Keen wine tasters in North West Hampshire meet in a range of formats – Andover Wine Friends, BBC (‘bring a bottle club’), TWITS (don’t ask), TWITS Diploma group and, of course, informally. To these can now be added BSBC, bring a special bottle club. This pays homage to a famous 24-bottle dinner hosted late in 2010 by David Thomas, lately of this parish, now to be found in the elevated surroundings of Bordeaux Index. The idea is simple enough and is perfectly encapsulated by its title. The custom is to taste the wines blind. This is primarily so that we do not judge them by their labels but also for the slightly perverse fun of seeing if we can get close to what they are, some of the time.
All such events have to start with fizz and usually Champagne. As a pre-aperitif we tasted Waitrose Champagne 2005, 12.5%. We agreed this is an absolute bargain currently at just under £20 with its toasty, nutty nose, candied citrus fruit and bright acidity. But this was the curtain raiser for the first wine of the evening, another Champagne in a magnum which initially was very dumb. But it was just too cold and as it warmed up it showed its magnificent complexity. Bread and almond notes, then mushroom and really savoury themes on nose and palate. Powerful and profound: Bollinger R.D. 1999, 12%. It was disgorged in 2011 so it had had just over a decade on lees in the bottle and then a further five years of development. Stunning and setting a pretty high standard for the rest of the wines.
Four whites followed. All four were exemplary and two of them are pretty much unique instances of what they were. More conventional and none the worse for that was Les Pucelles, Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru, Domaine Leflaive, 2009, 13.5%. A tightly knit wine with some power and a fine fusion of vanilla and cinnamon oak, floral, honey and citrus on the palate, very good concentration. The ripeness of the year was well balanced with lemon acidity. The first of our unique instances was Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Valentini, 2008, 12.5%. Edoardo Valentini is famous in Italy for this wine. He crafts a world-class wine which can be aged for decades from a variety normally associated with a cheap and acidic fare. Subtle floral, herbal and orange rind notes are encompassed by a nutty, even resinous, hint from old oak. Great concentration and length. You can tell this is only to get more profound and savoury with age. It was a pleasure to introduce people to this Italian classic. And note that low 12.5% ABV in warm, southern Italy.
The third white was also one of a kind: Viña Gravonia, Rioja Blanco Crianza, Lopez de Heredia, 2006, 12.5%. Mushroom, ginger and vanilla on the nose, then lemon and green apple with surprisingly high acidity. This oxidatively-made style of white Rioja continues to be almost the sole preserve of Lopez de Heredia and long may it continue. Technically a white Crianza which requires a minimum of six months in oak and can be released after a further six month, this version has a remarkable four years in barrels and then another 6 years in bottle. This accounts for the mid gold colour and the array of tertiary notes. Finally for the whites, Kistler Vineyard Chardonnay, Sonoma Valley, Kistler, 2001, 14% was quite difficult to place. Orange tinted from bottle age, caramel and marzipan rather than fruity with a brisk acidity. Several of us thought it was Chenin Blanc. A superb, fully matured Chardonnay and as it happens the only non-European wine of the evening.
It’s time for something red. Prado Enea, Rioja Gran Reserva, Muga, 2001, 13.5% was a fine start. Rich strawberry to red plum fruit, perfumed, very savoury, with light and supportive tannins. This is made pretty traditionally – wild yeasts, aged in large format oak for a year and then for three years in wooden casks. The next two wines turned out to be an unplanned contrast between two red Burgundian Grand Crus in very different vintages: Échezeaux, Domaine Daniel Rion, 2011, 13% and Bonnes Mares, Domaine Drouhin-Laroze, 2003, 13.5%. The Échezeaux was a pale ruby, with lifted raspberry and cranberry fruit and some toasty oak. By contrast, the Bonnes Mares from a famously hot year was deep coloured, rich and and full. Over the years it had developed a remarkable satiny texture. Because of the richness it was difficult to spot as red Burgundy, but that is what heat and a great site can do.
The final red was an afterthought as we had not had a single Bordeaux blend. I have been waiting for the perfect moment to share a little known Italian Bordeaux blend from Campania, no less: Montevetrano, Colli di Salerno, 2001, 13% which I was kindly given on a visit back in 2009. What was interesting was that this was much more Bordeauesque than the famous Super Tuscans of Bolgheri. That may be partly to do with age as after 15 years this was very savoury, redolent of autumn leaves with slightly drying tannins. But still a testament to how Bordeaux varieties can do in an improbable location.
The star in this department was undoubtedly Boal, Solera 1826, Blandy Brothers, Madeira, no ABV given, rather beautifully written up here. The only thing tired about this amazing bottle was the label which did show signs of the 30 years the bottle had been in Lefty’s cellar and perhaps years before that too. But the contents were magical: full-on amber with that tell-tale green rim of old Madeira; a panoply of walnut, fenugreek, orange rind, smoke and much more. The perception of sweetness has dropped over the decades while the electrifying acidity remains forever. Fabulous. Somewhat over shadowed but still remarkable for a bottle you can buy today from Lay&Wheeler for £22 was Ch. Sigalas Rabaud, Sauternes, 2000, 13.5%: honey, butterscotch, orange and lemon compote, sweet but just turning into a umami-rich savoury phase.
… was of course gorgeous.
This was deemed to be too difficult a question as the standard was so consistently high and we were tasting four categories of wine. The Madeira would probably have won … though the Bollinger RD was stunning too. Trebbiano d’Abruzzo was deemed to be the most interesting and certainly the discovery of the night; the Puligny was also very special. In the reds, the Muga, the Bonnes Mares and the Montevetrano all had their fans. Thanks to all for a really memorable evening and for sharing really special bottles.