Clive Platman enjoys a cut-price tasting of quality vintages.
Any avid student of wine will be fully aware that there is no substitute for opening bottles to build up a mental wine library.
No matter how many books, articles or blogs you read, you actually have to sample the stuff yourself to fully appreciate or understand it, or better still, to form an opinion.
In an ideal world, that would mean travelling to the vineyard, meeting the winemaker and tasting the wine in the cellar, but that is a rather fanciful notion.
Equally unrealistic or impractical is the thought of opening a half-dozen bottles at every mealtime, just to see what you like best, and what goes with the dish. Not only will the social context of a meal cause loss of focus, but the cost would be prohibitive.
Pragmatically, the best options available are to attend a wine school, join a wine club or tasting group, or attend a tasting event.
Many of our local wine merchants make splendid efforts to fulfil this latter role, but for me, the crème de la crème are the Decanter Fine Wine Encounters.
Held at the Landmark Hotel in Marylebone, London, there are several events of note throughout the year.
When I attended recently, there were more than 100 stands exhibiting over 600 of the finest wines. Where else, at one sitting, could I sample such icons such Cos d’Estournel, La Conseillante or Pichon-Lalande, all leading Bordeaux chateaux retailing at over £100 apiece.
The entry fee of £40 may appear steep, but actually, it is a bargain.
As an appendage to the main attractions, there were interesting sideshows, such as a tutored tasting on the relationship between taste and place, for an extra £10.
More prestigious, from £95, were a number of master classes, and I enrolled in a presentation of Pichon-Lalande, presented by its director, Sylvie Cazes.
This fabulous second growth Bordeaux estate is located at the southern end of Pauillac and since 2007 it has been under the umbrella of the Champagne house Roederer, which includes the respected Cru Bourgeois, Chateau de Pez, in its stable.
The tutorial began with a comparison of four vintages of Pez: 2007, 2006, 1999 and 1998. The contrast was youth versus maturity, and average versus better vintages.
The conclusions were vintages do matter, particularly with an Atlantic climate, and that wines of this quality will mature and improve over 15 years.
Next were two approachable vintages of Reserve La Comtesse, Lalande’s second label.
A fascinating comparison of the amazingly fresh 2007, from a wet and cool year, with the hotter and spicier 2003, the year of a heatwave.
If La Comtesse was a step up in quality to the Pez, then the six vintages covering four decades of the Pichon-Lalande raised the bar even higher.