Posted on 21.03.20 #138

Keeping calm, carrying on: the Daniel Lambert portfolio tasting

“Events, dear boy, events”. Whether or not Harold Macmillan ever actually uttered those immortal words, when asked what he feared most, they certainly seem pertinent. As inboxes groan under the strain of cancelled conferences, the tasting diary appeared to be at least a little more resilient (until last week).

Daniel Lambert made the trip from Bridgend to London determined that nothing was going to stop him showing off his eclectic portfolio, reassuring suppliers and customers that it was going ahead, come what may: “when the news about ProWein’s suspension came out, I emailed everyone and said ‘under no circumstances are we cancelling this’ and I got the response: ‘bloody right’ from most people”.

On the day itself, Lambert tweeted pictures of the tasting underway, captioned “filling up nicely” and then, later, “what a turn out”.  Surprisingly, the few ‘no shows’ were those with the shortest distance to come. “The irony is that it was only really Londoners that didn’t turn up”, he huffs.

With more than 125 wines on show and at least a dozen producers represented, there was plenty to distract us from the alarming Covid-19 headlines being pumped out in the foyer at Paddington’s Novotel.

In the face of strong headwinds, most recently Corona-virus, but previously the Brexit uncertainty impacting the economy, Lambert’s eponymous business has managed to notch up double-digit growth: “we’re up 12 percent this year”, he says proudly, “and after 27 years, we’re still growing”.

The key to that success? “It’s my job to make the consumer aware of how amazing these wines are, and to persuade people to really love something that represents its origin”, he tells me, “and we’re hellbent on working with family producers”.

The portfolio ranges from top notch Napa, courtesy of one of those celebrated family names, Trefethen Vineyards, a diverse range of Burgundy from the likes of Marchand-Grillot and Jean Féry, attractive, affordable Bordeaux from Blaye and Entre deux Mers, a classy collection of Champagnes from the impressive Union co-op, and a compelling line up from Languedoc’s Calmel & Joseph, for whom Lambert has lavish praise: “for me, they are just a fantastic producer and I want to establish them as the go-to for high quality Languedoc-Roussillon”.

My favourite discovery: Montgomery, boasting the UK’s highest vineyard, a former meadow 900 feet above sea level in Powys, the south-facing vines running down to the English border. This small producer, run by Woody Lennard (pictured above) recently swept the board at the Welsh Wine Awards. “This was one of those bizarre finds“, Lambert says, “on paper, none of it should work, but it really does and it just signifies what we’re all about, to be honest”.

My favourite wines:

De Saint-Gal, ‘Orpale’, Blanc de Blancs, Vintage Grand Cru 2004, from the mighty Union Champagne co-operative, responsible for Tesco’s impressive premium range, comes the De Saint-Gal label, exclusively for indies and the on-trade. This top cuvée is a rival for Ruinart, with its Chardonnay finesse. Disgorged one year ago, after around 14 years on lees, the fine bead leads into dreamy layers of creamy citrus brioche, with a striking freshness to the fruit and a firm, dry, nutty finish. 

Montgomery Sparkling Rosé, NV, 95 percent Seyval Blanc with the remainder early ripening Pinot Noir Précoce, this deserves its acclaim, but it won’t be around for long, as production is limited to around 600 bottles. With its cheery cherry and seductive strawberry, there’s a striking purity to the fruit and real flair throughout.

Cave Oedoria, Crémant de Bourgogne, ‘Diamant’, NV, A Blanc de Blancs, 100% Chardonnay from small plots on chalk and clay, with 8g per litre dosage. Fine bubbles and a fresh, aromatic character with elderflower and lemon shortbread. Great value. 

Vignoble Drouard, Muscadet Fief de l’Ancruere 2019, unusual, aged for 6 months in chestnut barrels, an ancient method reintroduced 15 years ago to add complexity, there’s pear blossom, citrus and raw almond on the nose, delicate layers of texture unfurl as a distinctive tarte tatin note takes hold. Muscadet has rarely excited me this much.

Domaine Philippe Raimbault, Pouilly Fume Le Mosaique 2018, from a 9th generation Sancerre grower with land on both sides of the Loire, this comes from a mosaic of plots, hence the name. Vegetal notes on the nose give way to a rich mineral complexity, with citrus and a hint of lychee. A weighty, intriguing wine, with a puff of smoke on the finish.

Angeline, Californian Chardonnay 2018, founder Courtney Benham set out to “raise the bar on everyday wines” and he’s done it with this really well made, well priced wine. The bang for your buck comes from its bright fruit – green apple, lemon peel and honeydew melon – its appealing lees texture and the subtle vanilla bean notes from well-integrated French oak. 

Trefethen Family Vineyards, Dry Riesling 2018, the Trefethen family are wonderful ambassadors for Napa, and they deserve a medal for resisting the rush to cash in on Cab, sticking with a diverse portfolio that includes this racy Riesling, described as “part of who we are” by sales boss Joe Cusimano. Tingly lemon sherbet leads into pink grapefruit and peach, with a really refreshing wet stone core. If I’m honest, I could probably down a whole bottle of this.

Trefethen Family Vineyards, Merlot 2016, a riot of luscious black cherry and berry, a dusting of cinnamon spice and a whiff of incense, with smooth tannins and just the right amount of weight, this is Merlot at its most enticing.

Calmel & Joseph, Les Terroirs, Minervois 2018, a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan, foraged blackberry, black pepper, worn leather, with notes of garrigue, the dusty tannins are complemented by an appealing savoury streak. Great value.

Chateau La Petite Roque, Blaye, Côtes de Bordeaux 2016, for me, Blaye offers some of the most attractive wines in the region, at prices that won’t break the bank (travel tip: the town’s Maison du Vin is a must). This is a great example of Blaye Bordeaux: fruit forward, with juicy red berries, a gentle minty freshness, snug tannins, and an absence of oak.

This piece first appeared in The Buyer. The wines are stocked by good independent retailers.

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