I have only seen the Mona Lisa once. I was about nine years old and my most vivid recollection of the experience was being bitterly disappointed by its diminiative size and how exhausted I was trying to get anywhere near it, so thick were the rows of tourists between me and the painting.
Going to some wine tastings can be a bit like getting to see the Mona Lisa. A gaggle of slightly woozy punters will regularly be found salivating around the table of some vinous gem. Hands clutching empty glasses will be fully outstretched for a sample of the eagerly anticipated tipple.
In truth, it can all get a little ugly. Unlike gallery visiting, there’s the additional challenge of ‘avoid the spit’ to consider as having sniffed and swirled, tasters will try and avoid giving up their slot at the table and aim to jettison their sample from where they are standing to the spittoon which is often just beyond achievable spitting distance.
Having a star in the room can be a good thing — attracting people, as it does — but it’s also rather sad to see people hurry past other interesting paintings or wines, having ticked off what they think was the highlight of the day.
As a consequence of being somewhat crowd weary of late I have been enjoying quieter tastings and have made some sterling discoveries. The first was the 2010 Domaine de l’Aujardiere Fié Gris (£13.95 www.leaandsandeman.co.uk). It scored a spectacular 17.5/20 and, upon review, I see three ‘lovelies’ in my notes for this wine. Fié Gris is an ancient variety and relative of Sauvignon Blanc that is being rigorously championed by young winemaker, Eric Chevalier at his estate found to the west of Nantes in the far west of the Loire Valley.
My tasting notes refer to a ‘surprising richness of texture, lush peach and white nectarine fruits with a nervy backbone of acidity and a delicious mineral quality’. In fact, I see I underlined mineral twice and this is undoubtedly due to the vines growing on soils made up of granite, sand and silt.
I was truly charmed by this wine and loved its uniqueness. I have it earmarked as a definite winter white and I can see it working a treat with some nicely roasted monkfish.
At the same tasting I happened upon the wines of Mario Zanusso from Friuli in north-east Italy. I enjoyed his whites — the focus of his production — very much indeed and could easily write about those alone but I have to confess to scoring his Galea Rosso I Clivi 2003 (£15.75 www.leaandsandeman.co.uk) the most highly of all. I think it is amongst the very best Merlot wines at this price that I have had the pleasure of tasting in recent times.
The wine making is all very hands-off and stainless steel fermentation is followed by ageing in 15-year-old oak barrels before being returned to stainless steel for another year prior to bottling.
It had depth of flavour with vivacious elegance and fresh, well-placed tannins. As with the Fié Gris, there was that fantastic mineral character that sets such terroir-driven wines apart. It’s on my Christmas list, no question.
Are they the world’s ‘best’ or most exciting wines? Probably not but sometimes life’s greatest pleasures are to be had in the more modest finds.