Last weekend saw the Royal College of Physicians play host to the O’ Briens Spring Fair in aid of Cancer Clinical Research Trust. Set in this fabulous 150 year old building, there were over 200 wines to taste. Unless you are intending on sampling as many wines as possible and getting very drunk (which many did!), you need a sensible approach for such an event. Luckily O’ Briens hand out a booklet on entry with a table number of each winery and the wines they will be proffering. I recommend taking 20 minutes to look through the booklet and make a coherent decision on an approach to the night. That could be trying as many of one varietal, region or country as possible or only trying sparkling wines etc. Very often you will only decide this on the night when you see what wineries are present and what you are in the mood for on that particular night.
For this tasting, I went conservative and stuck to Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. This was largely decided by the large contingent of New Zealand wineries, wielding their impressive arsenal of world-class, aromatic Sauvignon Blancs. Alongside these New World examples was a goodly number of French wineries offering their classic take on this grape. For me, this is the beauty of a wine tasting event- trying a New and Old World approach to the same grape and seeing how terroir can be expressed in the glass. For a red, I chose Pinot Noir simply because I love it! This fickle grape is extremely difficult to grow, but when given attention and the right conditions, can produce some of the best wines in the world. On show were examples from France, New Zealand and Germany (where it is known as Spatburgunder), as well as a lot of the sparkling blends.
Overall the quality of the wines was good, but not exceptional. The few standout wines are listed below.
Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough NZ 2013 (€15.99).
This is a really good example showing why Marlborough has become the New World standard for Sauvignon Blanc. Clean, fresh, tropical fruit with lovely passion fruit and cut grass notes with a hint of flinty minerality. Very refreshing and the best New Zealand wine on display.
Man O’War Sauvignon Blanc, Waiheke Island NZ 2011 (€19.99).
Made from grapes grown in vineyards on Waiheke Island off the coast of Auckland, this is a very different wine to that above. Blended with a small bit of Semillon, this wine is much weightier, with a lot more minerality, than a Sauvignon from Marlborough. Chalk and flint notes are enhanced by the weight of the Semillon. A slightly salty tang from the exposed vineyards is backed up by subtle tropical fruits. Very nice, complex wine- much more Old World in style than most Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs. I also tried Man O’War’s Valhalla Chardonnay, which was stunning.
Domaine Henri Bourgeois, Petit Bourgeois Sauvignon Blanc, Loire France 2012 (€15.49).
This was the pick of the French Sauvignon Blancs in my price range. This wine shows exactly what a Sauvignon Blanc is capable of in the Old World when meshed with ideas from the New. Very elegant and minerally, with a touch of tropical fruits. Silky smooth with lovely citrus fruit length. Beautiful wine.
Domaine Chanson, Chanson Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Burgundy France 2011 (€19.99).
Owned by the Bollinger champagne house, this wine is all about classy smooth cherry and blackberry flavours. Lovely and light, it has some spicy notes and a touch of almond on the finish. You don’t get much out of Burgundy for under €20, so this is very good value from a top domaine. I also tried this wineries Nuits St Georges, which was simply stunning. At almost €50 a bottle, it would certainly not be an every day wine, but if you wanted to treat yourself to a top French Pinot, you couldn’t do much better than this.
Schloss Schonborn Hollenberg Spatburgunder, Rheingau Germany 2012 (€34.49).
This was the highlight for me. Germany gets a bad rep from the wine-buying public. Its labels are confusing and the grapes are strange and difficult to pronounce. However, it is certainly worth taking a look. This grape, Spatburgunder, is just the German name for Pinot Noir. In the cooler climates of Germany this frustratingly fickle grape can create some spectacular wines and this is one of the best examples I have ever tasted. Bursting with cool climate berries and a subtle hint of the oak aging, there are complex notes of almonds, vanilla and a touch of spice. Can easily go toe-to-toe with top Burgundies. The only disappointing thing about this wine was the fact it was labelled at almost half the actual price in the tasting booklet. It wasn’t until I tried ordering a half case online did I see the actual price! Still, better to have loved and lost…