Some people are fully committed to their affection for wine. Others are happy to eschew the homework required to pinpoint an exceptional bottle. Le Petit Ballon is a subscription box curated for both camps- the selection is left to a Master Sommelier, but is supported with background information and tasting notes. It pledges that every bottle is an example of an outstanding wine and- if so inclined- recipients can also discover the elements that make it remarkable.
There are a myriad of wine subscription services available on the market and the number is exponentially increasing; it’s therefore vital that each box differentiates itself to potential customers. Le Petit Ballon accomplishes this through its collaboration with Jean-Michel Deluc, a Master Sommelier with exemplary pedigree: acting as Chef Sommelier at The Ritz Paris in 1994, he also presided over the Paris-Île-de-France Sommeliers’ Association from 2003 to 2006 and has been acknowledged as one of the most preeminent wine tasters in the World by the USA’s Starwine competition.
Reputed to be ruthless judge, Jean-Michel Deluc personally selects the wines included in both Le Petit Ballon’s Apprentice and Master monthly box. His deft hand is precisely where Le Petit Ballon outshines other wine boxes, as subscribers are granted access to his world-renowned palate. This is a rare opportunity to receive the Michelin Star treatment at home. In addition to this, the dialogue goes beyond the wine itself with his personal tasting notes and insight included.
April 2016’s Apprentice Box contained two bottles: a South African red and a French white. Arriving in sturdy cardboard packaging, the bottles were securely slotted inside and safe from any impact during shipment. Unpacking the items, I was surprised with the inclusion of a South African winery and the stylish, modern branding of both bottles- I wasn’t expecting such approachable and exciting wines.
Le Petit Ballon April 2016 Master Box Unboxed:
- Bottle of Natana (2013) from the Marianne Wine Estate in South Africa
- Bottle of Cinq Terroirs (2014) from Complices de Loire in France
- The Gazette
- Tasting notes
I confess that I consulted the tasting notes of each bottle before sampling the wine- I was intensely curious to discover why both bottles made the grade. Beginning with the Natana, it was designated as a fruity, smooth and fleshy red wine. I was impressed that this wine was the outcome of an invitation made to the Marianne Wine Estate from the Le Petit Ballon team- they requested the finest example of a red style that showcased South African plots from the vintage in 2013. Of two contenders, this was the winning blend.
Opening the Natana, it poured a rich, shimmering purple hue. Comprised of mostly Syrah and Merlot grapes, it demonstrated the complex makeup that you would expect- the aroma was strong with dark fruits and hints of aniseed. It was surprising how smooth and drinkable it proved, having a silky mouthfeel, coating the mouth without leaving any stickiness on the palate. It was both substantial and fruity, bursting with juiciness with a dry, sophisticated finish. Not terribly familiar with South African vineyards, this was a revelation.
In contrast to the novelty of the Natana, I had some expectations from the Cinq Terroirs, a 2014 vintage from the Loire Valley. Made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes, I was compelled to discover what set this bottle apart from other variations of the same style. This was more of a challenge because I’ve tasted many Sauvignons in my time, so I was uncertain how to decipher the small variations that made this one exceptional.
The Cinq Terroirs poured a bright pale straw colour, immediately appearing young, fresh and inviting. A good whiff of the wine showed a bouquet of clean citrus and floral aromas, again reaffirming its lightness and vibrancy. All was revealed upon tasting, where the flavour profile also demonstrated floral and zesty notes. Robust enough to last on the palate, but clean enough to enjoy on its own, this was a undoubtedly good rendition of a Sauvignon. It would be excellent to accompany a vibrant summer dish (fish was recommended).
The Gazette magazine and tasting notes were both useful- the language was accessible throughout and the tone was playful- embracing social media and active on platforms such as Instagram, the Le Petit Ballon team projected a youthful and contemporary appeal. It’s a difficult balance to achieve when you have such a highly regarded and decorated Master Sommelier on board. Again, Le Petit Ballon manages to cater to a wide audience.
The Apprentice Box carries a £24.90 price tag with shipping included- while intended to be a monthly box, it can be paused or stopped at any time. Given that I enjoyed both bottles delivered, the price point of about £12.50 per bottle is reasonable. If you’re ambitious, you can update your subscription preferences online to ensure that you get two bottles that are suited to your palate. Alternatively, the Master Box proffers more prestigious and established wines for £39.90 (including shipping) per box for subscribers that are less interested in discovering more unusual and exciting styles.
Le Petit Ballon shouldn’t be dismissed as merely another wine subscription box- it offers a unique opportunity to be guided through a journey of discovery by a world class Master Sommelier. Even if you forego the light reading, tasting notes and food pairing suggestions, you’re still left with two excellent bottles to enjoy.
Some things are best left to the professionals. Based upon this experience, I know that I’m in safe hands with le Petit Ballon.