The Oxford Wine Company is a wine specialist based largely, as you may already have guessed… in Oxfordshire. They specialise in seeking out bespoke wines that you wouldn’t find in most places, rarely seen outside their countries of origin and ranging across a broad price range ending in a sizable fine wine selection.
Every year they hold a wine tasting fair in Oxford, partly to showcase wines they’re proud of and partly to gauge their customers reactions wines they’re thinking of selling in the future.
Mostly it’s a just great excuse to taste a lot of wine and talk with others every bit as passionate about wine as I am… and yes, hard as it may be to believe, other geeks like me are out there.
So after arriving at the posh ‘Randolph Hotel’ in the centre of Oxford and trying my best to loiter in the warmth of its foyer waiting for my friends to arrive (while dodging looks from the doorman suggesting I was clogging up the entrance way), I eventually moved on through to the venue and was handed a tasting guide for the evening.
A glance at the guide told me there were 62 wines; 3 whiskeys; a dry gin and an iced cider from Quebec to taste… planning was going to be essential!
I can’t help but think that in theory these kinds of evenings should be fairly civilised, where everyone tries the wines in some semblance of order… reality, however, seldom matches expectation.
Sure enough I got in there to find people huddled around tables with the most expensive wines on them, merrily requesting “just another touch of that one old chap”, before helping themselves to a third or fourth and soon as the attendants back was turned!
I did have a plan of attack; honestly… it’s just that I surveyed the carnage ahead of me and decided to do the reasonable thing… so I went in elbows flying and fought for my life!
I didn’t manage to get to all the wines in the end, for all of my limb flinging efforts, but I did manage to get to 61 out of the 62 so I felt it was a job well done.
Can I just say here and now that finishing on a series of spirits seemed like the course of wisdom at the time, after all I didn’t want to ruin wines first… but the unmistakeable taste of kebab in my mouth the following morning would beg to differ!
At some point I really am going to have to learn the art of ‘spiting’ when tasting wine, I just can’t bring myself to do it, seems immoral somehow. That being said there was a noticeable decrease in the quality of my handwriting as the evening wore on, which isn’t great to begin with, so translating my notes has taken some time!
One of the real benefits of trying this many wines side by side is getting to see how similar wines compare to each other. Over the course of the evening you’ll find that some really stand head and shoulders above the rest and it can be surprising to discover which ones do so against all odds and preconceptions.
I’ve tried Morande wines before at the Oxford Wine Company, so I knew they were good… but I wasn’t expecting them to show up so many of the other wines at the Fair.
Morande Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2011, Casablanca Valley, Chile [£9.77]
When it comes to Sauvignon Blanc two countries seemingly have the rest of world dead to rights: If you want an elegant floral wine, then buy from the Loire in France; if you want ultra fresh slap in the face with a sizeable hedge attached to it… buy from Marlborough in New Zealand.
So I was more than a little surprised to find the Sauvignon Blanc from the Casablanca Valley in Chile showing up wines from the both of those bastions of the wine world.
Morande’s Sauvignon Blanc has a rich full aroma that literally jumps out of glass at you with elderflower and soft gooseberry. Its flavours are just as intense but unlike so many Marlborough styles wines; its focus is very much on the fruit and floral aspects of the variety. It is high in acidity, which is a given really for this variety, but its well balanced and never out of hand.
It is far closer in style to the New Zealand wines than the French… but crucially it’s missing the stinging nettle/hedgerow quality that puts off many of those who have fallen out of love with the Kiwi style.
Morande Pinot Grigio Reserva 2009, Casablanca Valley, Chile [£6.35]
As for Morande’s Pinot Grigio, it’s a real wake up call for those who have sworn off the variety as it’s everything they’re so often not; Rich, flavourful, complex and affordable.
It has a complicated yeasty/nutty aroma that I could spend a good while exploring before even thinking of diving in to taste it. When you do dive in there you’ll be surprised at how full bodied this wine is for a Pinot Grigio and at how much like a bowl of fruit salad it tastes. Which fruits will depend on you but for me it had lots of tropical pineapple and cream.
When you factor in the price tag… this wine blew almost everything else at the fair out of the water and I can’t imagine its price tag remaining this wallet friendly for long, but then it is Chilean so you never know!
It’s getting a little confusing now to know what to expect from a bottle labelled Pinot Grigio rather than one labelled Pinot Gris, after all both are made from the same ‘Pinot Gris’ grape variety… it’s just that the name Pinot Grigio sells so much better that wine makers have started using it on their full bodied/rich Pinot Gris style wines.
To be honest, the Morande Pinot Grigio is really one of these Pinot Gris wines in disguise; I’d love to serve this to a Pinot Grigio fan and see what made of it, because I think it could have the potential to open up a whole new world of wines for them.
Escarpment ‘The Edge’ Pinot Gris 2012, Martinborough, New Zealand [£11.30]
Speaking of Pinot Gris rather than Pinot Grigio… The edge Pinot Gris from Escarpment was a great example of an honest up front Pinot Gris.
It has a rich full on yeasty aroma with a hint marmite about it, which to my mind is good thing! As with the Morande Pinot Grigio, I could spend a good amount of time just savouring the aroma of this wine.
The New Zealand influence really shows on the palette with how freshly floral this wine is, developing into a lush pineapple juice finish that has some serious legs on it, managing to leave a clean palette cleaning mouth feel when done.
This is a lovely high quality wine pitched perfectly with in its price bracket and £12 well spent by those looking for a nice white to go with their stir fry.
Meursault 2011 Yves Boyer-Martenot, Burgundy, France [£29.40]
The evening wasn’t completely overshadowed by wines from outside Europe and I was a happy bunny to find both of the white burgundies on show lived up to their reputations and showed how good Chardonnays can be.
I’m tough on ‘fine wines’ because if your going to spend 3 to 4 times the money on a bottle, you’re going to expect it to be 3 to 4 times better than the average wine. Whether it’s entirely fair or not, a fine wine that actually lives up to its price tag is at best an even trade for your money, often with the expectation that it will somehow transform your world in some way… which is frankly asking a lot!
Well the Meursault from ‘Yves Boyer-Martenot’ was every bit as incredible as I was hoping it would be and more.
Rich buttered toasty yet creamy oaked aroma that has so much depth and complexity to it that you could literally spend an hour just trying to come up with ways to describe the elements you find with in it… almonds, gilled hazelnuts, lemon peel the list goes on and on.
When I was able to tear myself away from the aroma and tasted the wine it lived up to every bit of that promise with a rich powerful weight of body and complexity. This wine is incredibly well balanced and has a dry fresh vein of minerality to it that acts as the foil to richness and slices through the creamy buttery nuttiness with a citrus acidity that keeps you coming back for more.
This is one of those rare ‘fine wines’ that does actually have a chance at transforming someones world… well, their views on Chardonnay at the very least!
Domaine Ferret Pouilly Fuisse 2010, Burgundy, France [£24.50]
For those of you who may find Meursault to be too heavy and rich a wine for you, then I’d recommended seeking out a bottle of Pouilly Fuisse as its Meursaults lighter bodied cousin.
With a quality name like ‘Domaine Ferret’ it was hard not to root for this wine on that basis alone! Fortunately, it more than complemented its richer fuller cousin from Meursault; the body may be lighter and have a smaller array of aromas and elements to taste, but the effect that has is to give you greater access to the ones that are present.
This wine has a rich aroma of melted butter on warm croissant that left me ravenous and sent me searching for food; half way across the room I took a sip and instantly forgot what I was doing, it was that good. Lashings of butter, roasted pine nuts and butter cream told me all I needed to know about this wine… nom nom nom!
I was slightly embarrassed by the “nom nom nom” noises I was making until I realised that I was part of nom’ing chorus of punters all appreciatively chewing away on this beautiful wine.
Veritas Viognier 2011, Monticello, USA [£18.50]
The final white that really caught my attention was this Viognier from the US.
It has startling purity and almost crystalline cleanness to its fruit that takes the classic Viognier stone fruits, of peach and nectarine, and expresses them so distinctly it’s like you’ve just bitten into them.
I don’t think I’ve ever come across a wine so fresh and clean that has acidity so well balanced it’s practically invisible except for the mouth watering anticipation of the next sip it creates.
It is expensive and I realise that’ll put many of you off, especially as Viognier isn’t a grape variety that would usually produce wines of this price. However, it’s worth every penny and an inspired choice for someone looking to be bowled over by something new.
In Part 2 I’ll be looking at ‘the red’s’ and my picks for best single variety and blended wines from the fair.