Fortnum and Mason
This afternoon I met with Tim French, wine buyer for upmarket London department store Fortnum and Mason. Tim, who comes across as young, articulate and smart, has been redeveloping Fortnum's house wines. Rather than them occupy the bottom rung in the Fortnum's offering, they are sourced from prestigious producers and then slotted into the upper-middle segment of the range, with the producer's identity made clear on the label.
'I've tried to put myself in the consumers' place', says French. 'When you come to Fortnum and Mason, you want quality and authenticity. Customers are largely buying our reputation and expertise'. When he chooses wines for own-label, French says he is 'looking for the most authentic example of an appellation or terroir'. He adds that, 'we are working with producers that stand out among their peers'.
The reason I was meeting with him is because I'm going to be writing an article on his new Port range, which comes from Dirk Niepoort. 'Port is such an important category for us', says French. 'Of all my own label challenges, one of the most important was to get the Port right'. When deciding on a supplier, he began with the LBV. He had some 40 wines open and tasted through them. Of them all, the Niepoort wine stood out. He's gone on to develop a range of five Ports and one Douro table wine from Niepoort, which we tasted together.
1) Dry white Port: quite complex, fresh and moreish, and a bargain at £10.50
2) Douro 2005 table wine: this is the Vertente, and it's really good. French says, 'It's a style of wine that in many ways a Claret drinker would be familiar with, but it has modernity, too. For the traditional drinker it's a new experience in comfortable surroundings'. I agree. £14.50
3) LBV 2001: a mini-Vintage Port. Delicious. £13.50
4) Vintage Port 1997: this is stock left from Passadouro. Concentrated, smooth and intense, with a silky, layered palate. Serious. A bargain. £27.50
5) 10 Year Old Tawny: A brilliant balance between youth and development. Lovely delicacy and aromatics. 'I love the play of savoury and sweetness', says French. Finish is eternal. £22.50
6) Colheita 1991. Profound. Complex, spellbinding, with a lovely elegant soft texture, with subtelty and finesse. 'This whispers to you', says French. 'It's just so interesting'. £35
Footnote: Fortnum's wine bar allows customers to drink anything from the shop with a £10 corkage. From October, they will be open until 11 pm. Anyone fancy some serious drinking, with food?