The tasting circuit comes alive in November as producers vie for your festive custom. Despite having tickets I was unable to attend the Tesco event, but did get along to the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter which is always a fabulous day out with over 120 producers showing 600 different wines. As a regular visitor for a decade now it was nice to see a few new producers this year, and first amongst these was Champagne house Charles Heidsieck. Browsing through the show catalogue I noticed they were showing their 1995 Blanc de Millénaires (RRP ~ £150). This was a wine I simply had to try and I wasn’t disappointed with the creamy, toasty dried fruit signs of age merging with light vanilla spice and vibrant mousse to keep it perky.
Also attending were Amazon, promoting their new ‘Fine Wine’ platform which stocks top quality brands such as Ornellaia, Opus One and Trotanoy. Sadly none of these were available to taste on the day, but they did show off some fine old Rioja Gran Reserva’s as well as some newer premium Australian and Italian wine.
UK vineyard Nyetimber usually attend to keep up the home side, but absent this year the mantle fell to Bride valley, which is the estate of Decanter consultant editor Steven Spurrier. He and his wife Bella were on hand to pour and give us the background to their Dorset operation which boasts 25 acres of southeast facing slopes benefitting from having the chalky Kimmeridge soils. Similar in terroir as northern France, they concentrate on the 3 Champagne varieties to produce a fine sparkling wine up there with the best that this country is offering. I do hope that we see more UK producers being invited/accepting to take part as I’ve done a few vineyard visits this year and the quality is something to shout about.
Not shy in coming forward these last few years are the Prosecco producers who were out in force again, and I got chatting to the chaps from Carpené Malvoti who lay claim to being the first ever producer of Prosecco. There’s been much talk in the UK of the rise in popularity of Prosecco and the subsequent shortage if demand keeps up to its current levels. I was keen to understand whether this was truth or simply media hype to stimulate sales. He assured me that, whilst true, it was currently only confined to the lower level (but still quality) DOC wines as opposed to the DOCG level. It will be interesting to see if this demand creeps in to top level offerings or whether people are simply interested in Prosecco as a cheap fizz.
My standout wine of the show would have to go to Heitz Cellars Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. Having tasted their range before I gravitated towards them and this wine was pure velvet and silk, the 6 years of age having softened any tannic qualities away. The fruit was as intense as you would expect with super ripe black cherry, blue plum, light spices and a fresh acid meaning that this was an absolute pleasure to drink.
Next up was the ‘Majestic Wines Winter Showcase’. The rain may have been drizzling as I arrived, but I was set at ease with a ‘welcome’ glass of Laurent-Perrier’s superb NV Rosé. It’s far from being the most expensive bottle of Champagne that I buy, but this is a lovely palate-pleasing Champagne I truly save for special occasions.
Also showing that night was the 2014 Cótes du Rhóne from Majestic’s new own-brand label ‘Definition’, which aims to capture the quintessential qualities of the world’s best wines. This CdR was a powerful 15% wine, full of black cherry, wood, spice and light tannin, not unlike a Chateauneuf. Also pouring alongside various reds and whites was a Tuscan Pinot Grigio from Banfi, an Amarone Classico from Masi, one sweet wine, and the multi-award winning Manzanilla Sherry from La Gitana. My highlight of the evening came from a Brunello di Montalcino, again from Banfi, which had all the characteristics I love about old Bordeaux. Dried red cherry and raspberry mixed with old wood and cedar, coffee, lightly grained tannin and a warming 14% alcohol carrying it through to a satisfying long finish.
I was a little disappointed that the regular tasting table wasn’t open that night (allowing you to try another 10 or so wines). Previous tasting evenings have allowed this but apparently the volume of people expected would wipe out their entire weekly allocation of tasting wines. A shame, so I’ll have to pop back.
Majestic recently dropped their 6 bottle minimum purchase, but with single bottle prices being raised slightly to reflect this, the discounts still kick in when you buy 6 or more bottles. In addition to the 10% discount being offered on the tasting night, a Champagne promotion was running offering 33% off – a stunning 43% discount. Being rude not to, I picked up the Laurent-Perrier Rosé and some Bollinger Grand Année 2005 in festive preparation. At £35 and £53 respectively, this was certainly something to celebrate!