SPECTATOR WINE CLUB
Ilove to visit Berry Bros. & Rudd’s shop at the bottom of St James’s Street, London. In the window there might be a few choice bottles — a Methuselah of Château d’Yquem sticks in the mind — but indoors there is nothing so vulgar as merchandise. Instead there are sloping desks reminiscent of a Victorian accountant’s, and here you may discuss your oenophilic needs. Creaking stairs and corridors lead to small rooms containing a selection of the finest clarets and burgundies behind locked glass, like Ming vases or Fabergé eggs. There are private chambers in which you might see a Domaine de la Romanée Conti, or a Petrus of a particularly good year, all dusty, all empty, as if you had missed the most amazing party by only a decade or so.
This month’s offer includes great classics, together with wines that may be unfamiliar, but which carry on Berry Brothers’ tradition of selling only wines that they feel match the standards they have set over the past 300 years. They are not especially cheap, but there are generous discounts of 10 per cent or more for Spectator readers. I am confident you will be delighted by them all.
Domaine de Coudoulet Viognier 20041 is a delicious, crisp, vigorous white wine. Viognier is presently a very fashionable grape, chosen by those who have perhaps enjoyed as much Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc as they need for the time being. Its finest exemplar is the fabulous Condrieu, and BBR does a superb example of that at six times this price of £6.70. I have tasted lesser Condrieus which were actually no better. Perfect as an aperitif, with seafood or fruit.
The Tokay Pinot Gris 20032, from Domaine Lucas and André Rieffel in Alsace, is a stunner. The sheer weight of flavour will astonish you. We fell over ourselves detecting the different tastes to be found here (‘liquorice’ and ‘molasses’ were among the wilder suggestions), yet it is bone dry. A sumptuous wine, and only £8.50.
The roasting summer of 2003 created serious problems for winemakers. Some triumphed; others failed. Patrice Rion is one who succeeded, and his Bourgogne Blanc3 is beautifully balanced, smooth, ever so slightly oaky, and with that perfumed lift you find in burgundies at prices far higher than this £9.90.
As regular readers know, one of my selfappointed tasks is to find a good-value claret. It’s not easy. I spent hours at the Decanter magazine Bordeaux exhibition the other day, and I fear that what struck me most was the ordinariness of many of the wines shown. I’d ask the retail price and on being told £35 or £50, or whatever, would find it hard not to accidentally spray the proud vigneron with his own product. ‘Do you realise,’ I wanted to shout, ‘for that money you could buy three bottles of a better wine from Tuscany or northern Spain?’ So it was a great pleasure to find this Ch. Peybonhomme-les-Tours from Premières Côtes de Blaye 20014 offered by Berry Bros. for a mere £6.75. It is rich with fruit and has matured enough to carry real weight.
Even more delicious, though slightly more expensive, is Berrys’ own Extra Ordinary Claret 20015 made for them by Jean-Michel Cazes. Their Good Ordinary Claret has been a huge seller over the years. I once saw friends of the late Roy Jenkins produce three bottles to drink with him in a pub garden, and thought, ‘Hmm, it’s pretty good, but not perhaps quite up to the Jenkins standard.’ This is well up to the Jenkins standard, it is full and rich and smoky. At the Bordeaux tasting I sampled wines half as good for twice as much as this at £9.90.
Finally, the Barbera d’Alba from Cigliuti in Piedmont 20026 is a first-rate example of what the Italians can do these days. Ripe cherries, cedar, tobacco, spices, real fragrance — a truly lovely wine and, again, excellent value at a discounted £9.00.
Delivery, as ever, is free, and there is a sample case containing two bottles of each wine. C