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To London to Walk and Taste

Dressed for the weather on The Mall

Twice I caught the train to London last week and twice walked across a frozen Hyde Park to my destination, in the first instance the Westbury Hotel off Bond Street, secondly the Institute of Directors on Pall Mall. Both were good walks. And the first day, the sky was bright and bold magpies sprang about on their bouncy legs as if they'd had word that spring was on the edge of town and bearing down on us. Day two was a different prospect altogether. The wind blew into the left side of my face like the frozen contents fired from the nozzle of a fire extinguisher until I started wondering how long it would be before I contracted Bell's Palsy.

The tastings - the pair of them - were fascinating affairs. The first was a "range tasting" at which an importer was showing a large selection from their list. This was upstairs at the Westbury Hotel.

I started with burgundy and sampled '10s, '09s and '08s. Stand out amongst the whites, I am happy to rreport, were the wines of Antoine Jobard, some of which have appeared on Bowes Wine burgundy offers these last few years (click here to see some remnant '09s and here to ask me about the '10s, of which we have a few cases left). They just had the lead over everything else by a clear length when it came to class and complexity.

The Rhônes were an interesting bunch, too. A couple of producers from the north of the valley reminded me why I object so to the 100% new oaking of the beautiful Syrah wines that are made there. The vim, spice and energy has been sapped by the wood into a smudge and creamy smear, both on the nose and in the mouth.

Yet a Châteauneuf producer brought the sun from behind quercus clouds. I had been to Domaine Cristia in Courthézon some years before and liked the wines very much, just not finding room for them in my offer that vintage. The '10s are quite spectacular. It helps that this is very much my sort of Southern Rhône vintage. The Grenache has come in with the facility to produce wines as pretty and elegant as Pinot Noir. The natural wildness of these wines is restrained, yet concentration and intensity very much in evidence. I hope in years to come to spend my Châteauneuf-du-Pape time drinking the '01s, '04s, '06s and '10s. It will imbue me with great happiness.

I then set about the serried ranks of wines from all four corners and managed to find a couple of storming liquids for The Daily Drinker: a Grenache Blanc (that white clone of the Grenache grape that is the 14th of the 13 permitted grape varieties of Châteauneuf-du-Pape) and a splendid Greco di Tufo, an ancient grape grown in the hills outside Naples.

Day two and a tasting that has become one of the unmissable fixtures in the UK tasting calendar: Wines of Austria at the Institute of Directors. And the place was absolutely packed with journalists, critics and merchants, this latter group all looking for new and exciting Austrian wines to buy for their lists; wines, as before, they would utterly fail to sell.

For this is the dilemma and paradox faced by wine merchants. In Austria we have a country that produces some of the world's most exciting wines, yet these are bottles that are virtually entirely impossible to sell. These wines are, in many ways, the opposites of the modern, high-alcohol, deeply-coloured, made-for-the-critics style. Pick up most glasses of Austrian wine and one's immediate reaction is "when's lunch?". They are appetising fluids that stimulate and enliven, rather than sun-drenched bruisers that make one sigh with exhaustion, rather than pleasure.

I suspect that, at some stage, these wines will become immensely popular, probably would be immensely popular now if only the world's wine drinkers would get out and try the best examples, of which there are many. Until that time, I will continue to talk about them and will continue, with great gusto, to drink them myself.
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