The Vignerons’ Lunch at St. JOHN Restaurant is an annual tasting of the group’s wine range – available to trade and consumer – including its own label wines blended by the wine team, its own Languedoc winery Boulevard Napoléon, and a group of vignerons that St. JOHN works with, either on its own label wines or with specific and bespoke cuvées. It is also an excuse to praise at the high altar of British cooking, with St. JOHN co-founders Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver. In a somewhat messy fashion.
Hosting the tasting on a Saturday seemed like a foolhardy move, until I woke up on Sunday and realised that a clear 24 hours recovery was entirely and utterly necessary.
“And yes darling you have shown me the picture of your pie,” my wife said to me this morning, “more than once,” she added. “… in fact there were quite a lot of things you told us more than once last night.”
It’s always a sign of a good lunch, I find, when I wake up in the spare room, the menu beside me acting like a Post-It from the film Memento. There’s a few random recollections from the night before which tend to involve waking up holding a full Zalto while the end credits roll from another film I didn’t see – in this case The Two Popes. What was I thinking?
My God that pie. Pheasant and Pig’ s Trotter Pie with Suet Crust to give its correct title from Nose to Tail Eating, the seminal cookbook from Fergus Henderson, who co-owns St. JOHN Restaurant with Trevor Gulliver. It’s a dish I have made myself on more than one occasion for my chums at wine club and comes with a genius descriptor “This is a most rich and steadying pie.”
Steadying – perfect for this year’s Vignerons lunch, an occasion for St. JOHN Wines to show off its 2020 range to assorted sommeliers, restaurateurs and wine buyers. There were quite a few of us who needed some steadying.
So there are three things that I am extremely thankful for. First, that I went to the tasting lunch, second that I had a generous portion of porridge before I went and third that the Negroni bar that fellow hack Kate Hawkings dragged me into en route to the train station was firmly closed.
In fact it seemed to be open, this being six o’clock, but I remember the bar staff looking at us and saying “We’re shut.” Weird that, there were customers in there who seemed to be drinking Negronis….
As for St. JOHN Wines, the tasting of which preceded the lunch, this is a compact list of French wines that are split between the St. JOHN label, Boulevard Napoléon – the group’s own winery in the Languedoc – and a variety of vignerons that St. JOHN has been working with over the years.
St. JOHN Wines caters for trade sales to like-minded restaurants, with next day delivery in London, and consumer sales both online and off-sales. Jon Rotheram who runs Marksman in Hackney, the first London pub to win Michelin pub of the year, explained that he buys wine from St. JOHN because they’re all of a certain style – typical from the region they come from but also ready to drink immediately, this being achieved by the wine team led by Victoria Sharples who are actively involved in the blending process.
Wines that stood out at the tasting
1883, Maison Sichel, 2018
100% Merlot, with no sulphur added, from 20 plots in Entre deux Mers (which is not mentioned for obvious reasons on the very classy looking bottle). Soft, graphite, with a good deal of class which is what you would expect from the owners of Palmer and Angludet, who have also produced the St John Claret for 20 years. RRP £12.60
Moulin a Vent, Richard Rottiers, 2015
Beaujolais with a good deal of Ooomph from one of the rising stars of the region. Ripe, structured with terrific texture belying its time in oak – the few years in bottle has tamed this powerhouse of a wine, but thankfully not too much. RRP £22.80
Les Chaumées Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru Blanc 2015, Bruno Colin, 2015
All three of Colin’s Chassagnes were drinking perfectly, this was my fave – a blend of three plots the oldest vines being 63 years. Silky, spicy, citrus, saline with a lively mouthfeel that only comes from the very best terroir. RRP £96
Les Terrasses des Vallerots, Marchard de Gramont, 2013
Trevor Gulliver first started working with this Nuits-Saint-Georges-based domaine in the Nineties with Bertrand Garmont (who created it in 1983); daughter Axelle has since taken over. All three reds were yummy, Les Terrasses des Vallerots coming from young vines and showing how under-estimated 2013 can be – and how easily the wines can be drinking. Bright, fresh, rustic, textured. RRP 39.50
Ora Alba Brut Grand Cru NV, Champagne J.Vignier
Another new relationship here, with three cuvées available, this being the least expensive. Interestingly vigneron Sébastien Nickel explains that he uses the same dosage of 5g irrespective of whether the wine is being aged for 4-08 years as with this wine of nine years for his top of the range Les Longues Verges Brut Grand Cru NV. The Ora Alba (“white hills”) is a blend of three vintages 2009,10 and 11 – bone dry, grapefruit pith, chalky, pure. RRP £48
Grenache Noir, Boulevard Napoléon, 2015
From St. JOHN’s winery in La Livinière which produces the best wines from Minervois in the Languedoc. All of the single varietals were tasting superb particularly this rich, structured, well-balanced Grenache from 70 year-old vines. Lovely freshness that you associate with the terroir here, sitting as it does on the base of the Massif Central, and oozing with minerality – underneath the black forest gateaux. The Carignan Noir 2016 which is released in the Spring is worth looking out for too. RRP £20.55
Bien Autre, St. JOHN, 2017
Bien Autre is an occasional wine, made when Boulevard Napoléon has surplus fruit – ie it’s a keenly-priced smart buy. Made from Carignan, Cinsault and Grenache, this is a plush, easy drinking wine where you might as well put a straw in the bottle and go and find a corner somewhere. RRP £15.95
You can get hold of the full list by clicking here, or contacting Miriam on 020 7553 9843 or firstname.lastname@example.org