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The offline experience
Wine tasting dinner in London, January 4th 2001
For me, one of the great benefits of the internet is that I can readily get in touch with a host of like-minded wine geeks to discuss wine across international boundaries, thanks to online forums such as the Wine Lovers Discussion Group (known in the biz as the WLDG; http://www.wldg.com/). I've been discussing wine anorak-fashion there since 1997, and over that time have managed to meet up with fellow geeks in places such as New York, St Louis and Madison, as well as regularly meeting up for regular 'offline' dinners in London. The format varies: most commonly these events are hosted in a restaurant that permits diners to BYO (bring your own wine), although on several occasions we have met in people's homes. Each participant will bring what they consider to be an interesting wine; sometimes themes are chosen in advance. Although it sounds a bit weird -- a common response is one of surprise when you tell people that you are getting together with total strangers you've spoken to only on the internet -- the people I've met in this way have almost always been wonderful company and extremely generous in sharing their wines. There's a regular stream of WLDG participants visiting London, which on most occasions prompts an offline gathering. This time, long-term WLDG participant Jason Brandt Lewis was in town from California, which proved to be another excellent excuse for a wine dinner. The venue was Kensington Place and present were Nick Alabaster, Paul Armstrong, Robert Helms, Peter May, Yixin Ong, Robert Paterson, Jason and myself. It was a thoroughly entertaining evening with great company complemented by a remarkably broad range of wines.

Salon Blanc de Blancs Le Mesnil 1985, Champagne
A vintage Champagne made solely from Chardonnay grapes, this is still alive but is just beginning to show its age a little. A full golden colour with a rich, toasty, part-oxidized nose. On the palate it is rich, full flavoured, bready and with fine bubbles. I like it a lot: it’s nice, full flavoured stuff, but others at the table think it may be a little past its best. Very good/excellent.

Domaine La Dona Tigana 1999 Cassis
This southern French white is a bit shy on the nose. It’s light and fresh, with a hint of a floral note on the palate and zippy acidity. Fine for washing your Bouillabaisse down with on a hot summers day in the Mediterranean, but a little bit neutral and acidic. Interestingly, this is the Domaine of Jean Tigana, the French international football player who now manages Fulham FC.

Jordan & Jordan 1996 Schazhofberger Riesling Trocken, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Qualitätswein
Made by Peter Jordan, before he retired, this is a skinhead of a wine, with bags of flavour but vicious acidity. It shows a lovely, limey/citrus nose with a touch of honey and a slight urine-like edge. On the palate it is powerful and citrussy with piercing acidity. It’s extremely youthful and I suspect this will age beautifully (but slowly) if you have the patience to leave it. Very good/excellent (if you like the style)

Ashton Hills Riesling 1997, Adelaide Hills
From one of South Australia’s upcoming ‘cool-climate’ regions comes this attractive, rounded Riesling. It’s a bit shy on the nose, with just a hint of lime fruit, but on the palate it is well rounded and shows good balance between the citrus fruit and acidity. Very good.

Lorentz Tokay Pinot Gris Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim 1990, Alsace
The part closed mineralic nose with hints of smoke and honeyed fruit is followed by a soft, rounded palate with honey and spice flavours, and good depth. It’s an impressive mature wine from a less well known producer, and perhaps the only criticism is a touch of bitterness on the finish. It’s a style I like. Very good+

Chinon L’Ancestrale de Philippe Pichard 1998
An unfiltered, upmarket Chinon from a producer with a good reputation, although I must admit that I really didn’t ‘get’ this wine. It is certainly very oaky and has plenty of classy fruit, but tasted blind I’d never have identified this as a Chinon, as it almost totally lacked that herbaceous, leafy edge to the fruit normally associated with this appellation. A deep red/purple colour this wine shows a rounded, roasted, toasty nose. On the palate it is full flavoured and spicy, and is currently dominated by new oak which all but swamps the ripe, abundant fruit. It’s perhaps a little lacking in the mid-palate, too. Impossible to call as a Chinon, but still pretty tasty, I’d be interested to see how this evolves.

Umathum Frauenkirchner St Laurent 1995 Bom Stein Neusiedler See, Austria
(Umathum is the producer; St Laurent is the grape) An unusual red wine from Austria, this is a light red/purple colour with a pungent, herby, slightly medicinal nose. On the palate this is bone dry, quite acidic and a little herbaceous, but with plenty of complexity and interest. It may sound a bit odd from this description, but the overall effect is a pleasurable one, honest! Very good+

Storrs Petite Syrah 1998 Santa Cruz Mountains, California
From old, hillside vines this is a rich, spicy, concentrated red wine of great appeal. It shows a sweet, herby, spicy nose and warm, rich flavours on the palate. There’s certainly plenty of oak, but it’s pretty much in balance with the dense fruit. Very good+

Storrs Rusty Ridge Zinfandel 1998, Santa Clara County, California
From two old vineyards, one in the Santa Cruz mountains and one in Santa Clara County, this is a delicious example of Zinfandel at its ripe, sweetly fruited best. It is ripe, rich and bursting with sweet, chocolatey berry fruit flavours. Great balance between the new oak and the fruit; luscious and lovely ‘hedonistic’ wine. Very good/excellent

Graham Beck 1998 Old Road Pinotage, Coastal Region, South Africa
A spicy, herbal, tannic wine, deep in colour and with plenty of new oak. This is Pinotage in its modern incarnation, without any of the funk or cheesy feet aromas that are often associated with the variety. In fact, I find this too modern and too oaky, lacking in real personality. A very good wine, none the less.

Château de Beaucastel 1991, Châteauneuf du Pape
Beaucastel is one of the great wines of the appellation, but from time to time these wines have suffered from Brettanomyces (a spoilage yeast) infection. At low levels ‘brett’ (as it is known in the trade) can add complexity, but when it is more prevalent it’s considered to be a wine fault. And if you want an example of bretty Beaucastel, this is the one to pick, the 1991. (This bottle was kindly donated to me by David Guillebaud, who had rather misguidedly bought a case of the stuff on release.) It shows an animal-poop-like, spicy nose that is actually quite attractive. On the palate the brett really shows, with cheesy, meaty, poopy flavours and a metallic finish. It is intensely savoury, and somewhat perversely, I quite like it. But there’s no doubt that this is a flawed wine.

Château Lascombes 1990, Margaux
A mature-ish Claret drinking very nicely. Showing a mineralic, cedary, mushroomy nose and a reasonably complex palate with fine tannins, it’s perhaps beginning to dry out a touch on the finish. Nice weight and balance.

Redoma 1994, Niepoort, Douro
I’m a great fan of this serious, densely structured Portuguese table wine. It displays an exotic, herbal nose with a full, complex palate with high acidity and firm tannins, which combine to make this an intensely savoury wine. The dark, herby fruit is underpinned by a core of well-balanced oak. Superb and quite individual, but perhaps a bit much for those not used to the combination of acidity and tannin found in many Portuguese wines.

Riechsgraf von Kesselstatt Riesling Auslese ‘Long gold capsule’ Piesporter Goldtropf 1989 Mosel-Saar-Ruwer
Delicious stuff. A spicy, appley nose is followed up by a rich, full palate with appley, honeyed fruit, plenty of spice and a nice mineralic, citrussy edge. Age has softened the texture and there is some sweetness (it’s medium-sweet); the overall impression is one of great balance. Excellent

Michel Couvreur Pedro Jiménes, NV
This is an odd one. It’s Pedro Ximenez from Jerez in Spain, made by a whisky producer at his whisky ageing cellar in Bouxe-lès-Beaune, Burgundy (the cask was matured, with regular topping up, for 18 years). After making this wine, the same cask was used to mature a newly distilled whisky. The wine itself is a syrupy brown goo that tastes like liquidised raisins. It is extremely sweet, with a soft texture and huge concentration. I find this style just a bit too much: although I appreciated a couple of sips, I didn’t find myself going back for more. Perhaps this would be better with a touch more acidity?

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