Wine battle success for yours truly

  • Chateaul D’Esclans “Les Clans”

There is a branch in Bermuda of an international association that started in Europe in 1248 and over the centuries their goal has been to enjoy good food, good wine and good company.

Some of us in the wine trade are members and we have dinners and tastings a few times a year.

One annual gathering that has proved to be very popular is “The Battle of the Wine Merchants” and here some of us demonstrate our understanding of food and wine pairing by providing wine that we feel appropriate with each course. The members then vote on who did the best job.

A few weeks ago, to a sell-out crowd in a popular restaurant, we were asked to match four wines with four courses. Another merchant, let’s just call them “G” as it would not be appropriate for me to divulge their name, also supplied four wines. To make it fair I was told that BLL had to put a limit of $51.20 on the bottle cost, but of course it could be less. I will also say that I have recently written about two of the wines that we entered, but I just wanted to tell this story anyway.

The first course consisted of foie gras and pork trotters along with a pickle and chilli sauce. It is traditional to match a sweet wine, usually Sauternes from Bordeaux, with foie gras, but then we had the pork to contend with. In my two-minute blurb to those gathered I said that my mind went immediately to Germany as I could pick out a wine from late-picked grapes that has a degree of sweetness and when I recall visits to Germany I think of all manner of pork dishes, Wiener schnitzel, ham hock and sauerkraut, roast pork, pork ribs and on and on. The wine just had to be German.

I recently wrote of our wonderful Dr Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese 2015 — $33.90. The Loosen family has made some of the most wonderful Rieslings for over two centuries and the “Sundial” vineyard at the town of Wehlen is renowned for some of the finest offerings in the land. This slightly sweet, gloriously complex and pure wine would be a perfect match. I staked my reputation on it.

I suspected that “The Others” may also consider a German wine but with 69,000 winemakers and heavens knows how many regions and vineyards in Germany they would without a doubt pick something quite different. Well, they got up and introduced their Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese 2014 from a highly respected producer. Talk about great minds! To fairly sum up the overall opinion it seemed that for pure sipping enjoyment ours tipped the scale in our favour, but that extra year of ageing and gaining of complexity made the older a better choice with this dish. We chalked up one win for the competition.

Now we were served a scallop dish in a cream sauce with lime and coconut enhancement. Having been rather shaken by the first round I now felt confident that our Chateau D’Esclans “Les Clans” 2015 Provence Rosé — $51.20 — would be unique and special.

After all, when Sasha Lichine decided to make a fine range of Rosé wine he hired the winemaker from the great Mouton Rothschild estate. So Sasha starts with Single Blend Rosé then Whispering Angel then Rock Angel and his Les Clans Rosé to me really takes on the finest attributes of a white Burgundy, even though the main grape is Grenache. Our adversary of the evening went to New Zealand and admittedly a most reputable Sauvignon Blanc.

At first they were both quite cold in the glass and neither revealed very much, but as they warmed I felt that the Sauvignon started to dominate the food whereas Les Clans gained viscosity and in a unique way was just perfect. The gathered group agreed with me with their vote count.

Now for beef ribs and a kecap manis flavouring. We chose San Felice Gran Selezione Il Grigio 2011 — $37.00 — from Tuscany. This wine from a completely restored ancient Roman hamlet really was a wonderful pairing and having scored 95/100 with the Wine Enthusiast how could we lose? Power and finesse, ripe plum, black cherry, crushed raspberry, cinnamon and mocha, along with velvety tannins all strutted themselves. Just so good and I love this classic wine that showed the perfection of the Sangiovese grape. Two thousand years of winemaking history, it has to win, or so I thought.

Those sneaky competitors played on raw emotions and the stampede towards New World red blends that are just teeming with ripe fruit and deliciousness. They even went to one of my favourite places — Napa Valley. They won.

Desserts often work well with sparkling wine as the millions of little scrubbing bubbles and acidity work wonders on cleansing sugar clogged taste buds. The dessert is a little difficult to describe but I do remember rice, coffee, anise and even peanut butter.

My cousins (literally) once again were on the same wavelength as I, and they selected a bubbly from a most renowned producer in Italy. I unabashedly preyed on patriotism and suggested, that due to our British heritage, we should all vote for Ridgeview “Cavendish” Brut 2014 — $49.90 — from Sussex in the south of England.

I told them that global warming has created a situation where this area is just perfect for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, which are the grapes used in Champagne. I also mentioned that individual fermentation in the bottle is done, just as in the Champagne District. I ended with saying that this winery has on three occasions placed right at the top in international tastings of the world’s best sparkling wines; even that it is served at Buckingham Palace and #10 Downing Street. This was a battle that the Brits won! There was now a 2-2 tie. Happily, the trophy now resides in my office as, unlike a recent voting event in vast lands to our West, the highest percentage of the popular vote was awarded the win.

This column is a paid for advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. Michael Robinson is Director of Wine at Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. He can be contacted at or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn have stores in Hamilton (Front Street East. 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St. George’s (York Street, 297-0409). A selection of their wines, beers and spirits are available online at