Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Wine Tasting: The Oxford Wine Company

Hello all!

Last Friday we attended a tasting in Witney, Oxfordshire, held by The Oxford Wine Company. My brother and his wife arranged tickets and kindly put us up for bed and breakfast as they live nearby. They came recommended by my brother as he buys wine there often and we had a cracking bottle of Meerlust Red 2007. I've browsed the website in the past and been impressed with the range so we arrived expecting good things. Plus, the promise of discount and ticket-price-back on any 12-bottle order whetted the appetite.

With 73 wines on show and only two hours before our booked table at a nearby pub, time was of the essence! We met up with some great friends of my brother and his wife and tucked in. The plan was to start with the whites and then move on to the lighter reds and eventually the blockbusters.  However, that went tits-up pretty early on as the place, Langdale Hall, was packed after about 15 minutes of sampling.

The first minor disappointment were the glasses. Wide open goblet type glasses which, although polished nicely, were absolutely crap for smelling the wines. An immediate faux pas for such an event. I wasn't expecting Riedel glasses or anything but surely, some cheap ISO tasting glasses could have been supplied? They did have jugs of water on hand at all tables and a big stock at the back, along with palate-cleansing crackers; redeeming themselves slightly. 

The second disappointment was that the accompanying 15% discount would only be valid for purchases made on the night, by pen and paper, and only for the wines displayed. A bit pushy I thought, and perhaps a bit naughty as most punters would be sozzled by the end and a little freer with their cash. As a result, they lost my custom. 

It turned out to be slightly different to what I expected. Instead of just T.O.W.C. staff peddling their wares, many tables were manned by the suppliers who supply the wines to T.O.W.C. This was, on the whole, great as the suppliers were knowledgeable about the wines and most knew the growers personally, so you got that little bit more of a background story. However, as the alcohol coursed through my veins in ever-increasing quantities, there were times when I really wanted to say, "Look, just pour the bloody wine!", however, restraint prevailed and I just nodded politely, smiled and thrust forward the crap glass.

Anyway, enough of this piffle, what were the wines like? Well, I won't try and score them in my usual style as I don't believe it would be fair. Each one was only tasted via a mouthful, or maybe two from the more generous hosts (cheers to the very knowledgeable Scot manning table 12, Damon I think, and the chap pouring the Drouhin Cote de Beaune! Lee, maybe?) and obviously not smelled properly. I will however list the ones that made a great impression. Oh and apologies, the brochure did not list any vintage information; another blinding faux pas and disappointment number 3!

I managed 35. These were the best:
(NB: All prices show the 15% discount so you need to divide by 0.85 to get the current price!)

A lovely, fruity Pouilly Fuissé, Domaine Ferret was pretty steep at £24.64 but was blown away by another Pouilly Fuissé, the delicious, smoky, nutty, vanilla and creamy fruited Domaine des Sansonnets at £12.74. A decent sparkler, the Jacques Charlet Cremant de Bourgogne was almost like a blanc-de-blancs Champagne and reasonable at £11.89. 

A very fresh, fruity Soave Classico (Cantina de Negrar) was only £6.25. The Edge, Pinot Gris from Escarpment had lots of fruit and a complex minerality at £9.31 alongside a svelte Gruner Veltliner from Gerlissen at £9.82. There was a classic Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from Mirror Lake, oozing passion fruit, gooseberry and a grassy nose (£7.44) but was trumped by a Loire Sauvignon; the Sauvignon de Touraine Le Haut Perron from Domaine Guy Allion at £7.64, deliciously fresh, fruity and minerally. Superb. 

Chablis La Lotte and Macon Charnay, Cuvee a L'Angienne were pure expressions of Chardonnay (£9.99 and £8.46 respectively) but were followed by a "mother-of-God-this-is-good!" Meursault, from the famous Domaine Bouchard Pere et Fils. Stunning. Superb balance. But, a salary-sapping £25.49. Definitely a contender for our Xmas Dinner Wine this year. A simple Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Domaine Jean-Jacques Girard had plenty of ageing potential and delicious red fruits but a little expensive at £13.39 I found.

A decent Malbec came in the form of the Tapiz Reserva. Nice violetty/black fruits combine with a tannic structure to make it last well. The Cote de Beaune, Joseph Drouhin was sublime even from the relatively poor year of 2007 (one of the few I remembered to note down). Great fruit purity and again, built to last. Pretty steep at £21.21. A MASSIVE Californian Pinot came next, the Byron Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley. A £19.51 flavour bomb, with big, sweet tannins but ultimately too much alcohol, too hot. It might calm down after a few years in bottle. Two decent, and much better value Pinots came via the Casablanca Valley in Chile, the Nostros Pinot Noir Reserva at £6.54 just beating the more expensive Duette Premium Pinot Noir (£9.34) for silky dark fruit.

A contender for wine of the night came in the form of a 2001 Rioja, the Vina Arana Reserva. Sublimely aged into creamy vanilla and strawberries, still with a lot of life left in it. Another contender was the Jim Barry "The McRae Wood" Shiraz from the Clare Valley. Stunning, big, juicy, spicy fruit. Absolutely amazing; the only downfall was the price £22.94 but if I'm honest, totally worth it [Note to self; calm down, this is supposed to be a Frugal wine blog!]. The only Lebanese wine worth its salt was the Massaya Gold Reserve which was very similar to the sublime Chateau Musar but much more expensive (£29.33 vs about £18) so not really worth it.

Wines from Virginia were described with fervour. The smooth, melony, peachy Viognier from Breaux Vineyards also had a minerality not often seen (£15.17). A sublime and very "Right Bank" Topiary Cabernet Franc/Merlot from the Boxwood Winery (£21.21) was matched by an equally good Veritas Petit Verdot from Monticello; big, chocolaty, smoky, toasty plums and the best value at £14.88.

The final table heralded a French Riesling (Alsace from memory) by Paul & Phillipe Zink. Very nice minerality (£9.77). A very savoury, and unusually barrel-fermented, Lismore Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa had green pepper and grass notes foremost, with underlying zingy fruit (£16.11). A stunning White Blend from A.A. Badenhorst was very "Burgundian", nicely oaked (£19.54) and probably the best value wine of the night; the Secateurs Red Blend, again by Badenhorst Family Wines and £8.93. I correctly identified it as a GSM blend (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre), despite it being the last wine I tasted (and being slightly inebriated), to the delight of the supplier, who was also moderately impressed that I was still standing

Obviously, the entire range at T.O.W.C. is much bigger and this only represents a small portion. Overall I am impressed. Hopefully, they will honour my £10-off 12 bottles that is stated on the ticket for an Internet/phone order. If not, then I can take it or leave it.

We headed off for food to cap off a superb night. Great company and some stunning wines truly made up for some of the shortcomings. Thanks again to my bro and his wife, and their friends who welcomed us. We will, more than likely, go again next year. 

As always, speak to you soon!


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