London, wine metropolis. You may not think of it in those terms, but I have learned to appreciate the dynamic wine scene and the exciting range of wine events and venues here. You can explore wine in cellars built into Thames or railway bridges, at fantastic food markets, in world class restaurants, you can drink it on bridges spanning the river, at the Tower of London, in post-modern temples of glass, and you can engage with wine merchants with centuries of history, with entrepreneurs with new approaches or with a vibrant scene of wine writers and communicators. It is an exciting place and I love every minute of being here - especially when a unique place and wine meet.
I would like to invite you to share one of those moments with me.
A few weeks ago I found myself walking along the Thames, heading to the Millbank Tower. Millbank Tower is a skyscraper, 118m high, at the north shore of the Thames. I know it well, from the outside, as I cycle past it most days on my way home from work. The reason I finally got in there was that Laithwaites Wine were holding their winter press tasting on the 29th floor of the tower, in a venue called "Altitude 360".
Altitude is a prestigious event location that has been graced by the likes of Lindsay Lohan, John McCain (who apparently gave his European US presidency campaign speech there), Kate Moss, Boris Johnson, Microsoft, De Beers, David Cameron and the Wine Rambler. Thinking of it I am not sure I am comfortable being mentioned in the same sentence as some of these fine people/organisations, but there you have it. I did not come for Lindsay Lohan, I came to taste wine and enjoy the view. And the view, as I hope you can see on this page, is quite something - especially if you manage to ignore the haziness caused by the less than clean windows. I was particularly happy to get a good view of Battersea Power Station, my favourite London building.
Laithwaites are a giant in the British wine world. They ship wine to over 700,000 customers, often lured in by massively discounted introductory offers. There are different opinions out there about how cheap Laithwaites actually are or how good the wine list is; I have tasted some really interesting German wines a few years ago and some I was less excited about. Overall the the niche for German wine in the catalogue is small though - one German red against, for instance, 104 from Spain, or six German whites against 130 from France. No matter which countries you are most interested in, be aware that once you have ordered from Laithwaites you will receive an impressive amount of printed marketing material, catalogues and special offers.
What you also get is access to a catalogue that currently holds way over one thousand wines, almost two thirds of them red, and also spirits and fortifieds. A little over a hundred wines from the selection were available to taste on thirteen tables along the windows overlooking London. Sadly, the Friday of the tasting was a very busy day for me at work and so I could only manage to join the tasting for the last few minutes, just enough to take photos and taste some of the wines - a few sparklers and some of the whites. So please don't see this as a comprehensive report, and also don't translate my silence on certain wines into polite disapproval.
My first duty as a Wine Rambler is of course to German wine, and that brings us to table number 3. #3 featured whites from Germany and France, Spain, Hungary and Italy. Keen to overcome of my bias against Pinot Grigio (not Pinot Gris, I hasten to add) I started with an Italian. Alessandro Gallici's Pinot Grigio 2010 (£7.49) is a clean, clear cut and easy to drink wine that has not faults but also failed to charm me in any way.
It was much more exciting to compare the two Rieslings on the table, one from Alsace and the other from the Mosel. The Mosel Riesling was the only German wine at the tasting, a 2009 Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt QbA from Kasel (£12.49), whereas Alsace was represented by the Domaine Mersiol Riesling Cuvée Granite 2008 (£12.99). The Mosel Riesling had lovely peach, herbs and citrus with fresh acidity (and a few tiny bubbles even) and great crunchy minerality, whereas the Alsace wine, perhaps unsurprisingly, felt drier and more serious, with somewhat less lively acidity.
I may be biased, but to me these two were by far the most interesting still wines I tasted, at least if you also factor in value. Significantly more expensive but lovely was one of the Mersaults I tasted, the Domaine Yves Boyer-Martenot Mersault Premier Cru Charmes 2008 (£37) - a wine that blended freshness with buttery texture, complexity and citrus shellfish flavours. After the French experience it was quite interesting to sample a new world Chardonnay, the 2009 Concha Y Toro from Marqués de Casa Concha - a heavy (14% ABV) but fresh, very drinkable drinkable Chardonnay with an unpretentious style and also good mineral.
In my random tour of the wines I also tried a Pinot Gris from New Zealand that I found to be significantly more interesting than the Italian Pinot Grigio: the Stonewall Pinot Gris 2011 from Marlborough (£10.99), a charming and fresh floral wine with lots of fruit and a good finish that had New Zealand written all over it. It stood out from the reliable and drinkable, but also less remarkable NZ Sauvignon Blancs (among them the very typical Esk Valley 2010 (£9.99)).
After a short but somewhat inconclusive encounter with an English still wine the English sparklers proved to be much more exciting, for instance Ridgeview's South Ridge Cuvée Merret 2008 (£19.99) - red fruit, summery, fresh and a touch of yeasty toast. The "real" Champagne wasn't bad either, and I enjoyed R. Renaudin's Premier Cru 2002 (£29.99) - creamy, rich, yeasty, brioche and orange marmalade with a long, intense lingering finish.
These are just a few impressions from a much more extensive wine list that I would have liked to explore in more detail (despite cool climate wines being somewhat under-represented for my personal taste). Even so it was an interesting tasting, not the least because of a very exciting venue that I'd love to visit one day with a tripod and either a window cleaner or a sledgehammer, to give you some proper views.