Words: Peter Dean
A heavyweight vertical wine duel, where one chateau vies for superiority over another through a massive blind wine tasting across a number of vintages, conjures up images of those Sixties Godzilla flicks. In these Japanese films the giant lizard takes on the likes of Mothra, Biorante and, in one hilarious mismatch, Bambi. The fun is in the slug-fest that ensues rather than the somewhat inevitable outcome. Godzilla, naturally.
In wine circles, though, the outcome of a duel is far less predictable, especially in a blind tasting. No sight of label, no notes and not even a look at the bottle shape. Here, the critic is put to the test and has to trust a fine balance of palette, instinct and also, thankfully, personal taste. Although the outcome is often unpredictable, the duel itself – coming as it does with a table-full of alcohol and a dry spittoon – can be just as messy as any Japanese splatter-fest.
And so to London’s snazziest new Italian seafood restaurant, Massimo Restaurant & Oyster Bar which, along with bespoke luxury wine company Eminent Wines were hosting the ‘first’ heavyweight contest of Bordeaux second growth Cos d’Estournel versus ‘Super Tuscan’ Tenuta dell’Ornellaia. Bordeaux blend versus Bordeaux blend.
Ever since the late 1940s when neighbouring Tenuta San Guido defied tradition and Italian classification and started blending cabernet sauvignon with cabernet franc in Italy, this coastal area of Tuscany has been the home of some of the world’s most pre-eminent, and costly, Bordeaux blends, the so-called ‘Super Tuscans’.
Ornellaia, under the careful watch of winemaker Axel Heinz, is made with a blend of cabernet and merlot in almost equal measure with a healthy whack of cabernet franc and a smidge of petit verdot for good measure – the perfect armoury to take on Cos’s distinct and elegant St-Estephe blend of cab sauv, merlot and cab franc .
After a glass of chilled Goulee white 2009 from Cos and some indecently fresh langoustines, whose saltiness picked out the complexity and the Atlantic air of this sauvignon-heavy blend, the main contestants were assembled and poured.
In the Italian corner we had Heinz’s second wine Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia 2007, and then Ornellaia from the 2005, 2001 and 1997 vintages, while in the French corner we had another second Les Pagodes de Cos 2007, then Cos d’Estournel from the 2004, 2000 and 1995, vintages.
As for the main bout itself I had Ornellaia winning the battle of the ‘seconds’, although perhaps its muscularity was a better match for the Italian food, while overall I put Cos ahead on a slender point margin. Judging between Cos’s elegance, and incense-scented finesse and Ornellaia’s warmer voluptuousness was like trying to choose between silk and velvet. The later vintages were both drinking very well indeed with still many years left in the bottle. If you don’t have £125 to spend on these babies (and quite frankly you should have) go for the seconds, neither of which you would throw out of bed on a Tuesday night.
For those looking to find their own ‘duel’ in the crown, a wine challenge among friends is the perfect way to spend an evening.
Eminent Wines are based in London and Hong Kong and provide bespoke wine packages and corporate hospitality. www.eminentwines.com