Friday, 11 July 2008

HMS Warrior Wine Tasting

There is probably an ancient link between gun-decks and spitting, I thought, as we milled around HMS Warrior’s mighty cannons, tasting a summer selection of Club wines. Not that Members were spitting much. With me it’s a reflex; I sometimes have to restrain myself at table. You can taste so many more wines if you stop yourself swallowing.

On the face of it it’s an odd connection: wine and a warship. But since the Warrior, the first great ironclad sail-and-steam battleship of the Royal Navy and the nuclear deterrent of its time, was rescued from being an oil jetty at Milford Haven, restored and brought to Portsmouth four years ago, she has been an irresistible attraction. And you can’t hold wine tastings on HMS Victory.

Her gun deck is enormous. There is room for 26 of the biggest Nelson-style cannons and hundreds of people. The crew lived round the guns, slung their hammocks above them and messed at the tables between them which we covered with bottles and glasses. We also took breaks from tasting to explore the decks below: the titanic engines, the stokehold with ten boilers and the vast store of ammunition. Victorian engineering is awe-inspiring. A propellor is a brake on a sailing ship. When she sailed it was hauled out of the water; all 34 tons of it. By hand: a job for 600 men.

We were a mere 250, Members and crew. A good number of us, I discovered (and might have guessed from their clean cut jaws and trim rig) were retired sailors who can’t get Portsmouth out of their systems. There is nothing very systematic at Club tastings like this, though: just a freewheeling browse through 40-odd wines picked for variety and value.

We had two visiting producers on board. The young Bernadetta Fabretti, vivacious in the Italian manner, persuaded everyone in range that her Verdicchio and Sangiovese from the Adriatic coast are the world’s best. I thought her Rosso Piceno with Conti Leopardi’s very smart label pretty amazing value: full smooth grippy red for £6.29.

Laurent Onillon (how do you pronounce it so it doesn’t sound like onion?) brought the range of summery bubbly made in Anjou by Langlois-Chateau, part of the Bollinger family. You get a lovely breezy draught of fruit from the Loire for a tenner. I specially liked the bubbly red, Carmin Rouge, made of Cabernet Franc. The Aussies make sweet sparkling Shiraz. This is altogether lighter, combining fizz and tannin to make a really crisp drink. Laurent suggested strawberries as the match; I would think in terms of charcuterie.

New Zealand, nestling between two great black guns, had a zippy Sauvignon Blanc from the Plane Trees Estate, Hunter’s very aromatic Riesling and Stonewall Pinot Noir, which at £11-odd is modest for such a fashionable wine.

The French Classic table showed Chablis from Dampt (I’m almost tired of people telling me it’s their favourite wine), the very different Condrieu, all southern warmth and spice, from Domaine Monteillet, and a super-typical 2005 Pauillac from our own Grand Chai in Castillon, Tony Laithwaite’s model winery on the Dordogne. Nothing could be more classical than 2005 Pauillac.

There was a BBQ table (Italy’s Grande Pavone for refreshment, Patagonian Merlot for authenticity, and Black Stump Durif for exactly what the name conveys). I gather Black Stump outsells all other wine in the tasting. On a table of mixed whites I was surprised by the open cheery style of an Argentine newcomer, Prickly Pear, at a fiver a bottle. I was assured it was made from grapes: ripe and fruity ones, with just enough fresh acidity. On a table of rosés I was much taken by something called Frizzante de Bomberosa from Carinena, dark for a rosé, flavoury and ticklingly half-fizzy.

To top it all off, while we were there the flagship of the modern fleet, HMS Ark Royal, raised steam and sailed from the berth next door. She’d been in Pompey for the signing of he contact to build two more, much bigger, aircraft carriers. So the Navy is sailing on after all.

I’d do it again any time; spit on the gundeck. I’m sure we’ll be assembling there for another session next summer.

No comments: