Tales from The Oriental


A glorious night of Epicurean delights charts a remarkable journey for a remarkable wine. In the latest of his Tales from The Oriental, NICK HAMMOND gets effervescent…

SOMETIMES luxury events can be like that first day at big school.

Daunting, in other words. Because you may not know anyone and things can be a little, well, stilted.

When I peer into the Library at the Oriental Club I see a cluster of linen-clad tables, carefully laid and exactingly presented. As the waiters and waitresses add finishing touches with hushed reverence, I have a frisson of those ‘first day at big school’ nerves.

Of course, I needn’t have worried. Just a few minutes later, the lilting words of bearded Frenchmen Julian Launois have lulled us lucky few into serenity. That and the six glasses of excellent Champagne.

Thankfully, each glass has its own specifically labeled spot on a pre-printed cheat sheet, so one can remember what one’s drinking at any given time. Things can tend to get a little hazy towards the end of such tasting sessions.

Club Sommelier Elena Barattini has selected Julien’s remarkable creations as the new house Champagne. When she visited the Pierre-Launois holding in Mesnil-sur-Oger, she realised she’d stumbled across something rather special. And she worked to get it back to Club Members.

Consisting of just a few acres on this limestone landscape, sometimes inches away from other, world-famous Champagne houses, Champagne Jean-Pierre Launois has undertaken a brave journey from Northern France to London’s West End.

Originally Recolcant Co-operateur – part of the local co-operative – Julien and Sarah boldly took the move to become Recoltant Manipulant; artisanal Champagne growers in their own right.

Not an easy move, one would imagine, with local grower politics, familial relationships and past dynamics all thrown into the mix.

But Julien and Sarah felt it was right for their Champagne and pressed on. And boy, what results.

Their reward could be seen in their faces tonight, as guests dived into the various Champagnes on offer and eagerly awaited the Launois Blancs De Blancs Grand Non Vintage Cru.

In order to compare and contrast, we bravely indulged in Bollinger Special Cuvée; Ayala Brut Majeur, Beaumet Cuvée Brut as well as three wines from Jean-Pierre Launois; the Blancs De Blancs Grand Cru 2008, a non-vintage Rosé and the aforementioned Blanc De Blanc Non Vintage. 

What a smorgasbord of flavours and personalities on display; from biscuit dry to soft-mousse sweetness, from slightly bitter to floral and wholesome.

Julien and Sarah’s wines scored heavily on the palate and I longed for a plate of Dungarvan Oysters to accompany them. As it happened, I didn’t have to wait long.

After the event came to a sociable conclusion, I was invited to join Julien and Sarah for a late supper. The sheer joy of having firstly got through their little talk in a foreign language and secondly, having seen their beloved Champagne being welcomed so warmly in such a British institution was still writ large across their faces as we sat, flushed, under the portraits in the Dining Room.

None other than Executive Chef, Wesley Smalley joined us; Elena Barattini herself also had pride of place and selected some outrageously good wines. Firstly for me came those dozen cold and sea-licked Irish oysters, beautifully bookended by Pierre-Launois Champagne; then calves liver and bacon, sluiced with a remarkable depth-charge of Burgundy. Julien and Sarah were instructed in the intricacies of the Club Stilton.

We laughed and chatted into the night, entente cordial renewed afresh – a table of epicures in their element. It was a masterclass of experts from start to finish and I was privileged to sit in.

If my evening, then, had started with a little pre-school nerves, it finished with the swagger of the Leaver’s Prom.

After a final flourish in the Calcutta Light Horse Bar, we parted company, British handshakes, French double-kisses.

I have a feeling we shall all come together again. I for one shall plot a course to Mesnil-sur-Oger as soon as the opportunity allows – and pledge to report back from that little slice of chalkland Heaven in the heart of the hallowed Champagne.

More of Nick’s Tales from the Oriental will follow later in the year. For more information about The Oriental Club, visit www.orientalclub.org.uk.