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The event was what's known as a "range tasting": a single importer showing a spread of wines from their list. In this case, the host was an outfit called Les Caves de Pyrene and what a fascinating array of bottles they had opened.
The tasting was in its second day and thank goodness I hadn't been able to attend on day one. 150 tasters had pitched up; one noted journalist had stuck his head 'round the door and done an about face. Happily, there were but three tasters, including myself, plus the rep for the duration of my visit.
Now don't get me wrong, I love tasting through quantities of burgundy and claret as much as the next merchant, but there is refreshment to be had in exploring some of the more out-of-the-way wine producing regions of the world; in tasting wines never before tasted; in swirling in one's glass a liquid made from a grape variety one has to go home and look up in a book.
Whilst eclectic, the samples on offer majored heavily on Italy and yes, there were Barolos and Brunellos. But there were also some real weirdos. I mean, what's Blanc de Valdigne when it's at home? Well, it's a grape and home in its case is the highest vineyards of Italy, found in the northern region of Valle d'Aosta. Also there was a wine made from the Arvine grape, another new one to me, and a fabulous string of Verdicchios, culminating in a 1991 that was truly mind-blowing.
Leaving Italy, there were scintillating Muscadets, a Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough that went a long way to restoring my faith in the genre (the fact that it is made by one of the finest proponents of Loire SB probably had something to do with it). But what I had really gone to taste was a range of champagnes from the house of Philipponnat, an agency newly acquired by this importer. We intend to offer a small range of vintage champagnes before Christmas and, having been a fan of Philipponnat for years, I had in mind their inclusion in our next mailing.
Richard Juhlin in his book 4000 Champagnes states, "Today the firm is run with a purposeful hand by the friendly and humble Charles Philipponnat. He manages the excellent grapes in a praiseworthy manner; the wines share his charm and personality."
Top wine here is the revered Clos des Goisses, about which Juhlin says, "...consistently one of the world's foremost wines." Having tasted the current vintage yesterday and thinking about the vintages I have drunk in the past, I can only concur. But there's no doubt that the entire range is seriously classy. If you find them in the shops, buy a bottle and find out what you've been missing. Alternatively, buy a couple of cases on our next offer!