Christmas Tasting in Chiswick

by Andrew Hooper

You really know it’s Christmas when you’ve got your Christmas Tasting out the way. Hmm, that made it sound a bit of a chore, which it really wasn’t, it just that it heralds the start of the festive fun. Actually, it was a really good evening.

The theme, such as you need a theme beyond ‘Christmas’, was to put a few less likely wines in front of people, to test and tantalize the taste-buds. With that in mind, we left out the traditional option of Champagne, and kicked off with the very splendid Gusbourne 2008 Brut Reserve from the Garden of England, a zippy but textured fizz that works really well as an aperitif.

On a more trad. note we moved to white Burgundy, but it was the LEA & SANDEMAN Burgundy 2012 – looking good, a beautiful balance of crisp Maconnais fruit with the faintest round touch of oak. Off-beat again with the Hochterrassen Grüner Veltliner 2012 Salomon Undhof – a great choice in the Summer with its fresh crispness, but there are moments in the in the cooler seasons too – to wash down some warming raclette? It has some of that lucid Alpine character. More an interesting apéritif, or perhaps a light curry, was Condrieu 2011 Pierre Gaillard showing that charming balance between the fluffy floral aromatics of the Viognier with crisp youthful fruit. Not cheap but it is Christmas. If different was what we wanted to put on offer, we certainly achieved that with our last white wine, i Clivi Galea 1997 Colli Orientali del Friuli – extraordinary; aged Friulano from the extreme North East of Italy; pungent, scents of bees wax, newly polished wood furniture (although, there’s no oak involved here); flavours of deep caramel; akin to aged white Burgundy, but at a fraction of the price of aged white Burgundy.

We put in a rosé too – I know, rosé at Christmas, how avant garde are we? – Sancerre Rosé 2012 Vincent Delaporte. Actually, it’s surprising how much rosé gets drunk at this time of year and they don’t come much better than this strawberry scented and textured gem.

For tradition and form, we started with two more traditional reds – Château Sénéjac 2010 Haut Médoc, which was bursting with grippy cedary dark cassis fruit; and a charming red Burgundy, Fixin Petit Crais 2010 Domaine Huguenot, a brighter (and cheaper!) take on Gevrey Chambertin. An old favourite – Tassinaia 2007 Castello del Terriccio, still on cracking form – was joined in the Italian ranks by the bold and frankly delicious newcomer, Langhe Nebbiolo 2012 Cigliuti, whose fine chalky tannins and plump fruit impressed all the tasters. A long way from Burgundy but in a surprisingly similar vein, the Barda 2011 Pinot Noir from the valley of the Rio Negro in Patagonia drew admiring comments but, then, it always does – how good can a sub-£20 Pinot get? Well, this good. The sextet of festive reds was completed by the warm and comfortable Montecastro 2008 Ribera del Duero – textured, velvety, lush, smooth…ah!

We, then, brought out the Sherry – not what everyone was expecting, but an absolute joy. Valdespino Viejo C. P. Palo Cortado, a rare and relatively aged Sherry; deep old gold colour; aromatic with old wood and dark caramel; absolutely dry, and very long on the finish.

A fine duo of 2004 sweeties, then competed for supremacy – was it the subtler, toffee/treacle/honey tones of the Coteaux du Layon Beaulieu 2004 Château Pierre Bise that won the day? or the intense, piercing grip of the Château Tirecul la Graviere 2004 Monbazillac? I know where my vote went, but it was a hung jury, and both were splendid.

To round things off, a bottle of Smith Woodhouse 2000 Vintage Port “Now we are talking. Wow. Aromas of liquorice, flowers and crushed blackberries. Full-bodied and medium sweet, with lovely smooth, fine tannins and a long, sweet finish. Greatest young Vintage Port of Smith Woodhouse I have ever tasted.”
said James Suckling. He wasn’t at the tasting, you understand, he said that some other occasion when he still worked for The Wine Spectator, but it sums up the Port rather well.

And that was it. Into the night went the tasters whilst we cleared up and…err…disposed of the remainder of the opened wines. It’s tough being a wine merchant at this time of year.

Informal tasting evenings are a regular feature in the Chiswick and Barnes shops – contact the appropriate shop for details and, more importantly, to put yourself on the mailing list so you know when the next tasting is…

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