One good thing about starting my late sixties is that no one now asks me to be serious about wine. The editor of this illustrious journal said ~ "Just one of your amusing pieces, Jules." That is, at my age you are not expected to come up with some smart novel judgement on our ever-expanding viticultural experiences. That is left up to the Masters of Wine and the youthful exuberant tasters whose bewilderingly florid descriptions of wine are much loved by today's wine-cogniscenti.
On the down side, I have a feeling of being marginalised although my olfactory memory and palate are highly tuned after more than a half century of fine Claret and Burgundy. However, I have had two disasters this year. I attended a blind Champagne tasting challenge in a city restaurant and entered my own House, Philippe Brugnon, against the likes of Veuve Clicquot, Laurent-Perrier, Pol Roger, Taittinger and MoÃ«t & Chandon. I should explain that a blind tasting, as opposed to a sighted one, is one in which the bottles are covered so that the taster does not see the label or any other give-away as to the origin of the wine. The organisers of this tasting were very sneaky by throwing in a couple of English sparklers - Chapel Down Pinot Reserve and Nyetimber. Well, I completely failed to identify my own champagne and actually gave higher marks to what turned out to be not a favourite of mine. I won't say which for legal reasons. I did identify Chapel Down, as it was completely different from all 16 other sparkling wines, and I gave high marks to Nyetimber about which I wrote " English? If so, Caveat Champenois - good, full and well balanced acid and fruit."
My second howler was to muddle completely a group of Burgundies, selecting a string of Mercureys, Givrys and Rullys over the more senior Pinot Noirs of the Côte d'Or. Having boasted my reputation for a knowledge of every appellation along the Route National 74, I suddenly gave higher praise to the Côte Chalonnais. Forgivable, I suppose, as the wines were exceptional and many producers, like Domaines Devillard, based in Mercurey, have the famous Domaines des Perdrix of Nuits-Saint Georges as well as Château de Chamirey in tow. Anyway, I got out of that one by buying both Perdrix and Chamirey. As my father used to say ~ "You can always get out by paying. So pay up, dear boy, look sweet, and bugger off!"
One important thing comes out of all this. Blind tastings are so good. Of course, the humble are often exalted and the mighty are humbled. But that isn't necessarily the point of blind tasting. The purpose is to get an unbiased view as well as an expression of the worthiness of a wine. My rosé champagne came second out of 56 others in a blind tasting organised by Wine and Spirit Magazine, but a distinguished lady Master of Wine, a few weeks later on, marked it down - after sampling it, label showing. In fact she had little good to say about the pink champagne of many unknown houses, the non brands if you like. She enthused predictably about Krug Rosé and had good words about well-known brands available in well-known places and supermarkets. This isn't the first time that one of my wines has been praised in a blind tasting by experts and then denigrated in a non-blind tasting; initially it was an MW in the Observer. The point I am making is that blind tastings are the only real test of a wine's quality in comparison with others. All too often, we buy with our eyes for the known label, instead of the nose and mouth. Some buy a wine simply because it is expensive and, therefore, it must be good. This is very noticeable in restaurants when expense accounts are operating. It may possibly be that wine writers are continuing the myths by pandering to the consumers of brands. They can get caught out when it comes to tasting all newcomers and are confused by the choice.
So I can be serious about wine; at least I can be about selecting it. I do have a major snag though. As I represent a number of French growers I am expected to market their wines every vintage come what may. Naturally, not every product passes the test. But I have been pleasantly surprised when a wine that I thought pretty mediocre receives high praise and an order follows. It just goes to show that I should have tasted it myself - blind! I also have some very good news for our readers; The Oxford Wine Company only accepts a wine on to its listings when tasted blind by a panel of the company's staff. So you can be assured that wines don't creep on to the shelves only by dint of being a brand that is resting on its laurels of past glory.
After a career in the military Julian White joined the wine trade and is an agent for a number of wine châteaux and domaines in France. He received his appointment as British Ambassador for the Confrérie du Sabre d'Or in 1999 in Paris and was made a Chevalier-Sabreur. He started the British Chapter of this organisation and held the first Gala event in London the following May. The 17th Gala Event (The Grand Chapitre Britannique) has just taken place and there are now over 5000 Sabreurs, with some 250 Chevaliers and Maitre-Sabreurs and 30 Officers and Commanders who have been invested in the Champagne Order. Julian, who is now a Commandeur de la Confrérie, is one of 20 ambassadors of the Order around the world.