The “Southwold Group” has been conducting an annual blind tasting of Bordeaux wines at ten years of age for nearly 30 years. The first one that I attended was of the 1982 vintage, which took place in 1992 over two days in the offices of the original Lay and Wheeler wine merchants in Colchester. I recently learned that a junior member of the L&W team helped organise this tasting, and her name was Jo Purcell. Two years later she left Essex for the bright lights of Hong Kong when she started working for Farr Vintners and opened - all on her own - the first office in Asia of a London wine merchant. She has remained there ever since and Farr Vintners’ strong reputation in the HK wine market is very much down to Jo. She just let me know the news that Richard Wheeler sadly passed away this week.
Every January since the early 1980s, a group of British wine buyers has escaped to Southwold in Suffolk to spend three days tasting through the most recently released Bordeaux vintage at The Swan Hotel. The 20 tasters include several Masters of Wine, the wine buyers for Britain's leading wine merchants and distinguished wine writers Jancis Robinson MW(jancisrobinson.com and the Financial Times ), Neal Martin (the Wine Advocate) and Steven Spurrier (Decanter Magazine). I joined the group over 20 years ago as the youngest member (at the time) but I'm now one of the "old boys".
Yesterday the Farr Vintners team were at the UGC tasting in London to re-taste the much hailed 2010 vintage, to see if the wines held up to their rave reviews across the board during the En Primeur trip in spring 2011. The event was as busy as usual, the wine trade descending en masse, keen to see how the wines are holding up after some time to settle and homogenise.
Today we headed in a different direction - over the "Entre Deux Mers" and up to Pomerol and Saint Emilion. First stop was the headquarters of Ets Jean-Pierre Moueix where Christian Moueix and his son Edouard greeted us with an all-star Pomerol line-up (and their two Saint Emilions - Magdelaine and Belair Monange). What a cracking tasting this was with the wonderful, plump, yet perfectly balanced Moueix wines. Trotanoy, La Fleur Petrus and Hosanna were all outstanding and Certan de May (not actually made by them but part of their portfolio) is at the same level. The erudite and charming Christian Moueix told us that 2010 was a vintage that needed "under-extraction" not "over-extraction" and that he had gone to great lengths not to exaggerate the vintage's tannins. If only some of the Saint Emilion producers with their 15 degree headbangers had listened to these wise words....
Day three began with a trip back up to Pauillac and a visit to our friends at Lynch Bages. There was a very smoky and exotic Villa Bel-Air on show here and an excellent Ormes de Pez but - wow - what a Lynch Bages! I asked Jean-Charles Cazes for a reference point and he said that it was the best since 1989 and 1990. Daniel Llose - who started making wine at Lynch in 1976 - said that this 2010 was off the charts and that it is the most powerful young wine that he had ever tasted here. When we read James Suckling's review last week we thought that he might have got a little carried away with his score.....well he didn't.
The Farr Vintners team was up at the crack of dawn today for a slow crawl up the back roads of the Médoc to our 9am start at....Lafite. Talk about setting the bar high. We were only starting the day with the world's (well OK, China's) most demanded wine!
The Farr Vintners en primeur tasting team this year is the biggest ever with a diverse range of ages, palates and tasting experience. Our "two wise men" are here again to offer us their wisdom and knowledge. Derek Smedley MW tasted his first en primeur vintage in 1961 and Barry Phillips bought his first case of wine - Lafite 1953 - as an eleven year old schoolboy! Their expertise in tasting raw young cask samples is invaluable to the younger members of our team.