A Wine Less Ordinary
Those seeking a glass of something rarer and more offbeat could do well to consult Stuart George at Vins Extraordinaires
Article by Rupert Watkins
The world of wine – despite this country’s increasingly vino centred drinking habits – can remain a closed book for many. Throw in the idea of “fine wine” and it becomes an arena fraught with actual, as well as perceived, pitfalls for the supposedly uninitiated. For Stuart George, Vins Extraordinaires is a way of introducing a wider audience to the subtleties and world of fine wine, “Dare one say” he laughs in his Mayfair office, “as it sounds a little naff but it is ‘fine wine for the masses.’”
Having worked for over 21 years in the wine trade, starting at Haynes, Hanson & Clark, Stuart felt he wanted to offer something more than just the appraisal, sourcing and procurement of rare wines. Vins Extraordinaires, founded at the end of 2016, looks to appeal to those young professionals keen to extend and deepen their understanding and appreciation of wine, “we hope to encourage an interest in the unusual.” Based near Bond Street, tastings are for small groups – no more than 12 – and paired with canapes from Stuart’s partners in this venture Taste Catering Company. His entry package, served blind, includes one welcome drink and four fine wines – one of which will always be a very old wine. More bespoke packages are available.
Of course, the great issue in all this is what is a fine wine? “It can be rather nebulous” Stuart comments, “but the most important one in my eyes, is provenance; what vineyard it’s from, where has it been stored, where it’s been traded. A Premier Cru or a Grand Cru Burgundy is from one specific vineyard. Many of the great vineyards are allotment like in their layout to share the best terroir and that can further complicate matters.” Fine wine is expensive but price alone does not necessarily push a wine into the highest bracket of quality. Some wines go through a phase of being fashionable, some may be hard to find thus pricey but not that good and much is down to education, refining the drinker’s palette.
With his early training in old world oriented wine merchants, it is perhaps no surprise that Stuart leans towards old world wines though he is a huge fan of both South African and Australian wines. As he points out the oldest South African vineyard dates back to 1685 so the provenance and expertise are there to produce fine wines of great elegance. That said, age is perhaps no longer a perfect indicator of true quality. As Stuart mentions, the market is seeing many younger fine wines, going for far more than older ones. Much is being paid for and invested in whilst it’s still in the barrel, “there is perhaps even less sense in laying anything down.” However, with the current political and resulting currency uncertainty UK laid down wine has become exceedingly attractive to overseas investors and buyers.
With his experience, Stuart has been able to detect various changes in British wine habits, “wine drinkers seem to be moving to lighter, fresher styles” he remarks. Champagne still remains a rather British weakness, we remain the largest champers market. Certainly over a recent pop up at Maison Assouline’s Piccadilly emporium after Chablis, Stuart’s best seller after Chablis was a non-vintage Pol Roger.
Though at £125, Stuart’s five wine tasting could appear expensive, as he points out his offering – for the quality and rarity of the wines – is under half the price of obtaining and enjoying the equivalent wines in any other corner of Mayfair. He can do champagne oriented tastings and in winter offers vintage port, “it’s still one of the best value wines available” he enthuses. Chatting about English wines and their recent surge in both press and popularity, he feels they are currently still too immature to be considered fine wine. “Sparkling wine over the next 10 years may well truly develop and some may make to jump to the highest level” he believes.
So far, Vins Extraordinaires tastings have proven a discreet hit, Stuart is pondering single vineyard tastings as the next careful addition to the offering. With some very unusual offerings and fine food in elegant surroundings, it is certainly worth curious oenophiles looking Vin Extraordinaires up.