The last bell of term has rung and that’s it for the Spectator Wine School for another year. Conducted via Zoom over four successive Thursdays, the sellout course was expertly taught by Laura Taylor, marketing director of our partners Private Cellar. Truancy rates were almost nonexistent — but then three 75cl bottles of wine per pupil per class is quite an incentive. Our learners even got a commemorative edition of the late, great Michael Broadbent’s seminal Wine Tasting, published by the Académie du Vin Library, as a primer.
Each 90-minute session was devoted to one of four major grape varieties, namely Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, and thanks to Mrs Taylor’s genial, lightly worn expertise, we learned an enormous amount. Our students were a diligent, A-grade bunch and all passed with flying colours, receiving a graduation certificate signed by the headmaster (Mr Nelson) as proof. And who wouldn’t want one of those hanging on their loo wall? We tasted excellent wines during our studies and I felt it only fair that these bottles should be made available to the PTA and the wider Spectator readership while stocks last.
Our first class was devoted to Chardonnay and Mrs Taylor began show-and-tell with the keen, mineral but succulent 2019 Lamblin et Fils Chablis (1, £18.50), followed by the rich, luscious, rewarding 2019 Montagny 1er Cru Les Bassets (2, £29.00) from Laurent Cognard (a case of which I’ve tucked away myself) and the stylish, beautifully balanced 2018 Aristea Chardonnay (3, £26.95) from maverick Martin Krajewski in Stellenbosch, South Africa.
Sauvignon Blanc was perfectly represented by the 2020 Sancerre Les Celliers Saint-Romble (4, £19.66), a classic Loire Valley SB from the great André Dezat et Fils; the tropical yet subtle and elegant 2019 Waipara West Sauvignon Blanc (5, £15.25) from New Zealand and the creamy, oak-aged 2018 Aristea Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon (6, £24.95) blend from cool climate Elgin in the Western Cape.
Mrs Taylor’s Cabernet class encompassed the silky, scented and deeply seductive 2016 Ch. Haut Breton Larigaudière (7, £34.25) from Margaux, the mouth-fillingly rich 2018 Lenton Brae Lady Douglas Cabernet Sauvignon (8, £20.86) from Margaret River, Western Australia and the 2018 Aristea Cabernet Sauvignon (9, £29.95), a five-star belter from Stellenbosch, as judged by the 2021 Platter’s South African Wine Guide.
The final class was all about the heartbreak grape itself, Pinot Noir. The 2018 Beaune 1er Cru Les Sceaux, Domaine Rois Mages (10, £29.86) had the class in raptures, showing exactly why fine red burgundy is so, well, fine. The 2019 Aristea Pinot Noir (11, £32.95) showed why South Africa’s Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is rapidly becoming one of the world’s sweet spots for this capricious variety, and the Henri Chauvet Blanc de Noirs Brut NV (12, £26.55) showed not only how well Pinot performs in Champagne but also what tremendous value can be found with small, artisanal producers. I’ve made myself hoarse over the years shouting about this immaculate fizz and I was delighted to see the class lap it up so enthusiastically.
The above wines are all excellent examples of their particular grape varieties and winemaking techniques and — crucially — they all pass the strictest of all oenological tests: is this wine good to drink? You betcha!
The wines are offered in unmixed half dozens or a mixed dozen (one bottle of each) and delivery is free to the UK mainland.
Any pupils interested in enrolling in the Spectator Wine School next term should apply to Chloe Smith (Mrs) in the Bursar’s office or visit www.spectator.co.uk/tastings.