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Blog du Vin

The Classics
by Olly Smith

What makes a classic wine? Certain wines, places, grapes and producers have names that resonate with more than just hardcore wine fans, much like the greatest hits of a band with a long career span. I'm not suggesting for one moment that wine is the drinks equivalent of the Bee Gees, but just as most of us will know 'Night Fever', not all of us will have heard of 'Lemons Never Forget', just as names like Rioja are world famous where Roero is perhaps less familiar. Why?

Sometimes successful branding and marketing can have a huge impact. When you consider that Cloudy Bay, one of New Zealand's best known names, was very nearly named Farewell Spit, the modern age of savvy communicating has done much to help boost wine's profile. At my first Hotel du Vin dinner on 3rd November on the theme The Classics, I've included an English sparkling wine from Gusbourne Estates. Surely not a classic? Certainly one in the making, and it definitely has the heritage of a classic since it was an Englishman Christopher Merret who delivered a paper to the Royal Society in 1662 which told of how to make wine "brisk and sparkling" over twenty years before bubbles are said to have begun rising in France's Champagne region. People too, have a huge impact on how wines develop in our wider psyche. It might be an individual like Dom Pérignon of Champagne fame or even whole civilisations and societies who have a part to play in establishing the classics. For example, the Romans brought vines throughout Europe but it was the monks of the Roman Catholic Church who truly brought Burgundy to life. Quite a thought to reflect that the Chassagne-Montrachet I'll be serving at dinner on 3rd November comes from a place with vinous roots that stretch back to the Middle Ages. Bordeaux developed a strong relationship with Britain as it was once ruled from London, Rioja in part developed as a result of the phylloxera vine louse plague which pillaged Bordeaux vineyards and sent many winemakers south to Spain in search of un affected vines to tend. Rather awesome to think that the Ramon Bilbao I'm serving from magnums to match our main course of lamb in part owes its very existence to a tiny vine pest rampaging through the soils of Bordeaux. And of course invasions and wars on much larger scales play their part in establishing the rise of classic wines. In the late 1600s Britain's various skirmishes with the French flung our national cellar doors wide open to Portugal with whom we've long enjoyed cordial relations, not least over our mutual appreciation of their sweet fortified Port wines. Come along to The Hotel du Vin Birmingham on 3rd November and I'll personally pour you a dose of historic Tawny Port to sip with our sumptuous cheese board and we can raise a toast to "villains, skirmishes and the rise of good taste!" Here's to an evening revelling in the glory of the classics.