We were lucky enough to have been given Fortnum & Mason Brut Reserve for Christmas, but hadn't yet drunk it. So I chilled it nicely in preparation for the long-awaited romantic evening ahead.
When you decide to pre-plan romance, there is always the likelihood that something will go wrong. In this case, a work crisis for Mr Purple Teeth arose leaving us wondering if he'd ever get off the phone. When the last call had been taken and the cork was finally popped, it was very lucky that the Champagne exceeded expectations. Our Mr Purple Teeth isn't generally a fan of sparkling wines, though he's quite partial to vintage Bolly. Who isn't?!
The Fortnum & Mason branded Champagnes are all made by Louis Roederer. Not heard of him? Perhaps you've heard of his iconic brand, Cristal, one of the prestige Champagnes made tacky by a succession of gossip magazine photo-shoots featuring gangster rappers... Indeed, Mr Jay-Z boycotted Cristal back in 2006 not long after referencing it in his lyrics. The brand was rumoured to be dismayed with it's hip hop associations so he showed them... But back to the story.
Louis R makes fine Champagne and this one is no exception. The mousse is delicate and doesn't impair your judgement of the fresh, crisp apple flavours. The wine is predominantly pinor noir and pinot meunier black grape varieties while there's chardonnay present too, giving elegance and the ability to pair with a wide variety of foods.
If you fancy a bit of Roederer caché for a fraction of the price tag, then Fortnum and Mason champagne will do nicely. And while you're in, pick up some of their exquisite smoked salmon - it would be a perfect food pairing. I'm sure that Mr Roederer would not approve of our Chinese take-away any more than of rappers' antics, but the wine worked surprisingly well in accompaniment. It also worked pretty well with some champagne truffles. Who said romance was dead?
We first tasted this wine in an out of the way tapas bar on the outskirts of Jerez. After a few days of soaking ourselves in as much Fino, Amontillado and Oloroso as our bodies could take, we discovered Val De Pepe, a tapas bar owned by Gonzales Byass, those nice people who own Tio Pepe, Croft Original and, Finca Moncloa, as we were to discover. A dish of rich Oxtail Cottage Pie demanded that we accompany it with a full bodied red and the patron pointed us in the direction of this wine. From the first sip, we were photographing the bottle and begging for more. The bar on Calle Paraíso became a much frequented paradise.
Back at home, we were unsure if the wine would live up to the memory. How often it's the sun, the food and the moment that makes an ordinary wine taste sublime. Luckily, this was no false memory.
Finca Moncloa is predominantly a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah with small amounts of Merlot, Tempranillo, and Jerez's indigenous Tintilla de Rota. These grapes are expertly combined in small lots to create an opaque, full bodied, rich red wine, smooth and sumptuous, which slips down a treat. There's enough smooth tannin to allow the wine to age, but it never tastes harsh or drying. This 2006 still tastes fresh and fruity, reminiscent of blackcurrant fruit pastilles, yet it's 9 months in oak and subsequent bottle age show in defined vanilla and spice flavours with perhaps a touch of coffee.
You may be thinking that £14.99 seems expensive for an unknown bottle of Spanish red without the benefit of a "gran reserva" or an appelation like Rioja or Ribera del Duero, but here in Spain's southernmost region, they've got all the sunshine they need to ripen these grapes to perfection. If you fancy the warm glow of Andalusian sunshine while living through the misery of a British February, then a bottle of this could be just what you need.