I am not sure when exactly I stopped using the spittoon placed at my elbow, but with an array of 22 glasses in front of me, each containing some of the best wines I have ever tasted, it seemed somehow impolite to spit them all out.
I was at lunch with the group of 11 producers known as the Primum Familiae Vini (PFV) – the first family of wine – and while this fairly pompous title might be off-putting, the people certainly weren’t. It’s an international association which brings together family-owned wine producers such as Mouton Rothschild from Bordeaux, Antinori from Tuscany, Drouhin from Burgundy, Perrin from the Rhône, Torres from Catalonia and Pol Roger from Champagne as well as Vega Sicilia from Spain, Müller Scharzhof from the Mosel, Hugel from Alsace, Symington from the Douro and Tenuta San Guido from Bolgheri. There used to be 12 members until the Mondavi family in California sold out to big business and were politely asked to leave the club.
So why would a group of fairly wealthy winemaking families feel the need to group together and in particular why were they holding this lunch at a top-notch London restaurant?
Essentially this was a celebration of the aims of the PFV – the “routine generational exchange of information” as explained by Frédéric Drouhin of Maison Joseph Drouhin in Burgundy. These families are definitely in the wine business to make wine.
Of course they hope to make some money along the way, but their chief aim is not huge financial gain. It would be easy for each producer to sell their vineyards, realise their money and live in the sunshine of the Caribbean instead of spending their time working the vineyards, making wine and selling it. They are just the current generation looking after these companies, and many of the producers emphasised the caretaker role they each have in their businesses by bringing along the next generation who one day will be in charge.
“It can take 30 years for a vineyard to make a really great wine, by the time it is planted, cared for, the wine made and matured, so clearly all the work is for the next generation,” said Frédéric.
So this group of producers are all quality minded, each with their own vineyards and a history going back at least a few generations. They meet up periodically, to exchange ideas, share technical information and in many cases share distribution channels. But what is in it for the consumer? You won’t see PFV on the labels, but I regard this group in much the same way as an independent merchant compared with a big supermarket. The independent merchant builds his customer base, provides good quality wine and looks to the long-term for his business. These members of the PFV are doing just that.
Each producer brought two wines to the tasting, a relatively young vintage and then one with age. Although prices were not mentioned at all, just for interest, I have added the approximate value of some of the bottles, assuming you could find them. You will be able to find wines from the Primum Familiae Vini in some of our top restaurants in Yorkshire.
Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs 2000 (£54): This house is one of my favourites and this wine shone with toasty concentration and precise acidity.
Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs 1988 (n/a):Astonishingly good for its age, more brioche than toast with apricot and citrus notes.
Joseph Drouhin Montrachet Grand Cru Marquis de Laguiche 2008 (£320):A real jewel of a wine, elegant with a nutty background, peaches and pear up front and a finish that danced across my tastebuds.
Joseph Drouhin Montrachet Grand Cru Marquis de Laguiche 1990 (£600): Slow to open up but then it stretched and filled the glass, ripe with peach, spice and honey notes and a long finish.
Famille Perrin Ch. de Beaucastel Blanc Roussanne Vieilles Vignes 2009 (£150): A glorious wine with exotic cinnamon-sprinkled apricot notes, a touch of honey and nuts and delicious cleansing acidity on the finish.
Famille Perrin Ch. de Beaucastel 1990 (£150): Surprisingly pale in colour with earthy, leather notes and cherries pushing through on the mid-palate. Silky, ripe tannins.
Antinori Solaia 2008 (£265): Bright with concentrated juicy raspberry fruit, layered with ripe tannins and a polished finish.
Antinori Solaia 2001 (£200): This demonstrated just how well this wine ages, with savoury meaty notes balancing the fruit and a dense, long finish.
Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2006 (£170): Still tight and youthful with savoury, rustic notes. One to keep for a few more years.
Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1996 (magnum) (£200): Savoury elegance with silky tannins and deep complexity. Astonishingly good with monkfish.
Torres Mas la Plana 1982 (n/a): Silky and savoury, with light, red berry fruit and herbs. Surprisingly vibrant for its age.
Torres Mas la Plana 2007 (£36): Deep with colour and blackcurrant fruit, layered with spice and a touch of earthiness.
Vega Sicilia Unico 2004 (£200): Dark red, almost raisiny fruits on the nose followed by a youthful, chunky tannic structure. This has a long time to go.
Vega Sicilia Unico 1953 (£800): A fabulous opportunity to taste such an old vintage of this legendary wine. Still alive with warm, almost port-like cherry fruit on the nose and savoury spices on the palate.
Ch. Mouton Rothschild 2000 (£900): Smooth and impressive, like a Rolls Royce with the handbrake on, just give it time.
Ch. Mouton Rothschild 1961 (£1500): A pure privilege to taste, with toasted olive bread notes on the nose, still some red berry fruit and savoury complexity that goes on and on.
Hugel Gewürztraminer Selections de Grains Nobles ‘S’ 2007 (£160): Like liquid apricot and orange marmalade with a touch of spice and pure citrus acidity.
Hugel Gewürztraminer Selections de Grains Nobles ‘S’ 1976 (£110): An astonishing crushed mint leaf aroma. Fabulous.
Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Auslese Goldkapsel 2010 (£360): Spice-edged crystallized apricot notes balanced by precise, clean acidity.
Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Trockenbeerenauslese 1990 (n/a): Tawny port in colour, but surprisingly lively in flavour, rich and concentrated.
Graham’s Vintage Port 2007 (£50): Full of ripe concentrated red fruits. Still young with time to go.
Graham’s Vintage Port 1963 (£180): Elegant and perfectly balanced with red fruits, supple, silky tannins and a long, refined finish.