Drinking Outside the Box

Nik Darlington, Red Squirrel Wines

Rare and Native Grape Varieties and Forgotten Wine Regions

A small but select and happy band of OWC members gathered in Oxford Brookes Restaurant on a warm summer’s evening to enjoy a grouping of four white and four red wines from unusual grape varieties and regions.

An entertaining and committed speaker, Nik Darlington set up the online retailer Red Squirrel Wines just three years ago after a career as a political journalist. Red Squirrel offers alternative or native grape varieties, as a counter to what Nik perceives as the dominance of international grape varieties and the rise of monoculture and a lack of biodiversity.

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Rethinking Rosé

Jonathan Pedley MW

For his presentation to Oxford Wine Club about ‘rethinking rosé‘, Jonathan focussed on two major themes. Firstly, that of rosé wines and age: should rosé always be drunk young, will it develop complexity with age? Secondly, he asked us to consider whether rosé could aspire to greatness or was it just a simple pleasurable drink?

Jonathan outlined the upsurge, since 2003, in the popularity and consumption of rosé wines in the UK. The days of only having a choice between uninspiring Mateus and Anjou rosés are well and truly behind us, with many more rosés now on the market. Ten years ago rosé wines comprised less than 1% of all UK sales. Currently, the figure is in the region of 10%. Rosé is now drunk throughout the year and not uniquely during the warm summer months.

The presentation consisted of two parts. We were firstly asked to taste 3 vintages of rosés from the well-respected Château de Sours (Bordeaux): 2012, 2013 and 2014. The second part of the tasting was a ‘blind’ tasting of 4 Côtes de Provence rosés and 1 from Languedoc.

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Sherry

Julian Jeffs

We had been looking forward to this tasting with the world’s authority on sherry – Julian Jeffs - for nearly two years!

The Club last heard him speak when he stood in at our last Spanish wine tasting evening to give an impromptu and excellent insight into the wines from around Jerez while the invited speaker for the evening was stuck in traffic!

Julian Jeffs is author of the book “Sherry”, which he has now been writing on and off for sixty years or so, and he has the most engaging way of speaking.

When Julian was aged just 24, he went on a sea sick passenger boat from Alicante to Jerez and fell completely in love with the place. He was only supposed to stay there for three days, but ended up staying for eight months! One thing he noticed was that pretty much everything anyone had written about making sherry was wrong, and this inspired him to write a book on it himself telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. 

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Desert Island Wines

Ted Sandbach

For the second in the Club’s occasional feature on ‘Desert Island Wines’, Graham Harding interviewed Ted Sandbach, founder and MD of the Oxford Wine Company before a full house at the Brookes Restaurant.

Ted was the perfect guest: generous with his wines and with plenty of excellent stories about the path from teacher at Magdalen College School (MCS), to managing Grape Ideas in Oxford before setting up the Oxford Wine and Hamper Company, then 'losing the hamper' and concentrating on wine with great success. But, as well as the stories, there was a great deal of straight talk and practical wisdom about being an entrepreneur, the challenges (and opportunities) in today's wine trade, and, above all, the quality and nature of good wine.

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Judgement of Oxford: Part II

Jasper Morris MW

The Club was delighted to welcome back its Honorary Vice-President, Jasper Morris MW, for another ‘Judgement of Oxford’ blind tasting. This was the second part of a tasting inspired by the historic ‘Judgement of Paris’ tasting of 1976 when Steven Spurrier decided to show how good Californian wines had become by pitting examples of top quality red and white wines from there against wines from the classic French regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy in a blind tasting in Paris. At that tasting, wines were judged and given scores by a panel of French wine critics and, to their horror, the Californian wines came out on top. It has to be said that the wines tasted were very young and had not reached their full potential. So it was decided to hold two simultaneous ‘Judgement’ tastings in California and London of the same vintages of the same red wines thirty years later in 2006, again organised by Stephen Spurrier. Jasper was one of the London judges and the others were also leading wine experts, like Jancis Robinson, Hugh Johnson and Michael Broadbent. Once more Californian wines came out on top – by an even wider margin – thereby proving that American wines can age just as well as their Old World counterparts. There was, however, no re-creation of the white wine tasting as the original wines would have been well past their best by 2006.

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Call My Bluff - The Return

Richard Bampfield MW, Michael Palij MW & Jonathan Pedley MW

The Oxford Wine Club tasting on 21 January was an evening of bluff and double-bluff. Jonathan Pedley's insistence that (practically) all the wines we tasted were from Morrison's had to be weighed against Michael Palij's assertion that they were (practically) all from his own cellar or those of his most illustrious wine-maker friends, whilst Richard Bampfield played the trust me I'm a trustworthy chap game (to great effect).                                 

Yes, it was round 3 of the Club's occasional Call My Bluff evenings. As always there were tricky decisions to be made. Do you put your faith in psychology or in tasting skills? Do you put your trust in your own tasting skills or do you rely the (apparently) most trustworthy panellist or the less trustworthy?

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Primum Familiae Vini

Christophe Brunet and Christina Torres

This, said Hans Sundin, introducing the Oxford Wine Club’s PFV tasting was going to be ‘amazing’.

He was absolutely right. There have been very very few such tastings in England. Ably and engagingly presented by Christophe Brunet (the PFV’s Ambassador) and Christina Torres we had an extraordinary evening. Twelve wines in total – one from each of the eleven families plus a bonus Pol Roger champagne of the 2000 vintage – and some excellent canapés produced to Christophe’s specifications.

Christina –already a Club ‘star’ after the Torres Family tasting earlier this year – was joined at the top table by Christophe and our President Michael Palij MW (though he had to leave early to take care of his new born daughter). Christophe, a sommelier by training, had first worked for the Torres family coordinating wine and food events worldwide where he got to know Miguel Torres (Christina’s uncle). The PFV owes its origins to a meeting between Miguel and Robert Drouhin of Maison Joseph Drouhin in Burgundy who recognised that multi-generational family businesses such as theirs enjoyed extraordinary advantages but faced special issues. Membership is limited to twelve companies (there are currently eleven) and only those with 100% family ownership can qualify. Hence, as Christophe explained, early members such as Mondavi and Jaboulet are now out of the PFV.

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Georgian Wines

Chris Bowling

Chris Bowling is known to many as the founder of this year's successful Oxford Wine Fair - but he's also founder of the Georgian Wine Society (www.georgianwinesociety.co.uk), dedicated to searching out the best of Georgian wine and making it available to drinkers in the UK. The introduction promised tales of personal derring-do but what Chris' fascinating presentation made clear was that behind the marketing line of 'Seven Thousand Years of Continuous Vintages' and the world's oldest (perhaps the world's original) wine culture lies a somewhat hazardous life for Georgian wine-growers and wine-lovers.

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Champagne Pol Roger

Cassidy Dart

"Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right." - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Members were delighted to welcome Cassidy Dart from Pol Roger, who had come along to Lady Margaret Hall for the evening to present to us a selection of Pol Roger’s Champagnes.

Pol Roger is famously known as being Winston Churchill's favourite Champagne. Churchill apparently prized Champagne above all other drinks, and Pol Roger above all other Champagnes. He famously had a long friendship with Odette Pol Roger, and every year on his birthday she would send him a case of vintage Champagne. Pol Roger now name their prestige cuvee after him -  Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill.

Pol Roger is an independent and relatively small Champagne house, producing around 1.5 million bottles a year (compare that for example to Moet & Chandon’s 26 million bottles a year). Nonetheless it is a well-known brand and the wines it produces are typically highly rated.  

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Decanter's Gold Award Winners

Christelle Guibert

Members were delighted to welcome Christelle Guibert, Director of Tastings at Decanter, to a tasting befitting the end of the OWC events calendar after another successful year. Christelle’s visit was particularly timely, following announcement of the Decanter Trophy award-winners at a glittering ceremony in London on 24 June.

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