I attended my first wine tasting dinner by The Vine (one of our clients) last night at Legato in Shibuya. Legato’s parent company Global Dining is also a customer of ours, so you could say it was a familiar setting even though the event was my first.The Vine’s owner James conducted the proceedings and did a fine job of discussing the wines, answering questions and generally keeping things interesting.

All of the wines featured that night were all of the appellation Châteauneuf-du-Pape, one of my recent favorites from the Soutnhern Rhone valley. These are rustic, strapping wines of often dazzling complexity, and are seen as some of the best value-for-money wines coming out of France these days (mostly thanks to vigorous promotion by Robert Parker).

James prepared a selecton of reds and whites from the 2005 and 2006 vintages, with the former generally thought of as being the better year of the two due to perfectly timed rains a month before the harvest that year. These rains, which spelt disaster for some of the other wine producing regions, arrived at just the right time in the Rhone to plump up the grapes, infusing them with a rich and vibrant succulence. The extra juice lends a fruitiness to the smoke and pepper undertones of these great wines.

The wines served that evening were:

1. Bois de Boursan Blanc 2006.
2. Clos du Caillou Blanc 2006.
3. Pierre Usseglio 2005.
4. Bois de Boursan 2005.
5. Charvin 2005.
6. Clos du Caillou 2005.
7. Bois de Boursan Felix 2005.
8. Clos du Caillou Quartz 2005.

My favorites of the evening were all of the Clos du Caillou and the Charvin, while I found the offerings from Bois de Boursan to be a bit too pungent and leathery. James attributed my ranking of them this way to a simple lack of appreciation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s intrinsic rustic nature, which the Bois de Boursan wines apparently typify. For me, I just found them to be a bit too, well, stinky, and stuck by my guns (and the Clos du Caillou!).

The food was great (if a bit spare), with each of the four courses matching the wines perfectly. All in all a great tour of some recents offerings from the “New Castle of the Pope,” but I have to say the premium attendance price means I’ll probably not be joining all of the Vine events that come along. My budget for such things is closer to the 5500 yen or so charged by ORCA International for their wine parties, unpretentious one-glass affairs which involve less “tasting” and more drinking of their fine Pacific Northwest wines.