Yes, even wine writers buy wines! In this occasional series you can find out which wines I have backed with my own money.
Waitrose is, in my opinion, the best wine retailer in the supermarket sector. My cellar always seem to have a few gaps of the ready-drinking ilk whenever I taste its wines, and I often end up ordering in excess of £500 worth following their Autumn tasting. Fortunately (for my bank balance), I have been unable to attend their Spring tasting in recent years due to travel committments. This has undoubtedly saved me a lot of money.
The Spring tasting is staggered over three days, but as usual, I had trips arranged this year which clashed with all of them. However, when I heard the tasting was to be the last at which Julian Brind MW would be in charge, I immediately cancelled my travel plans. Julian and I go back almost 20 years.
Julian put the first-ever Waitrose tasting on for me in 1982, when I was editor of the first edition of The Sunday Telegraph Good Wine Guide. It was set up in a suite of rooms above its flagship Finchley Road store. At the time, no Waitrose buyer was supposed to fraternise with the press, but Julian used that seminal event to demonstrate to his board that if Waitrose was to establish a reputation for wine, then they had to establish a relationship with the press. A Sunday Telegraph tasting or two later, and Waitrose arranged its first official press tasting.Waitrose has indeed established a reputation for its wine range. In fact, by the 1985 edition I was already stating that “The availability of a large and exciting range of wines can be attributed to one man, Julian Brind MW”.
Which brings me back to the postponement of my wine trip to attend his grand finale. I could not quite bring myself to tell Julian this after he told me “Oh, have no fear, you’ll see me again. I’ve been retained on a consultancy basis and one of the things I will definitely be taking part in is the press tasting.”
Waitrose on your doorstep
If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. Whenever I go north of the Watford Gap, I get it in the ear: “You wine writers are all the same, always going on about how good Waitrose is and there isn’t a branch within a hundred miles of here. It’s so frustrating reading about all those wines.” Well, no it’s not. For just £4.95 you can have Waitrose wines delivered anywhere in the UK (the only exception being the Channel Islands) within 7-10 days. If you spend £75 or more, delivery is free. Thus for the price we southerners pay and lug it all the way home, a canny Scot can have it delivered to his or her doorstep. All you have to do is ring a free telephone number 0800 188881 (Monday to Friday, 8am to 7pm) email at email@example.com or order online from www.waitrosedirect.co.uk.
So what did I buy?
Like all Waitrose tastings, 250-odd wines were opened up at the spring event and virtually all of the firm’s other MW buyers (Dee Blackstock, Susan McCraith and Simon Thorpe) were in attendance, which is good because if anyone wants to know the obscurest fact about a specific wine, they just fetch the guy or girl who purchased it. Me? I bought six each of the following:
Domaine de la Combette Pinot Noir 1999 Coteaux du Libron @ £12.99
Proof positive that it pays to buy top-priced vins de pays. Focused Pinot aromas on the nose followed by soft, lush Pinot fruit on the palate, with classy, creamy-oak finesse on the finish. Already a good food wine, this should age gracefully for at least 2-3 years. Suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
Santenay 1er Cru Beaupierre 1999 Bouchard Père et Fils @ £14.95
Stainless-steel fermented, with malolactic in French barriques. Not fined or filtered. This is soft and light, but not lacking. Lovely, silky Pinot fruit makes for a very early drinking ’99 and this should be revelled in. Better on its own than with food. Not worth keeping more than six months, so enjoy, I will!
Gevrey Chambertin ‘Vieilles Vignes’ 1999 Domaine Heresztyn @ £14.95
This wine has a lovely richness and sweet-ripeness of Pinot fruit, hinting of strawberries and plump black cherries with few tannins getting in the way, although it will age nicely for a year or two. Very handy.
Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru 2000 Domaine F. Magnien @ £24.95
Not a big wine, but the raspberry fruit and tannin structure mark this out as the firmest and potentially longest-lived of the three Burgundies I purchased from Waitrose. It really needs another year a two, but it goes very well with food now, especially if decanted for a couple of hours.
Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 1999 Fevre @ £25.00
Classic, crisp Chablis (which you don’t see very often, even at grand cru level), with just a hint of oak. It might be just a hint, but it’s the absolute maximum I want on a Chablis (otherwise I might as well stick to the Côte d’Or) and this careful balance between crispness and oak was achieved by fermenting only 20% in wood and 80% in stainless-steel, then maturing for only four months in oak merely to achieve malolactic before bottling. Personally, I’d like to try the same wine without malolactic, but I’ve almost downed all six bottles already, so it can’t be that bad.
Piesporter Goldtropfchen Spatlese 1999 Grans-Fassian @ £8.99
Luscious. Absolutely gorgeous fruit. Fabulously rich. This will make stunning drinking over the next decade. Thank goodness they’ve gone back to traditional bottles!
Bernkasteler Badstube Spatlese 1998 Vve Dr. Thanisch @ £7.99
A year older and a lesser vintage gives this wine more mature Riesling bottle-aromas than 12 months would normally make. Close to Auslese-level sweetness. Will age beautifully for 10 years, but I’m not sure I can keep my hands off the last bottle for 10 weeks!
Oestricher Lenchen Riesling Kabinett 2000 Kuhn @ £9.99
Unusually for a supermarket selection, this wine really should not be broached for another 3-5 years at least. This is a Kabinett of top-end Spätlese richness and sweetness, with the fruit on the palate reminiscent of oozing peach-pie juices. It would be fat but for the lip-smacking acidity and freshness on the finish.
If only I had known that Julian would be attending future Waitrose press tastings, I would be £718.86 better off!