Trust Francois Mauss, the founder and organiser of the event for the third consecutive year to start an event at 5 pm after registration formalities with the producers taking part in the Symposium uncorking their bottles in a large tasting room (banquet hall actually) that became familiar sight several times during the 3-days of active conference from 10-12 November, 2011 at Villa d’Este, a majestic property on Lake Como that would leave a long after-taste for anyone used to a life of luxury and elegance.
The tasting run was broken only for 50 out of the 250 participants who could manage to register for the vertical tasting of Sassicaia by Marquis Nicolo Incisa della Rocchetta, owner of Tenuta San Guido, whose father , Mario introduced the iconic wine in 1948, that later ushered in the era of ‘Super Tuscans’, but started releasing only small quantities of the Bordeaux blend in 1968; today it is the only estate in Italy having its own DOC Sassicaia appellation. For details in an earlier article CLICK
Taste of Music
If there is one thing that Mauss gives as much importance to as the food, fine wine and the discussions and debates on wine and the direction the industry is headed, it is fine classical music. It has now become a ritual at the WWS to have Musical Intermezzo before and after the dinner almost as a symbol of thanking the forces above for giving us the means and opportunity to enjoy good food and fine wines. Oh yes, the dinner started with a short speech of welcome by Francois Mauss and Danilo Zucchetti (CEO of the paradise- like property on Lake Como) which did not interfere with the taste of 5 white wines from Austria, a Pinot Noir from Willi Brϋndlmayer, a Chateau du Moulin a Vin Beaujolais Gran Cru and an Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2001,with a TbA Riesling to end the evening, but not before another music intermezzo by the man with nimble fingers, Nicolas Dautricourt providing the perfect substitute for a nightcap with his violin.
After a couple of seminars the next day about ‘Wines of Argentina’ and the working of ‘Austrian Wine marketing Board’ the delegates were ready and thirsty for a Taste of Argentine wines from 13 producers, which apart from being delicious, powerful but balanced were generally high on alcohol (well-integrated though). The producers behind the tasting tables made one wonder if over a third of the Argentine wine industry is owned by the French with a little bit of Italian influence, with wines from the estates of Dany Michel Rolland, Bodega Lurton, Bodega Chacra owned by Piero Incisa della Rocchetta, nephew of the Marquis who has chosen this as an independent project , being a part of the Andes 13.
The evening saw two tastings including Etna wines from Sicily. But the star of the Show-perhaps the whole Symposium, was decidedly the vertical Tasting of La Tâche from DRC presented by the iconic co-owner Aubert de Villaine assisted by Michel Bettane. It was quite a historic tasting –only 8 bottles are reportedly left now in the DRC wine library and it was magnanimous of the unassuming Aubert to give a few bottles from the soon-to-end stock of the 1953 which was alive, complex and enjoyable like the violin and piano concertos one had enjoyed the previous evenings. Aubert had a ’59, ’64, ’79,’85,’99 and 2005. He had brought a label from each vintage to show the changing styles of the Domaine with 2005 becoming slightly more modern style. As Michel pointed out, each wine had to be enjoyed for 10 minutes to differentiate between the decades. Despite the sediments in the older wines, there was uniqueness in the taste that still lingers on. It was accentuated by the white wine served blind at the end when it became an interactive game to guess the vintage-it turned out to be a 1997 Montrachet- a vibrant example of a perfectly coaxing Burgundy white wine.
If there were a perfect way to prolong the after taste of wines like La Tâche, the Music intermezzo with Sylviane Deferne of Switzerland keeping the audience spellbound with her piano recital and the taste lingered on way beyond the earlier tasting of around a dozen Argentine wines with their national cuisine that made one want to do a tango.
If one thought making great wines at DRC was a piece of cake, Aubert de Villaine dispelled any such misgivings the next day at the opening seminar. He gave us a taste of how difficult and basically unsuitable the terrain had been and how the winery and other producers had turned things around and made the soil and terroir work for them. Other Burgundy producers might be still groping in the dark to win over China but Yi Wang, a Grand Jury Européen (GJE ) member gave a virtual taste of China- the current single buzzword in the world of wine making those attending his interesting talk wanting to taste some premium quality Silver Heights from the French-trained winemaker Emma Gao and even try out the fake Chatelet Lafite or visit the fake Lafite chain store- Lafayette Empire to see how China had deftly used its ingenuity for this product too.
Tasting wines of participating producers
Though La Tâche or other wines from Domaine de la Romanée- Conti were sadly missing at this pre-lunch fabulous tasting, there were plenty of Grand Cru and premier Cru Burgundies to tickle your taste buds. Bonneau Du Martray Corton Charlemagne and Corton Grand Crus (2005), Domaine Méo Camuzet 2009 (4 wines), Etienne
Cauzet Grand Cru, Clos de Tart Grand Crus, Domaine du Comte Liger Belair that included the Echezeaux Grand Cru considered to be a favourite wine appellation of the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Domain Denis Mortet and Faiveley (imported by Sonarys) were worthy substitutes for the iconic wines tasted at the historic event the earlier evening.
There were several other excellent wines to taste too. One could see Bill Harlan pouring 3 vintages of Harlan Estate wines, David Powell- the iconic Barossa Valley producer of Torbreck, credited with producing the most expensive wine Down Under (earlier imported by Sonarys-he is now looking for another importer), Willi Brϋndlmayer from Austria with his whites and reds, Dany Rolland with wines from more than one estate, the consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt (await an interview with him in the next issue of delWine) and several other well-known producers eager to impress true wine connoisseurs taste their wines.
Having lunch with 18 Friuli wines would have been hard work but for the company of three of the top producers/ off-springs sitting on my table, including Rossana Gaja. There were enough wines inside me to muster the courage to remind Gianfranco Soldera sitting next to me that he had sent me a beautiful book about 3 years ago when I had written a few articles about Brunello di Montalcino-(he is one of the most revered producers, and had invited me to his iconic wine estate Case Basse in Montalcino but I did not visit him despite passing his estate twice to visit the adjoining Montalcino winery Pieve Santa Restituta owned by my friend Angelo Gaja because I had heard that he is a quirky producer and does not like criticism or critique. I had Albiera Antinori- daughter of Marchesi Piero Antinori and the elder sister of Alessia who has been the common face of Antinori in India now nursing one- year old baby, sitting next to him, translate it to him). Friuli whites must be more than just delicious taste at lunch because he laughed out loudly and said that I had heard it right but renewed his invitation to me, nevertheless.
Gala Dinner was yet another experience of taste that lingers on. One knew that the second growth Chateau Lascombes of Margaux qualified as a Super-second but where else would one get to taste the wit of its General Manager, Dominique Befve sitting at our table. Even Giuseppe Benanti, the top producer of Etna wines in Sicily was not above cracking jokes, perhaps focusing on the taste of Sicilian humour with his mineral and complex wines.
One sorely missed the presence of at least one or two producers from India who would not only have enjoyed the educative conference and networked with the wine celebrities but helped popularize Indian wines and possibly benefitted directly from these tastings. One could also not help but notice a smart-thinking small group of young, affluent wine lovers from South East Asia who were there apparently to enjoy the taste of good times with all the food, wine and music and the wine celebrities. The only thing missing this time was white truffles-last time I had attended the Symposium, there was a heavenly dish made with sunny-side up and white truffles-I had sneaked in an extra dish only to be told the next day by over a dozen people that they had also requested for an extra dish and got it! The crop of white truffles (September-February season) has been poor, prices very high and the quality low.
The man behind making the Taste memorable and lingering on is Francois Mauss who is from France/Netherlands but speaks Italian and English with equal ease. One did get the taste of French that seems to be unofficially the official language at the Symposium although one could generally get away with English and Italian.
The night was still young and one could taste the musical charms of Willi Klinger, CEO of Austrian Wine Marketing Board who was playing away at the piano when I saw him last before I went to prepare for an early departure next morning. I suspect he was dancing on the piano by the end, giving those who stayed back, giving them a taste of music that would perhaps still linger on and make them all want to come back next year. I know I do.