Louis Latour let Oz Clarke loose in its cellars to select bottles for his ‘Tales of the unexpected’ tasting; Peter Ranscombe reports on the results.
THERE’S something a wee bit weird about one wine reviewer writing about another wine reviewer’s choices – but, for Oz Clarke, I’m happy to make an exception.
As a child of the ’80s, it was Clarke and partner-in-wine Jilly Goolden’s reviews on BBC2’s Food and Drink programme that shaped my wine writing, along with Jancis Robinson’s The Wine Programme on Channel 4.
May parents have a lot to answer for.
Clarke was also the first “celebrity” I interviewed when I was training in Glasgow to become a journalist.
He visited Borders bookshop to promote his latest tome, and then we headed to The Horseshoe Bar to sup on pints of Deuchars India pale ale while we talked.
“For a man who made his name in wine, Oz Clarke doesn’t half like his beer” was the introduction to that unpublished interview.
It was back to his first love this morning though for an online wine tasting with Louis Latour, the agency that not only imports its eponymous wines from the Bourgogne into the UK, but also a host of other high-end bottles from wineries throughout the world.
Normally, Louis Latour and other agents would hold their annual portfolio tastings in the spring, but – with social distancing still in place – filling a hall with winemakers, wine buyers, and journalists spitting at each other still feels like a distant dream.
Instead, the company recruited Clarke to select six bottles from its range for a virtual “tales of the unexpected” tasting.
Clarke was on fine form, using all his experience as an actor and presenter to weave stories around each wine.
What’s more important though, was that his world-class palate was on show, with the half-dozen wines he selected brightening up a storm-lashed Tuesday morning…
Simonnet-Febvre Coteaux de l’Auxois Auxerrois 2017
Clarke’s first choice was the all-but-forgotten auxerrois grape from renowned Chablis producer Simonnet-Febvre. The Coteaux de l’Auxois area lies close to Chablis and the main parts of the Bourgogne, but doesn’t carry the same high price tags – Clarke likened its freshness to the wines Chablis was producing 30 years ago. Surprisingly expressive peach and lemon curd on the nose led into mouth-watering acidity on the palate, balanced by fresher green apple, lemon, and apricot fruit, plus a lick of cream. Although the wine doesn’t have wide distribution yet, this would be a great contender for bottle shops or restaurants looking for an affordable alternative to white Burgundy.
Castello Banfi La Pettegola Vermentino 2019 (£13, Bon Coeur Fine Wines)
There’s no faulting Clarke’s second choice – I’m a big fan of Banfi’s vermentino. While the winery may be much better known for its Brunello reds, this white is made using a mix of grapes grown inland and on the coast. Vermentino is most closely-associated with the island of Sardinia, where it produces wines with a salty tang. I don’t usually find that with the Tuscan versions, but Banfi’s 2019 incarnation really stood out for me because it does indeed carry that almost salty finish, thanks to a higher proportion of coastal grapes in this vintage’s blend. Lovely honeysuckle aromas among the lemon sherbet on the nose and then plenty of juicy fruit on the palate to balance its shellfish and seafood-friendly high acidity. Look out for Banfi’s Gavi too.
Vidal Fleury Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2019 (£13.50, Chester Beer & Wine)
Think Cotes du Rhone, think red. But not in Clarke’s tales of the unexpected. This Cotes du Rhone white focuses on viognier, with a splash of grenache blanc and roussanne in supporting roles. He praised the freshness and liveliness of the viognier and it’s hard to argue. Bright and inviting red apple, peach, and lemon on the nose led into textured red apple skin and juicy peach on the palate, with assertive acidity and a very savoury finish that’s crying out to be paired with salty roast chicken.
Viu Manent Gran Reserva Chardonnay 2019 (£12.45, Flagship Wines)
Chile’s Colchagua valley is much better known for its reds, but Clarke unearthed a white that would wow white Burgundy fans – at a fraction of the price. It’s very elegant on the palate, with flinty elements and lick of butter on the finish. Much more sophisticated than the blousy nose suggested, with its ripe and rounded peach, red apple, lemon, and cream. Hostess Kate Sweet, whose job was to try and keep Clarke on time and in order, likened the flavour to burnt pineapple, a note with which Clarke agreed with enthusiasm.
Louis Latour Domaine de Valmoissine Pinot Noir 2018 (£13.95, Wine Direct)
Onto the reds, and another bottle that over-delivers for its price. As we saw last year, Louis Latour ventured outside the Bourgogne when it planted pinot noir at Domaine de Valmoissine in Provence. It’s a similar tale to Simonnet-Febvre exploring Auxois; the big name on the prowl to produce affordable wines. The result is a very Burgundian nose full of fruits of the forest, tomato leaf, and a touch of the farmyard, which dissipated after Clarke’s recommended decanting. Its ripe tannins and moderate acidity were balanced by very fresh raspberry and blackcurrant fruit, plus a spicy clove twist on the finish.
Smith and Sheth Cru Omahu Cantera 2017 (£40.99, New Zealand House of Wine)
Stepping up a gear – and a price-point or two – for the final wine, but boy is it worth the extra pennies. It was fascinating to compare the 2017 with the 2018 that featured in my “12 wines of Christmas” article about the Gimblett Gravels in New Zealand. While the 2018 needed food or more ageing to tame its tannins, the 2017 is already there, with its grainy tannins already well-integrated and balanced by juicy acidity and such sweet and ripe fruit, ranging from blackcurrant jam, dark plum, and blackberry through to dark chocolate and almost honey. Interesting to see tempranillo added to the blend of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc too.
Read more of Peter’s wine, beer, and spirits reviews on his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain.