A taste of the trade
Written by guest blogger Mark Slaney
“I forget the name of the place, I forget the name of the girl but the wine was Chambertin”, said Hilaire Belloc. I was in a wine tasting decades ago: I can remember it was in an Oxford College but I forget which. I can’t remember who I was with. I can however remember one wine. Correction I remember the wines of one particular wine-maker. There were a dozen others but I have forgotten them. The wines I remember were those of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht. There was a very tall chap pouring the wines and he spoke really good English which is a God-send for me because my French is dire. The impact each white wine he poured me was as powerful as a shard of sunlight pouring through a stained glass window. It turned out the tall chap was Olivier Zind-Humbrecht. Robert Parker, perhaps the most influential wine writer in the world, would years later write that Olivier might be “the finest wine-maker in the World”.
It was that moment in that dusty Oxford College hall tasting those wines that began my conversion to organic and ultimately bio-dynamic wines. Olivier has chosen this path for his wine estate. I went on over the years to get to know Olivier and his wines better and our paths have crossed on numerous occasions. I find him affable, easy-going and great company. The esteem his wines are held in by wine critics has gone from strength to strength. My fascination for bio-dynamic wines has continued to grow but to be honest I still haven’t got a clue how this wine-making system really works. I have bought copies of Rudolph Steiner’s writing but they are way over my head. What I have managed to do though with thirty years of commercial wine buying under my belt is to drink, sorry taste, more and more bio-dynamic wines and I am now certain of two things which I regard as unassailable facts. First is that I like the flavours of these wines, almost regardless of what country they come from or what grape variety is used. Secondly is that the following morning, I wake feeling clearer headed than when I drink wine that is not made organically or bio-dynamically.
I started this scribbling with reference to Chambertin because the most recent organic wine that I have tried was a Gevrey Chambertin Aux Echezaux 2011 from Domaine Michel Magnien. Doubly nice it is for sure to enjoy Chambertin and enjoy it when it is organically made. This wine is not one of those delicate, strawberry scented, intellectual style of red Burgundies but is rich, dark and earthy with bramble fruits and autumn woodland walk smells filling the glass. Satisfying now, I’d try to leave this vintage for a couple more years to develop as there is ageing potential here. A meaty wine for hearty food, it stands at the other end of the spectrum to an organic pinot noir I tasted from Richmond Plains estate in New Zealand.
I was drawn to Richmond Plains when I stumbled across their rosé and I thought – hang on a minute, blanc de noirs pinot noir. Now there’s something I’ve never tried. So this is rosé but not as we know it, as Spock might say. I remember tasting the wine and thinking two things. First, was that what I tasted was hardly what the wine-maker described as the taste of the wine on the back label. Second was that the wine was so delicious. It was as satisfying as a glass of cool, mountain water after a long walk over the hills. I put the wine on the wine list of a restaurant which I look after and everyone who tries it falls in love with it. A seductive little number it certainly is. It is perfect with salmon, perfect before a BBQ, perfect for a romantic dinner a deux, perfect as a striking aperitif and perfect to sip when you contemplate what wine you want to drink next.
So if their Blanc de Noirs is that scrummy what does their Pinot Noir taste like? Well, as I say, it’s at the other end of the spectrum to the manly Gevrey Chambertin from Michel Magnien. Richmond Plains Pinot Noir is dangerously drinkable. It is silky soft, delicately perfumed and what can I say… luscious.
Buying wines for a restaurant when you do the job properly, to my mind, necessitates shopping around and dealing with numerous different wine merchants. I have been buying wines for restaurants for thirty years. Looking after the wine list for the Horseshoe Restaurant with Rooms at Eddleston is a bit of a personal indulgence. The restaurant is tiny, just ten tables and eight bedrooms but the wine list has over two hundred wines. Forty of these are organic or bio-dynamic. Building up this side of the wine list has been made so much easier since I have started buying from Vintage Roots and personally I think bravo to Neil and Lance for deciding to go a hundred percent down this “natural” path. It’s certainly made my wine buying life a lot easier.
I hope to have another opportunity to tell you about some of the other great wines Vintage Roots have found and I’ve had the pleasure to select and if you fancy meeting up for a weekend of appreciating fine, organic wines up in a wee restaurant with rooms in Scotland, drop Neil and Lance a line and suggest that they ask me to organise something.
Mark Slaney is the Managing Director of Mark Slaney Associates Ltd who provide commercial wine buying advice. He is also a director of Border Hospitality Ltd and General Manager at the Horseshoe Restaurant with Rooms, Eddleston, Peeblesshire. “Tasting Notes” a look back at thirty years of wine buying and packed full of amusing anecdotes and suggestions for good wines today from off the beaten track is available from Amazon, selected book retailers and wine merchants.