Yes, even wine writers buy wines! In this occasional series you can find out which wines I have backed with my own money.
My first large scale Majestic tasting was almost 20 years ago, when there were just seven wine warehouses and the bargains included Alsace and Bordeaux petits châteaux at less than £2. For those too young to remember whether that was cheap, a bottle of branded Liebfraumilch from Augustus Barnett would have set you back at least £2.35 and it would have contained just 70cl. There can be no doubt that sub-£2 petit château was as cheap as chips in 1983 and from my notes the quality wasn’t bad too (a “ripe, fruity” Château Grand Paris 1982 at £1.99 and a “delightful, quaffing” Château Volland 1982 for a staggering £1.85).
There are now more than 100 branches including three outlets in France and still plenty of bargains, but understandably none under £2. Although I tasted and purchased the following wines at Majestic’s Christmas Preview Tasting as long ago as 8 October, it has taken until now to get this article online because of errors in the wines delivered. Mostly wrong vintages, so be warned. This delayed the article because once I receive the wines, I always drink a bottle of each before writing them up. This really is a good deal for retailers. A wine writer who pays for up to half-a-dozen of each wine he reviews! You’d think they would make sure they got the order right though.
6 x Chablis 2000 Domaine Servin @ £6.99
It is patently obvious from the very first sniff and swirl, that the crisp, crystal-clear fruit in this wine has been fermented entirely in stainless-steel. Not the slightest stave or shave of oak has come within 50 feet of this wine, which with its lean-bodied structure makes it ideal with fish, particularly delicate white sea fish. It also goes great with river fish such as pike-perch or even pike. How refreshing to find a truly crisp and lean Chablis when so many examples of this wine have broader Chardonnay fruit to widen their appeal. What’s the point? Might as well buy a Côte d’Or white Burgundy. If you want to enjoy this wine while it is still fresh and lively, drink it up within the next 12 months. It will last much longer, but will gradually become toasty and mellow.
6 x Rully Blanc 1er Cru “Les Cloux” 2000 Vincent Girardin @ £8.99
This wine illustrates that Burgundy can take back the middle ground. The deliciously ripe, elegantly rich Chardonnay fruit, with its hint of pineapple and clean acids on the finish is the sort of thing that gave the New World a leg-up in those lazy, hazy days when the idea of overdosing on Chardonnay had not even begun to emerge. However, what separates this wine from a very good £8.99 New World Chardonnay is its leaner structure (although nothing like as lean as the Chablis) and natural acidity. Probably the best-value white Burgundy I’ve tasted in five years. I’ve just purchased another 12 bottles!
6 x St-Aubin 1er Cru “Les Murgers Des Dents de Chien” 2000 Vincent Girardin @ £13.99
Clean, clear, elegant barrique-ferment aromas followed by rich fruit and high acids, with a surprisingly deep and long toastiness. Part of this wine is not ready to drink (nose and front palate), while the rest is more than ready, yet promises to hang on while the rest catches up. Leave for at least 12 months.
4 x Muscat Riquewihr 2000 Bott-Geyl @ £7.49
Fresh with a true Muscat aroma that is nicely floral, not too exaggerated. Correctly dry, with typically low acids. Low acid in a dry wine should make it very short and indeed that can be the first impression here, but after the first mouthful the fruit builds and lengthens and you will soon find yourself opening another bottle. I prefer Muscat d’Alsace when it is youthful and will probably drink this up by the middle of 2003, although it has the capacity to charm for a year or two more.
4 x Tokay-Pinot Gris 2000 Bott-Geyl @ £8.99
Rich, spice-laden, barley-sugar fruit. There is residual sugar, but thankfully not as much as can be found in so many Tokay-Pinot Gris these days. It gives the wine its lusciousness, but with rather too much succulence at this early stage in its life. Given good storage conditions, this wine will age gracefully for 5-8 years at least and along the way the spice will increase and as it does so the residual sweetness will become less noticeable. The fruit will gradually be infused with smoky-honeyed spice. Don’t be fooled into thinking the Tokay-Pinot Gris 2000 Cave de Ribeauvillé is a bargain alternative for just £5.99 – a good cooperative without doubt, but that particular wine is already beginning to break up.
4 x Serriger Herrenberg Riesling Spätlese 1989 Bert Simon @ £5.99 (Buy 2 Save £2, thus £4.99)
An amazing mature Riesling bargain, but let’s be frank: some bottles have a bit of bottle-stink. However, this is not a permanent feature of the wine, as it blows away in the glass and if you decant it a good two hours before drinking it will be gone before the wine even hits the glass. Mostly! This is a mature wine and there is bottle variation, thus the odd one will be more stinky than others. However, this also means that the odd bottle is as pure as driven snow. This is a must for all mature Riesling fans because whether decanted or swirled in the glass, what remains is a delicious, honeyed-petrolly Riesling with a to-die-for balance of sweet fruit and ripe acidity.
6 x Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes 1999 Marc Roy @ £14.99
Rich Pinot Noir fruit with smoky-chocolaty tones denoting some development, although this vintage feels far less mature in the mouth than the Clos Prieur 2000. This wine can be drunk now, but it needs food and really requires cellaring for at least two years. It will continue to improve for at least another five years.
6 x Gevrey-Chambertin Clos Prieur 2000 Marc Roy @ £16.99
Just as rich as the Vieilles Vignes 1999, but not as fat and without the chocolaty bottle aromas, this vintage has more red fruits and floral finesse. The exceptionally pure Pinot aromas are softened by oak, particularly on the finish, but the oak is not too prominent. This makes it extremely drinkable for its youth, but it will improve over the next 2-5 years. The difference in potential longevity is that although this wine initially seems more youthful than the Vieilles Vignes 1999 and will definitely benefit from a further two years cellaring, the Vieilles Vignes 1999 actually requires it.
3 x Savigny-lès-Beaune “La Bataillère aux Vergelesses” 1999 Albert Morot @ £16.99
This is well structured, yet elegant, with youthful, redcurrant Pinot fruit, ripe tannins. A stylish Burgundy with ripeness showing the finish, but there is also alcohol and the acidity needs to settle down, This wine will benefit from a year or two in bottle, but can easily take 5-8 years.
3 x Beaune 1er Cru “Les Toussaints” 1999 Albert Morot @ £18.99
So much softer than Morot’s Vergelesses, with long strawberry-Pinot fruit and a sweet-ripeness on finish.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating and as I gorge myself through these wines I am convinced that at £308.64 for 30 bottles they represent great value for money.