The Old Bridge Christmas Wine Fair

I’d been eyeing up the Old Bridge wine fair for some time, wondering whether I should go. These things can get out of hand you see and with so many wines to try, and such little room in my cellar, there was the potential for things to end in disaster. I was saved, albeit to my own misfortune, by completely forgetting to put my bank card back in my handbag after a night out. This meant I could give my order a little bit more time, thus saving myself from a rather large bill and an ever so slightly shorter blog post. 

After convincing my friend Amy to accompany me, I managed to buy some of the remaining tickets for the 11:15 – 1:30 slot around the wine fair, I believe it completely sold out. Growing up as a Catholic means I’m well-practised at drinking before lunchtime on a Sunday, but it was still a shock to the system. We arrived in good time, thankfully the event is on a Sunday, and lined our stomachs with a delicious croissant in the restaurant before venturing to the business centre.  We bumped into the very man himself, John Hoskins MW on the way in and I seem to remember him saying something along the lines of, “Well of course Georgie always spits, never swallows,” to Amy as we made our way in, I wish it were true. 

We were handed some literature and a wine glass and off we went on our wine expedition. Now, as there were 10 tables, 11 including the gin tasting at the end, I am only going to tell you about my favourites and some of the wines I found unusual. They’re all available in The Old Bridge wine shop so if they do sound of interest, do have a look online or even better, pop there for lunch. It’s far better than just getting your Christmas wine from the supermarket, I bet you a tenner you’ll enjoy them more. 

Table 1 – Andrea Bulcock

The notes said ‘Andrea, of ‘ABS’, specialises in Germany and South Africa, but you can see that her lost encompasses more than that…’ Amy and I absolutely loved Andrea, despite having lots of people asking her questions she really gave us the time of day and told us all about the wines, offered her opinion and thankfully, was firm in that we should try a sip of everything. I have also since discovered that Andrea is the five times winner of the coveted IWSC Wine Importer of the year award. 

So we tried some very different Rieslings with Andrea, lots of serious contrasting wines. From the whites, my favourite was probably the 2017 Pinot Gris from South Australia. It was quite flinty, really easy drinking and went down well. Onto the reds and it’s amazing how many banging reds Andrea had packed into her tasting. 

2015 Major Kong, Syrah, Payten & Jones. Yarra Valley, Australia £29.50
Funky, aromatic, spritzy, brilliant. Scored an amazing 19/20 on Organic. 

Wonderful, wondrous nose with violet perfume plus rich blackberry fruit and the most exquisite stemmy funk to add even further complexity. Long, complete, balanced, with a gradual, graceful fade on the finish. This is pinch-yourself good. An absolute knockout. No hesitation with the score. (Richard Hemming on JR)

Personally I found the spritzy taste on first sip a little off-putting. Apparently it’s because of the natural CO2 that they use to maintain the freshness of the wine upon bottling it. However, it does say on the Old Bridge website that due to the wine being semi-natural, the spritz can vary from bottle to bottle but decanting can help with this. The wine has a lot of depth to it, it’s very pure and tastes of expertise. 

2015 GSM, ‘Kennedy’, Sons of Eden. Barossa Valley, Australia £23
Luscious but lively Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvedre blend. Classic example of old vines in Barossa.

Amy and I thought this was quite Christmassy on the palate, notes of clove and plenty of spice. It’s quite yeasty on the nose though. It’s named after the Vigneron, Kennedy. From many of the comments from other tasters, I can confirm that this was a FANTASTIC GSM, most people were going back for more. 

Table 2 – Richard Kelley MW

At first sippings with Richard, Amy and I were slightly worried we’d offended him with our very specific tasting notes. “Well this smells of a wash basket,” said Amy. “Ooh yes well done,” said I. “Like when you’ve put your sheets in the wash basket and they’ve been there for a while,” said Amy. Richard looked at us a little baffled, we were talking about his 2017 Maguelonne, a rose from Chateau de la Selve, Coteaux de L’Ardeche.

Funnily enough it tasted absolutely divine, I’d even describe it as dangerous, very pure and easy drinking. As we made our way around table number two, Richard opened up, like a complex wine he just needed a little airing and by the time we got to the Liberators he was really quite perky. Our notes said on one particular wine, 100% Petite Syrah (aka durif). Just arrived – ask Rick for more secrets……!  Richard gave us a sticker and told us to head to his website, it was one of the highlights of the day, I do love a sticker. 

So I’ve discovered from that Rick is the alter ego of Master of Wine, Richard Kelley. 

Over the past 15 years, Richard has become one of the most respected authorities on South African wine in the UK and beyond. Between 1995 and 2002, he lived and worked in the Cape, witnessing the renaissance of the post-apartheid wine industry. Throughout this fruitful period, he established a healthy rapport with the great and the good of the local wine scene, affording him access to their distinguished cellars.

From http://www.theliberatorwine.comSo all of a sudden, we’re not only trying fantastic wines but we are getting the added input and pizzazz from some of the most wonderful people in the wine world, what an event. The Liberator wines are all very exciting, here’s what we loved. 

2016 PS I LOVE YOU, ‘The Liberator’ Stellenbosch £13.95
100% Petite Syrah (aka Durif). 
This is really smooth, a dangerous wine that would vanish from the bottle before one could say p.s I love you, which is a probably a good thing in many situations. The labels of The Liberator wines give the wine extra character, they’re stunning, a joy to look at. This particular bottle has it’s own special bit of artistry. 

‘P.S. I Love You’ was sourced from some of the 14-hectares of Durif (aka Petite Syrah) planted in the Cape.

Given that there is more Petite Syrah found in the States than the rest of the world put together, it seems appropriate that the label was painted by an American artist. Julian Alden Weir was an impressionist artist and a founding member of ‘The Ten’, a loosely allied group of disillusioned artists who banded together in 1898 to exhibit their work.

This painting, better known in artistic circles as ‘The Letter’, dates to 1910.

Rick loves this wine.

2016 THE BISHOP OF NORWICH, ‘The Liberator’. Calitzdorp £19.95
Port-style wine (from the 5 key Port grape varieties). Delicious now, but will keep. 

This was absolutely divine, I left a huge tick next to it on my notes. So refined, perfect for this time of year. A winter hug in a bottle. 

Table 3 – Katie Rodway 

I got a less focused at Table 3, a combination of Rick’s port (that wasn’t really port) knocking my socks off and Katie having her own extremely exciting selection of wines. Katie was actually from Stamford, which we also got quite excited about as that’s home for us too. Katie Rodway is Head of Regional Sales for Fields, Morris & Verdin which is a lot to do with Berry Bros & Rudd. 

2016 Pinot Gris/Blanc, Au Bon Climat. Santa Barbara, California £19.95
Clever blend of the 2 grapes. Gentle spice, delicate freshness and great balance. 

This was deliciously flinty, quite oily too with notes of caramel. Would go really well with this duck dish I do…

2017 Regnie, Domaine Julien Sunier. Beaujolais £23.50
Beautiful, pure Gamay. Expensive for Beaujolais, but worth it. Organic. 

This was probably my favourite wine of the entire day, a real snog of a wine that lingers. 

2014 Pinot Noir, David Ramey. Russian River, Sonoma, California £54
From the beautiful Russian River region, a hedonistic style of Pinot Noir – rich & spicy. 

Lovely american style wine, quite expensive. You can taste the quality, very refined spices, pretty notes at the end. 

2015 Malbec, Pulenta. Mendoza, Argentina £22
Malbec at its best – luscious ripeness but with freshness and balance too. 

Lovely! Rich and rewarding, powerful but not too much. Lots of yummy jammy notes. 

Table 4 – Peter Rowe

Peter was good fun, I mean so was everyone else but Peter, look at his lovely shirt. The notes read, Peter is with Liberty Wines, renowned as agents for many of the best Italian estates, but also for a plethora of good things from the rest of the world. Peter took us on a real journey, he was as charming as his A Mano Bianco.

2015 CHAKALAKA, Spice Route. Swartland, South Africa £18
A big, spicy blend of Syrah with 5 other grape varieties. 

2014 Rioja Reserva, Coto de Imaz, Rioja Spain £16.50
Classic and traditional Rioja – creamy, rounded and generous. 

2015 Wild Sauvignon, Greywacke. Marlborough, New Zealand £25
Wild yeast and oak fermentation. A very unusual Sauvignon Blanc…

Table 5 – James Wilson 

Table 5 is where things started getting really hazy, we knew we were halfway but we were swiftly running out of time after nattering for far too long about everything to everyone. So I apologise for the lack of descriptions on the next lots of wines, my notes dwindled ever so slightly.

James had presented things beautifully, he gave us a great speech about the Taittinger Nocturne that got things started. I’ve had some rough hangovers on Taittinger so I limit myself to just one glass these days, sometimes two. James suggested that Taittinger Nocturne was the perfect champagne to move onto after a big meal, a sort of go-to champagne when you’ve run out of other things to drink. I honestly can’t think of anything worse than soldiering through a night of heavy drinking and then having another champagne, this was quite sweet as well. However, never try, never know, so next time I’m struggling maybe I’ll see what this jazzy purple clad bottle does to me. 

2012 Contino, Reserva. Rioja, Spain £23
Balanced, serious and savoury – this is extremely fine, classic Rioja. Beautiful use of oak. 

The Old Bridge notes really say it all, this is so perfectly balanced so that you get that gorgeous oak but the serious rioja velvety flavour can still get through, delicious. Deep, mature, long fruit flavours, lovely lovely stuff. 

Table 6 – Christian Honorez 

Christian was met by two swaying girls and did well to still manage to impart some of his knowledge onto us. Christian finds interesting, esoteric wines for the Old Bridge and for a few select London restaurants. He finds the polar opposite of bland blends made in huge volumes. 

2015 Morgon, Georges Descombes, Beaujolais £19
Fragrant, almost ethereal expression of Gamay. Close to ‘natural’. 

This wasn’t quite as enjoyable as the Regnie but it was certainly an interesting wine. I believe I’ve tried it before at one of John’s wine tastings. I think it was one of the opened bottles that was served at the end with food, and the fact I remember that shows it made a lasting impression. If you can deal with that natural flavour of these sorts of wines you’ll really appreciate this. It’s quite light, perfumed and with very much a stewy redcurrant flavour. 

2013 B-Qa, Chateau Marsyas. Bekaa Valley, Lebanon £19.95
Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Mourvedre. robust but (unlike Musar) clean and fresh. 

Christian did sort of turn his nose up when I mentioned Chateau Musar. Now, in hindsight, I suppose Musar is a little bit claggy in comparison to this gem from the East. It’s a tricky one, I’d like to be able to try them alongside each other to make a proper comparison. However, as a standalone, Chateau Marsyas offering does have that lovely plummy, spicy and bold orchestrated excellence that I now associate with Lebanon. Lots to learn. 

Table 7 – Jonathan and Liz Kinns 

I didn’t get the chance to chat to Jonathan but his wife Liz was lovely. The notes explain that Jonathan seeks out fascinating wines from individual, small, often little-known family producers. 

2016 Crozes Hermitage, Yann Chave. Northern Rhone £22
Medium-bodied, fresh, bright style of Syrah. Very different from southern Rhone styles. 

This wine has beautiful colour and depth. It’s full of all those luscious Syrah notes including salty liquorice, currants, tobacco and dark fruits, exquisite.  

Table 8 – Philippa Saunders 

The gorgeous Philippa Saunders managed to talk quite a lot of sense into us it seems as I have lots of notes! Very surprising. The Old Bridge notes said that Philippa specialises in Burgundy and other Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that can bear comparison with burgundy (in quality at least). But this time with a few interlopers from elsewhere added in…

2014 Chablis, Les Chatillons, Domaine des Hates. Burgundy £24
Textbook example from an excellent producer. Green apple, stones, lemon, chalk – it’s all there. 

This was perfect, everything I love about Chablis, especially that stoney taste. 

2015 Pinot Noir, Grace Bridge. Monterey and sonoma, California £13.50
Soft, gentle, very easy – Pinot Noit for a party. 

I’ve included this because like the notes say, it’s a perfect party wine. I think it might just lend itself to everyone’s taste without breaking the bank, still impressive. 

2013 Cabernet Franc, Seneca Lake, Red Hook. Finger Lakes, USA £38
Elegant, under-stated Cabernet Franc from inland New York State. So different to Napa styles. 

When I said more notes I hadn’t actually read them. For this, I’ve double underlined under-stated and written ‘more sunshine’ which isn’t overly helpful. I do remember this being a very well-balanced wine, one to try again. 

Now we ran out of time a little for Julie Maitland and the sweet and fortified wines HOWEVER I do have several of these wines already at home that I’m waiting to try, which is why we were a little selective. I really didn’t realise quite how much I loved port until recently, they can all be so very different, an exciting area of the wine world. 

We finished off at the Roundwood Gin table, I can see why they’re doing well as it was delicious. The London Dry Gin with Fevertree’s Mediterranean Tonic is everything I love about a lovely refreshing gin. A great end to a fantastic wine fair. I was very sad to not be staying for lunch and the Wine Fair Supper looked tremendous, I shall have to wait for next year!

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