Those of you who visit the wine-pages.com forum - and I know of quite a few of you do - may have noticed yet another discussion on the "merits" or otherwise of expensive Bordeaux. And there is nothing more certain in life (apart from death itself, of course) than the fact that such a discussion will, sooner rather than later, degenerate into a right royal case of handbags-at-ten-paces. The recipe is very simple;
Attend an event where a handful of top Bordeaux reds are offered for tasting (for maximum effect, they should be First Growths - and ideally with examples of both painfully young and relatively mature wines, by way of comparison). Confirm your long-held suspicion that they really aren't that brilliant and offer shockingly bad value, even for your average billionaire football club owner's money. Write about your experiences on a wine forum which you know to be frequented by wine lovers of all persuasions, from supermarket bargain hunters to serious collectors with fat wallets. Then light the blue touch paper, retire to a safe distance and wait for the fireworks (or handbags) to begin.
I must admit there was a time when I would find it very hard to resist joining in these "discussions", but I eventually grew tired of the posturing and the willy-waving. On the one side you have the vast majority, with their catholic tastes and desire to explore the great world of wine - and on the other, you have the minority, with their unshakable belief that the wines of their chosen region (not necessarily always Bordeaux - Burgundy has its insufferable bores, too) are best, and everyone else is drinking second-rate stuff. Of course, the fact that top Bordeaux is now way beyond the means of the vast majority of drinkers (apart from those who like to keep up with the Jones's, at whatever cost) leaves most drinkers with little option but to be more adventurous. But given that it is possible to pick up a whole case of very fine wine from regions such as the Rhône, Barolo, (traditional) Rioja, California, Australia, Languedoc and even Burgundy for the price of a single bottle of First Growth Bore-deaux, it becomes a bit of a no-brainer. So why bother arguing?
Which all leads me very neatly onto last weekend, when my friend Andy Leslie laid on a rather wonderful dinner party, based largely around funghi of various types, accompanied by a mightily impressive (and beautifully aged) bunch of Piedmont wines.
This being a dinner party, it would have been a little too geekish even for me to write notes on the wines. Instead, we concentrated on enjoying and appreciating them in the way they were designed to be - as an accompaniment to fine food. Before getting down to the really serious stuff, we enjoyed a trio of white palate cleansers; a delicious, frothy, semi-sweet Bera Moscato 2009 was followed by a rather hedonistic and perfectly aged Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque Champagne 1989 and Afros Vinho Verde 2009. Then it was onto the food - and truly outstanding food it was, too;
- Starter - Fresh tagliatelle (home-made, of course) with white truffle shavings
- Mains - Mushrooms stuffed with puffball duxelle and topped with fontina; potato and cep gratin; wild mushroom tart; biodynamic greens(!)
- Cheese - Wigmore Waterloo (similar to a really good Brie) and a huge chunk of aged Parmigiano Reggiano
- Dessert - Quince & cardamom tart with pine-nut honey ice cream
Here's a little food porn for you (with apologies for the somewhat blurry middle photo)................
Tagliatelle with white truffle shavings
Wigmore Waterloo and Parmigiano Reggiano
That little lot was perfectly accompanied by the following wines;
- Pio Cesare Barolo 1978
- Prunotto Barbaresco Riserva Montestefano 1982
- Prunotto Barolo Cannubi Riserva 1982
- Pio Cesare Barolo 1985
- Brovia Barolo Rocche Riserva 1985
- Mascarello Monprivato Barolo1985
As I said, this was not an occasion for note-taking, but all of the wines performed brilliantly, with my favourites being the rich, ripe, concentrated (and still only semi-mature) Pio Cesare 1978 and the beautifully rounded, soft, warming and slightly more modern Mascarello Monprivato 1985. In fact, all of the Barolos were pretty outstanding examples of their kind, and left the Barbaresco slightly trailing in their wake (though it would undoubtedly still shine amongst lesser company).
So where is the link between expensive Bordeaux and Barolo? Well, I would be willing to bet that none of the wines we enjoyed that evening cost more than £30-£40 (mostly from auction, I guess) and some may have been considerably less. But make no mistake, these were wines fit to grace any dinner table - and far more enjoyable than 95% of all the Bordeaux I have ever drunk (including a fair proportion of classed growths). In fact, the greatest expense involved in this particular dinner was surely Andy's trip to London last Friday - seemingly made with the sole intention of "scoring" that fabulous white truffle!
So thanks to Andy and his lovely lady Jo, for a truly wonderful evening of (very) fine food, and some really outstanding wines - I really do feel blessed to have such generous and welcoming friends, whose company I value greatly. And I think they (and all the others present) will join me in saying you can keep your expensive Bore-deaux, whilst the rest of us enjoy wines with far more interest and character that don't cost the earth. ;-)