Cliffhanger in annual wine battle

  • Wine battle: Michael Robinson offered Le Roc Sancerre 2015 from the house of Pascal Jolivet in France’s Loire Valley as part of a wine pairing competition (Photograph supplied)

    Wine battle: Michael Robinson offered Le Roc Sancerre 2015 from the house of Pascal Jolivet in France’s Loire Valley as part of a wine pairing competition (Photograph supplied)

Worldwide, in 80 countries, about 25,000 people belong to an organisation of food and wine lovers that can trace its roots back as far as 1248 when King Luis IX of France founded a guild of goose roasters.

Each year, the Bermuda chapter of Chaîne des Rôtisseurs organises a “Battle of the Wine Merchants” and on February 2 our company was chosen to attempt to snatch the trophy from last year’s winner.

About 60 folks judged and voted on which importer did the best job of matching their wines with various courses of food.

Another large company, that was unable to attend, provided a bubbly rosé and Italian white wine for the reception and then the clash between Burrows Lightbourn and one of our newer competitors began. The only guideline we were given was that our selection of wines could not average out at more than $70 a bottle.

The first course of salmon tartare niçoise and toasted sourdough bread was served. My adversary brought an Australian rosé. I confess that I had considered a similar wine from Provence however we presented Pascal Jolivet Sancerre Le Roc 2015.

I told those present that sauvignon blanc was the most asked for wine on our island and this one, that has been rated 95/100, should work beautifully. Its intense, steely and mineral notes along with crisp citrus acidity ought to make the food sing. Partial ageing in big barrels added a touch of vanilla richness. Jolivet farms organically and biodynamically. The first round went to us. The wine sells for $48.30.

A plate of pan-roasted cod, bacon crust, roast garlic purée and parsley sauce came next. The previous week I had taken fresh cod home and my dear wife had replicated the dish as she expected it to be. I also took three white wines home and we carefully tasted them with the fish. At first, the bottle of Delille Cellars Chaleur Estate Blanc 2015 from Washington State did not seem appropriate, but as it aired and warmed up a few degrees, it evolved and became most fitting.

I shared with our gathering that ten times out of ten I would pick this 70 per cent sauvignon blanc and 30 per cent sémillon blend as a fine, white bordeaux in a blind tasting. In fact, one review that awarded it 93+/100, stated that it was more Château Smith Haut Lafitte-like than Domaine de Chevalier. I honestly told the dinner guests that this style of wine did not have much demand in Bermuda, but I just had to go with this bottling that we offer for $54.

My competitor went with the obvious and presented a quite lovely white burgundy and he shamelessly preyed on the patriotism of the guests by sharing the fact that his wine was made by a member of an old Bermuda family (the winemaker’s father was in my class at school). I almost expected him to hand out “Make Bermuda Proud Again” hats! He won.

I am a lamb man for sure and the next course consisted of navarin of lamb leg and ribs and lamb belly croquettes. Along with lamb from Alberta and Colorado, I consider this meat from Bordeaux among my favourite and so I just had to go with a wine from that area. Sanctus 2012 St Emilion Grand Cru was poured. As I swirled it in the glass and took a deep sniff, a guest across from me at our table commented that he wished he had his camera at the ready, as it was amazing how much my face lit up.

I do admit to being quite overwhelmed by the beauty of this “Right Bank” offering that Robert Parker rated 94/100 and wrote: “This is a sensational wine to drink over the next 12 to 15 years.” He also called this 75 per cent merlot and 25 per cent cabernet franc blend “stunning”. The lamb had to contend with a delicious Spanish red from the other company, but it is fair to say that round three went to us. You can experience our winning wine for $52.90.

The wrap up was a rhubarb/granola crumble with custard and honeycomb ice cream. I wanted to finish with a truly classic wine but at $150.70 a bottle, it would have pushed my average over the magic figure agreed upon. After I explained that I was considerably under price on my other three, and that only two ounces of my golden nectar needed to be poured for a serving, all parties agreed that it would be appropriate. A bottle of such a wine is adequate for a dinner party of ten.

I presented Château Rieussac 2009 Sauternes Premier Cru Classé en 1855 that is owned by Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite). James Suckling rated it 98/100, but let me share the Robert Parker comments: “97/100. The 2009 Rieussec is a blend of 84 per cent sémillon (relatively low), 12 per cent sauvignon blanc and 4 per cent muscadelle picked between September 17 and October 15 over four pickings. It has a rich and powerful bouquet that overshadows the 2010, decadent ripe quince, peach and dried honey scents, a dab of beeswax developing with time. The palate is wonderfully balanced with botrytis-rich fruit, a multilayered and opulent rieussec that somehow maintains quite brilliant balance towards the minerally finish. This is one of the great wines from the estate in the modern age.” I can add that it was also included on the Wine Spectator’s list of the Top 100 Wines in the World in 2012.

The other merchant shared an Oregon riesling made in an ice wine style. The darned thing garnered more votes than our sauternes and so we stood at two wins each. Unlike elections in a least one nearby country, it was decided that the presenter with the highest share of the popular vote should have the trophy. Out of 220 cast, our wines received 5 less overall. It was a cliffhanger, but I left empty-handed. If only all battles could give so much joie de vivre to the participants!

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George (York Street, 297-0409). Visit

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Published Feb 15, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Feb 15, 2019 at 2:24 am)

Cliffhanger in annual wine battle

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