Wednesday, 10 March 2010

High Flying Wines: Enotria Annual Tasting at Millbank Tower 29th Floor

Wines drunk at high altitudes tend to be a little mute and not show their best.  For this reason, buyers acting for the airlines tend to select big and bold wines rather than shrinking violets.  And even Champagne in the air doesn't taste that great, does it?  Even if it's "free".  I bet Dom Pérignon tasted of nothing at all on Concorde.  

Well, at Enotria's annual tasting in London I wasn't quite airborne but at 29 floors high in Millbank Tower I was certainly feeling a little giddy even before I had accidently swallowed any of the hundreds of wines available (and been subjected to a grappa masterclass: see below).  And it was the bolder bigger wines that stood out (though this is a common problem in eclectic wine tastings even at sea level and especially when the wines are served blind).
Enotria are one of the leading wine wholesalers so you are more likely to see their wines on a restaurant list than on the shelves of your local offie or supermarket.  They made a name for themselves years ago with Italian wine but now have a portfolio ranging from Argentina to New Zealand via Israel, Spain, and England amongst others.
However, it is Italy which still seems to be the focus and fittingly one of the few producer workshops was hosted by the outstanding Valpolicella grower Bertani.  We tasted three Amarone made from air-dried grapes from 2001, 1981 and 1967 which in spite of their age were still vibrantly powerful.  The 2001 was all chocolate and marmite on the nose, the palate sweet fruit and light tannins.  The 1981 was redolent of mushrooms, mahogany, and bonfires and the palate again had very sweet fruit.  The 1967 was spicier with medicinal hints of licorice on the nose and a lot of tarry fruit on the palate.  These wines were a revelation.  The drying and concentrating of the grapes on straw mats and the long ageing in wooden vats renders the wines almost indestructible though they do not have any of the chewy bitterness one often finds in similarly aged and ageworthy red wines.  The 15% alcohol levels probably help too.
Another trio of big, bold yet refined wines came from the Henschke family winery in Eden Valley, South Australia and were presented by the 6th generation winemaker, Johann.  We tasted Cyril Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon from 2004, 2002 and 1994.  I was struck by the opulence and refinement of these wines which tasted like claret with a few days extra ripening of the grapes but with none of the astringent tannins which go hand in hand with Cabernet wines from cooler climes.  They do cost about £50 a bottle though.  Other wines from the Henschke stable I tasted included various reds the most notable of which was the Mount Edelstone Shiraz 2005 which had power yet refinement and a long finish (£40.17).  More reasonably priced were Henry's Seven SGV 2006 mainly Shiraz (with Grenache, Mourvèdre & Viognier, £15.17) and Keyneton Estate Euphonium 2004 (Shiraz, Cab Sauv, Cab Franc & Merlot, £18.99).
To Portugal next and Quinta do Crasto in the Douro Valley.  We tasted single vineyard Vinha Maria Teresa 2003, 2005 & 2007, by far the best Portuguese reds I have ever tasted.  They are made from up to 30 different grape varieties which are trodden by foot in the traditional way, fermented and then stored in mainly French oak barriques.

All three were incredibly concentrated, ripe, smooth and rich, like a vintage port almost but without the high alcohol (though at 14.3% to 15.4% alc not that far off).  It was a pleasure to taste wines evidently destined for long life and yet so attractive to drink young.  Miguel Roquette, the owner's son, was especially proud of the 2005 which had earned 96 points from Robert Parker, and pointed out that like vintage port the wines could be enjoyed young and then would enter a dormant phase before blossoming at a much later date.

This is maybe just a little fanciful as Vinha Maria Teresa has only been produced since 1998.  Anyhow, these wines are produced in tiny quantities and are difficult to find though Enotria can supply the 2007 at £46.33.

But the Quinta is fairly large and quality and quantity is available at £7.27 with the fruity Douro Red 2008, and £14.27 for the spicy, clovey, more savoury Douro Reserva 2007.  The Douro valley being more famous for port there was an excellent LBV 2005 on show (£11.07) alongside a vintage 2005 (£24.09).  The English, port's traditional export market, tend to drink vintage port decades old but this 2005 was deliciously fruity now and didn't even need decanting as too young to have thrown a crust.  

Other notable wines of the day included an outstanding 1996 vintage Champagne from Henriot, not expensive at £47.58 and far more than twice as good as the £26.36 N.V. Brut Souverain.  1996 seems to be a vintage for Champagnes that will last for ever.  There was a very perfumed, bone dry, crisp 2004 Riesling cuvée Frédéric Emile from Trimbach (£26.52) which will go on and on and some very youthful, lean, lemony 2007 Meursault from François Mikulski (a village at £29.79 and three 1er cru around £46), again to keep.  
I enjoyed a zesty, mineral, smoky Sancerre Blanc 2009 from Domaine des Vieux Pruniers (£10.28) and  a concentrated, plummy, herby Cairanne 2007 from Domaine Brusset.  From the same domain and from this same outstanding vintage a massive Gigondas les Hauts de Montmirail 2007 which could be kept or enjoyed now with a rich beef daube.  These big and hefty, ambitious Côtes du Rhône wines slightly put the following trio of Châteauneuf du Pape in the shade but I enjoyed the final 2006 Domaine de la Roquète (£31.23) for its sweet fruit and complexity.  I tried three Corbières from Cave de Castelmaure, all excellent and representing great value even compared to Rhône wines ranging from £6.28 (2008) to £10.14 (2007).

The final workshop was for grappa from the Nonino family in Friuli.  I like grappa though found these ones a bit too smooth and sweet.  This did not deter the myriad Italians who had flocked to Millbank (presumably many from Italian restaurants) who were knocking these back with gay abandon at the central bar which was groaning with little biscuits, cakes, more bottles of grappa and very fine smelling espresso machines.

The airline theme of the Enotria event was amusing though the event at times felt more like Ryan Air cattle class than Virgin Upper Class there were just so many people crammed into Altitude 360*.
The Enotria cabin crew managed to keep their sang froid though and Ben as head steward in the 'wine flights' tastings managed to chivvy along any waffling speakers as the schedule was quite tight.

NB: all precise bottle prices shown are ex VAT from Enotria


  1. Patrick,can you show me how to cook an onion soup?Plese...

  2. Onion Soup: roast some veal or beef bones with carrots, onions, celery and get plenty of colour; cover with water and simmer overnight with bay leaves; drain and reduce; fry some fresh onions, cover with reduced stock and simmer 20 minutes; serve with croûtes of fried bread floating in the soup topped with grated Gruyère. Eat at 4am after partying. Start partying again or go to bed.