It took a while for Arthur van Hoogstraten, who 'won' me at the last Independent charity auction, and I, to sync diaries. After scanning the options, Arthur plumped for the tasting of Clark Foyster (clarkfoysterwines.co.uk) followed by a seminar on terroir with the Plaimont Co-operative. I was delighted because Clark Foyster is a member of the new Dirty Dozen group I recently mentioned and only sells wines that its affable managing director, Lance Foyster MW, believes in. I'm also an admirer of the Plaimont Co-operative for its pioneering stance on Gascon dry whites and its enlightened re-introduction of South-West France's indigenous grape varieties.
We met at the Trafalgar Square Prêt-a-Manger (we do things in style at the Indy) on a sunny late-September day. Arthur told me he loved French wines. His friend Anil Patel said he really enjoyed New World wines and he felt that they were more likely to surprise than France. He'd visited Casa Lapostolle in Chile and loved Clare Valley Riesling. A good start because here were two friends who both liked their wines but with very different opinions and tastes.
On that note, we ambled over to the Institute of Minerals and Mining and kicked off the Clark Foyster tasting with the Austrians. Arthur and Anil both enjoyed the grüner veltiners, in particular an exotic 2010 Schloss Gobelsburg Lamm Erste Lage Grüner Veltliner from Kamptal with its tension between tropical grapefruit and zesty intensity.
If the grüners were an eye-opener, they loved the reds, never having encountered the blaufränkish, St Laurent or zweigelt grapes before. We all loved the bright, peppery fruit of the 2008 Prieler Blaufränkish Leithaberg, and from Neusiedlersee, an intensely-perfumed, almost pinot noir-like 2009 Pittnauer St Laurent Alte Reben and the super-succulent zweigelt in the 2006 Umathum Ried Hallebuhl.
A creamy Champagne Jacques Picard led us to Portugal where the two As were enthused by Filipa Pato's stonefruity 2010 FP Branco made from arinto and bical and the toffee-appley, almost burgundian 2010 Nossa Bairrada, a pure bical. A diversion to the New World had Arthur's mouth watering at the magnificent Kiwi pinot noirs of Felton Road and Terravin.
They were impressed, too, by Mac Forbes' scented Yarra Valley pinot noirs. "Interesting," they observed, "how the New World is now focusing on terroir, while the French are putting the grape variety on the label." We finished with the superb 2010 Folio Blanc from Collioure and two outstanding reds, the 2010 Schistes Collioure and 2009 Quadratur Collioure.
Then it was a trip across town to Home House to be greeted by André Dubosc, the charming pioneer of the Plaimont Co-op's revival, before attending a fascinating masterclass given by technical director Olivier Bourdet-Pees. Celebrating St Mont's 30th anniversary, we learnt how the Plaimont Co-op had countered the loss of biodiversity by planting 39 local grape varieties and how it used digital technology for the blending of its flagship white and red, L'Empreinte.
We tasted the zesty fresh 2010 Duc de Vendôme white, £6.99, Waitrose, the citrus-zesty 2010 St Mont, £7.49, M&S, and the richly concentrated apricoty flagship white, the 2009 Le Faîte, £14.99, Adnams (adnams.co.uk). After a long and not entirely arduous day's tasting and spitting, Arthur and Anil's open-minded approach had led them to discover, and appreciate, an exciting new range of flavour and character.
The Wine Gang Christmas Fair 2011 ticket giveaway
The Wine Gang is five of the UK’s most respected wine critics: Anthony Rose of The Independent, Joanna Simon of House & Garden, Tom Cannavan of wine-pages.com, David Williams of The Observer and Jane Parkinson of janeparkinson.com.
For the third year running, they have put together an incredible all-day festival of wine where you can taste from 600 wines priced £6 to £80, take part in a fun and a free wine walk conducted by the Gang, and meet and learn from some famous names who will present tutored masterclasses including Bollinger Champagne, Michael Chapoutier of the Rhone, Bodegas O Fournier from Argentina and Jane Ferrari presenting the icon wines of Yalumba.
This is Britain’s brightest, best and most relaxed wine event and is a fabulous chance to plan your wine drinking for Christmas and beyond. Many of the exhibitors at the fair will be offering exclusive discounts on the day, too.
We have three pairs of tickets to the event, including a masterclass of your choice (subject to availability) to give away (each of the three prize packages is worth £70).
The Wine Gang Christmas Fair 2011, Vinopolis, 1 Bank End, London, SE1; Sat 29 Oct; £20, early bird £15, optional tickets for each masterclass £15; ticketSOUP.com; 0844 481 8898