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Pol Roger, Hugel and Sichel

by Tom Cannavan, 07/99

The Wine Society is the oldest and largest wine club in the world. Founded in 1874, it is a mutual society, where all members are shareholders and profits are ploughed back into the club. Lifetime membership costs £20, and for this members receive 3 lists per year (over 750 wines from 20 countries) as well as newsletters, offers and details of tastings and events. The Wine Society has very competitive prices, and many wines are matured in the Society's cellars before being released to the membership. I have been a member for some time.

This tasting in Edinburgh was to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Society. It brough together 6 suppliers who have a long association with the club: Pol Roger Champagne, Hugel of Alsace, Sichel of Bordeaux, Beaucastel and Jaboulet of the Rhône and the Symington Port shippers. They brought 25 wines for tasting, both current vintages and, generously, some mature bottles of very high quality specially selected for the event. It was an excellent tasting, and a nice chance to meet those involved in creating these wines. Notes from Pol Roger, Hugel and Sichel follow. Part II contains the notes from the rest.

Pol Roger (Champagne) with Hubert de Billy

Non Vintage Brut (White Foil) - £22.50
Beautifully clean but yeasty nose of baked apple pie. Pillowy, soft, rolling mousse. Fine acidity sharpens a set of toasty, warm flavours of baked apples and lighter, citrus and subtle tropical fruit. Long and lovely.
This is consistently one of my top 2 or 3 non-vintage Champagnes - the art of the master blender!

Vintage 1990
Wonderful nose. Redolent of peach, apricot, nuts and toast with a distinct almondy edge. Rich and mouthfilling mousse. A nettly note on the palate, but otherwise fine marmalade orange flavours and a nutty dryness. Long, pure finish with fine balance and clean acidity. Superb chewy and complex Champagne.
I tasted a pre-release sample of this wine a couple of years ago. It is filling-out and shaping-up very nicely, but will be better in a few years. I'm glad I have some of this cellared.

Vintage Rosé 1990 - £39.00
Very pretty pink colour. Steady stream of bubbles rises evenly. Soft, strawberry fruit on the nose with a nettly edge. Just a touch of tannin in the mouth behind fine raspberry and strawberry fruit. Creamy and densely-flavoured, this is long, balanced, serious rosé.
I enjoyed this more than the '88, which was the last vintage I tried.

Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill 1998
Quite a pale gold. Like a deeper, more brooding version of the 1990 vintage with a similar aromatic profile of apricots, brazil nuts, toast and over-ripe pear skins. This is dense, chewy, really concentrated wine that needs time. Not quite so fresh as the '86 perhaps?
I had only previously tasted one vintage of this, the 1986. I guess that - although not as good as the '86 - this will need a few more years to show its best.

Hugel et Fils (Alsace) with Etienne Hugel

The Society's Vin D'Alsace 1998 - £5.25
Very pale, almost transparent. Lightly aromatic nose of spice and apple. A little bit raw on the palate, and though fairly neutral, there is decent citrus fruit and grapefruitty acidity. Not bad.

Tokay-Pinot Gris, Jubilee 1995 - £14.50
Pale straw/gold. Tiny bit of free sulphur blows off to reveal a high, waxy nose with a toasty complexity (almost like new oak!). Very rich palate with a seam of ripe pear and peach fruit and a spicy edge. Rich and alcoholic, but good length and balance. Good.

Riesling, Jubilee 1990 - £16.00
Pale straw/gold. High kerosene and wax notes dominate the bouquet. There is a dry, mineral note beneath. Palate is very clean with lime and pear-drop flavours, notable acidity and an overall light, zippy character. Quite long, with flowery nuances peeking through. I would have liked a little more complexity. Maybe better in a few years.

Gewürztraminer, "Hommage Jean Hugel" 1997 - £21.00
Hugel's special new bottling, only from exceptional years. Pale straw/pink. Classic varietal aromas of lychee, pear-drop and exotic Turkish delight. Luscious weight on the palate and definitely off-dry. Fruit is very concentrated and a searing streak of pithy grapefruit acidity, once melded, should provide balance. Lovely spice and purity of fruit in the finish. Very good indeed of its type.

Gewürztraminer, Sélection de Grains Nobles 1989
Pale gold tinged green. Developed wax and petrolly aromas heighten the aromatics. Lychee, peach and pear with subtle mineral notes. Gorgeous sweet palate with a smoky, gravelly edge to peachy fruit. Good acidity and plenty of spice. Sparky, concentrated and very, very long this is one of the best Gewürztraminers I've tasted - this could easily convert me to what is not my favourite variety!

Peter Sichel (Bordeaux) with Lee Claridge

Château d'Angludet (Margaux) Cru Bourgeois 1990 - £25.00
Nice medium/pale ruby, just tawny at rim. Lovely Margaux profile of perfumes with red fruits, earth, autumn leaves and an animal note of game and beef blood. Silky body and a very nice concentration of mature flavours: game, leather, plum and mulberry, some vanilla and spice. Long, smooth and lovely finish. Very good.

Château Palmer (Margaux) 2nd growth 1983
Pale ruby, turning to ochre in the broad rim. Sweetly perfumed. More seductive than the d'Angludet with its fragrant nose of berry fruits, cedar, pencil-shavings, leather and a soft, exotic spiciness. Very supple palate with a finely-tuned concentration of fruit and spice flavours. Nice long finish again, showing concentration, depth and balance. Fully mature, for drinking over 5 - 8 years. Very good indeed.