Harvey Nichols has just added another string to its already well furnished bow – first they brought us the deliciously decadent Tanqueray 10 Terrace and now, as summer folds its golden wings back in for another year, they've started hosting wine masterclasses.
Curious to see what was on offer, I headed to the infamous 5th floor after work the other evening, making a double-pronged detour: firstly to peruse their food hall and drool over the cheese, and secondly to dribble over their extensive Champagne selection – they even had a label for Krug's super rare and eye-wateringly expensive Clos d'Ambonnay, but the bottle was sadly absent.
Dragging myself away from the Champagne, I took my place at the tasting table, along with a sprinkling of fellow wine lovers. I was quickly handed a glass of golden fizz, which I presumed was Champagne, but was surprised and delighted to find out it was in fact vintage Cava: Gran Caus Brut Nature Reserva 2004. I'm a huge fan of Spanish wine but have never been a Cava nut - I find it a bit too earthy. This was different. It was amazingly elegant and refined, with rich, biscuity, autolytic notes. It had excellent body and depth, and was easily the best Cava I've ever tasted. We were off to a good start.
Frenchman Patrick Salles, Harvey Nicks' head sommelier, was our host for the evening. He championed himself to us as something of a maverick in the sommelier world - a man happy to go against the grain and push for dairing pairings in food and wine matching, which I'm all for. Food and wine, like life, is all about experimentation and discovery.
Salles chose to pair two different whites with our starter of elderflower marinated salmon with fennel and apple creme fraiche: one wine to complement the salmon and the other to complement the creme fraiche. First we tried Allende 2007, a barrel fermented Viura from Rioja. Rich, rounded and creamy, it went wonderfully well with the sashimi-like salmon and I was immediately seduced. Next up was Terras Gauda, O Rosal Albariño 2008 from Rias Baixas, which was fresh and fruity, with lemon, grass, gooseberry, peach and apricot dominating.
After a brief lesson in decanting, remarkably my first in three years at Decanter, Salles performed the same trick with the main course: smoked duck breast with cream cabbage and bacon in a Madeira jus. The duck, smoked in Earl Gray tea, was heavenly. It had a gamony flavour, which, when combined with the meaty Spanish reds, absolutely sang. First we tried Pittacum Mencía 2005 from up-and-coming region Bierzo. Mencía is an exciting Spanish grape variety to watch, and the rising star didn't disappoint. Dense with bramble fruits, wild cherries, herbs and flowers, there was a lot going on in the glass.
The second red was Aalto 2006 from Ribera del Duero, one of the northern Spanish region's icon wines alongside Vega Sicilia and Pingus. It was distinctly different from the Bierzo – sweeter, more opulent; more hedonistic. The nose and palate showed black currant, black cherry, chocolate, vanilla and toffee, wrapped around toasty oak and spice. Pudding was an equally decadent affair - a gooey chocolate fondant with banana and coconut ice cream paired with Moscatel, Emilin NV from Bodgeas Lustau that looked and tasted like treacle.
The day after the tasting I called Aalto winery, as I was researching an article on Ribera del Duero and needed some quotes. The bodega's founder, Javier Zaccagnini, picked up the phone. We get talking and he mentions that he's in London for the next few hours, so I suggest we meet for lunch. I take him to my local tapas bar, Mar I Terra in Southwark, and over octopus and lamb cutlets I tell him that I tried his wine for the first time last night. That's the crazily beautiful thing about the wine world - one minute you can be discovering a wine for the first time, and the next you're having lunch with the winemaker. You can see my video interview with Javier here.