Sliverado, Priorat, Tesco, Lenz and Russ
Began today with Tesco's press tasting at County Hall. The Tesco team were beaming with pride as they launched their new range: all 180 wines on show were new additions. Dan Jago was bursting with boyish enthusiasm - he makes everything he does look very easy, as if he's just having a bit of fun. I suspect the reality is that it's like watching a swan cross a pond: on the surface everything looks smooth, but under the water those legs are paddling like crazy. I also discussed football with fellow Man City fan Jason Godley. Interesting times.
Then it was off to lunch with Lenz Moser (above) and Russ Weis (below), with the theme being Silverado (the Napa estate where Russ is manager) and Melis/Elix, Russ' Priorat venture. We were due to meet at Tendido Cero, but when Russ and Lenz got there the manager refused to let them open their own bottles, irrespective of corkage fee. They tried to explain they were presenting their wines to a journalist, but got absolutely nowhere. A strange attitude, really, and it meant that proceedings were moved to Bibendum, a short walk away. It was the first time I'd visited Bibendum (the restaurant, not to be confused with the wine merchant), and the setting in the Art Deco ex-Michelin building is stunning. The food is also pretty good.
Lenz and Russ are buddies from the time when they both worked for Mondavi. They are both charismatic brand ambassadors, and the lunch had a real sense of openness and energy to it. We began by looking at one of Russ' Priorat wines, the Elix 2005, which was superb, even though it is the young vines cuvee. Then we tried two Silverado wines side-by-side. The 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon really impressed, with lovely structure and focus to the dense fruit. The 2oo2 Solo Cabernet Sauvignon takes things up a bit in terms of elegance and density, and up a lot in terms of price (retail is c. £80). It's a lovely wine.
Over this last week, my view of California has shifted a bit. I've seen with some of the high-end Jackson Estate wines that California can offer serious wines that have some old world complexity and balance with new world intensity, and this has been confirmed today by these two Silverado wines. California needs ambassadors like Russ, because the image we have of Californian wines in the UK falls into two categories: first, cheap brands that aren't very good and, second, ego-driven wines made by exceptionally rich ex-doctors, lawyers and movie stars which sell for absurd sums to wealthy Americans. This image needs to change.