No Weddings, Two Funerals
Posted: 2nd July 2019
June was a month when the deaths of the near and dear greatly exceeded births and when bears generally outnumbered bulls; but that is the standard drawback at my time of life. As champagne has become a feature in my life once again, I went along to the tasting organised by the Australian Tyson Stelzer in Christ Church Spitalfields.
It was an unusual venue for a wine event. The pews had been removed but apart from that everything was much as you’d expect in Hawksmoor’s baroque masterpiece, except that, instead of devout Anglicans primly arrayed in pews, there were the massed ranks of the British wine trade sipping and spitting champagne; and in the place where you might have expected to find the high altar, there were baskets piled high with bread. That was canonically correct at least, but there were also some very appetising looking cheeses: caseus Chris
Photo courtesy of Lelde McCoy who attended the Taste London on behalf of Connoisseur Magazine
I am sorry I had so little time for champagne or food, as I had to proceed to the big press lunch at Boisdale’s in Canary Wharf. I am glad I went, however, as there were some lovely things like the superbly structured 2008 Billecart-Salmon Extra Brut or their distinctly un-woody Cuvée Sous Bois. From Gosset I loved the Grand Rosé Brut and the rare, creamy Grand Blanc de Meunier Extra-Brut: another testimony to the quality of Meunier if well used. It is not a grape variety to write off. Both of these, however, were trounced by the soft, rich 2006 vintage.
Elsewhere the tasting brought back happy memories. At Pommery I tasted another good 2006, this time with distinct toffee notes, and then the lovely 2004 Louise – also with a little hint of toffee. I remembered the 1988 Louise, and drinking my last bottle just four years ago, and my meetings with its creator, Prince Alain de Polignac, who seems to be well-retired from the business. Pol Roger is everyone’s idea of a gentlemanly champagne house, a position that does it credit now that many of the bigger houses have become so cold and mechanical. The NV makes me think of pineapples and it was a great treat to taste the current vintage of Sir Winston Churchill: 2008.
Sometimes you need to drop down to the smaller grandes marques to rediscover the real personality of champagne. Philipponat is one of these. I loved the 2012 Blanc de Noirs Extra Brut and the 2009 1522 Grand Cru Brut (31% Chardonnay from Le Mesnil) with its amazing length. Pierre Gimonnet is even smaller: a big grower’s house in the Côte des Blancs that I have held in high regard for decades. Their champagnes are remarkable constructions, assembled like clocks from their various vintages and reserve wines. New to me was the 2014 Gastronome 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs and the 2012 Special Club Grands Terroirs de Chardonnay Extra Brut.
It seems odd to descend from top champagne in some cases well over £100 a bottle to Lidl, where very little costs much more than a tenner, but such is life, and bless Lidl for thinking of us poor drinkers. I had the honour of being shown through a short flight by Richard Bampfield, Lidl’s British MW. Quite quickly we hit the champagne, Comte de Senneval, which costs a derisory £11.49. It is hard to fault – pleasantly appley, faint taste of peaches, no faults but possibly a little bit on the sweet side. The Crémant de la Loire is possibly a better sparkling wine, but I don’t get the impression that it will be on the shelves much before Christmas. The Prosecco at £7.99 is also exemplary.
Among the still whites, the Clare Valley Riesling (£6.99) is an absolute (white) peach and has all the typicity you might want from this variety. From the reds, £5.99 buys you a really classy Marlborough Pinot Noir, once again with the classic aromas of the grape; or even better a Chianti Riserva at £6.99. Richard showed me the Rioja Crianza from Casa Lebrel. This is not my favourite. I find it too obviously oaky, but I adore the Reserva, which costs only a little bit more at £5.79 and which I buy quite regularly.
“We finished off with the 2016 St Emilion Grand Cru at the staggering price of £10.99 (most shops these days seem to start around here). This is authentic stuff! Not a wimpy thing but a proper claret with guts that you would enjoy with your Sunday lunch! Bravo Lidl!”
I hurried out, passing groaning boards covered with roast geese and turkeys, Brussels sprouts and roast potatoes and all the trimmings. It looked very tempting all in all. On one table there was a whole Serrano ham complete with its stand: mine for £30, they said. I didn’t stop to taste it or anything else: I was late for a funeral.