Learning More About Grands Crus and a Fine Dining Dinner.
For a couple of years now I’ve been lucky enough to go to the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux 2012 vintage showcase at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Although I find it fascinating to taste some of the finest wines in the world, effectively as they are born, nevertheless, without any formal wine training, it’s a challenging experience.
The winemakers themselves have only an inkling of what their wines will mature into. Of course they are are aware of whether it’s been easy vintage. They know what measures they’ve put in place to guarantee the best possible results. But, testing a two-year-old wine that is intended to age for at least a further six years doesn’t necessarily produce easily predictable results. One wine maker explained to me that a wine can taste ‘ready’ quite early on and then apparently regress. Others which really are not palatable so young will produce fine wines as they age. Add to that the number of wine makers, at the Royal Opera House there are over 130 estates, many showcasing more than one wine and it’s easy for a novice like me to get confused.
The CA Grands Crus is an organisation which manages the Credit Agricole Group’s wine properties located in three of France’s finest wine producing regions: Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhône Valley. So there is some overlap with the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux showcase and in fact I remembered tasting a couple of the wines a few weeks earlier there. But, this dinner was a much smaller affair and a chance to really get to understand the wines.
We were joined for the evening by Tierry Budin, the Managing Director of CA Grands Crus. He explained that although his family were originally from Champagne (and owned Perrier Jouet), he’d worked for Seagram until their fine wines were sold to Allied Domeq in 2001. The CA Grand Crus was set up in 2006 to develop the interests of Credit Agricole’s fine wine properties and this evening was our opportunity to explore the wines, discover what to expect of the 2012 vintage and find out a little more about what distinguishes each wine.
We started with a tasting of the 2012 vintage. Chateau Blaignan is a Medoc – Cru Bourgeois. The tasting notes for all wines we tasted, reflect a particularly challenging growing season with a rainy cold spring, followed by a dry summer, resulting in a late harvest. Château Grand-Puy Ducasse is a Pauillac, a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and an exceptionally fine wine, which will improve with age. The unexpected winner for me from the reds was Chateau Meyney, a Saint-Estephe and as such a lesser-known appellation, relatively newly classified. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot creates a lush, robust red wine that I’d love to try with game or beef. Our Margaux was Chateau La Tour de Mons, again a late harvest vintage this time with a higher proportion of Merlot than normal because the Cabernet Sauvignon had suffered from the weather.
We also tried one sweet white wine,Chateau de Rayne Vigneau, a Sauternes which was lovely but seemed very light.
Dinner was something of a revelation, I haven’t been to the Five Fields restaurant before, perhaps because they’ve only been open for a year. The private dining room was delightful. Intimate without being in the least bit claustrophobic, there was a lounge area just outside where we could enjoy a drink and some canapes before dinner.
Of course, our food was matched with more of the Grands Crus wines. After a selection of canapes in the lounge area and an amuse bouche of onion soup, we started with what on paper sounded like a classic Orkney scallop pairing served with cauliflower and pistachio. A lovely dish, it was the addition of the buttery pistachio to the mixture really lifted the plate into something extra-ordinary. We paired with this a dry white Bordeaux, Le Sec De Rayne Vigneau 2013, which worked very well for me.
Next was a dish of Herdwick mutton. A preconception about mutton – that it is likely to be chewy and need long, slow cooking was shattered in an instant. The mutton was served rare and was deliciously flavoured. Herdwick mutton is a PDO meat from Cumbria that is reknown for a depth of flavour gained by the free-range lake district sheep. Served with celeriac, mustard and sprouting broccoli, this was a fine plate of food which paired well with both the Chateau Meyney Saint-Estaphe 2000 and the Chateau Grand-Puy 2006 Pauillac.
A pre-dessert of sorbet was followed by a lemony dessert platter, which worked very well with the Chateau de Rayne Vigneau 1er Grand Cru Classe Sauternes 2007. Deliciously lemony with an elegance and richness that finished the meal off exceptionally well, I could imagine drinking this as an aperitif too, or with a starter of foie gras.
All in, a wonderfully informative and educational evening, enhanced by the fine food served at The Five Fields restaurant. Many thanks to CA Grands Crus for the opportunity to learn more about their wines and for their hospitality.
CA Grands Crus wines are available from various stockists in the UK.