I got to thinking about some wines last night, wines that had exceeded my expectations and consequently became more prominant in my recommendations, and wines that had failed to meet my expectations and therefore been a disappointment. There have been all too many of the later over the years - one of the most prominant being Krug's Clos de Mesnil when I first tried it several years ago for a Krug Dinner that we hosted. It had been so exhalted and placed on such a big pedestal, that when I tried it, angels failed to sing praises on my tastebuds and I felt let down, and disappointed. I guess I was a bit niave about it too, because at the time I wasnt conscious of its cost. When I found out how exhorbitantly expensive it was that only added to the sense of disappointment. Anyway several years have passed and having recently had the chance to taste the new vintage of Clos de Mesnil Im glad to say that my opinion has been slightly revised.
Which kinds of leads to the point of this posting.
Last night we were host to the Champagne Academy's Northern Dinner. The last time we hosted the dinner was in 2005, and much has changed in the meantime. The Westminster suite has had a complete refurbishment, Ross has been through the Academy's program and is now an Old Boy, and weve all grown a few years older, a few inches wider and experienced many hundreds of wines in the time that passed. This years dinner was presided over by Krug - the current presidential house, with Lanson the incoming (and hence Vice-presidential) house and Veuve the departing (and also Vice-presidential) house. At one time they all fell under the LVMH stable, (for the four months that it took LVMH to strip Lanson of its premium vineyards before being sold to the Mora family.)but now only Krug and Veuve are stable mates, Lanson being a family owned business. And it is here that the expectations come into play, but before that I guess I ought to divulge the wines that we served.
The starter wine was Lansons Noble Cuvee Blanc de Blancs 1998. My expectation of this wine was quite low, because, well, it was Lanson. Thankfully, for me anyway, it exceded that expectation and was actually pretty good. Considering its youth it was pretty damned good, the acidity levels were high enough to suit the dish it was paired with (a crab meat press with cucumber jelly and caviar dentelle).
For the intermediate course we poured Krug Grande Cuvee. There were a lot of folks disappointed with this wine. I think it was because their expectations are higher than the wine could deliver. Krug is a league apart from most other champagnes - not only in price, but in every little thing that they do. They ferment the wines in french oak barrels. They vinify the parcels of wines individually. They mature the wines for six years on the lees (the mandated minimum is three years. Many houses do not mature beyond that minimum). This gives the wines an incredible richness of flavour, depth of character and a whopping price tag. But I guess it also sets them up to be knocked down.
The main course was paired with an Argentine Malbec from Terrazas de los Andes - LVMH's pet winery in South America.
The Cheese course was paired with a Veuve Clicquot La Grand Dame 1998. This was a bit of a disappointment for me. It didnt distinguish itself enough apart from Yellow Label to justify the price difference. I reckon it was too young, personally, Im assured that this wine comes into its element after about 10 years of additional ageing, so I would expect it to be reaching its peak from about 2015. But a few people raved about it, so it just goes to show its all horses for courses.
The meal concluded with the Krug Rose. I have mixed feelings about this wine. Having first tasted it when we served the Champagne Academy menu tasting back in July, I was impressed but un-enamoured of it. Then in August I had the chance to visit Krug and got to sample the rose with a dessert at lunch in the middle of the Clos de Mesnil Vineyard. The wine was divine, from the amazingly oxidized looking copper brown colour of the wine, to the rich densely flavoured nose with soft red fruit, floral tones and a touch of membrillo jelly, this was one serious, serious rose. We discovered from our hostess, that the bottle we were being served was probably in excess of 12 years old. So having spend 6 years maturing on the lees before it was disgorged and labeled, it then spent another six in the cellars of Krug before being served to us with lunch. I was hooked. I became determined to procure a few bottles and lavishly lay them down with strict instructions not to open until 2014! And then reality came home to roost, when I realised that Krug Rose isnt cheap. Now I realise that there are cost implications with Rose - there is a finite amount of red wine available to blend with the white to create the rose style of wines favoured in champagne. This scarcity often means that Rose champagnes cost a fair bit more than their white counterparts. But Krug Rose is extortionately expensive. Eyewateringly expensive. Way more expensive than DP Rose, and thats a rip to start with!! So, barring a lottery win, it aint going to happen. And that is why I think most people felt that the Krug Rose was a let down for them. Yes it was good, and yes it paired well with the dessert - an autumn carpaccio of orchard fruits with blackberry fool and coconut macaroon. But is it good value? I dont think so.
So our expectations obviously shape the way we percieve a wine. For me thats quite important. I sell wines by creating a link between the wine and the food. I make them more attractive to people by personalising them, creating something that the customer can relate to, giving them some little nugget of information that identifies that wine is some small way to something they can understand. And in doing so, I will often, perhaps unwittingly, raise their expections of the wines. Which means that if I get it wrong, the effect can be far more disasterous than it needs to be.