Mark Lewin of IFG International Limited invited me to join him at Berry Bros. & Rudd, 3 St James’s Street for an evening entitled ‘France versus the New World.’
The Napoleon Cellar is a particularly appropriate venue for such an occasion as it was here that Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, as Napoleon III, founded the Deuxième Empire in 1851. It remained to be seen whether France would prevail this time around on the battleground generously provided by IFG.
I started with a white Burgundy: 2009 Mâcon-Cruzille, Clos des Vignes du Maynes, Soufrandière, Bret Bros. (£24.50). Plenty of oak on the nose, balanced with a good dose of citrus fruit and acidity on the palate; but, overall a touch one-dimensional. I preferred the less expensive Australian 2008 Toolangi Vineyards, Estate Chardonnay, Yarra Valley, Victoria (£18.50) as it offered a richer range of ripe fruit on the nose and palate. In addition, the oak was far less dominant adding complexity and length rather than overpowering the wine as with the Mâcon-Cruzille making it an easy call to give the New World its first point.
Pinot Noir was far closer. I expected 2007 Nuits-St. Georges, Clos de la Maréchale, 1er Cru, Domaine Mugnier (£49.00) to walk it: buckets of red fruit on the nose; floral characteristics on the palate; good weight; firm tannins; and a good length. I really enjoyed drinking this wine with several of the spicier canapés. The 2008 Mountford Estate Pinot Noir, Waipara (£38.95) was, however, not going to concede without a fight: intense ripe red fruit; impressive structure; silky tannins; acidity; and length. The Mountford Estate was declared the winner; first, on the basis of value for money, and secondly the fact that it could be enjoyed more easily without food making it 2-0 to the New World.
The playing field was far from level for the final round: Bordeaux blends. Australia’s 2007 Yarra Yering Dry Red No.1., Yarra Valley, Victoria (£51.00) did not stand a chance against a mature Bordeaux Second Growth from a legendary vintage: 1996 Ch. Gruaud Larose, 2ème Cru Classé, St. Julien (£118.00). As much as I love Yarra Yering, having taken delivery the same day of a case of 2005, bought through Berry’s online brokerage platform BBX, the density of black fruit, liquorice, tobacco and sweet spice flavours of the Gruaud Larose prevailed.
The final result 2-1 might appear to favour the New World; however, the French, as ever, have a joker to play. As all of the New World wines are aged in French oak a rebalancing of the scores would seem to be fair; suggesting a score draw as a more politic conclusion. Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte would, no doubt have, approved.