The Wines of Alsace

presented by Caroline Furstoss, ‘Sommelière de l’Année 2014’

A remarkable tasting with a remarkable presenter … and some nice food too.

The Club was honoured to host Caroline Furstoss, native of Alsace, ‘Sommelière de l’Année’ in 2014, columnist for the Revue du Vin de France and one of the few experts on the wines of her native region. In France, Caroline explained, it’s often difficult to get the French to take the wines of Alsace seriously. All those Germanic names, all those ‘lieux-dits’ to remember. However, a full house at Lady Margaret Hall on 24 February 2016 was very receptive.

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Sparkling Wines Masterclass

Richard Bampfield MW

Well the evening started with a resounding pop, if not a bang! A capacity crowd were presented with the first flight of four sparkling wines that were selected for their typicity and quality. After some table based discussions Richard set proceedings in motion with the first challenge – what was wine number 1?

The majority of members and guests correctly identified the first wine as a Prosecco and discussions then changed to why this was a good example of Prosecco and what you should look out for in wine of this type.  It was generally considered that this wine was fruity and fresh and easy to drink.  Slightly off-dry, the wine was well balanced and had a good finish, if not the most complex of sparkling wines. The typical “nose” of pears was quite prevalent and another good identifier of a Prosecco.  What people were surprised about was the fine bubbles which are not unusual for good quality Prosecco (typically people assume the tank method results in coarse, unintegrated bubbles).  What was however noticed was that the wine did go flat more quickly than the other three in this flight, which were all traditional method.

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The wines of Saint Emilion

Madame Nicole Roskam-Brunot and Dr. Gerald Sacks

The November tasting provided welcome respite from the late Autumn weather with a classic St. Emilion vertical tasting! It was hosted by Dr. Gerald Sacks (an OWC member) and Madame Nicole Roskam-Brunot, of Chateau Cantenac – a Grand Cru St. Emilion property. Mme Roskam-Brunot is owner of the chateau and a member of the Jurade of St. Emilion (one of the first 5 women Jurats, as they are known [translation: judge]). The Jurade dates from 1199, having been incorporated by a charter from King John of England (which covered this part of France at that time), and granted the area a level of autonomy. King John’s likely rationale however, was to obtain a supply of good wine for his court! The Jurade originally governed the city, including civic, legal and administrative affairs (which included the quality of the wine!), even after the area became French sovereignty in the 15th century, until shortly after the French revolution. It was revived in 1948 by growers to raise the profile of wines of the area, and continues to play a ceremonial role in celebrating events in the wine calendar.

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The Wines of Argentina

Lee Isaacs
The Club’s October tasting featured Lee Isaacs presenting wines of a country that he is passionate about. Married to an Argentinian (he says that leaves him little choice about his taste for wines of Argentine), he visits the country regularly and has explored the wine regions from Salta in the north to Patagonia in the south.

The Argentine wine industry goes back to the Conquistadores (although it’s the Italians who’ve had most influence on the wines in the last hundred years). The first commercial vineyard was established in 1557 and its purpose (in a nutshell) seems to have been to provide wine to keep the native populations too sozzled to protest at the Spanish occupation. That focus on quasi-industrial production has left its mark on Argentinian wines which have only started to explore variety and terroir in any serious way in the last decade. Fifty years ago the annual consumption was 90 litres per capita (Britain at the same point was drinking 3 litres per head).

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Photographing the world of wine

Tim Atkin MW

‘The most unjoblike job in the world’ was how one friend of Tim’s describes his profession as wine writer and photographer. His list of awards as a wine communicator covers pretty much every year since 1988 and embraces books, articles, a prize-wining website and the editorship of Harper’s for three years. Listening to Tim, one might have thought that success was a matter of serendipity and the occasional early rising. By the end of the evening, the photographers and artists in the audience were shaking their heads in disagreement. He trained his eye by collecting photographs before channeling his artist mother to create his own pictures.

This selection of 19 photographs from the world of wine was accompanied by wines linked to the places and people...

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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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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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