wines on the day but they had representation from Turkey from the first time and were now including their incredibly popular sensory session ‘Tasting in the Dark’.
The Fine Wine room was once again in place meaning that, along with the tasting theatres and other assorted activities (including an ‘I’m a Celebrity…’ influenced pairing of jungle critters to wine), there was a seriously wide array of activities to cover off in the time.
Having been a Laithwaites customer for many years and having been to other portfolio tastings of theirs I decided that the general tasting room would be tackled only where time permitted. In the end, aside from a handful of English wine producers (including Ridgeview), I simply didn’t get the time. How curious to attend a wine tasting and spend virtually no time at all in the main wine tasting!
To be fair though, the Fine Wine upgrade is a complete and absorbing experience in itself and in many ways equal or better than some standalone tasting events I’ve been to. Mildly saddened that they hadn’t used the Willy Wonka-style glass elevator from last year, this year’s entry was via an equally glamorous private staircase complete with red carpet.
Now split over multiple rooms the Fine Wine experience is bigger than ever and more of a Fine Wine floor. I spent two full hours tasting through the majority of the 67 wines and spirits on display and, perhaps mischievously, tried a couple of them more than once. My first three pours were all very much double-tasters, with my perennial favourite Dom Pérignon (2006, £120) to start me off.
Alongside this was the ever reliable Krug Grande Cuvée (£130) and the Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 1995 (£120). Having been an award winning stalwart for at least 10 years, my host informed me that the stocks of this exalted 1995 wine are now running down and Heidsieck are heading for the new vintage. Although she wouldn’t confirm which year this would be, she did say there would be a leap forward, and my money is on the powerful 2002. My only regret here was that the Roederer Cristal wasn’t on display as per last year even though they have moved forward from the 2007 to the 2009 vintage.
Other rare wine highlights included:
- Cháteau Gruaud-Larose 2001 – £80. Black cherry fruit with woody touches. Seriously good length
- Cháteau La Tour Carnet 2010 – £45. Extremely floral nose, light tannin, silky soft fruit
- Prunotto Bric Turot Barbaresco 2013 – £45. From Italian genius Antinori. Subtle but intense, fragrant and feminine
- La Rioja Alta Gran 2004 Reserva 890 (served from Magnum) – £145. One of the last bottles remaining from this vintage, it was soft and retained a vibrant acid whilst having tertiary coffee notes and almost the character of a tawny port
Following my Fine Wine session I headed off to the tasting theatre for a 30-minute session with ‘Mr Wine’ himself, Oz Clarke. Whilst always being a part of the Laithwaites brand, at this festival Oz was almost omni-present, to the extent of a camera following his every move around the event. This session though caught the raconteur at his relaxed best and gave us a canter through some of his ‘Desert Island Wines’.
Hosted by Master of Wine Justin-Howard Sneyd, the session was a rollercoaster of wit and repartee, running well over time as Oz discussed wine, film (he was in the first Superman film if you hadn’t spotted him), train trips, TV co-host Jilly Goolden (he still won’t confirm if they are or aren’t married!), and how he found his love of all things vinous.
His choices on the day included:
- Support for English vineyards through a Rosé from Wyfold Valley (I’ll be visiting here shortly so look forward to a vineyard review in due course)
- A classic Bordeaux 1969, amazingly still available through Laithwaites from producer Château La Tour du Roch-Milon
- A fine example of stalwart Australian producer Penfolds and their classic Bin 311 Chardonnay 2015
- A nod to the well-respected wines of Spain with the Altos de la Guardia Reserva 2011
As hinted at earlier, Oz could seriously talk for hours such is his passion and wealth of experience on the subject, and he did run over by some 15 minutes. Nevertheless I was able to have a quick catch-up with him at the end of the session to gauge his thoughts on the possibilities of him bringing wine back to mainstream TV following the success of The Wine Show.
As well as confirming that James May is still too much of a man in demand following the Top Gear decampment to Amazon and, as full of praise as he was for Wine Show host Joe Fattorini, Oz was just beginning to convey to me his view as to why the new show hadn’t been a complete success in his eyes when a bunch of four ladies mobbed him for a photo opportunity.
Frustratingly that was the last I heard on the subject from him. How I would have loved to have finished off that conversation!
Due to the session running over and the impromptu Q&A after, my time at the event was now drawing to an end. I scarcely had time to match a dried bee to an Aussie Shiraz at the ‘I’m a Celebrity’ stand before it was time to go.
Once again this was a wine event not to miss and, although I scarcely spent any time in the main arena at all, pound for pound on the samples tried in the Fine Wine room, I certainly covered my fair share of ground and came away with many taste memories.
With thanks to Laithwaites for providing the tickets used in this tasting.