After I graduated in engineering and considered a passable risk by our building society, we bought a small flat in the centre of Edinburgh. We were absolutely delighted with our new home which had its own main entrance opening directly onto the street, opposite Edinburgh’s most stylish pub of the time – the Tilted Wig, or simply the Wig, as it was known to its posh clientele.
The pub served rather good lunches. Its shiny black wallpaper, crisp white linen, heavy cutlery and proper wine glasses reminded you this was no ordinary pub. It was the only establishment of its kind to serve Escargots a la Bourguignonne which, at lunch time, enveloped the bar in a cloud of warm, garlicky Frenchness that made you want to travel. The wine list was Old World and included crisp white Burgundies, old-fashioned clarets and ancient, wire covered bottles of Rioja.
The bar staff, who wore black bow ties and green waisted jackets, which I can only attribute to the owner Paddy being proudly Irish, served gin and tonics in massive gold-fish bowls with tons of ice, vibrant yellow lemons and a price tag to match. Champagne, nonchalantly ordered by loud voiced clients in bespoke suits and shoes, was served from well used, grey, metal coolers covered in dew, with Bollinger, Dom Ruinart or Moet stamped on the sides.
Paddy, who wore a rather large sparkling diamond on his pinky, was a strong, squat, man. He reminded me of Aristotle Onassis. He fawned over his posh clients but was less enthusiastic about the rest of us, no doubt guided by an innate ability to detect a lack of readily disposable cash. Paddy, who was always immaculately dressed in a black stiff jacket and tie, managing never to appear subservient, ran a tight ship and the whole establishment was spotlessly clean. He would stand at the end of the bar greeting customers effusively, all the time subtly directing his bar staff with measured looks and whispered instructions to passing waitresses who dressed in short black skirts and immaculate white blouses. It was rumoured that Paddy used to send the Chief Constable’s mother, who lived round the corner, free lunches.
Shortly after we left the area, Paddy died.
The pub was sold and the black, shiny wallpaper with large vermillion dahlias and brilliant white lilies was removed, as were the subtly lit, linen-covered tables. The Escargots a la Bourguignonne disappeared and the posh clientele soon followed. The wine list was repopulated with non-descript Chilean merlots, heavily-oaked Australian Chardonnays and pale, palate busting Sauvignon Blancs, all at an affordable price. The pub was renamed the Cumberland Bar and became the residents watering hole in McCall Smith’s novel “44 Scotland Street”.
Only last week, I ordered five different vintages of a wine I had only just heard of and I had never tasted. It’s not something I normally do, especially with an Australian wine. An impending visit to Barossa Valley and Clare Valley, in a few weeks’ time, has made me re-look Australian wines.
It’s not just my visit that’s made me curious but high ratings by well-known critics for wines like Penfolds McGill Estate and Moss Wood Cabernet that’s made me want to investigate. What really piqued my curiosity though is a producer who seems to have taken the Riesling world by storm. He has been designated Riesling wine maker of the year in Germany even though he and his wines are Australian. His wines are said to last for decades and will improve the older they are. Jancis Robinson gave an early vintage of his 19/20, an almost perfect score usually reserved for wines of the highest standard and price! This, however, was no flush in the pan and his recent vintages have been equally acclaimed. Jeff Grosset’s Polish Hill Riesling, made in small quantities from a seven hectare plot in Clare Valley, is recognised as a world class wine, perhaps still out of the radar of non-wine geeks. This wine is difficult to find but with a bit of Internet detective work, I located five different vintages at an average price of £24. I must confess, I haven’t yet tried this wine though by the time you read this, I will have opened a couple of vintages. It will be interesting to find out how this producer is perceived in Adelaide when we get there. I do know that Polish Hill Riesling will cost a lot more than £24 in Australia!
Bodegas Franco Española
Last week, we attended a wine tasting organised by Saccone and Speed at which BFE presented a range of Rioja and Ribera wines. The tasting was held at the Manchester United Supporters Club at Wellington Front. If you think this is a somewhat unusual venue for a wine tasting, think again. It appears that Alex Ferguson is a keen wine collector. He started when he was 30 drinking sweet Sherry and taking a few years before he was keen enough to spend £15 on a bottle of red wine. However, in Ferguson style, he then went right to the top and started buying classed-growth Bordeaux, Petrus, and D’Yquem. He is said to have had an allocation from Romaine de la Romanee Conti (DRC) since 1996 which should now be worth more than Wayne Rooney. Ferguson also likes Ribera del Duero from Spain and Tignanello from Italy. He admits that most of the wine he bought was for investment and he recently auctioned off some of his wine in Hong Kong for £2.3m. tax free of course. Ferguson is said to collect Batard Montrachet, one of the world’s great whites, which he rarely drinks finding whites “too acidic” regretfully putting the world’s greatest football coach firmly in fourth division when it comes to wine geekiness. Sorry Alex.
Wines tasted at the Franco Española tasting
Diamante 2015 Sweet white, simple, sweet – 13/20
Talla de Diamente 2015 £7.50 White, pleasant, some lemon notes – 15/20
Rioja Bordon Crianza 2012 £7 Good value. Not top notch but neither is the price – 15/20
Rioja Bordon Reserva 2011 £10 Pleasant, spicy, warm on the palate -15.5/20
Rioja Bordon Gran Reserva 2007 £12.50 Limited in expression for a GR. Classic Rioja good value – 15.5/20
Marqués del Valparaíso Ribera del Duero 2015 £9 Dark crimson, mouth filling – 14.5/20
Wines to try at least once in your life
Grosset Polish Hill Riesling (Australia) 2015
Perhaps I shouldn’t suggest a wine I have never tried.
I will report back and let you know what I think next month. It should be pretty good by all accounts. If anyone has already tried this wine, I would be delighted to hear from you.
I know that winery visits only last a few weeks as the wine is usually sold out very quickly.
I will, however, go and knock on their door in a couple of weeks and see what kind of reception I get.
words | Andrew Licudi AIWS