It is a glorious spring morning as I glide south at 125 miles per hour through the Vale of York on the East Coast mainline. Our campaign of customer tastings to launch the 2019/2020 wine range drew to a close last night with the now traditional event in Newcastle. Over a fortnight we have visited London, Bristol, Manchester, Chester, Leeds and Newcastle. To say that the weather has been changeable is a classic English understatement: it was so cold and wet in Manchester that it felt more like February than May whilst in Leeds a few days later it was distinctly Mediterranean. My award for “venue of the year” has to go to the spectacularly modernised Headingley cricket ground – not least because I got to sleep in the lodge’s Fred Trueman room.
The response from customers to the wines has been positive throughout. “Wine of the year” goes to the Domaine Horgelus Gros Manseng / Sauvignon Blanc. Louise Boddington, Crown Cellars’ wine buyer, and I thought this wine was good when we selected it, but I did not think that it would be such a hit with everyone who has tasted it. The blast of vibrant citrussy fruit on the nose (mainly due to the Sauvignon) followed by the weight on the palate (courtesy of the Gros Manseng) has gone down a treat. The smart but traditional label and keen price have helped as well. As a runner up I would nominate the Domaine de la Baume Pinot Noir Rosé. It is impossible to drink this wine without a smile on your face. It is fashionably pale in colour, has delicate red fruit aromas and is just off dry. Assuming we have a summer, this will see me through Wimbledon, the Tour de France and the Ashes.
Although a lot more esoteric than the Horgelus or Domaine de la Baume, I have been pleasantly surprised by the reception of the Georgian Saperavi. This chunky red from the Caucasus was chosen for our customers who like wines from “the road less traveled”. However, it seems to have a wider appeal than I expected, not least because it is a great partner to most robust meat dishes (steak pie, casseroles etc.). The challenge for all of us is to communicate to drinkers just what a fascinating wine this is. Certainly there is nothing else in our portfolio that is produced in a winery barely ten years old but which draws on a winemaking culture going back eight thousand years.
My involvement with Crown Cellars does not go back quite that far but this year is the twenty fifth anniversary of my appointment as wine consultant to what was then Carlsberg-Tetley. Over this quarter century there have been some momentous changes in the company, the wider drinks industry and the wine range (just think about the unforeseen boom in Pinot Grigio, Prosecco, Zinfandel Rosé and Malbec). When the 2019/2020 price list comes out you will be able to read my reflections on how things have evolved since 1994.
Right, that is me done for another year. However, the guard has just announced that we are going to be held up because there are “reports of defective track ahead” so it could be next year before I get to King’s Cross.
Jonathan Pedley, Master of Wine Crown Cellars’ Wine Consultant