Our recent NEW WORLD FINE WINE ENCOUNTER saw a host of top names from around the world jet into London to pour wines for eager readers. The masterclasses mixed iconic wines with Decanter stalwarts…

Penfolds 1990 – Grange and other icons

The speaker: Peter Gago, Penfolds’ chief winemaker

The wines (all 1990): Penfolds Kalimna Bin 28 Shiraz; Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 407; Cabernet-Shiraz Bin 389; St Henri Shiraz; Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 707; Coonawarra Cabernet-Shiraz Bin 920; Coonawarra Cabernet Barossa Valley Shiraz Bin 90A; Grange Bin 95; Grange 2002

Tasting a middle-aged range of arguably Australia’s most iconic estate (see p24)was instructive, not least in terms of showing the benefits of ageing. The surprises came from supposedly ‘lesser’ wines – Kalimna Bin 28 Shiraz, Bin 389 Cabernet-Shiraz, St Henri Shiraz – all of which had clearly mellowed and developed with age.

Highlight of the class: The surprise appearance of the just-released Grange 2002, a late but welcome replacement for the lost-in-transit Coonawarra Cabernet. On its release in Australia, ‘there were queues round the block,’ said Gago. The Decanter audience felt suitably privileged.

Most hotly debated issue: There were no whites, but that didn’t stop the subject of screwcaps coming up. ‘All Penfolds’ whites are under screwcap,’ said Gago. He’s ‘looking at alternatives to cork for the reds’ too, the trouble being that ‘the US doesn’t want anything to do with screwcaps’.

Quote of the class: Gago wasn’t convinced by the longevity of small-scale ‘cult’ wines. ‘They’re all high on oak and high on alcohol, but a lot haven’t stood the test of time or lived up to expectations.’

Best of both worlds

The speaker: Steven Spurrier

The wines: Louis Roederer, Quartet NV; Eroica 2005; Clos de los Siete 2005; Erasmo 2004; Almaviva 2004; Albis 2002; Col Solare 2003; Morgenster 2001; Dominus 2001; Masi Tupungato, Passo Doble 2006

Before the Paris Tasting of 1976 there was no official joint venture between the New and Old Worlds. ‘So whatever the French like to blame me for, at least we opened the doors for interaction between the two,’ said Spurrier, to introduce a selection of some of the world’s great collaborations: Ernst Loosen making Eroica in Columbia Valley, Christian Moueix’s Dominus in Napa, Masi’s Passo Doble in Argentina, Antinori’s Col Solare in Washington State, Pierre Lurton’s Morgenster in Stellenbosch…’ It all proves that quality is driven by people with money, passion and vision: you can’t make great wine without all three.’

Most hotly debated issue: Robert Parker. Spurrier mentioned the American critic disparagingly, prompting an audience member to protest, ‘he’s one of my heroes’. ‘All British wine writers are rude about Parker,’ Spurrier replied. ‘It’s one of the things we do.’

Quote of the class: ‘He’s so confident he doesn’t even bother to send in a factsheet with his wine,’ Spurrier on Christian Moueix and Dominus.

Highlight of the class: The Erasmo 2004, made by Montalcino’s Maurizio Castelli. ‘A marvellous example of European panache and history in the New World.’

New World excellence

The speaker: Andrew Jefford

The wines: Groote Post, Sauvignon Blanc 2006; Craggy Range, Old Renwick Sauvignon Blanc 2006; Seghesio, Arneis 2005; Peter Michael, Belle Côte Chardonnay 2004; Cederberg Shiraz 2004; Matetic, EQ Syrah 2005; Neyen 2003; Fabre Montmayou, Gran Reserva Malbec 2005; Domaine A, Cabernet Sauvignon 2000; Tapanappa, Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz 2004; Jasper Hill, Georgia’s Paddock Shiraz 2004

‘Let’s face it,’ said Andrew Jefford, ‘the New World really isn’t that new – there’s a great tradition of winemaking in the New World, so why has this perhaps patronising term stuck?’ Jefford conceded that it does have positive connotations, bringing to mind the use of modern technology, unfettered by tradition and regulations in a world where you don’t have to inherit great terroir or be aristocratic to make great wine. There is a certain loss of innocence creeping in now, however, he continued, with some wines lacking the cragginess and grandeur of great Old World wines. The best show a growing thirst for terroir.

Most hotly debated issue: Alcohol. ‘It only bothers me when it’s intrusive – i.e. unbalanced. If you can’t cope with it, buy wine from somewhere else.’

Quote of the class: Jefford isn’t convinced by Argentina’s long-term status. ‘I’m still puzzled by Argentina – the soils don’t look interesting.’ He plans to do a ‘terroir tour’.

Highlight of the class: The selection of surprisingly subtle and refreshing whites. ‘Great mealtime drinking,’ said Jefford.

Written by Various