An Oxford Tasting and Dinner

Thursday, 21st March 2013 by Thomas Parker

My latest return to Oxford had me turn from taster to tutor as I led the Blind Tasting Society through four pairs of wines under the guise ‘new vs old’. Blind tasting for me has always been more than just a party trick, and the tasters at Oxford approach what is in their glass with scrutiny and analysis which only adds to their passion for wine. They blind taste six or more wines three or more times a week – I can’t think of a better way to improve your knowledge and passion for wine without visiting regions and tasting in producers’ cellars. I was impressed as always with how close many of the guesses were, and with how the tasters drew conclusions on what was new or old (though I did try to make things a little tricky for one or two!).

The white lineup

First I served two whites – and it was no surprise to see the tasters immediately pinpoint a pair of Chardonnays from the same vintage, but one being from old world and one from new. What I did enjoy was that the room was split on both which the new world wine was, and which they preferred… I think that many tasters thought potentially oak treatment or fruit ripeness would indicate fully one way or the other, but vintage styles, house style and I think importantly here readiness for drinking caused a few slip ups. The pairing was:

Kumeu River 2009 ‘Maté’s Vineyard’ – Lactic, vanilla notes combine with ripe stone fruit – pear and peach on the nose. The palate had hints of toast but the dominant flavours for me where the white pear and creamy peach, along with something mineral. Fresh acidity and a long finish. Perfect for drinking now but will age.

Meursault 2009 Pierre Boisson (Boisson-Vadot) – At first for me, and I think a few others, the oak seemed quite prominent on the nose and palate. With airing and further tasting I found however a lot of peach and some pear, butter, and cream as well. The palate was cooler but still ripe, rich and round – a sign of the vintage. There was something mineral here but the oak needs more time to harmonise with the wine. For me, this will need time to meld, but the power and length on the finish shows it as having potential to be outstanding.

Tasters hard at work

The second pair of whites served gave one thing away immediately, this was a newer vintage versus an older vintage. The majority rightly chose Riesling for this pair, both from Germany, though there were a few shouts for Chenin; firstly due to the apply character of the younger wine, and secondly due to the ageing on the second. The younger was outstanding, and had a few oohs and ahhs from the blind tasters, which I was glad to hear. Most tasters were shocked that the wine wasn’t younger, though I must say one or two were agonisingly close to being spot on – you know who you are… Many also correctly guessed that they were both of the same level within the German structuring system, though there was some debate between Spatlese and Auslese – mostly due to the thought that wine one was younger than it is. The pairing:

Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese 2001 J.J. Prum – pale lemon in appearance, the nose has pronounced aromas of lemon, passion fruit, honey blossom, peached and yet still the wet stone character and perhaps the hint of petrol. The palate had brisk acidity that held the wine together and made the wine seem very fresh and not as sweet as the residual sugar levels would have you think. Pure intensity of fruit – peaches, pears, and a hint of lime; slight petrol, slight marmalade. Lovely rich mouth-feel, and a very long finish. Outstanding, and still so young!

Forster jesuitengarten Auslese 1976 Bassermann-Jordan – Amber in colour, the wine was a touch oxidative on the nose, this wine was showing its age, but there was still dried apricot and fig on the nose here. The palate had good viscosity and most of the sweetness had melded into the wine to add spiciness and dried fruit and marmalade character. The finish was fading a touch and this wine is certainly towards the end of its life, but there was still acidity holding the wine together for now.

The red line up

Moving to the reds, we started with a pair of brightly coloured wines that the tasters quickly nailed as Pinot Noir, one from the Old World and one from the New. These were reasonably easily chosen, one being more forward and fruit driven with real purity and soft tannin, one being slightly more backward and tannic but with real freshness and lively acidity. I think I would drink one now and wait for the other to hit its peak. The pair were:

Chambolle Musigny 2007 Dujac – Fresh cherries and red berries on the nose, with a hint of nutmeg. The palate has crunchy fruit and still has grippy tannin. Vibrant acidity gives the wine zip. Still needs a little time. The wine is driven by its fresh fruit core with hints of pepperiness.

Pinot Noir ‘Isabelle’ 2006 Au Bon Climat – Sweeter and rounder than the previous wine, red cherries turning to black. The palate is round and ripe in its fruit character but not at all baked – the fruit is still very distinguishable. The tannins are soft but the acidity holds the wine in balance well.

To finish the tasting I couldn’t go anywhere but Bordeaux, and those who didn’t already know me and so could pick this out before even approaching the wine still found their way to the left bank soon enough. Clearly two great vintages, one youthful, fresh and structured, the other mature, complex and rounded, this was a question of picking villages and vintages. Over half the room guessed either the first or second as Pauillac, good to see as they were both indeed so! James Flewellen correctly deducted that these were indeed two wines from the same property – remarking on how clearly there was a ‘house style’ evident in both the wines. The last wine (and the older of the pair), was almost unanimously the favourite of the night, though some (myself included) thought the Prum made it a close run battle. The final pair were:

Clerc Milon 2005 – Ruby in the glass with some garnet colour creeping into the rim. Blackcurrants, cedar and liquorice on the nose follow through to the palate. Toast coming through with chocolate towards the finish, with plenty of grippy tannin at this stage. The wine is already clearly developing complexity but the finish is still long and dominated by black plum and blackcurrants, the vanilla and toast rising at the very end.

Clerc Milon 1990 – Brickening in colour clearly showing age here. Complex, earthy forest floor nose, still with remnants of ripe black fruit. The palate is more complex than I would have thought – still with black fruit, there is cedar, leather, old books, clove and nutmeg here. Layers of flavour, very good indeed. The finish is one of truffle and forest floor, though lifted by fruit. The tannins have all melted into the wine and it is a hedonistic pleasure. Delicious and peaking right now.

After the tasting I headed to dinner with friends at the Nut Tree Inn – somewhat more of an adventure than anticipated, the torrential rain turning our car into a boat on more than one occasion! Once there we continued in the blind tasting vein whilst eating our way happily through the restaurants outstanding tasting menu.

Delicious plaice at the Nut Tree

First up was a Kessestatt Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Kabinett that had me going towards Chenin Blanc simply for its freshness, lively acidity and apply character; but I was duly corrected by Ben Browett, who is quickly crafting his blind tasting skills. Next we served a 2007 Lagrange. 2007 for me is still a vintage that is unfairly underrated. These wines are fresh and fruity, with refreshing acidity and lighter tannins that have softened and blended nicely with the fruit at this young stage. Absolutely delicious to drink young. Calls of 2001, 2004 and 2006 were all made, though clearly none quite fit the bill. If you are looking for younger-drinking Bordeaux, this is the place to buy – I have more than one or two 07s that I am drinking through at the moment at home.

We finished the night off with one more wine that drew a few scratched heads before everyone settled on the correct wine and very close vintage ageing. Huet’s Vouvray le Mont Moelleux 1ere trie 1989 had melded sweetness into complexity, having that baked apple character, toffee, caramel and the ‘old library’ smell that is common in aged Chenin Blanc. With air the wine gained in complexity and in length, a worthy end to a great evening. Thanks to the Oxford Blind Tasting Society for having me to come and taste, and congratulations on your recent victory in the Varsity match!

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