Recently we were treated to another fabulous “Grand Cru” tasting presented by Neel Burton. An Oxford Grand Cru tasting generally consists of wines from some of the finest producers out there, and if we’re lucky, these wines can have a bit of age to them too. It is a chance for keen blind tasters to ‘pitch in’ and get to sample a range of wines that are usually far beyond the means of average students. This evening did not disappoint.
The only white of the night was a truly delicious premier cru white Burgundy: Perrières from the Meursault appellation, vintage 1996. A fairly deep gold in appearance, with a slight green tinge. Very concentrated aromas. First to hit me were notes of the elegant French oak – allspice, toast, almond and buttered popcorn. There was some yeastiness too, overlaid by the vegetal tertiary aromas from 15 years bottle age. Burrowing into the aroma profile as the wine opened in the glass I got classic chardonnay fruit notes from a reasonably warm climate – apricots and peaches. This wine was perfect on the palate. Lemon, some peach, a little honey, also an earthy minerality. Crisp acidity, balanced alcohol, medium bodied – all elements in harmony. However, it was the finish that really did it for me; the wine swelled across the palate and then tapered off beautifully with honey and distinct creaminess. Almost like lemon cheesecake!
Starting at the light end of the reds, we didn’t move too far away from Meursault and had a 1990 Grand Clos des Epenots – a red Burgundy from Pommard. The appellation of Pommard is distinct in Burgundy in that it typically produces Pinots of quite robust tannins. This wine was no exception, and had some of us place it in Italy on account of these tannins. However the aroma profile was distinctly pinot noir with a gamey quality, leather and mushrooms due to the age, flint, perfumed violets, hazelnut from the French oak and pronounced raspberry fruit underlying all of this. The palate was very balanced – moderate alcohol and acidity on a light body – but the tannins, although fine and elegant, were very noticeable for such a light wine.
The next wine was a 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Prestige Cuvée, Roger Sabon. Like many red wines from the Southern Rhône, this was a blend, dominated by grenache (60%) with 15% syrah and 10% mourvèdre. The grenache brought through classic aromas of strawberry jam; the nose was rounded out by notes of olives, freshly cut green branches, black cherries and licorice. The vintage was very apparent in this wine. 2005 was a fairly warm year in the Southern Rhône, thus the palate was high in alcohol with firm, powdery, ripe tannins. The quality of the wine, however, ensured there was enough acidity to give balance.
Wine four was a 2009 barrel sample from one of the top Left Bank Bordeaux producers – Cantenac-Brown. To me this wine had more in common with a Californian Zinfandel than it did with its Left Bank siblings. A very deep purple in colour with a nose that simultaneously smelt of chocolate cake and fruit cake along with blackberry, vanilla and allspice. It had an incredibly fragrant, spicy (as in allspice) nose, which I don’t usually associate with cabernet sauvignon at all, although there is a significant amount (35%) of merlot in the blend. The palate showed a full body with fairly high alcohol and intense, ‘sticky’ tannins; I likened them to wet fingers sliding along a glass surface. Definitely needs more time in the bottle.
We then moved up the road geographically, to another Left Bank appellation – Pauillac, but way back in time with a Grand Puy Lacoste from 1966! After 45 years in bottle, this wine was a very pale ruby, almost brown with an immense gradient. Aromas were complex and concentrated – lots of mushroom and truffle, nuts from French oak and leather like a vintage British sports car. With 75% cabernet sauvignon, 20% merlot, and the balance cabernet franc, the classic Cab-Sauv notes of green pepper and cedar wood still came through, with a hint of ripe black fruits, plums and allspice. With wines of such age it is always a bit frightening to open the bottle with the fear that the wine would have degraded over time and not live up to your expectations. We had no such worries here. The structure was elegant and refined; moderate acidity and alcohol, soft chewy tannins that bit you with more intensity as you swallowed. The finish was incredible; very long with bright fruit, bitter chocolate and right at the end it became almost honeyed, a sensation that reminded me of baklava.
Finally on the reds we were treated to a 1990 Brunello di Montalcino from Poggio Antico. Montalcino is a town, and wine growing appellation south of Chianti, in Tuscany. Like Chianti Classico, this wine is 100% sangiovese. A cloudy, translucent ruby in the glass with an orange rim. The nose was fragrant and complex with hazelnuts, dark cherries and violets. Classically Italian, although it wasn’t immediately apparent to me where in Italy to place this wine. The structure was very well balanced, crisp acidity, moderate alcohol edging towards the ‘high’ regime. The tannins were intense – chewy with a chalky texture, making you really suck your gums for long after you’ve swallowed the wine. However, this was all superimposed on a surprisingly light body. It put me in mind of a heavy-weight ballet dancer – large and powerful but surprisingly light on his feet. Another long, ripe finish to this wine too.
The final two wines of the night moved into dessert territory. The first was Dr Loosen’s Beerenauslese Riesling from Mosel in Germany, vintage 2006. I won’t get into the technicalities of the German wine labeling lingo here, however this is one of the Loosen estate’s top wines, produced from carefully selected grapes. Medium lemon in colour, with a green tinge and notable viscosity. Highly aromatic as you’d expect a riesling to be: honey, lime leaf, grapefruit, mango and pineapple, with just a tad of the petrol notes that good Riesling obtains as it ages. Light body, although with some viscosity, crisp acidity, low alcohol (6.5% a.b.v) and moderately sweet with a long honeysuckle finish. What was striking about this wine, other than its elegance and sheer deliciousness, was an incredible texture on the palate. The natural spritz in the wine had teamed up with the lime flavours to create a sensation of sherbet dancing all over your tongue!
And finally, while many an Oxford dinner is known to end with a serving of port, none in my experience have served a vintage port from 1967! This example was from the Cockburn house (pronounced “Co’burn” for those in the know). It was a pale ruby-brown, with almost no gradient as there was barely any colour left in the wine at all! Notes of prune, cocoa, polished mahogany, with a medicinal, fennel quality on the palate as well. The structure contained some sweetness but was not at all cloying, obviously high alcohol with moderate acidity. I’m not at all a port expert, but this wine certainly puts to shame the average Oxford dinner digestif!
And my wine of the night? Well, it is a difficult decision with so many incredible bottles – all great examples of what they are. However, for pure elegance and drinking pleasure, especially as I rarely drink chardonnay, my prize goes to the Meursault, very closely followed by the ’66 Grand Puy Lacoste. Dr Loosen’s riesling will be incredible in another 20 years and I have a bottle in my cellar. Perhaps I will write about it again then!