Wednesday, 5 May 2010


I love cigars and have been interested in them since they suddenly became very popular (dare I say fashionable) 15years or so ago. I have never been a cigarette smoker as I've always played too much sport and just never started. Over the years by interest has ebbed and flowed but is at a high at the moment. So I thought I would do a little Blog on it by answering my own questions:

Similar to wine? People often like to talk about cigars in wine terms and much as I like cigars I have far more knowledge of wine and have to say there is no way, to my mind, that you get the same amount of variety and diversity as you get in wines. There are similarities in how and when you enjoy and the fact that one country is the "boss" (France/Cuba) but I recon it ends there. There is however one definite similarity and that is ageing - I am now trying to start to buy a few boxes of cigars to age over the next 5-10 or so years. This is for the very same reason as with wine. The cigars become more harmonius and complex over time. At the moment the only cigars I have are in the small humidor pictured, which works well but is not a long term solution.

What Sizes? I have to say that practicality comes into play here, with a busy life (everyone says that) I don't have time to sit around outside for over an hour very often so I want a good cigar that gets you flavour in 30-50 minutes. I therefore tend to buy cigars in the 4-6 inch range and with a ring gauge (basically measured upto 50, which is an inch) of 38-50. This just fits the bill for me.

When to smoke? For me mainly on the backstep at home with a drink and just sit and may be read the racing post whilst the world goes past. The other two places are because of being relaxed and outside - Golf and Racing - neither of which I do as often as I would like but both of which suit a cigar perfectly.
Which Brands? My top 5 in no order would be Partagas, Hoyo de Monterry, Cohiba, Trinidad & Sancho Panza - there are plenty of others I have liked over the years but my reasoning for the above is:

Partagas - the Serie D I think is a bit of an Icon which draws you to try it but it is very good, the Short is a very good and useful cigar too, if I have to smoke mini's then I have always found Partagas the best.

Hoyo de Monterry - I have just simply found very balanced, a good daytime smoke and very Cuban without being too over powering, it is great to see the extra sizes being added like the Petit Robusto, possibly if I had to have one brand this would be it.

Cohiba - the basic reason here is that I have always want to be skeptical about "new" brands and therefore it has taken a fair bit to win me over on this one but that is definitely the case, a good smoke that I like very much even thought there is still a price premium.

Trinidad - in a slightly similar way to Cohiba I wondered what all the fuss was about and to be honest when there was only the Lancero (long thin) size I didn't bother with them but I have to say that the Reyes is probably a new favourite daytime smoke and the Robusto "T" a great one too, I guess what I am saying is that they are worth it.

Sancho Panza - this is a bit of a loyalty shout, Sancho was one of the first brands I really followed and I am still a fan, not a heavy Cuban by any measure but great value and just enjoyable, there are some 1998's on the market that really tempt me. The Belicoso is a great ring gauge and flavour at a bargain price, the non plus has always been a "go to" cigar for me.
More tasting notes and comment might follow on a future blog

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Barolo 1971.......

Last night was Barolo night at the Maltings Cafe run by Sam Harris, Fraser and I met up with a whole collection (what is the collective adjective for wine merchants?) of guys from the trade to taste a selection of Barolo 1971's (& 3 Barbarescos) the tasting was hosted and organised by Eric Sabourin. For me as a Barolo fan this has been looming large in the diary for quite some time! 1971 is a great year for Barolo, up there with 1964, 1989 & 2004 at the very top of the tree.
The format was 6 pairs of wines with just some bread to keep the plate honest. We were asked to score out of 100 so I have included these below, I found scoring them difficult in because it feels strange to score wines of this age when you know that different bottles will show differently.

One observation from the moment I arrived was that the labeling (this is borderline geeky) is superb on these wines, varied but superb, you get a real sense of something special, far nicer than the dull minimalist so often found now. Whilst on the subject of labels what about the bottles….it appears there is no rhyme or reason to which bottle shape producers use and some producers, Giacomo Conterno for instance, uses the classic Albeisa (like Burgundy) bottle for Barbera and Cascina Franca and an almost Bordeaux bottle for Monfortino. This can be further confused by the fact that back when these wines were bottled it would not have been that uncommon for producers to go to their neighbours for bottles or vintage labels if they ran out, so you may find the “same” wine in two different bottle shapes…wonderfully Italian!!
All the wines were decanted at 5.30 and put back into bottles then tasted from 7.30 onwards, this is certainly the best option despite the fact that some wines might have faded as this allows you to check the wines and give them a chance to show best.

Barbaresco Rabaja Riserva - Prunotto (Pictured), nicely degraded nose, good now, savoury, nice start if not earthmoving (90).

Barbaresco - Giovanni Moresco, Moresco used to only make one wine, a blend of vineyards but has now sold to Gaja (you may see the names on the odd Gaja label), good wine, fully brown but with good acidity, impressive (94).

Barolo Marcenasco - Renato Ratti, a strange stink of degraded fruit, not sure it is a nose I like, palate big smokey and cigar box like, the 1978 is supposed to be better. Not for me but decent enough (87).

Barolo Riserva - Franco Fiorina, a soy-like nose, very dry palate that would be good with food but a touch hollow without, solid (89).

Barolo Brunate Riserva Speciale - Marcarini, a dash of Sercial Madeira about the nose but not a bad bottle at all, quite the opposite, this divided the tasters, I loved the tangy acidity (94). This backs up a bottle of 1970 I had last year, good value producer.

Barolo - Bartolo Mascarello, simply gorgeous, drinking perfectly, elegant and balanced, a “Volnay” of a Barolo, this wine is always a blend of many different vineyards in different villages in this case it sings (95). Keep an eye out for “anti” Berlusconi labels from the early 90’s, Mr Mascarello being a staunch Communist!

Barolo Bussia Riserva - Aldo Conterno, not a great bottle, a touch milky and a little too much tobacco for me, a shame (not scored).

Barbaresco Montefico - Giacosa, decent tangy nose, a little subdued but fruit is there under it all, a lot of sediment (89)

Barolo Rocche - Brovia, almost strawberry fruit, blind I would have ben in the 90’s!! Hints of toffee apple, unique in the tasting and remarkable if hard to rationalise as a 1971 (92+?).

Barolo Cappellano, I wrote “I like this, I really like this”, great balance, very complete (93).

Barolo Briacca Rocche - Vietti, almost perfect, gorgeously big with great balance, deliciously savoury, dense colour too (98).

Barolo - Giacomo Conterno, richer, more textured and structured than any of the others. The one wine that almost needed more time. A note of Bovril. Seriously good (97).

The tasting was followed by a selection of dishes Sam had prepared then the conversation flowed as the wines were finished up……

A memorable night with names to follow for the future, especially for me G.Conterno, Vietti, Bartolo Mascarello & Cappellano……Cheers Eric.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Clos de Tart 2008....

Having last tasted the Clos de Tart 2008 wines on Day 5 in Burgundy back in November it was great to get the chance this morning to taste the final assemblage, albeit not in final bottle as it will not be bottled unitl April/May. The release of the 2008 will be April and we will be doing a Masterclass with Sylvain Pitiot on 15th April.

I thought the two wines were showing very well (you never quite know with cask samples) and for those lucky enough to get some 2007 I think there will be a massive amount of enjoyment over the years in comparing the two vintages as I feel the quality level is similar but the wine different in profile. To be crude I feel the 2007 will peak earlier and the 2008 is a "keeper" as below...

Les Forges de Tart 1er Cru 2008 - Pungent, spiced but very precise, gorgeous lanolin nose of good oak in the background. The palate is a more Pinot expression...good length and weight. Impressive and just begs to nosed time after time...for me an 18/20

Clos de Tart 2008 - Stylistically similar to the Les Forges but with more power, density and weight. A more broad-shouldered and masculine wine. Darker fruits but still that tell tale spice. Palate is dense and everything is there even if it shows less than the Les Forges (it should) at this stage. A keeper! 18-19/20

Not even time for 11's yet.....

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

DRC 2007.....not bad for a Monday!

For the first time I can remember (and amazingly this was my 11th vintage) the DRC Press Tasting was on a Monday. As is traditional now the wines are shown to the press just after bottling, which was done in the last two months. The Domaine de la Romanee Conti wines are amazingly easy to taste at this young stage. I have always thought it would not be the case even as little as 3 months later when they start to become constrained by bottling. It’s always a massively exciting tasting regardless of the vintage as you are dealing with the very essence of terroir. The tasting takes a relaxed yet studious tone, there is very little talking at all, whilst Aubert is almost always in attendance, as he was again this year, there is no speech or presentation. The wines are “left” to do the talking themselves. The wines (no Vosnee Romanee 1er Cru Duvault Blochet this year) are tasted in the order below with the Montrachet never shown (more of that later!), the notes are my own and brief….I’m not a massive fan of scores so there aren’t any….each wine taken on its merits, it’s not a competition after all…..

– Beautifully “Pinot”, red fruits, elegant and feminine, good acidity and poise, long finish…very impressive.

Grands Echezeaux – Immediately less obvious than Echezeaux, fruit red again with a hint of something darker, a leafy note and more impressive on the palate than nose at this stage.

Richebourg – As with last year tasted before the Romanee-St-Vivant, Richebourg was more gutsy with a masculine edge, serious and more brooding to me.

Romanee-St-Vivant – Classy and a little more “showy” than the others so far, red fruit again, rich and a touch decadent, the biggest (good) surprise for me.

La Tache – As is often the case (almost always for me) the most obviously performing wine and, if I were pressed, the most impressive, richness and splendor combined, brilliant texture, hidden structure too.

Romanee Conti – The nose showed more than some years, exquisite balance and harmony, palate tighter and giving less away…so impressive and true.
With the tasting over before 12.30 it was brilliant to have a brief window for Aubert to present the wines and vintage to the entire C&B Team, the samples were minute - it’s amazing how far a bottle can go – the entire press and home team requiring less that 2 bottles of each wine!! Aubert is always clam when speaking and manages to make something very complex sound simple. “A vintage that will be for the nose” being one of the more memorable quotes.

From 1 Thomas More Street those that were lunching - Adam, Alison, Rachel and & I were hosting Aubert, Serena Sutcliffe MW, Anthony Hanson MW & Remington Norman MW - moved on to Lunch at C&B Paternoster Square. The post tasting Lunch has been a tradition, a massive personal highlight, and a thank you to Aubert for as long as I can remember. It is a good chance to relax and get the views of some of the wine world’s biggest names. Exciting though this is for me there is nothing to rival the fact that we now taste the Le Montrachet 2007 at lunch. The 2007 was a spectacular wine, especially when you consider it was the last picked of the wines (17th September) and you can well see it. A gorgeous young gold colour and exotic nose, to make an almost farcical comparison it reminded me of the 2005 with a dash more zest and acidity…you could drink it now or at anytime over the next ?? years….as Adam’s tasting note says, Noble Wine. The other wines at lunch were the 2007 Echezeaux, Romanee-St-Vivant & La Tache. In particular the La Tache shone again for me. Conversation flowed – everything from the Hospice auction to Le Corton to the En Primeur 2009 campaign in Bordeaux - but one question I wanted to ask Aubert, because we get asked it a lot, was which vintage the 2007 wines reminded Aubert of. He said the weather was so unique that it was hard but eventually he said a civil marriage (no churches) of 1997 and 2004.

The only problem for me now is what on earth do you do on Tuesday when your Monday is that good?

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

two 2006's in bottle

With the big tasting of 2006 Bordeaux in Southwold recently (it has been variously written up by Jancis Robinson and more) I thought it would be a good idea to serve - blind - two Bordeaux 2006's from two of our strong Bordeaux connections, there was another reason for one of them but I'll come on to that later. The lab mice for this tasting was the private sales team (if you want an opinion this is where to go) at 9am on tuesday (hoping it will have been the first drink of the day)...

All they were told was that the wines were from the same vintage and were both from Bordeaux in the £200-£400/cs price bracket.......

Wine 1 - La Grave a Pomerol 2006 (sells at £235ib/cs). Overall score 17 and the view on drinking was now onwards but with no great rush so let's say 2010-2016. Now what is strange about this score given that we can be quite a critical lot, and yet gave an unknown wine 17 (the scores ranged from 16-17.5+), is that it gets a shocker of a write up from Mr Parker and a poultry 80 points. We'll have to let him off as it only has one note and that was a year ago. I will see if it get re-tasted now it is bottled.

Wine 2 - Roc de Cambes 2006 (£155ib/cs(6)). Overall score 18 with scores from 17.5 to 19 with the view on drinking being 2011 (although it is pretty "sexy" now) to 2016+. There are no score from the critics but I was so impressed by the 2005 Roc when I tasted in Bordeaux that as soon as I heard the 2006 was good I bought some then.

The contrast in the wines was marked and great to see. The La Grave a more classically inspired wine with such good fruit and decent grip but the sort of claret you can get stuck into. The Roc was more dense (but not heavy) had a richer texture and a little more "lip-gloss". As we have found over the years this is a great wine to serve blind to someone as it punches well above it's weight! If you see it available the 2002 and 2004 are really worth buying too and there is a common thread with them and this 2006.

So that's that...a 17 and an 18, just good wines at a very fair price

Friday, 15 January 2010

The 2008 Burgundy Tasting...with Alsace, Germany and older vintages!

Last Thursday saw the 2008 Burgundy release tasting at the Tower of London, a venue we are making our “tasting home” for the time being. The format was a pretty tried and trusted one with a press and trade preview from 3pm till 5.30pm and then from 6pm till 8.30pm it was the private customers tasting, with a really good turn out of just under 200 keen tasters. The room was busy all evening without being overcrowded. The wines showed well (it was a "fruit" day after all – that’s to do with biodynamics and for another time all together). I noticed quite a few of the wines having put on a bit of weight since November (wish I could say I hadn’t). This tasting has become very much part of the furniture for us now with people having the chance to tast, as we often do, unfinished wines. One of the exceptions to this were the brilliant wines of young Vincent Dampt which never seem to disappoint. I won't go on about the specific wines here as that is all covered in the offer Allison has written and in the blog enteries from the trip.

As well as the rafts of 2008 we also made an effort to show some older vintages of wines that we have just shipped amongst the whites (pictured) that we showed were some Matrot wines from 2004 & 2006 that arrived last month along with a few Olivier Leflaive’s and the Macon Verze 2007 from Domaines Leflaive. The reds were new arrivals from Varoilles & Arlot. Both tables seemed to go down really well. Arlot and Varoilles both made very good wines in the four star vintage of 2001 which I like very much when we tasted at the Domaines in November and Arlot also showed some wines from the tricky 2004 vintage in which they shone with there finesse orientated style.

It was great to have so many producers on hand to show their wines and our thanks go, in no particular order, to:

Vincent Dampt
Nicolas and Florence Rossignol-Trapet
Gilbert and Delphine Hammel of Domaine de Varoilles
Francois and Miriam Labet of Ch de la Tour and Domaine Pierre Labet
Olivier Leriche of Domaine De L’Arlot
Guillaume d’Angerville
Olivier and Marc-Emmanuel Cyrot
Marion Javillier
Henri Darnat
Thierry, Pascale and Elisa Matrot
Pierre de Benoist of A&P de Villaine

The tasting only promises to get bigger and better each year. Next stop the very exciting 2009 launch next January.

One other point of note was that for the second year we showed our allocation of the immaculate JJ Prum wines. These are hard to taste in their youth as they are reductive (sulphurous) on the nose, this can to a degree be conquered at this early stage by double decanting which we did in the morning of the tasting. The nose takes 3-4years to fully settle but the palate is stunning from the off. The Wehlener Sonnenuhr wines were particularly superb….to be released for sale soon!! For those who still hadn’t fallen to palate fatigue the Trapet wines form Alsace where there to be tasted too.

The Beefeater on duty promptly cleared the room as everyone has to be out of the tower by 9.30 for the Ceremony of the Keys (the Longest continuously running Ceremony of its type in the world I’m informed). A few of us stayed behind to help clear up, once the job was done we were delighted to find a substantial chunk of Taleggio which we washed down with some opened samples! Then it was upto our Jewry Street Winebar for a drink and some food with the producers….. a long but massively worthwhile day….