O W Loeb’s portfolio tasting – fine wines and some great bargains

I have long been a fan of O W Loeb, their list has always been packed with high grade kit from all of Europe’s smartest wine-growing regions. What never really occurred to me until I attended their portfolio tasting yesterday is how keenly priced their offerings are; they have some very enjoyable wines well within the reach of the hard of income. What was also pleasing to see is that Loeb’s list has expanded to include a good selection of wines from outside the traditional European areas they have always been so strong in. It was a great tasting to attend.

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I started off tasting the Crawford River wines from Western Victoria, being shown by their delightful winemaker Belinda Thomson (right). I found her Rieslings to be rather toothsome. The 2009, the current release, was vivacious and well-balanced. The fruit was attractive and ripe with not the slightest hint of the Australian Riesling curse (smelling of fly-spray) and it had vibrant acid levels that I was informed were natural with none added artificially. The other Riesling on show was Crawford River’s museum release 2005. I found this still to be rather youthful, only subtle hints of ageing were discernible. As with the 2009 I liked its juicy fruit and ebullient tartness (it was also not acidified). These may not have been the most complex wines in the world but provide solid drinking at their price-point of around a tenner. Also on offer were Crawford River’s Cabernet based wines. I shouldn’t really comment on these as Cabernet rarely engages my passions, but I did find them to be a shade lacking dimension.

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At the next table I got chatting to Steve Flamsteed (left), winemaker at Giant Steps in the Yarra Valley. Long time readers will know that, at least in the form of Mac Forbes’ production, the Yarra Valley can make delicious wines. I was delighted to hear he vinified each vineyard separately and used natural yeasts for the fermentations, rightly stating that the part of the terrior definition of a wine is the microfauna present in the vineyard. He had three 2008 Chardonnays on show and I preferred the Tarraford vineyard as I thought it had a satisfying degree of restraint and was heading in the direction of displaying some finesse. I rather liked his single vineyard Pinot Noirs which provide good value drinking with a degree of interest at £12-14 a bottle. Go for the Sexton vineyard which has a solid structure to support its pretty fruit.

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The Pinot Gris from Akarua in Central Otago, New Zealand was probably their best wine; indeed it was one of the best New Zealand Pinot Gris I’ve tasted. It had a density of fruit that a good Alsace Pinot Gris would feel proud to sport. Coupled with its direct acidity it resulted in this being a perky, refreshingly sapid wine that one could drink all afternoon. And what better thing is there to be doing of an afternoon other than drinking? Great value for a few pence over ten fun tokens (ie. £10.42 per bottle). Akarua’s Pinot Noirs were undemanding quaffers, totally faultless but not delivering much more than a pleasantly fruity chucking bevvie. The 2009 Reserve Pinot had a definite but not entirely unpleasant taste of cough mixture. If you fancy some affordable New World Pinot stick to Giant Steps.

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I sauntered about the room in an anfractuous style to see what wines I could chance upon and found some lewdly good kit. Foreau‘s Vouvrays are always expressions of eccentric brilliance. The 2009 Sec had one of the most peculiar characters I’ve ever encountered in a Loire Chenin Blanc: it was distinctly fruity. A fruity Vouvray, odd, eh? It just reeked of lovely ripe pears. The palate had a great interplay between this pear character and frighteningly searing acidity. Yeah, great stuff! The 2007 Demi-Sec was more classical Vouvray; damp, fungal, decay-themed aromas with stunning acidity and some residual sugar. This may sound repulsive but when you experience them combining synergistically in a bottle of top bunny Vouvray the result is a delectation-dealing whole of mind-mincing sophistication. Foreau’s 2007 Demi-Sec is such a wine, my mind was well and truly minced. For £13.25 and £14.25 a bottle respectively these are weird but winning indulgences at unmissable prices.

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I’ve been told that 2009 Beaujolais can be serious and I’m pleased I finally got to try some, some seductive ones at that. At £8.50 the Beaujolais l’Ancien Vieilles Vignes from Jean-Paul Brun was deliciously fruit-tastic bargain of really quite louche proportions. I liked its depth of character for such a despised appellation. His Morgon les Terres Dorees showed quality in more lewdly enjoyable style and is well worth a tenner a bottle. The one I’d go for is Jean-Marc Despres‘ Fleurie la Madone. At £9.42 it showed real complexity with a solid and satisfying structure to match its abundent, ambrosial fruit. This was a seriously good Beaujolais and I bleeding loved it.

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Finally, I drifted by the Marsannay producer Sylvain Pataille‘s (right) table. Marsannay has rarely yanked my bell-pull but Sylvain’s efforts blew my underwear off. Firstly he had a Marsannay Blanc 2006 which was made with 50% Chardonnay Rosé. This is a crazily rare grape variety, only one hectare is planted in the whole of the Cote d’Or, which has a more overt and aromatic flavour profile than ordinary Chardonnay. Indeed, it was explosive on the nose with lots of round, polished, Pinot Gris-like fragrances on the nose and a buxom but harmonious palate with a wonderful, powerful fruit. Certainly a bit of an oddity but at £14.17 a bottle it would be a great and affordable wine for those after a bit of a change from their normal Chardonnay experiences.

Until yesterday I didn’t think I’d ever see this construction being used: his Bourgogne Passetoutgrains 2008 was stunning. Not stunningly complex but entrancing with its well-titted-out fruit which gave it a character that just demanded to be ravished by all who smell it. A lot of Gamay in it, but clearly some mystical Gamay of smack my arse up quality. A joyful wine that you’d have to be pretty miserable not to love. The price for this delight: £9 a bottle, a steal.

The last wine I tried from M. Pataille was a 2007 Marsannay Rouge ‘la Montagne’. This was proper Burgundy that ostentatiously flashed the fruity delight of the 2007 vintage with beauteous, desirable panache. £15 a bottle for Burgundy of this scrummy quality is a good offer to be taking up. At this point the scariness of being in large crowds of people got too much for this nutcase reporter and I skulked home to the safety of quietness.

I knew O W Loeb had quality wines on their list but I was rather chuffed to see they could also do value. Elitistreview is concerned about quality above all other considerations including cash, but I feel very happy to recommend these wines suitable for the yawningly empty of bank account. Whip out your blower, give them a bell and and buy some!

O W Loeb, 3 Archie Street, London SE1 3JT Telephone: 0207 234 0385