Steven the Conquerer or the Brut of Bride Valley

A Sheepless Moment of Bliss

Steven Spurrier, who provided the World of Wine its Cinderella moment with the dramatic playoff known as the ‘Judgement of Paris’ in 1976, recently celebrated his 70th birthday with a splendidly joyous event in Dorset.

The man who bought the Wines of the World into the World of Wine has not finished surprising us all just yet.

Bride Valley Vineyard Litton Cheney Dorset

Steven’s latest bout of lateral applied thought has involved meticulously removing the charmingly quaint population of sheep, (he is fortunate that sheep do not live in caravans), from the superbly exposed amphitheatre shaped hillside directly above the church of Litton Cheney, itself a storybook like village on the Dorset coast outside Bridport. France is nowhere in sight.

Cheeky enough, you might think, to have removed his wife’s livestock, but this transformation was to involve convincing Bella Spurrier, who is clearly running for Sainthood, to learn to drive a tractor & to plant 3,5 hectars of vines there where once her lambs learnt to do the Cha-Cha.

Steven is convinced that the band of Kimmeridgian soil, so fundamental to the quality of the wines of Chablis & Champagne and that originates here, will be the key justification for his bold & brutal act. The rest is down to Global Warming, for even in the South of England the sun comes out on Sunday.

Bride Valley Vineyard Chardonnay Grapes

The Bride Valley Vineyard, still in its infancy, will harvest its first few grapes in October 2011, from ’3rd leaf’ vines of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier & Chardonnay. Steven’s aim is to make a classy, up market ‘Methode Champenois’ and, based on the evidence currently visible in his beautiful vineyard, will succeed brilliantly.

The three year Chardonnay vines look particularly happy, clearly having established themselves in a manner not unlike the French community of South Kensington. While the crop from these young vines seemed modest this year, I am sure there would have been eager takers of these healthy grapes across the English Channel.

Dom Perignon could not have imagined this

Steven & Bella plan to plant a further 1,5 hectares over the next couple of years, giving the production 60% Chardonnay with an even split between Pinot Meunier & Pinot Noir.

I wonder if, 950 years after ‘all that’, Spurrier the Great shall not remove his Crown Caps & head back to the Continent to do battle once more. The man of whom it has been said “definitively ended the 100 years war”, may just be about to start a new one.

Willi’s Wedding Gift Ideas for William & Kate

I suppose that, when this charming couple, to whom I wish much long overdue happiness, are married that Kate will possibly refer to the Prince as ‘Willi’ in affectionate tones.
There are just hours left & I have only now realized that I have left this problem rather late. The obvious choice ‘fit for a King’ would be the 1996 Mr. King dressed so appropriately in the colours of the Union. It would go remarkably well in the Royal study.

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Romantic dining in Paris

Willi's Bottle Art CollectionSteven Spurrier invited me to help his delightful niece to find a suitably romantic restaurant for dinner last month. Overlooking the fact that he is paid up member of Macéo, which has some of the lovlyiest dining spaces in the Capital, Steven, who is normally a picture of moderation & balanced commentary, managed to claim that Macéo was ‘Very Romantic’, but not quite romantic enough for the lovely niece in question. It is well known that I have a thick skin, so I brushed this churlish comment off with good grace and made some suggestions to the young lady -

Romance is happily just like dessert. So difficult to know the sins of others ! If one eliminates the ‘very Parisian’ bistrots & brasseries for being to pacy & noisy, one could by the same measure eliminate a lot of the newer trendy places on the basis of them not being any where near warmed up enough for romance. Here are a few places & a good bar, always useful.

The bar at the Hyatt Vendome, just across the road from Tiffany’s & a stones throw for the ‘go straight to ruin’ jewelers on the place Vendome, is a perfect spot to set the tone, even if  the stores in question should mercifully be closed at the hour of your aperitif. The bar is classy & quietly trendy, they pour good champagne & a few choice wines as well as making cocktails, providing snacks etc.

A short walk separates you from the beautiful & elegant main dining room at Pierre à la Fontaine Gaillon which is an obvious choice for dinner. Cosy, softly lit & relatively intimate, the cuisine is unfussy, pure Classic French & generally top notch. Wine list most satisfactory. Owned by Gerrard Depardieu, who also has a cute ‘Ecailler’ just the other side of the place, Pierre can draw the ‘in crowd’. Lovely terrace in front of the fountain for those sun kissed days.

La Table du Lancaster in the Rue de Berri is very pretty, small, discreet & très comfortable. In the summer there is a terrace on which to dine too. One can ‘prendre l’aperitif’ in their charming salon. The culinary input comes from Michel Troisgros & the offering is inventive, lively & modern from a classic base. The wine list is surprisingly inclusive & up to date. Service can be marginally Daliesque but, as you would expect from Mick’s favorite Parisian hotel, is capable of coping with almost any situation.

La Fable de la Fontaine in the 7th is minuscule, but unlike most French bistrots du gendre has avoided the temptation to pack in an extra 3 couverts. Decorated in chocolate & orange tones, la Fable offers some beautifully prepared, mainly fish based dishes with cutting edge appeal. The wine list is generous & well chosen. Try for a corner table away from the bar. Terrace dining in the summer.
In the 9th Casa Olympe is fun & lovely, but you will share your romance with your neighbors. In les Halles Pharamond has an amazing dining room, but is possibly a little hearty for romance, the culinary offering here being better suited to “dinner with pals”. Terrace in the Summer. Behind Notre Dame Les Itiniraires on the Left bank is a place that has it all. Modern, but cosy, great ambience, an alert culinary offering, marvelously democratically priced wine list. You can stroll along the banks of the Seine after dinner too.

Thomas Jefferson scores 100 points on the collectors scale

070903_r16412_p233I have always considered people who collect wine in an obsessive wall-to-wall manner to be harmless Bluebeards. How else could one describe people whose pleasure & passion consists in locking up living organisms, solely to possess them ? In my view, regardless of its provenance, its perceived value or for that matter its rarity, wine has been cultivated, nurtured in nature and made, simply to be appreciated, shared and like any other comestible, consumed with pleasure before during or after its fleeting moment of prime. The notion of transformation into iconic status equals death, pillar of salt & inevitable worthlessness.

I have recently been reminded in a curious & gripping manner of how unsuitable wine is in the role of collector item. In an enthrallingly written piece the New Yorker brings to light the existence of large quantities of collector greats of historical significance and imense perceived value that are now considered to be counterfeit bottlings. The brilliant piece details the quest of an American collector for truth with regard to the millions of $ of wine crowding his cellar. It appears as if large parts of Bill Koch’s (coke to his friends) historical collection and by deduction, the collections of others, are in reality cunningly presented 100 point score fakes. Obtained from highly reputable sources. If one quotes Christies, of ‘inestimable’ value.

It is one thing to have a ‘reproduction’ painting that most people will still appreciate for its beauty, quite another to know that, if you dare, the mysterious bottle you are going to ingurgitate – on the basis that you might as well pop the cork, the bottle now being worthless – is of dubious origin, could even have been made in CHINA. Raise your glass ? Well perhaps, on reflection, no. We will keep this one for a special occasion.

One can reasonably conclude that 200-year-old bottles of Grand Vin are simply, when one can find them, likely to be past their best, deceased or simply faked. Where dose this leave our wine collector ?

Our ancestors did, it is true, hoard wine in worrying quantities, laying down far more than was necessary for development of gout and generously for future generations. We would be short sighted to overlook the fact that they always did this with an enjoyment finality in view. After all, where is the thrill in showing your friends a great bottle of vinegar ?

Long before the arrival of counterfeit Magnums of great Bordeaux I was at an informal dinner with Steven Spurrier & a fairly young but wine appreciative bunch of friends. Steven, impulsive as ever, decided once the evening had warmed up a little, that we should taste a Mouton 1945 from a Magnum. He simply interrupted the animation of our late evening burble to say we had one of the most extraordinary wines ever made in our glasses & that it would be a mistake to let it pass unnoticed. Risk taking is part of life. Steven shared an iconic and priceless wine, especially in magnum, a decade before the hype. It was a memorable moment in our young lives, showing us how amazing a great mature Medoc could be, providing an insight and benchmark of excellence for discernment & appreciation, not available to those who simply gloat at their fine collections.

So corkscrews out please, Hardy Rodenstock had one thing right in my view, “you don’t spit history”, was his line.