With the Tour de France concluded today and millions of cycling fans going into withdrawal, we re-post this tale of cycling to a very special wine tasting. Our drinks editor and cycling bore Peter Dean recounts an eventful day when the only way to get to a top notch tasting was by getting on his bike for four hours…. luckily a breakfast of champions greeted him at a South African wine tasting event held at The Harrow at Little Bedwyn. What follows is a tasting report that contains no tasting notes, and a South African event that has more to do with the Welsh than it does the South Africans.
Little prepared our intrepid taster for the treats that lay in store after an eventful cycle to deepest Wiltshire
It was exactly a week ago at about 10 in the morning that I found myself hurtling through the air at a speed I would approximate at between 20 to 25 miles an hour.
I am prone to a bit of exaggeration from time to time, especially when the nectar of the Gods crosses my palate, but this is a pretty accurate guess for I had just glanced at the Garmin 800 on my handlebars and that was the speed I was doing when my front wheel glanced the bank and I was off, with just a millisecond to choose vegetation over tarmac.
If you had to design a surface to land on, coming off a bicycle at speed, then luckily I had found the perfect spot – rich autumnal vegetation, horizontal, at about two feet off the road surface, with nothing lurking beneath the foliage to put an immediate end to my morning plans.
It was akin to finding the relief of soft powder after you leave an icy black run.
First stop. Breakfast at The Harrow with a ‘little bubbly’
I was on my way to The Harrow at Little Bedwyn, Wiltshire that regular visitors to this site will of course know as the Michelin-starred restaurant run by the charming Sue Jones and her husband Roger, Welsh chef extraordinare and host of all manner of excellent wine tasting events.
The bash that I was going to be late for was Little Safari, a wine tasting and lunch with some of South Africa’s top winemakers showing their wares to a paying public and a few lucky guests.
With nothing broken on bike or person I blessed my fortune and set off with just a few squeaks that hadn’t been there 10 minutes earlier. The bike felt less than 100% too.
The ride was fair to middling in distance and elevation – Bath to Hungerford – and about three and a half hours. With nothing but one cup of tea and a slice of toast it was fair to say that I arrived at The Harrow with a reasonably keen appetite.
Now although the invite did mention a sparkling tasting at 11 with some breakfast canapés, nothing but nothing prepared me for what treats lay in store.
The Joneses are no strangers to generosity and style but what they had prepared was simply the best line-up of fizz that I have ever had the pleasure of taking an empty glass to. And it would be fair to say that was probably the case with the rest of the assembled throng.
But let me cut to the chase – Krug 1996 and black pudding don’t just go well together, they were designed to go together like the perfect yin and yang. Or France playing Wales in the Rugby World Cup Final. As if.
No, this wasn’t food matching, this was alchemy.
The 1995 Krug, much more broad-shouldered like a prop or a hooker, had dealt with the sumptuous blood sausage well enough, but the 1996 was more like a wing forward with its extra energy fizzing into the challenge, acidity cutting into the earthy fat.
And that wasn’t all.
This line-up of sparkling was so awesome that the clichéd bottle shots that us wine journos depend upon could only be dealt with in Panorama.
The one South African sparkler that was in the line-up – a limited edition private reserve from Waterford Estate – coped magnificently in such refined company as did the English sparkling wines from Hambledon, Wiston, Sugrue Pierre and Nyetimber, although some of the assembled winemakers were not exactly generous with their praise.
Referring to climate change one said “You really know the world is heading to Armageddon when you’re drinking English wine,” a jibe that caused Hambledon owner Ian Kellett who was in earshot to almost choke on his fizz.
And I’m not through. Also on the table was Juve & Camps Gran Reserva 2011, Bellavista Vendemmia Brut Franciacorta 2010, Croser Piccadilly Valley 2007, Taltarni Blanc de Blancs 2011. Even a Blanc de Blancs Ancre Hill Estates 2009 from some country in the South West of Britain that will soon lose all of its EU subsidies.
Almost all the assembled bottles could easily be drunk by the bottle, but tasted en masse, well.
And I kid you not…. this was one of two tables. Time forbids me to recount what was on that one but suffice to say it was a similarly sumptuous array that made the table groan.
To match this regal line-up? we ate black pudding, chorizo and cubes of smoked pork belly, meltingly delicate sashimi of scallops, tuna and salmon. And all this after exercise in what could possibly be the perfect weather conditions for cycling in the English countryside.
And this was not even the main event! That was yet to come and will be covered by The Buyer in good time.
Suffice to say that like all major events, it is good to be able to say ‘I was there’.
The Buyer would respectfully like to thank Sue and Roger Jones for the use of their shower on Sunday morning.