• Simon Reilly

Going underground - Part 1

Bankers. Sounds like….?

Bankers do get a lot of bad press. The last time I re-mortgaged my house I came close to a nervous breakdown when I was asked to prove who I was for the seventeenth time, so I get all the bad vibes. However, I have had a more pleasant experience of them lately. February must be the corporate banking wine tasting season. As part of my day job, I have been invited to two wine tasting events hosted by banks in consecutive weeks.

This week, it was off to the cellars of the Stafford Hotel in Saint James’ Place in Mayfair. A very swanky address but once inside it is the most relaxed and welcoming place. From the concierge to the Master Sommelier, Gino Nardella, everyone made me feel at ease. On my way out I sauntered through the hotel bar and it looked like one of those snug bars that you could wile away an entire evening without realising it. It’s called the American Bar, and yes it’s full of Americans, but don’t let that put you off.

As for the rest of the hotel, well based on the well-appointed bar and lobby area, I am sure the guest rooms are very much to Mrs Wineloon’s tastes but probably not to my budget….

Anyway, enough about the ground floor, the purpose of the visit was to venture underground. We were guided down the narrow staircase to the first cellar room, where the drinking began with some bubbles and nibbles. First up was the Lanson, Pere et Fils, Brut. The first thing that struck me when handed the glass was the very fine bubbled froth on the top of the glass. It gave it the appearance of a vintage wine with a bit of age. But no, the Pere et Fils is a new NV cuvee, apparently an “evolution of the classic Black Label Brut”. Well this seemed to have more complexity and class than I remember in the Black label so definitely a step forward. It was not too dry with a delicious mouthful of spiced pear and honey. This is definitely one to seek out, but only when out on the town, as its exclusive to the on-trade.

After a couple of glasses of this and some small talk about interest rates swap spreads (yawn) and volatile market conditions (double yawn) it was time to move through to the main area of the cellar. This involved walking past the caged cellar storage area, housing some rare aged beauties including a whole shelf of Paul Jaboulet, La Chapelle Hermitage stretching back several decades. This had the Northern Rhone pervert in me drooling, but I think I managed to hold it together on the outside.

We were here to taste Bordeaux, however, not Rhone. The evening was billed as a left bank v. right bank taste off. Two reds from each side of the Gironde and two whites, both from the left bank. The wines were described in detail, with great eloquence, prior to the tasting by Master Sommelier, Gino Nardella. Gino has been at the Suffolk for more than 35 years and has tasted just about every wine in the vast cellar in that time so he was well placed to fill us in on the wines he showed.

In terms of left v right, I think it was an honourable draw overall. My two favourites were the St Emillion and the Pessac-Leognan. Here are my thoughts on the wines:

Chateau Carbonnieux, 2009 – bit rich for me this one. Straw and citrus on the nose then honey takes over with a dry almost metallic finish. A wine of interest rather than pleasure for me. Probably better with food.

Blanc de Lynch-Bages, 2009 – this is more like it. Felt much younger than the Carbonnieux. Obvious sauvignon blanc aromas then nice body from the oak and a refreshing, long limey finish. Went well with the salmon served with it.

Clos Saint-Vincent, St-Emilion GC, 2010 – one of my top 2 of the night. All about plum and liquorice flavour. Very soft, round and approachable for its age. Nice acidity on the finish gives the wine real balance. Could drink quite a lot of this….

Chateau St Pierre, Pomerol, 2005 ­– bit of a let down after the Saint Vincent this. Felt a bit one dimensional, maybe gone to sleep for a bit? It tasted a lot like a rioja, quite rich and fat with definite vanilla oak flavour but lacked the acidity to cut through it. Might need time and food…don’t we all?

Chateau Larrivet Haut-Brion, Pessac-Leognan-Graves, 2005 – Woo hoo, now we’re talking, tonight's stand out. A rollercoaster of a wine. The spicy nose filled the room with aromas of tar and tobacco. Then the dark fruits kick in, with obvious blackcurrant juiciness supported by firm tannins. Then that acidity on the finish. A great and complex wine.

Chateau Lynch-Moussas, Pauillac, 2005 – Very dark and brooding colour. Dark berry fruit on the nose and then quite a harmonious mouthful. Quite well advanced, the wine holds together well to a long finish. Went particularly well with the lamb stew we had with it.

All in all a thoroughly enjoyable tasting. It was a particular pleasure to meet Gino, who even after 35 years exuded such passion for the wines. A true wine hero.

It made me think why I love wine so much. It is the variety of different pleasures wine offers to so many people. I love that a younger generation are so passionate about natural wines or re-discovering wines from under-appreciated regions but I also love that there are people like Gino still so passionate about championing the classic wines that we all still love.

Variety is, and always will be, the spice of life and the variety offered in the the world of wine makes life worth living. Amen.

#staffordhotel #bordeaux #pauillac