A Tasting of BA’s Club World Wines

The Bay at Night. A gratuitous photo, not particularly related to the content of the article, but a testament to the quality of my wife's photographic skills.

The Bay at Night. A gratuitous photo, not particularly related to the content of the article, but a testament to the quality of my wife’s photographic skills.

There are two ways to afford to travel in Club Class on a long haul flight. One is to get a proper job (and by this I mean one not in the wine trade) and pay the full price, the other is to marry someone who works for an airline. On a recent trip to California I was afforded the luxury of just such an upgrade on a BA flight (so you see which of the options I chose). This was worth it both for the bed it provided, which can only be described as a magnificent, jet lag eliminating, luxury, and the quality of the wines offered. On a similar scale, the wine would rate as more of a very welcome treat, but it was perfectly suited to relieving the monotony of long-haul flight, and a welcome change from the pleasant, but uninspiring Cotes de Gascogne Colombard I usually encounter on aircraft

I didn’t set out with the intention of trying to assess any difference that altitude has on the wines, but they don’t mess around on BA, and Taittinger Brut Reserve NV was served as soon as we had sat down, and the whole way through the climb, so a sort of impromptu comparison took place. This Champagne is a long-time favourite of mine, creamy but not too much so, toasty but not overdone, with Chardonnay elegance shining through; excellent, and perfectly balanced, at sea level, even better at 18,000 feet, and downright superb at 36,000 (or was that the second refill talking)?

I tasted (that is tasted properly, before drinking with lunch) all 4 wines on the list. All were well selected, with a well-deserved place on the list.

Ravioli and Sancerre

Ravioli and Sancerre

Sancerre 2013, Château de Thauvenay was a high fruit version, with pineapple and ripe acidity no grassiness in evidence.

Clos Pegase Carneros Chardonnay 2012 was beautifully peachy, with a rich, creamy butterscotch palate and sherbet acidity, but definitely moderate by Californian standards, and a good food pairing with a duo of salmons.

Flor de Campo Pinot Noir 2012, Central Coast, California, is in fact from the south of the state, near Los Angeles, but cooled by that Pacific fog which pervades the coast, and creates cool climate conditions. This showed an expected attractive ripe red fruit, a hint of spice, chocolate oak, but not overdone, and great balance, restraint even.

Steak and Medoc

Steak and Medoc

Château des Cabans 2011, Cru Bourgeois Médoc was poised, with ripe berry fruits and a hint of violets, earthy, mid-weight, and with spicy oak. Although Cabernet dominant, it showed quite fluffy tannins, which went very well with my steak.

A memorable flight, lovely wines, great company, good food (it’s not every day you get to say that about airline food), and a start to a California experience that culminated in a visit to Ridge, described elsewhere. All you have to decide is which route to take to Club Class. A difficult decision; both options have attributes in common, of which troublesome but rewarding might be the best summary.

THE AGM OF THE ASSOCIATION OF WINE EDUCATORS AT LONDON CRU, 19TH MAY 2014

44885_LDNCRUsyraharrives2013015_CreditIanStirling (1)It doesn’t sound too auspicious as a title, does it? Don’t worry, although the AWE AGM, as successful as usual, was of limited interest to Harpers readers, the venue, London Cru, was fascinating. And that’s my real subject.

London Cru, London’s first Urban Winery is the new venture of the unstoppable Cliff Roberson. This concept has been going a while in the US and Canada, but the UK seems to be lagging a few years behind on this. Roberson is setting a great example for future ventures, and I hope we see more of them. Cited in Seagrave Road, SW6, the winery occupies the site previously used by Roberson for his warehouse. The concept is not to farm a vineyard in Fulham; I can only see problems with the idea of planting vines in neighbouring Brompton Cemetery. No, London Cru ship handpicked grapes (to avoid damage to bunches) from the Continent in refrigerated trucks, to be vinified in SW6. Adam Green: Business Development Director, proudly guided us round the tiny winery, with technical questions fielded by their energetic Australian winemaker, Gavin Monery.

Here is how it worked this year: four different grapes were shipped from three producers in France and Italy. Two in Roussillon: Château de Corneilla supplied Chardonnay and Syrah, Mas Coutelou contributed organically farmed Cabernet Sauvignon. Then Piedmont: G. Codero, near Alba, brought organic Barbera; substituting a Loire Sauvignon and Merlot from Bordeaux, cancelled due to problems with the levels of rot (remember, of course, that this was the ‘difficult’ 2013 vintage). Despite the longer travel, they still managed to get the Barbera from the vine to SW6 in 48 hours. In the future, they hope to add more regions, or revert to French only supply.

Gavin describes himself as pragmatic, from my experience a very antipodean trait and one we had already seen with the supply decisions, and was also very open about treatments, additions, subtractions, etc. to the wines (something you don’t always experience on the other side of the Channel). Space precludes a full report here, but in any case the complete, and again very honest winemaking description is available at London Cru’s smart website: www.londoncru.co.uk. A brief summary is that London Cru intend their wines to be drunk young, so they do not work them too much, aiming for fruity, juicy wines for early drinking. They use oak, but sparingly, and never exclusively new.

We enjoyed a barrel sample tasting. The Chardonnay was still quite oak sappy, but had lovely fresh citrus tang (no need to re-acidify this year), the Syrah tight, with playful acidity, and a hint of aniseed greenness, the Cabernet Sauvignon more substantial, black fruited and oaky, and the Barbera a bit of a beast; rustic and chewy, with typical sour red cherry flavours, and grainy tannins. Promising wines, soon to be bottled and sold.

Some of us might have suspected that this was a bit of a PR exercise on Cliff Roberson’s part to see his name in print again. In that respect, it has succeeded already. As well, however, London Cru have a slick team working to get some return on what must have been a pretty substantial investment: Adam Green, clearly keen to start selling the wines; Gavin Monery, hugely professional, honest, and clearly striving for, and achieving, quality, and Jana Scholtzova, Head of Events. On this subject, the winery is already open to the public, with events for up to 200 and visits for up to 20 people available – educators take note! I will certainly be taking a group to visit London’s first commercial winery, and I am sure other members of the Association of Wine Educators will too. Rock on, Cliff!