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Delhi Wine Club
Winefuture: Magical Moments with Maestro and a Master

Posted: Wednesday, 16 September 2011 12:44

Winefuture: Magical Moments with Maestro and a Master

Nov 16 : If Pancho Campo MW came out as the wine rock-star at the Winefuture Hong Kong with his impressive audio-visual presentation and tasting of powerful Spanish wines, the Wine Maestro Robert Parker took a thousand connoisseurs through a magical journey through Bordeaux with ’09 Classified Growths, while the Master of Wine Jancis Robinson took us on a trip Beyond Bordeaux with 17 wines, writes Subhash Arora who cherished the magical moments over two days.

Reminiscing about his journey through the wine industry in 1978 as a consumer advocate with no links with it, Parker said, ‘when I look back, I wonder how much Bordeaux has changed in 33 years. So many new wines have come from different parts of the world recently- from Greece and Portugal, and in future there may be China too.’

Bordeaux the Great

He started by saying, ‘Bordeaux was very depressing then. It was very dirty- often the first growths were not that interesting. Many chateaux have since come up in quality in the face of competition. Justifying his passion for Bordeaux he said, ‘there is a reason why Bordeaux is Bordeaux. Even today good producers throughout the world make wines comparing them to Bordeaux which remains the reference point. The School of Enology here is the best. So much of knowledge flows from this region that has history and integrity. Look at Hong Kong auctions which are led by Bordeaux. They have the ability to age. It is a special area –an epicenter of the wine world. It is also the largest producer that makes reasonable quantities unless some producers elsewhere are making only a few thousand cases of great wine.’

Recent Bordeaux History

‘Bordeaux has a rich history- basically since 1855 (Medoc, Grave and  Pomerol , St Emilion today). There are several great wines-maybe not for investment but for daily drinking. In 1978, Bordeaux was coming out of the world crisis; there had been a collapse in the art and wine markets. 1972-74 were poor years, 1975 was ok; so was ‘76. But ’77 was again poor while ‘78 and ‘79 were not very impressive . 1982 changed things for me. (He had taken the contrarian view and while almost everyone said it was a poor year, he had challenged and said it was an excellent vintage and was proven right-editor). I was a Lawyer but with wine as a 24/7 hobby. I changed my career and was immediately considered a serious professional. ‘

Praising the 2009 vintage, he said the wines he had chosen were perhaps better than those in the 60s and 70s and early 80s when serious efforts were made to improve the quality. Talking of the improvements that started taking place he said, ‘lower yield meant better quality now. There was less chemical industrial farming- producers started biodynamical farming too. New techniques were adopted.’

 ‘Petrus started cutting off the crops and the disgruntled farmers cried out that it was against the Act of God.  All the wines today are based on crop pruning. There is temperature control to avoid bacteria which is very important. Today all the cellars are temperature controlled through computers. Some of the techniques adopted were used in Burgundy a hundred years ago-like malolactic fermentation and  Second wines which existed since the 1900s. But more second wines came in the 80s and 90s,’ Parker said,  adding , ‘40-60% of the wine now is declassified to second  and even third wines. The idea is to keep the quality of the Estate wines up by tightening the selection process. Proper movements of grapes resulting in less bruising of grapes were adapted; gravity method was introduced.’

Increasing Demand for Fine Bordeaux Wines

‘Demand for Bordeaux classified growths is increasing from consumers. Never before has the consumer been educated and had so much information-they are becoming intelligent consumers now.’ Referring to the Magical 20 Tasting he said, ‘this is a highly educational seminar. One of the things I have learnt is that there are two types of vintage. First are like 1959, 1961 making opulent wines –the kind that are drinkable even young, with sweet tannins but with tremendous potential for aging. The window for drinking these wines is large. Other vintages are more masculine, very dense and concentrated, almost difficult to understand –big and tannic. We need patience, maybe it takes 5, 10 or 15 years before we can enjoy them. We may even lose patience before they are ready. The vintages of ‘45, ‘55 and to some extent, ’61 were like that and ‘00, ’05 and ‘10 may turn out to be like that.’
Talking about his methodology for selecting the wines he said, ‘I chose wines that can be drunk young.’ What constitutes great wines, one needs to understand. Continuing his monologue, with over 2000 ears glued to every word, he said,’ I came from a background with no knowledge of wine. I went to France in 1967, where Coke was more expensive than wine. So I started drinking table wine- which I won’t touch today. It seemed to go well with food. There was incremental value of euphoria while liquor was disabling. Later, in the Fall of 1967, I started a wine tasting group. We started learning about wine. Keep your head and mind open when you taste today. What you taste is far superior to anything I can say. I will give rationale on why so. But it is most important to like it-then we can talk about the reasons why you like it.’

What is Great Wine

‘What is a great wine- is it subjective? I can agree to some extent. Art, culinary experience etc are like that. There is a consensus of certain vintages in wine -1990, 1995, 2000, 2005 are great vintages. Firstly, wine has to satisfy your intellect and pleasure. As an example, Beaujolais is pleasurable but may not be, intellectually challengeable, which is important. Sense of pleasure and intellect is that it should have nuances. Every time you reach the glass, it must unfold something new.’

‘Secondly- ordinary wines often have depth of flavours and aromas-but heaviness. Many of them may entice you for a glass or half. However, one could drink the whole bottle of fine Bordeaux. Ability to offer aromas and flavour without heaviness is important. The wine must hold your interest.’

All great wines have ability to age. We talk about the noble component –all these wines we are tasting today will be alive in 30 to- 50 years- some may  mature in 100 years. I may not be there to accept a challenge, however. Many new world wines are good now, but they will not improve. Unlike Bordeaux these wines do not become complex. A wine has to have singular personality. Great wines have personality that once recognized you would not forget.’

Tasting of Vintage 2009

Click For Large ViewThe weather in Bordeaux was beautiful in 2009. They say that June makes the grape (flowering) while August-September (harvest) make the quality. Perfect grapes and full maturity translate to a great wine and that is what we had.

Time was now ripe to start the tasting. ‘Arranging tasting order of wines is like a food tasting. You start with more delicates style and go to the richer and then move on to opulent and flamboyant styles. You be the judge but remember we are looking for purity of the wines. For instance it should not be ‘garbagy’ with vegetal characters,’ he said, adding that in fine Bordeaux the decline is slow after they reach the prime.  Pinot noir and Nebbiolo may peak faster but they decline very fast too. It depends whether you like them young or old when the wines develop a ‘mushroomy’ character.

The 20 wines were tasted during this magic tasting. Parker’s love for them showed in the wines we tasted and as Pancho started getting restless as we reached the mid-point, there was no anxiety and restlessness in the people who were enjoying the wines and his notes as we moved from delicate to opulent wines. As we enjoyed the journey Parker took us through, he advised the participants to go ahead and buy any quantity of these wines none of which were from the First Growths but he was sure they would have been better than the First Growths during the period of decline in the 60s and 70s.

The quality of wines and their readiness to drink in two years was surprising. But what was a pleasant surprise was the way Parker carried himself. He connected well with the people and did not sound like he was aloof and talking down to the participants. He even kept smiling while giving his autograph to dozens of fans and well after more than half the people had vacated the tasting hall to rush to the next  event.

There were a few  who felt that this was free publicity for Bordeaux and the 20 producers who had donated the wines. This reminds me of a song that our superstar of yesteryears , Rajesh Khanna sings to Sharmila Tagore in a romantic Bollywood film:

Kuchh to log kahenge, logon ka kaam hai kahena
Chorho bekaar kee baton ko, kahin beet no jaaye raina!!

(Some people will always talk; it is their job to do so. Let us drop the useless talk, lest the night passes)

Beyond Bordeaux with the Master

An excellent taster and a seemingly conservative Master of Wine with a loyal following throughout the wine world, Ms Jancis Robinson MW was the Queen of Wine at the Winefuture. No wonder the tasting hall got filled up very fast-as soon as the doors were opened. ‘Walk on the Wild Side and being adventurous were her first thoughts as Pancho Campo had asked her to go ‘Beyond Bordeaux’ which is an area of her specialty and which she has mastered.

‘I was given a free hand in choosing the wines. But since we needed 72 bottles for each label, it would be too expensive for small producers to participate.’ Though she had selected 4 white wines she said she would have preferred to have more.  She complimented the organisers for selecting tall paper cups as spittoons. She also marveled at the skill of Pancho Campo, her colleague at the Institute of Masters of Wine whom she called Barnum of the Era, for collecting around 2000 people under the same roof with many of them being wine celebrities. It was a true privilege to be at this event to taste with this celebrity.

The 1998 Geisse Brut Pinto Bandeira from Brazil reminded me of Chateau Indage which had done a good  job in making the sparkling wine with the classical method (back then in the 90s one could use the term Methode Champenoise) of promoting it as Omar Khayyam and could have perhaps staked a claim to this spot had they carried on with their passion for quality. It was also a reminder that Brazil was way ahead of India as a BRIC country in wine culture. M3 Chardonnay 2010 from Australia was for the weight watchers unlike the oak monsters. She was quick to offer her sympathies to the current crop of aspiring MW students saying that when she did her MW in 1984, the styles of Australia and California were quite definitive and thus easy to spot, unlike today.

Erdener Treppchen Kabinett 2010 Dr. Loosen in Mosel was a low alcohol wine. She explained that   Mosel  Riesling wines were very long living and most delicate. She empathized with Ernie Loosen and other Mosel producers who have problems getting the labour even from Poland and Romania and are gradually abandoning the vineyards (I have often told Ernie in a lighter vein to look towards India for such casual labour). ‘Ernie chose this wine as this shows better while young;  this is his  first class business card,’ she said.

Tasting Schenkenbichi Grüner Veltliner 2009 from Kamptal she said the GV from Austria had taken off throughout the world (even in India a few importers have it finally in the portfolio). Dubbing it as a ‘steak wine’ she told the audience to also watch out for the red grapes from Austria in future as the producers were getting confident. Cornish Point 2010 from Central Ortago based Felton Road which was one of the early adapters of Pinot Noir, was her choice for New Zealand selection. ‘Certainly not Burgundy but with easy sweetness it is as sophisticated and very alluring,’ was her verdict. ‘Gevrey Chambertin Clos St-Jacques 1990, the brick colour wine with balsamic bouquet was her choice from Burgundy.

Prestige Ökϋzgöz from East of Ankara in Turkey, situated at 950m high vineyards has the famous Bordeaux flying winemaker Stéphane Derenoncourt as their consultant-it has structure and mass of mulberry fruit and minerality and is already exporting to Swedish monopoly.

Gaja Barbaresco 2008 is a classic wine made from Nebbiolo grape cultivated in 14 vineyards owned by Angelo Gaja. At a yield of 40hL/hA each wine is made separately and blended later after aging-bone dry, very precise, slightly dusty and very expressive grape. Tardieu Laurent 2006 was a Chateau-Neuf-du- Pape , a cuvee special with a hint of sweetness.  Tignanello from Antinori was the Super Tuscan with velvety texture that was singing away and made one want to have food with it.

Catena Alta Malbec 2000 was the Argentine entry made from the grape variety from Cohors in France known as Cot and produced by Nicolas Catena who is known as the Robert Mondavi of Argentina, who was in love with the Bordeaux varietals earlier but partnering with Eric Rothschild went back to the local grape variety. Not to talk of Brazil, even China is ahead of India with Hong Kong based winemaker Judy Leisner’s Tasya’s Reserve from Grace Vineyard being Mrs. Robinson’s selection from China.

Almaviva 2005 from Chile is a collaboration between the biggest producer Concha y Toro and Mouton Rothschild.  Beautiful winery with a lot of wood, quite rich, has benefitted from the hot climate. The wine has some Carmenere, she says. She feels that Chile makes mostly very boring wines with this grape as it is slightly green but there is slight sweetness in this particular wine making it taste like a California but it also has some greenness.

Vergelegen 2000 is from South Africa. It has 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, the rest being Merlot and Cabernet Franc- with mineral notes.  Monte Bello 1995 is from Silicon Valley in the US. The vineyards are at 750 m height and owned by the Japanese. ‘It is another food wine, slightly sweet, with great density and concentration and will go on for many years.’

This grand tasting had been very professional, almost instructional, conducted by an MW for possible students of MW. She admitted in all her modesty that some people might not agree with her choice but she had made sure the selection was wide spread and included the best possible representatives within the limitations of the total wines. Portuguese wines perhaps could be given an entry. India would have to wait at least a couple of ‘Winefutures’ before a wine finds its way inside such a prestigious list.

A grand and memorable tasting, that. She also joined the 1000 other people in the  tasting hall to applaud and compliment David and Maria Denton, the husband and wife team of Sommeliers who had come from the US especially to organise the Grand Tastings and did a tremendous job. Placing correctly 17000-20,000 glasses is not an easy job- nor is it to pour wines at the perfect temperature or supervising about 45 sommeliers. A job well done!!

Subhash Arora

For complete listing of wines, you may like to read our earlier article:
Winefuture ’11: Taste that Beats the Others Cold



Hervé Lalau Says:

Now that Mr Miller has resigned, I think most of the story is over. Wine is all that counts, in the end. Hullo to India and a god day to you my friend.

Posted @ December 05, 2011 13:04


Subhash Arora Says:

Hi Herve, to my mind there was no talks on the topic. But Parker's tasting was great and quite memorable for us non-French. Subhash

Posted @ December 05, 2011 13:10


Lalau Says:

Hi Subhash! Seems the venue was great. Did they speak about the trips Mr Campo has been organizing for Jay Miller in Spain, which the visited wineries or regions had to pay? Now it is a hot topic here in Europe, especially as Mr . Parker is so adamant on critics' independence

Posted @ December 05, 2011 12:10


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