‘We’re here because we want to be, not because we have to be’, proclaimed Baroness Philippine de Rothschild theatrically, as resplendent in pure imperial purple and ram’s head necklace as Caesar’s wife. The press corps were also there because we wanted to be as we tucked into lasagne of Dorset Crab and Venison Wellington at 2-star Michelin restaurant The Square. Accompanied as it was by a mouthwatering array of wines including a 1996 Sassicaia, a 1953 Vega Sicilia and a 1961 Château Mouton Rothschild, it rapidly turned into a Michelin 4-star lunch.
Once a year the 11 members of the Primum Familiae Vini (www.pfv.org) pull out the stops to show just what their name means to them and should mean to us. With a name like that to live up to, the family group formed in 1993 by Miguel Torres and Robert Drouhin clearly regard themselves as the elite of the wine world. One of its most-pre-eminent members, Piero, make that Count Piero, Antinori explained what family unity meant: ‘The values we share are passion, respect for our vineyards, patience and the fact that we all consider profit not as a goal but a means to strengthen our companies and to maintain continuity’.
And what should the Primum Familiae Vini mean to us apart from a slap-up lunch and soft-spoken marketing? As the guardians of family values and traditions, the leaders of the world’s top family companies have an unequalled authority that’s neither smug nor snobbish. They represent quality and personality in a wine world largely dominated by commercialism and the need to keep shareholders happy. They have inspired by example for instance the formation of Australia’s First Families of Wine and a similar New Zealand’s Family of Twelve.
As in all families, not all is plain sailing. Family pride was dented when California’s Mondavi family had to bow out after the late Robert Mondavi sold out to Constellation in the wake of a family squabble. Perhaps that’s one reason why the Eurocentric incumbents haven’t yet replaced their wayward New World sibling with a family of the obvious calibre of Chile’s Chadwick (Viña Errázuriz) or Argentina’s Catena.
The Mondavi glitch apart, the continuity was there for all to see on their Big Day Out. Alessia Antinori, Piero’s daughter, introduced herself as 26th generation. Cleverly, the 11 younger wines we tasted before the lunch were introduced by the senior members of the families present while the younger generation introduced the mature classics with lunch. Over a 1963 Graham’s Vintage Port, Paul Symington of Dow’s, Graham’s and Warre’s, said to me ‘there isn’t a bad wine’ and I couldn’t disagree. 10/10 in fact for understatement of the year. For my tasting notes on the wines shown on the day, check out www.anthonyrosewine.com.
Something For the Weekend 3 March 2012
Lindauer Rosé, NV, New Zealand
It’s what they call a no-brainer, a superior classy pink fizz from New Zealand, whose brioche-yeasty aromas and raspberryish ripple-style mousse display an almost champagne-like complexity and lively freshness. On special offer at £7.99 until 12 March, Majestic, £11.99 thereafter.
2009 Aglianico, Terredora, IGT Campania
Scented with sweet dark berry fruits tinged with spice and etched with an attractive bramble fruit freshness, if robust on the aftertaste, this is a distinctively fruity and above all fresh ‘Barolo of the South’. £12.95, Jeroboams / Laytons shops.
2007 Mas d’Auzières , Sympathy Pour Les Stones, Coteaux du Languedoc
This devil of a southern French syrah is intensely smoky, tarry and spicy and full of elegantly refreshing blackberry fruit. £12.78 - £15, O.W. Loeb, The Good Wine Shop, Hangingditch, The Wine Tasting Shop.
Primum Familiae Vini Lunch at The Square 9 February 2012
For details of where to find these wines, check out Wine-searcher.com, which will have stockists for most (but possibly not all).
2000 Champagne Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs, France
More than a decade old and yet it doesn’t seem like more than a day old such is the youth and vigour of this fine all-chardonnay champagne. Intense and inviting with undertones of toast, grilled nuts and honey, this is wonderfully stylish and focused fizz with appley fruit and a textured lemon chiffon-like mousse and a divinely crisp and refreshingly dry, mineral aftertaste. 95 /100
1988 Champagne Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs, France
The menu actually mis-printed this as 1998 and it would have been quite possible to believe it as such because like the 2000, it belied its years. With notes of vanilla and lemon and a lovely nuttiness on the nose, this aged blanc de blancs is a richly textured and intensely toasty vintage fizz with excellent fresh mousse and mineral aftertaste, whose honeyed side is only just starting to emerge. 95 / 100
2008 Joseph Drouhin Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche, France
Wonderfully intense, fresh and nutty in its aromatic power with the added complexity of the lees stirred in barrel showing delicate matchsticky notes, this is a deliciously full-flavoured and creamy-textured chardonnay infused with butterscotch, honey and grilled nut characters and a trenchant streak of incisive acidity cutting the richness like a Sabatier and finishing mineral, dry. Still almost too youthful to drink, and as we saw from the 1990, it has a good decades of life in it. 97 / 100
1990 Joseph Drouhin Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche, France
Starting to go yellow gold with maturity now, this superb white Burgundy has an intense bouquet of nutty, cornmealy characters and on the palate a remarkable freshness , concentration and almost glycerol-like texture with added earthy and honeyed notes and delightfully complex nutty finish. At over 20 years of age, its mineral streak has given it the backbone and structure to carry the fruit for this length of time, and it’s still got plenty of life left in it. 96 / 100
2008 Antinori Solaia, Tuscany, Italy
Deeply coloured and vivid, this great Italian supertuscan blend of cabernet sauvignon, sangiovese and cabernet franc displays a really polished quality of fruit in the mulberry and cherry spectrum and behind the fruit some cedary / spicy oak and bittersweet chocolate, while on the palate it leads into a lovely quality of sleek and glossy dark cherry and mulberry, its silky tannins and integrated oak deceiving you into almost missing the hefty sports bra of tannins and fine blade of fresh acidity supporting the fruit. No problem in drinking it now (thanks) but it has a good decade before it really comes into its own. 95 / 100
2001 Antinori Solaia, Tuscany, Italy
A sprightly eleven-year old supertuscan blend of cabernet sauvignon, sangiovese and cabernet franc, this has a seductive bouquet now of evolved dark fruits and beautifully intense sweet, mint-flecked cassis fruit on the palate that’s bisected by cleansing fresh savoury acidity and fine spicy oak in a framework that shows how remarkably youthful and vigorous it is for its age. 92 / 100
2006 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia, Tuscany, Italy
Sassicaia is of course one of the first if not the first supertuscan based entirely on cabernet sauvignon, and having been derided when it was first launched, is now regarded as one of Italy’s genuine icon reds. Showing some evolution in colour and aroma, the 2006 vintage is both truffley and spicy in its aromatic profile with a succulent mulberry and cherry-like fruit richness, fine silkiness of texture and the typically refreshing, savoury acidity that’s a feature of the coastal wines of Bolgheri. 92 / 100.
1996 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia, Tuscany, Italy
We were told by Priscilla that her father Nicolò, the Marchese Incisa Della Roccheta, had deliberately selected a lesser vintage just to show how the wine fared in so-called ‘off’ vintages. You could certainly detect the leafy capsicum character on the nose of a vintage in which the fruit hadn’t fully ripened and rather the same was the case on the palate where herb and capsicum mingled with evolved, truffley tones and an attractive gamey quality that almost made up in freshness what it lacked in richness. 91 / 100
2009 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Roussanne Vieilles Vignes, France
Made from ancient Roussanne vines planted in 1910 by François Perrin’s grandfather (underlining the story of family continuity), this is consistently an amazing Rhône Valley dry white and it showed as such on the day, with an intense, floral, beeswax and fresh lemony aromatic quality and on the palate mingling intensely rich and concentrated dried apricot, spiciness and honeyed fruit with a perfectly focused fresh blade of acidity. This remarkable dry white has a good decade’s life in it, if not longer. 94 /100
1990 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Although Château de Beaucastel is one of the southern Rhône’s very top reds, it’s been dogged by a reputation for containing the fungal / funky undertones of brett in some vintages. Not in 1990 however, which shows a remarkable mature bouquet combining tomato-skin and smoky beefstockish, earthy qualities with a fine spiciness, while the palate displays really fresh plum and raisin depth of flavour underscored by a leathery maturity that verges on the funky without straying over the line. The vinous equivalent of sinking into a deep, old leather armchair. 95 / 100.
2007 Torres Mas La Plana, Penedès, Spain
Mas La Plana is Torres’ top red made entirely from cabernet sauvignon with a legendary reputation thanks to beating first-growth Bordeaux at the 1979 Paris Wine Olympiad. It’s a rich, smooth style with smoky toasty oak and generous fruit that’s bright and sweet on the nose, and full of dark cherry and plum fruitiness with an intensely flavoured core of cassis, succulently rounded tannins and a veneer of polished cedary oak on top. Both acidity and tannins give it the structure for ageing as we saw with the 1982. 93 / 100.
1982 Torres Mas La Plana, Penedès, Spain
Mahogany in colour, this now superbly mature cabernet sauvignon (the first vintage of Mas La Plana was 1982) is wonderfully fragrant with mature aromas of liquorice spiciness and raisin, while the palate is textured, ripe and complex, very much alive with undertones of smoke and coffee behind the delightfully savoury and leathery fruitiness. It’s significant that this lovely wine is only a moderate 12% alcohol compared to the 14.5% of the much more powerful 2007, with global warming and later picking both responsible for the step change in style. 93 / 100
2004 Vega Sicilia Unico, Ribera del Duero, Spain
Deep in colour with an invitingly sexy aroma of woodsmoke spice and sweet coconut, this is a wonderfully exuberantly fruited blend from the Duero, displaying the most seductively sweet plum and prune-like fruitiness cocooned in flavours of liquorice spice and coconut, all backed by a terrific spine of acidity and an iron grip of tannins that ensure a very long life. Having said that, this remarkable Spanish red is just about beginning to drink well now, though still in its muscular youth. 97
1953 Vega Sicilia Unico, Ribera del Duero, Spain
Well, this was the oldest wine in the room by some 8 years and considerably older than all the sons and daughters of the illustrious family group present at The Square lunch. A remarkable wine, not just for its age, but this bricky garnet blend of 80% tempranillo, 15% cabernet sauvignon and 5% merlot and albillo shows an astonishingly mature bouquet of earthy bonfire smokiness and leather with slight volatile undertones, while the balsamic flavours mingle sweetness of aged leathery fruit and spice with an intensity and old man’s vigour that’s really hard to convey in words. Still robust and immense, this is a tribute to the extraordinary character of a great Spanish red. 96
2000 Château Mouton-Rothschild, Pauillac, France
Extremely youthful in colour still and showing a mix of coffee bean oakiness on the nose with some underlying truffley tones, the millenium Bordeaux first growth is still immensely youthful and rich showing lovely seductive concentrated black cherry and cassis fruitiness, so voluptuously textured and opulent with a youthfully seamless fruit quality and behind it a firm spine of acidity and tannin; if you think of most reds as getting on a bit after 12 years in bottle, this Mouton is just the opposite, barely ready to drink and only just easing springs as it begins its journey through adolescence towards maturity. 96
1961 Château Mouton-Rothschild, Pauillac, France
The Baroness really pulled out the stops at this incredible lunch treating us to the great 1960 Mouton Rothschild, a wine and an experience that most of us will only ever have once in a lifetime. And indeed it lived up to expectations, perhaps partly because it was in fine condition, presumably cellared at the château itself all these years. Bricky garnet in colour, its initial ethereal fragrance of leather and a slight TCP minty freshness gave way to a wow (technical term) complexity of incense spice and mature, savoury gamey fruit, still rich and yet elegant in its seamless textured and finishing still fresh with that slight almost medicinal mint character holding it up beautifully. The wine of the day. 99
2010 Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Auslese Goldkapsel, Germany
The youngest wine in the room, this beautifully delicate Mosel Riesling was at such a youthfully elemental stage of its potentially long life that it seemed almost wrong to drink it now. In the interests of research however, we had no alterative but to do so, and were grateful for the experience. With its moderate alcohol and refreshing spritz, it’s already a delight, fragrantly scented with a tropical fruit salad of toffee apple, pineapple and grapefruit and the most delicate delectably sweet peach and citrus-zesty fruit that’s clear, pure and sharply defined by wonderfully fresh acidity. 97
1990 Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Trockenbeerenauslese, Germany
A magnificent aged Mosel now starting to brown in colour, this has the most complex and intense nose mingling sweet demerara sugar and toffee apple and spice while the palate is sheer liquid sultana and raisin with a core of luscious peach and toffee apple steeped in barley sugar and honey and refreshed by the most delightful citrus-zesty acidity. 95
2007 Hugel et Fils Gewurztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles 'S', Alsace, France
Yellow gold in colour, this amazing gewürztraminer from Hugel displays an intensely exotic aroma of rose petal and lychee, while the immensely concentrated rich palate is like luscious peach, pear and liquid Turkish Delight, its immense richness cut by spicy and a fine blade of trenchant acidity that holds this exotically spiced sweet white together. 94
1976 Hugel et Fils Gewurztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles 'S', Alsace, France
Another exceptional, aged wine from a great vintage that we were privileged to be able to drink, this was yellow gold in colour and immensely intense, rich and spicy on the nose, with floral and herbal elements mingling with honey and spice, while the palate displays a hedonistic mix of incensey spiciness, rose petal and a pineappley-citrusy exoticism that’s starting to fade into old age. 91
2007 Graham's Vintage Port, Douro, Portugal
I was lucky enough to be sitting next to the Portmeister, Paul Symington, and I didn’t know then but I know now that he’s been made Decanter Man of the Year for 2012. It’s richly deserved of course because not only is he a pioneer and great producer of fine Ports but he’s also one of the more effacing of the group, suggesting even that he himself was lucky to be in such illustrious company. Well, welcome to the fold! The 2007 is self-evidently youthful, deep and brooding and yet already it has a wonderful fragrance full of Christmas cake spice, prune and coffee while the rich spice-tinged sweet cherry and blackberry fruit is held together by remarkably seamless freshness and tannins. Likely to be a great port, perhaps even on the lines of the extraordinary 1963. 94
1963 Graham's Vintage Port, Douro, Portugal
Well, yes a great port such as the 1963 perhaps comes along not once in a decade but once in a lifetime. So there we were having yet another once in a lifetime experience after the remarkable 1961 Château Mouton Rothschild. Bricky garnet in colour now, its ethereal fragrance is out of this world, a heady blend of earthy smokiness, incense spice, coffee and raisin combining with complex, magisterial authority, the intense fruit flavours of toffee, raisin spice and walnut held together in the silkiest of textures and the aftertaste so seamlessly fresh it seemed absurd to think that this wine, had we not just consumed it, would have reached its 50th birthday next year. 97