LIBERTY WINES ANNUAL PORTFOLIO TASTING
@ THE KIA OVAL, LONDON
London’s Kia Oval is the world famous home of Surrey Country Cricket where of course England also play many Test Matches, including those testosterone-charged games versus Australia. However the Aussies I met there recently came bearing gifts, and the only sixes scored were cases of wine.
Each year Liberty Wines, the large international wine distributors, hold their Portfolio Tasting amidst the hallowed portals of this impressive temple to cricket. Essentially, all the producers on their portfolio, world-wide, are asked to attend, bring their wares and share them with those in the trade. This year, I was invited to attend.
This invitation, which came right out of the blue, was from our friend Daniel Castaño, of Bodegas Castaño, DO Yecla, whose wines have appeared several times in Cork Talk over the last eighteen years. It was an opportunity that I really couldn’t turn down and I accepted with alacrity, as you might imagine.
I was to be part of a three man delegation from Bodegas Castaño: Daniel, Head of Exports, and bear in mind that this bodega was the first to export wines from DO Yecla and in fact exports a huge 95% of its total production, to Europe, USA, Asia and more; Mariano the Head Wine-maker, who has been responsible for all the Bodega’s wine success (as well as that of the once sister bodega, Bodegas Sierra Salinas, now sold on); and me, with a rather less impressive CV!
However, I had my uses! Mariano’s English is not perfect and it was thus my role to accompany him around the tasting, translating the details spoken in English by all the exhibitors. Now, it would be being extremely economical with the truth if I were to tell you that my Spanish is fluent, far, far from it. However, my wine-Spanish isn’t too bad.
Looking back now over my notes I see that we tasted over 70 wines so we didn’t do too badly!
Mariano has an amazing knowledge of wines and an exceptional palate and nose for wine appreciation. All of which enables him to identify strengths and weaknesses in wines as well as the grape varieties from which they were made. So whilst I was translating for him as quickly as I could, I was also taking note of his comments as well as those of mine re the multifarious wines we tasted.
Liberty Wines had taken over two whole floors of the Conference Centre of the Kia Oval, plus the dining room on the bottom floor where an excellent lunch was served, yes, with wine! The ‘Ashes Suite’, the ‘India Suite’ and the ‘England Suite’ evoked memories of gargantuan battles of the past with walls adorned with photos of cricket legends. With huge windows in each suite that looked out over the tranquil and almost blindingly green square, well it was all rather stirring – and this from a football man!
Liberty Wines are very strong on Italian and French wines, but their extensive portfolio also more than adequately covers many other countries. South Africa, Chile, Argentina, Austria, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Armenia, Germany, Spain of course and England are all represented and others too! So there was an interesting mix of Old World and New World wines to be sampled. We set about our work resolutely!
Clearly, there is not enough space here to describe all the wines we tasted, so here are just a few of my favourites from a truly excellent field.
I was impressed with the English Sparkling Wine. Time restricted us to tasting fizz from only one of the producers on hand. I would have liked to have tasted them all, but the one we did taste is perhaps the most famous of all English Sparkling Wines, Nyetimber. Award winning and now served on BA First Class flights, when this fizz hit the headlines Champagne producers started looking over their shoulders!
The Classic Cuvee 2009 uses the triumvirate of Champagne varieties, Chardonnay (the highest proportion) and the black grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, with the latter perhaps adding a sort of youthful fruitiness to the overall flavour. It has spent three years on its lees adding a depth and richness to the finished product.
Nyetimber’s Blanc de Blanc is, of course (the phrase means white from white and as Chardonnay is the only ‘white’ grape in the traditional gang of three, it has to have been made with Chardonnay), made exclusively with Chardonnay. This wine is a different animal. It’s still vibrant, still has what we want from a Sparkling Wine, but its five years on its lees have given it greater complexity, richness and depth of flavour. Super, with a trade price of 32 pounds!
We started with white wines and some of my absolute favourites were in attendance. Condrieu from Maison Nicolas Perrin is a stunning wine. It’s made with 100% Viognier with notes of apricot and honeysuckle flowers. It’s an iconic wine, with everything that is best about this marvellous variety. It’s not cheap with a trade price of 27 pounds, but it’s sooo worth it!
If asked what my favourite wine, or why style, is, I always explain that it’s impossible to say. I’m so lucky to be able to taste incredible Spanish wines, but of course there are equally wonderful wines made all over the world. However, if cornered I’d have to say that white Burgundy wine has to be up there with my all-time favourites.
Chablis, of course, would be a contender. Chablis 1er Cru ‘Les Vaudevey’ was lovely! Good acidy with a little butter on the nose, good length, rich fruit, lively. From the same producer, Domaine Laroche, I thought the Chablis Grand Cru ‘Les Blanchots’ was outstanding – though at 38 pounds, it jolly well should be.
I also loved Rully, Saint Roman, Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet and Mersault – marvelling at how diverse the flavours and aromas of Chardonnay can be.
For reds (I told you I’d have to be brief!) I was very impresses with all the wines made with Syrah/Shiraz. Côte-Rôtie, again from Nicolas Perrin, was wonderful, and for me this is not surprising – it also has a touch of Viognier in the blend. I also really enjoyed the Crozes Hermitage and the Ermitage from the same producer, though the last was very expensive at 43 pounds a bottle.
Perhaps understandably, given that I am so accustomed to Spanish wines that have had the benefit of so much sunshine, I tended to warm to the Australian Shiraz a little more than the French. The Clonakilla Canberra District Shiraz/Viognier (yes, that blend again!) is magnificent with rich Shiraz fruit and a little white pepper with added aromatic value coming from the small percentage of white Viognier.
Also Mitolo’s Jester Shiraz and Gam Shiraz were outstanding.
PS There are just a few seats left for the Gourmet Tapas/Spanish Wine Pairing Evening at Vintage Gastro Bar & Restaurant, Albir. Vintage is owned and run by Dani Bowler who shot to fame on UK TV’s Masterchef Programme, and his precise and imaginative cooking is now enjoyed by all who visit his new restaurant. Proceeds from this event will also go to the: Asociación Espanola contra el Cáncer (AECC)! Please contact Colin to reserve your places!