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On Tasting
The Gimblett Gravels Travelling Road Show Surprises London
Monday, 20th April, 2009  - David Farmer

When they make a film about a wine tasting you can probably say history was made at this tasting or if that is a bit grand at least a big change was signalled. So it is that the famous Spurrier Paris tasting of 1976 signalled that the wines of the Napa Valley were every bit as good as the best of France.

It is now standard fare for wine makers worldwide to match their best against the best of France and happily this does not seemed to have altered the perception of what these French icons are worth.

We have previously discussed the very fine reds emerging from the Gimblett Gravels region, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand and how in a masked tasting in New Zealand in 2008 they rated very highly against the best Bordeaux from the exceptional 2005 vintage. Go to In Praise of Gimblett Gravels and The First Growth Gimbletts.

Recently a similar event was staged for the London wine press and wine buyers. To put on a tasting like this with the enormous home town bias for the French takes very brave people. From the results you get the sense that while it will not lead to a film, another bit of the future history of the world of wine has been painted in.

Both The Times (Jane McQuitty) and the Telegraph (Jonathon Ray) wrote articles with both writers highlighting not only the Gimbletts quality but the enormous difference in prices between the wines. Of the top six wines four were first growth Bordeaux, 2005, with two from the Gimbletts.

Jane McQuitty wrote; "However, when six of the top Gimblett Gravels wines were due to be lined up blind in a taste-off against half a dozen of the finest Bordeaux clarets from the great 2005 vintage and judged by 50 of the UK's leading merchants and commentators, I was not optimistic about the Kiwis' chances. How wrong I was. When the bottles were unmasked, two of my top six places were taken by the Gimblett Gravels' best, a tally matched when everyone's scores were averaged out."

And then a bit grudgingly and do I detect a contradiction.

"Francophiles will be relieved to learn that for the most part the centuries' worth of natural selection in Bordeaux, with Man matching the right grape to the right soil and microclimate, ruled. That extra French polish of distinctive Bordeaux pencilbox-scented class, complexity and power did shine through in all but a few Gallic offerings. But then, given the vintage and producers, so it should. What surprised us was how difficult it was to spot the Gaul from the Kiwi."

Jonathon Ray was more enthused; "I am relieved to see the rest of the room is similarly uncertain. Even the incomparable but ever-modest Jancis Robinson is stumped."

"It isn't obvious to me at all which is which," she says. "I have tried to guess and have no doubt made a fool of myself. There is only one I didn't like, but I can't work out whether it's an over-extracted Saint Emilion or an unbalanced Gimblett Gravels."

And later. "Then the bombshell. The wines' identities are revealed and we gasp when we discover who was playing for the Bordeaux team. The three medal positions go to: 2005 Château Lafite-Rothschild (£975 a bottle), 2005 Château Mouton-Rothschild (£675) and 2005 Château Angélus (£295). Just off the podium, in fourth, is 2006 Sacred Hill "Helmsman" at - wait for it - a staggeringly modest £17.95 a bottle. We sit open-mouthed. 2005 Château Haut-Brion (£700) is fifth and 2006 Newton Forrest "Cornerstone" - at just £15 a bottle for heaven's sake - is sixth."

I think the prices of the great Bordeaux will continue on regardless though we do live in a time of bubbles. I do though see a buy sign for Gimbletts.

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