Summertime and another Roger and Sue spectacular for the Club at the Harrow. It was all just as we might have ordered: a packed house, a beautiful warm evening, and the full benefit Harrow hospitality.
For some of us, though, the party started early. On the coach down, Richard Liwicki opened three bottles of the 2016 vintage of Halcyon Days, the Bothy stunning sparkling pink. But any slight advantage over those who had taken the train or driven soon disappeared.
In the marquee that had been the setting for a Decanter tasting a few days before, we were seated at long tables and put through our blind tasting skills.
First a round of four sparkling wines, ranging from £15-45 and including a champagne, a 2008 vintage wine, a multi-vintage sparkling wine and a pink. Which was the champagne, which was the English sparkling wine and who had made it, where did the pink come from? The champagne was Louis Roederer, the pink was Graham Beck, the multi-vintage from Hambledon and the 2008 outrider an excellent Tasmanian sparkler from Arras.
A couple of fascinating facts to consider. First was the contrast Roger pointed to between the Dom Perignon style and Krug style of effervescence; wines in the DP style hold their effervescence with age whilst in the Krug style the older wines have less sparkle and more creaminess. Second, Roger pointed to the rising incidence of corked sparkling wine. Once this was vanishingly rare, now he reckons the Harrow get a corked bottle every week or so. The problem is that the cork industry has not caught up with the expansion of sparkling wine. It’s the same problem that cursed Australia some twenty years or so ago – and nobody (yet) wants their sparkling wine to come with a non-cork closure.
Roger reckons that in a decade English sparkling wine will be the best in the world as we build up stocks to blend across vintages and parcels. Tasmania (on current form) will be giving us a run for our money whilst South Africa needs to get its act together. Calling their wines MCC (Methode Cap Classique) simply confuses people. It means ‘bottle-fermented’ of course but that doesn’t come through.
Next up was a round of four Rieslings – once again chosen to make us scratch our heads – and debate! The wines were from 2008 to 2016, all roughly the same price but very different styles and (deliberately) misleading origins. The obviously ‘German’ wine in an off-dry style with lots of terpenes turned out be from Felton Road in New Zealand; the only Old World wine a glass of understated elegance from Hugel that grew on many of us; the low(er) intensity nose of wine no. 3 was a 2017 from Patagonia, whilst the great nose of wine no 1 was from Clare Valley.
We finished the blind tasting with four Chardonnays from the 2016-2017 vintages. The first question? Which wine was from Burgundy? Memory suggests that only a few of us got the right answer – wine no. 3 was a lightly oaked St Veran from Nadine Ferrand with rather higher residual sugar than many expected. Very tasty though. Wine no 1 was from Kumeu River in New Zealand – and Roger hinted that the worldwide identification of NZ with Sauvignon might soon have to be challenged. Great Chardonnays now coming and perhaps even better Pinot Gris (his pick of the Kumeu River whites). An oaky South African wine from Peter Johnson and a rather atypical Australian wine from Yering Station completed the line-up and released us to sample Roger’s formidable barbecue skills.
Octopus, monkfish, lamb chops, fresh prawns, halloumi, zucchini and aubergines were on the menu. Did we know that the world’s biggest producer of halloumi (not Roger’s) was a Cypriot firm called Sorpresa that uses British powdered milk)? And to accompany the feast a line-up of 12 (or was it 14) Australian pinot noirs selected from a recent tasting that Roger had done. There was a certain amount of argument about which was the best but the supply was excellent, the food was wonderful and the evening closed with our new Chairman, Richard, rightly thanking Roger and Sue and their team for a splendid evening.
With that, it was back on the bus for a smooth (and considerably speedier) trip back into Oxford…