Friday, 30 December 2011

Vegas Robaina Famosos - Robusto Review 8

I've not had that much joy with Vegas Robaina before so expectation was pretty low here but that can work well as it leaves a good bit of room for exceeding those expectations.

Good draw, dark wrapper a shade on the dry side but otherwise good appearance. Flavours were straight into just above medium, dark coffee, not espresso but black slightly burnt coffee. Good size in being a touch narrower than a true Robusto (48 by 5). Aftyer the first third it was developing a little but still stewed coffee and leather, decent but no more than that, 84-85 as I approached halfway.

There was no real development from there. I'll be kind and just say it lacks any charm. It may be in a dead phase as it is certainly young but either way it is disappointing...83-84...need to try another but given what else is about it won't be soon.

Friday, 23 December 2011

My awards 2011 - Wine, Restaurant, Cigars & racing

So what would I do if I had my own awards?…don’t worry I realise this is highly unlikely!

Red Wine of the year: Lafleur 1966, didn’t think I’d say that at the beginning of the year, there have been a staggering amount of amazing bottles this year, many from Piedmont as you can imagine but if I had to pick just one, which I do, then this would be it. It was simply immaculate, balanced, eveolved but still fresh. I love Pomerol the most of all the Bordeaux regions and this was as near perfect as a wine needs to be.

White wine of the year: Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese GK 1983 from JJ Prum, incredible balance and poise, whether you know wines well or not you simply could not fail to be impressed by this, it has years, in fact decades, to go but is insanely good now.

Producer of the year: Giacomo Conterno - as I am totally biased, the more wines I have from this great estate the more I love it. Without question the fact that I have met Roberto several times now and am impressed by him and what he stands for obviously has an effect. There have been other strong showings from Coche Dury, Prum, Leflaive, Trotanoy, de Vogue and many more.

Meal of the year: Given that both my wines of the year above where from the same meal it won’t be a massive surprise that the meal wins this…full write up here

Restaurant of the year: No shocks here…Zucca but I will explain why, I have never had a poor meal there, the service is always friendly and never fussy, the food it fresh, kept just simple enough, always well cooked and digestible. This last point may seems a bit overly functional but it is seriously important in my book, I hate feeling stuffed or sleepy however large a meal. The wine list is superb and well-priced. I would also make a good mention on Koffmans at the Berkeley Hotel for traditional French food and good service.

Cigar of the year: Behike 52 – was brilliant, full write up here

Cigar Marque of the year: Partagas, quite simply because I have had four different sizes, in some cases many times, and they have been consistently excellent smokes. This has become by “go to” marque – SDN4, SPN2, Culebras (no Novelty) and shorts have all been excellent, there is a bit of everything about the brand in flavour, weight and complexity.

Racehorse of the year: It has to be Frankel, as there were stand out performances and well as a recovery mission after Ascot.

Race of the year: For pure emotion it would be Kauto winning the Betfair Chase at Haydock, not a dry eye on the house. Delighted by the Tatling winning his last race and Denman retiring in one piece.

And that is that...

Bolivar Royal Corona - Robusto 7

Well with Christmas nearly upon us and work slowing there was time for a mid-week cigar. So onwards with the Robusto sampler, this time the Bolivar Royal Corona, this is a strange name for what is basically a Robusto.

I have only previously had one Bolivar which is a rather glaring omission from my experience. This was a great looking stick that burnt excellently had a perfect draw, it was possibly a dash moist which was my fault but it had a wonderful oily texture. From the off it was straight into dark, autumnal flavours as a wine analogy this is would be "Cornas" – muscular and brooding but obviously very good.

Once an inch or so was gone, it settled into a combo of rich fruit cake and marmite on toast. This was delicious and impressive now but there is so much more to come. I think I will be laying a box down. I was intrigued to see where I thought it fitted in with the other richer Habanos – Ramon Allones & Partagas – and I would say, from this alone which is slightly ridiculous, that there are elements of Ramon Allones but also of Monte Cristo in the dark coffee and chocolate profile. It was more dense than heavy which is good. As a rating I’d give this a promising 90-92…

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Cohiba Behike 52...with days to go this is my Cigar of the year so far

Beautiful draw and construction, when unlit the draw is more towards hay but complex hay if that makes sense. On lighting you get a great thick dense smoke no harshness, tea and also cream are the very first flavours. It is straight into medium flavour but rich in weight. Wonderful aroma so a real shame to smoke it outside. After a few draws peanut and tea seem to take over but with depth.
Approaching the end of the 1st third the flavours darkened a little stronger tea. This is a brilliant afternoon or "clean palate" smoke, it would be great anytime but due to it not being more than medium I think after a big meal it would not be at it's very best. The excellent construction meant that the burn was very good and even, the dense smoke continued all the way. The middle of the smoke was more nuts, almonds and macadamia. By half way it as already showing significant complexity. I would say it will age in wine terms more like a Burgundy that a Bordeaux. Coming to the end of the second third it was superb, nutty, creamy...the only dimension missing at that stage was spice but it isn't about that really but...then coming into the last third a little spice appears...gloriously, may be it's because my tea is gone but I think not. There was a little bit of astringent youth showing towards were the band had been but then this is a young stick. A class act and a very solid 93-95 for me! I'll be grabbing a few of those and trying the other Behike's too...

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Lodovico - Tenuta di Biserno

My last big dinner of 2011 and it was a cracker, no old or mature wines here this is a new project but one set for great things I (in my biased way) think. It was hosted at C&B’s offices and began with our “house pour” Delamotte NV, delicious as ever without being at all pretentious.
Lodovico Antinori, a legend of the wine world, then started proceedings with a little background to this estate – Tenuta di Biserno in Bibbona just up the road from Bolgheri. The estate had at one time been earmarked for possible inclusion in Ornellaia but as sometimes happens this never occurred and instead Lodovico has decided that this will be his “last great” project. The estate is planted with a predominance of Cabernet Franc but also Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot (in more than it’s token Bordeaux amounts). The wines we were to taste and drink are from the first two released vintages, there were bits of 2006 made but essentially this is a story that starts from 2007.

Over the first course of Oriental Duck Salad we had the three wines from 2008. Il Pino di Biserno which is the 2nd wine of the estate and was wonderfully easy to appreciate even now but with more to come in the medium term. Biserno which is the main wine of the estate and showed brilliantly (for me the wine of the night if I had to pick), it has excellent balance and harmony that means the abundant fruit is kept in check with a framing structure that is a very complete scenario. Finally Lodovico which is from a specific plot within the estate and will not be made every year, there will be no 2009 and a minute 2010 for instance. This is a brooding wine of great depth and in need of time though impressive even now, it will be very interesting to see the development of Biserno vs Lodovico in each vintage when they are both made. These 2008’s were very impressive as there is the Tuscan warmth and ripe richness but you get a feeling of a cool structure too, classical is an overused word in wine these days but there is a good “dollop” of this here.

With the rest of the menu we had the 2007’s of the same three wines in larger formats, something I love and which add to any occasion. The generalisation of the vintage, 2007, is that the wines are softer, more lush at the moment and very expressive (and better as a genarl scoring comment but this I don’t find the case). The density of 2008 is replaced w
ith a more opulent feeling. So first up was Il Pino in Magnum, this is ready to go now, I will keep some but this would be a “restaurant cracker” of a wine with the Mossiman’s signature Risotto ai Funghi it was brilliant. What followed with the Roast Venison and then Welsh Rarebit was the Biserno and Lodovico both from Jeroboam. The Biserno was a little more closed than the other two 2007’s but with the food the texture was very classy. The Lodovico with the food was a star, the richness and almost flamboyance matching brilliantly for a hedonistic finale. It is great to be in on as estate from the off whether you are a buyer or a seller and this is feels the case here. Meeting and listening to Lodovico speak about the wines adds a lot as there is a sense of fun and humour (and twinkle in the eye) that means you just know you are in safe but exciting hands.

I was delighted to have several good customers and friends (as pictured) at this dinner and the banter was exceptional…one of those evenings when things just clicked….

Monday, 5 December 2011

Robusto 6 - Cohiba

So after an action packed week that featured a Partagas short after dinner on wednesday - god they are good, if you love rich cigars they have to be part of your rotation - it was finally the weekend and time for the next Robusto in the sampler pack I have.

I decided on the Cohiba, partly because I just wanted it and partly because a friend gave me a Behike 52 that I would like to compare it to soon. It had a lovely aroma and cold draw, a little farmyardy which I like. It started very complete and mellow and was around medium in body.
It was a fraction under filled but I am fine with that. the burn was good and even, I would say it was a 2011 stick. It smoked well the whole way with some nuttiness and always that creaminess that Cohiba has. It was thoroughly enjoyable. A little woody towards the second half with some honey. It reminded me of a creamier epicure No 2 from Hoyo. Just under medium all in all. A rating? I would say 91 with potential to rise a bit on this showing - very good. I only wonder it is too "smooth", a bit of spice would be good but then that is splitting hairs...bring on the Behike!

Friday, 2 December 2011

Roberto Conterno 2 days, 2dinners...

On wednesday night last week I was delighted to host a dinner at Franco's in Jermyn Street - Roberto Conterno of Cantina Giacomo Conterno and his assistant Lauren were in town for this and another dinner (see below). It was a select bunch of hardened Barolo fans. We started with the Delamotte Blanc de Blancs 2002 which having been released for 6 months or so is just starting to flower gorgeously a real treat and a great start.
From there the 14 of us were seated and started on Veal Carpaccio, rocket, parmesan and black truffle with this we had the two wines from the new, well new to Roberto from this vintage (2008), vineyard of Cerretta - the wines were the Barbera and the Langhe Nebbiolo. First up Barbera Cerretta 2008, this was several peoples surprise wine of the night, such fruit but also a savoury edge and real substance, a seriously under-rated wine, this is on clay and shows richness...if only people took Barbera a little more seriously. The second wine was the almost unique Langhe Nebbiolo Cerretta 2008, I say almost unique as there is likely (90%) to be a Langhe Nebbiolo in 2009 too. Although the 2009 will be released next year after 3 years in barrel rather than the 2008's 2 years. Both wines could be Barolo, technically and in quality, but this being Roberto only the very best will do. The Langhe Nebbiolo Cerretta 2008 is stunning, I love it, a Volnay of a Barolo that isn't actually a Barolo if that makes sense, this is no novelty. Next up was the obligatory Mushroom risotto with a pair I have had many times and was to have both nights but I will never ever tire of them. Barolo Cascina Francia 2005 & 2006 the former has amazing accessible balance, the later is so classically correct, structured with lifted fruit, a must for Barolo lovers, I've bought a lot of 06's so also always a relief too! I will repeat something here that Roberto said and that is that 2005 is a good and consistent (across the region) year as it was pretty easy, 2006 whilst technically better is less consistent as there was great ripeness, great tannin and more excess so the balance was harder to strike...there are people out there who have produced better 2005's than 2006's.

The final two wines accompanied two courses Braised Lamb Shank with Potato Puree and then Cheese, the wines were both first timers to me Barolo Cascina Francia 1996 & Monfortino 1996. Both wines had been decanted out of the bottle and back about 2 hours before serving, the others were checked but then just poured from the bottle. This vintage has a lot of classical similarities to 2006 - taut structure, dense tannin and fruit. The Cascina Francia was stunning, young with a proper tightness wonderful balance and a way to go, no rough edges, ripe tannins, open enough to be no waste now. The Monfortino 1996 will out live me but actually came out to play quite flirtatiously, it is a profound wine and chewy in a "see you in 10yrs" sort of way, there is fruit in abundance but presently subdued, the texture tells you everything, it took may be 15 minutes in glass to sing but it showed all it's class.

We were well looked after by Franco's...a memorable evening, a great atmosphere that lead nicely to the following day...

The next evening we were at Mossiman’s, this time 50 people in the top room, a wonderful layout and stunning wines led to superb night. First up was the Delamotte Blanc de Blancs NV, always a wonderful aperitif Champagne, elegant and almost too drinkable. Once seated we got the evening going. There were many interludes during the evening with Roberto, Alison (Buchanan) and myself speaking. Roberto was asked to talk about the philosophy of the estate…he quite quickly pointed out that the estate was about people not philosophy, a point that struck home later with a poignant toast Roberto lead to his father. The first food and wines were Barbera Cerretta 2008 & Barbera Cascina Francia 2008 with a delicious warm Oriental Duck and Vegetable Salad. It was a great pairing that showed the difference between the two sites so very well, the clay of Cerretta give more flamboyance and fruit whilst the Cascina Francia was more savoury, serious, masculine and structured. They developed wonderfully in the glasses though the evening.

From here we had the same pairing as previously Barolo Cascina Francia 2005 & 2006 with the trademark Mossiman’s Risotto ai Funghi. Roberto spoke of the differences between the vintages and about Cascina Francia as a whole.

As we had done the previous night the last two wines were served with the last two courses, people having plenty of wines to re-visit, those two courses were Roasted Highland Venison, Juniper Berry Sauce, Market vegetables & English Farmhouse Cheese, Walnut and Raisin Bread. Far more importantly the wines were Monfortino 1997 (magnums) & 2002. Here Roberto spoke passionately of the 1997 being a good year and the year his son was born and of his decision to make a 2002 Monfortino but no Cascina Francia. 2002 was seen by many as a bad vintage…there was a lot of hail and bad weather, amazingly none of which hit Cascina Francia. After a severe Green harvest and with a small crop on the vines there was then a magical three weeks up to the harvest. Roberto then spoke with his father, who was by this time unable to join him amongst the vines, about the fact he had a small but immaculate harvest. The decision was then made to make only a Monfortino, tasting the wine shows this was clearly the correct decision. The amazingly thing about the 1997 and 2002 that we finished on was how brilliant they were whilst so different. The 2002 is a richer more dense and primary fruited wine that showed a loit of class but actually closed down a little in glass, this is a great but it may be about to go to sleep. The 1997 started as archetypal maturing Nebbiolo nose and just got better and better and more and more multi-faceted and complex. A Joy that I can still all but taste.

The atmosphere though the whole evening was magical with Roberto speaking passionately but concisely, customers getting bottles signed and everyone just loving the wines…BRAVO

Monday, 28 November 2011

Robusto 5 - Juan Lopez Seleccion No2

Just the one Robusto this weekend although I was very generously gven a Behike 52 that is now resting on the Humidor for a suitable moment. This week's smoke was Juan Lopez Seleccion No 2. As a brand it was, or so the web tells me, first founded in 1876 by Juan Lopez Diaz.

I had never had a Juan Lopez but I am always keen to try new things. The look and feel was great the draw a little too tight. The inital flavours were totally "down the middle" not on the dark chocolate and coffee side, nor the leather and hay side. Medium bodied at most it started as a nice smoke but the draw never really freed up enough for me, I like a slightly easy draw. It was though by halfway a little boring to the degree that I almost forgot about it and read the racingpost with full concentration. There was nothing wrong with it at all but the lack of interest is a downside so 86 points seems as high as it can go. I'd love to try another but with so many good smokes out there I can't see myself buying any.

Next week may well be a Cohiba Off - Behike 52 vs the Robusto...sounds good to me!

Prum Day - Gauthier & Nobu

Last thursday was very much a Prum day. Dr Katharina Prum arrived at our offices in mid morning and led a fascinating and detailed tasting for the team talking about the history of this great (over-used word but not here) estate, the vineyard holdings, the wines and how they go with food. It was a great tasting.

Shortly afterwards Adam (C&B MD) and I dashed Katharina off for a, supposedly quick, lunch at the excellent Gauthier in Soho with two customers. We were very well looked after and after a bottle of Champagne (Gosset 2000, very nice too) we had two wines to have wit the food. We almost all had the same food as Katharina - Risotto followed by salmon - as we all wanted to see how the wines and food worked.

First up was the Bernkasteler Badstube Spätlese 2009 which was delicious, precise, full fruited, primary of course but in great form, it worked well with the rich Risotto. During lunch we covered all sorts of issues, two I was keen to ask about were, decanting and ripeness levels. Decanting it has appeared to me does the wines a lot of good and Katharina agreed that when possible it does and that at the estate they will decant if there is time, the wines Katharina also likes to serve very cool so they can evolve in glass. On the ripeness levels I asked why it might be that in general I find my taste in Riesling is towards the Kabinett and Spätlese end of things? Katharina said that in younger wines that made perfect sense but that as I try older Auslese I would realise that there is so much intensity to the Auslese and a little less sweetness as they get older...I must try more older Auslese then (can`t wait..finding them is the problem!). As the dinner later showed the vintage has a lot to do with it too.

Next wine was the estates very top "normal" production wine (there are auction wines but that is another topic) and this was another 2009, the Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Goldcapsule. The Goldcapsule refers to a tiny production of grapes selected in the vineyard for their sublime quality. The intensity of the fruit, soft white and tropical is staggering given the low alcohol (7% ish). These are amongst the world's let alone Germanys most attractive, long-lived and extraordinary wines. The amount of ripe fruit means that the "sweetness" is so natural that it goes brilliantly with the food, the Salmon, was delicious but all the better still for the wine. With dinner to follow (see below) we didn't extend lunch much further.

And to dinner, at the world renowned Nobu (Old park Lane), Katharina despite being incredibly well travelled had not been before and we were all very excited. The room of 60 people were in for treat.

As an aperitif we had 2010 Kabinett, there was only one Kabinett in 2010 as the year was more biased towards the richer styles. This worked really well, it is clean, fresh and primary but very mouth watering. The meal itself started, after an introduction from Oliver Hartley and an overview of the wines from Katharina, with assorted Sushi and Sea bass Tiradito with these two we had two contrasting Kabinetts - 2009 Bernkasteler Badstube and 2008 Wehlener Sonnenuhr - these two vineyards are about 3 km apart and have differing styes. The vintages two are very different, 2009 more rich, rounded and extravert, the 2008 more classical and taut, this showed in the wines with the Bernkasteler after being a little closed opening up to more rounded fullness. The Wehlener by contrast was racier and had extreme poise. the combinations were great with clean flavours in the sushi and a little spice from the Tiradito going especially well with the 2008.

Katharina next spoke about the 3 upcoming Spätlese - Bernkasteler Badstube 2007, Wehlener Sonnenuhr 2007 then Wehlener Sonnenuhr 2003 which we had with Lobster Salad with spicy lemon dressing, Rock shrimp tempura with creamy Spice sauce, Black Cod with Miso. 2007 is a very classical vintage with poise elegance grace and balance, similar in many way to the most recent release 2010. 2003 by contrast but in keeping with the rest of europe was a freak year of low rainfall and very high temperatures. The 2003's Katharina feels will age very well (as the 1976's have for a similar reason) as there is structure and acidity it is just not apparent because of the opulent fruit. This trio were brilliant. To my mind the Badstube had rich texture on the palate was a touch closed and reductive on the nose, no bad thing, may be not perfect yet, the Wehlener was one of my wines of the night, rich yet mellow, highly strung but inviting, very classy and delicious especially with the tempura, a match made in heaven. the 2003 I think surprised everyone with it's balance, it was an extrovert but not an outlandish one and great with the Miso Black Cod.

Katharina was back on here feet again, no rest here, for the final three wines the first two - 2004 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese & 1998 Bernkasteler Lay Riesling Auslese were served with Beef Kushiyaki then the 2003 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Goldcapsule was served with Exotic Fruits. The 2004 vintage was more akin to 2007 and 2010 in being poised, balanced and delicate. I thought the 2004 was a true star, light colour and just opening out, really beautiful. The 1998 was richer and fuller with a bit of development as you'd expect. The match was a tricky one and whilst they went well I preferred both wines after the food more than with, just one of those things. The Goldcapsule 2003 was some finish though, very expressive but you could see there are years and years of development and intrigue to come, not one to drink too early despite how wonderful it is now.

The day of 11 Rieslings was over for me...a real shame, great memories. I loved Prum wines before the visit but do so even more now.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Robusto Sampler 3 & 4 - El Rey del Mundo CS + R&J Ex No4

So on with the Robusto sampler experiment/investigations, weekend just gone saw two sticks of the exact same dimensions. I always think of Robustos as 5 x 50 but both of these are a tad thinner at 5 x 48, it is a great size. The first up was El Rey del Mundo Choix Supreme on Saturday afternoon, I have always wanted to love these but never been that excited. First problem was that despite the great look of the thing it had a very tight draw, after about 5 mins of tugging hard on it I chose to try a plan. I could feel that the “blockage” was under the band so I removed the band and “lopped” an inch off the head, problem solved although the smoke was now 4 x 48 but never the less it meant I could assess the tobacco. Light bodied, more tea than coffee with a hint of nuttiness and creamy honey on the palate. This is a high quality tobacco and a great reminder of how good lighter bodied cigars can be. I will have to try another to get the full affect but this was mellow but not dull, 89-91 I’d say.

The next smoke was Romeo y Julietta Exhibicion No4, I’ve never had this before but after a big Sunday lunch I decided it was time. Medium bodied, no more than that, with a core of dark (80-85% cocoa) chocolate and strong coffee with a dash of milk. This was fairly box pressed which I avoid if possible but the flavour was good. My problem with this smoke, and it is a bit unfair as it is a youngish smoke, is that it “didn’t go anywhere” it was quite monosyllabic. I will try the R&J wide Churchill soon and compare notes but the one I had on holiday in the summer (which means I may have been more relaxed and positive) was better than this. I must smoke another Exh No4 but currently 87-89.

Looking forward to trying more already…

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Not an average tuesday dinner and all in a good cause...

A very generous customer and his wife (a very good cook) organise an annual charity dinner – For Christian Aid - each year. The wines come from their own wonderful cellar with one generous contribution each year from an American friend of theirs who flies over every year for the event. I was very lucky to be the Wine Trader asked along to comment on the was a lot of fun, any evening that has a mix of people, starts with Champagne and ends with a cigar is always good in my book and this was more than just good. I wont outline all the dishes we had with the below as there were six courses, all delicious, fish/seafood twice, duck then beef and pudding then cheese.

Canard Duchene 2004 - this was a first for me, it was good, well balanced neither Blanc de Blancs nor high in Pinot Noir I would say. I was surprised it was as generous as it was for a 2004.

Chevalier Montrachet 1992 Domaine Jean Chartron - this was the only wine with a remote condition issue, our host stated as much and said it was worth a last look, it was not dead but the initial glimmer of full maturity did give way to over maturity in a bit of time, you could still see the breeding but the poise, balance and tautness was a few years behind it.

Corton Charlemagne 1992 Domaine Bonneau du Martray - by contrast (beware of professional bias here) this Corton-Charlemagne was excellent, under stated as Bonneau du Martray often is and all the more drinkable for it. This had real tension and poise as well as great length, still going strong and arguably not quite as it's zenith, great stuff, more a drinkers wine than a tasters one, of which I approve.

And so we move from white Burgundy to Red Bordeaux, there was no mucking around here this was a classical dinner of "catholic" tastes. The Bordeaux, below, were all double decanted fairly near to serving.

Pichon Lalande 1982 - Previously a glaring omission from my Bordeaux experience and as a result of the hype this wine gets I was worried it would be underwhelming by comparison. I need not have worried at all. A tropical, high toned, exotic but beautifully elegant and balanced claret, very strange in behind youthful and rich but also light and ethereal...a real joy, I want to say it's a classical left bank bordeaux but it isn't really, just a great wine.

Cos d’Estournel 1982 - More than any other wine on the night this divided opinion, on the one hand over how good it was and on the other which stage of evolution it was at. I liked it's masculine classicism and savoury nature initially but it did lean towards iodine and a little bit of bovril over time. I think it is a wine that will hold well but a little like Cos 1986 it may never quite be a charmer. Next to the Pichon it was more weighty structured and masculine. This commentary does not really do it justice. A fine wine but more prop than backrower if that works for you?

Haut-Brion 1978 (double magnum) - This was just lovely, not showy, and not as "good" as the Pichon technically speaking but it has such balance and lightness of touch, a real "magnum between two" sort of wine, nothing forced about it, you could drink a lot of it, refreshing and digestible, very Pessac in style...lovely, no more need be said.

Rieussec 1990 - This great fun, quite flamboyant and rancio in style, lots of toffee apple and tarte tatin. I think I would think it a little older if served blind, I like the Rieussec style but I can see it not being everyones cup of tea. It does not, generally, have the poise and clinical freshness of Climens nor the outright balance and fresh, sweetness of Yquem, BUT given the mess the pricing of it is in these days, worth buying a case or two of the young vintages I recon. I am increasingly enjoying Sauternes.

Graham 1977 - A contentious vintage if ever there was one, some say "great" others say that "from 1971 to 1993 there wasn't much good port made" (a recent Noval Nacional 1983 would argue with that). I enjoyed this without being knocked over buy it, it had lovely fruit and soft structure and was really drinkable but there wasn't an added dimension lurking there with a savoury edge, good to very good but not great.

The cigar - a Montecristo No4 from DIC (the factory) 2003 (the year it was put in its box) - was delicious, mellow and aged wonderfully, I so rarely get to smoke inside these days that this was a joy, smelling cigar smoke as well as smoking a cigar is magic in my book. The ageing of the smoke makes so much difference, it was a terrific end to a very memorable evening.

And that, as they (who?) say, was that...wonderful...certainly not my average tuesday!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Movember - Team "La Tache"

At C&B we have created Team La Tache for the great movement that is MOVEMBER

Team page

We are very proud, as it stands, to have between the 15 of us, raised £7224 which ranks us 14th in the UK at present as a team. This is no token effort under the leadership of teamleader Hartley (below)! A few other photos below!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Robusto Sampler 2 - My first H.Upmann Connoisseur No 1

Second from my Robusto Sampler pack was a cigar I have never had before – H.Upmann Connoisseur No1 – I had always slightly dismissed Upmann when I first got in to cigars, ten or more years ago, as being beginners Cubans and not much more. I have been corrected on this recently by cigar friends and also by having a couple of cracking magnum 46’s – one from 2010 and one from 2001. This is a serious marque on great form at the moment.
This was a great smoke, fabulous rich colour with a lovely waxy texture, the draw was a touch tight but very consistent and with a good amount of smoke. The initial flavour was terrific and stayed well throughout the smoke there was no harshness at all even towards the end. This is not a heavy or rich cigar but is all the greater for it. This is all about balance and mellow (but not light) tea and leather characteristics, it reminded me of a bottle of wine that when tasted seems nothing spectacular but when actually drunk is just lovely, the bottle and this cigar both “slip down” a treat…90-92points and will be better with time too, I will be re-visiting this.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Robusto Sampler 1 - Por Larranaga

About a week ago a "sampler" of 12 different Robusto's, all Cubans, arrived. For my own benefit I have decided to do a brief blog of each so I can draw conclusions and decide what to buy more of.
First up was the Por Larranaga. Now this is the very first cigar I have from PL let alone the first PL Robusto. It was only made as a Regional Release hence the second band below with says "Exclusivio Asia Pacificio". Each region or market has different exclusive releases each year. This is different from the LE (Limitada Edicion) which is a cigar made for all markets but in a specific year and a specific amount, the band for these is black and gold.
I smoked this while we had a small and slightly underwhelming fireworks display at home. My overall impression was of an enjoyably mild, mellow smoke with hints of straw and hay. The flavour built a little but it stayed at the mild end of things. The construction and burn was good, this was a little under packed and had a slightly open draw but nothing severe. I had a glass of red (Roero 07, M.Corregio) whilst smoking it and that worked well. If I have this again I would be tempted to have it in the morning with coffee or on an afternoon walk (or golfing / horseracing) as it was slightly too mild for post dinner. If you want a score then 88-89 would be about it.
Background to the Marque: (from

The name Por Larrañaga, which means “By Larrañaga”, was first registered in Havana by a certain Ignacio Larrañaga in 1834. It is the oldest brand of hand made Habanos still in production. For much of the 19th century and into the early part of 20th the brand was owned by the Rivero family, who built its reputation for the highest quality particularly amongst the royal houses, the rich and the famous of that time. Its golden ring attracted the attention of Rudyard Kipling who, in his 1890 poem “The Betrothed”, asserted that “There’s peace in a Larrañaga.” (This poem also contains the immortal, if obscure, line “And a woman is only a woman but a good cigar is a smoke”). In the 1950s and 1960s Por Larrañaga’s factory in Havana was a magnet for the finest cigar rollers in Cuba. It gained a standing for the unrivalled quality of it cigars and its reputation lives on today in the small range of standard Por Larrañaga sizes, which are now made at the La Corona factory in its new location at 520 Avenida 20 de Mayo.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Lunch @ Koffmann's

Today was a tale of two Burgundies at Koffmann's in the Berkeley Hotel. It was great chance to have a long overdue catch up one of my oldest and best mates in the trade (a clue? He shares his name with a character in some TV show called "The Simpsons" apparently). But also to try Koffmann's which I have heard good things about and been recommended on a few occasions. The service was good, attentive but relaxed and friendly with out being OTT.

Boringly, or sensibly, as it turned out we both went for the very same food Squid Bolognese - where every bit of the dish is made from the squid so what looks like pasta ribbons is not - and Goose...these were both excellent and went well with the two bottles we had. We had agreed I would do red and he would do white.
So white first Corton Charlemagne 2002 from Henri Boillot, I know Corton-Charlemagne well under the guise of Bonneau du Matray but do not know Boillot well. This was slightly how I would imagine a top Meursault producer making Corton would see things (and lets face it Mr Coche Dury does that just a bit well). The bottle was a good one with poise but also richness...very enjoyable and looking good when we revisited it with cheese at the end.

The red I took was Clos de Tart 2001, always nice to have two Grand Crus on a wednesday I find(!!). I have a real soft spot for this wine (and will admit professional bias too) as I think it is a marker for the return of the Domaine to its rightful quality level. Sylvain Pitiot took over running the Domain in 1996 and upped everything immediately but I feel the 2001 is from where you can really see the lift. I also love red 2001 Burgundies generally, they are so "Pinot", so fine and so fragrant and also so wonderfully different from the 2002's, which are more masculine, savoury and animal. This was really singing and all the better for being nicely cool. I am a big fan of Anthony Hanson's (MW) 20 minute Burgundy rule - reds in the fridge for 20 mins and whites come out for 20 mins...makes a great difference to getting everything out of the wine...

Anyway this wasn't meant to be a long post...if you get the chance go to Koffmann's (corkage £22 a bottle)...and I recommend both those wines!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

2009 Sauternes...

Having just been at the UGC (Union de Grand Crus) Bordeaux 2009 tasting I thought I would quickly jot down my thoughts on the Sauternes. There were so many people crammed in around the "big" name reds that I only tasted a few of them that I have a little stock of before realising that it would be a great chance to taste a range Sauternes from one vintage and get a feel for house styles etc. 2009 is not by common agreement a stellar year (like say 2001 or 2007) for Sauternes but it is a good year and a rich one with lots of Botrytis. A few recent bottles of aged (and very high quality) Sauternes have really re-enforced my feeling that these are brilliant wines and in relative terms good value. I have scored them out of 20 to focus my mind.

Bastor Lamontagne - A rich nose but with a good floral edge too, honey and cream the prevalent notes. Fresh and not over the top, I would imagine a high proportion of Sauvignon. Impressive. (17.5)

Climens - Very high levels of Botrytis here, a combination of Crème Brulee and Orange rind on the nose a rich palate two with oak showing bt in a good way, rich and intense style. Opposite style to the Bastor and goes to show why Climens is so highly regarded.(18)

Coutet - Floral on the nose with a note or caramel too, a little simplistic as a whole but still good. (16.5)

de Fargues - Shortbread and honey on the nose, rich and fuller (up there with the Climens on that front) as I always de Fargues to be.a dash of orange rind again as well.(17.75)

Rayne Vigneau - Awful gold label (not that that matters of course). Nose a little subdues but then an uplifting palate with a dash of pineapple.(16)

Doisy Daene - A really sulphurous bottle that made it hard to assess so I will wait for another time, texture seemed good but unfair to score it.(?)

Doisy Vedrines - Very balanced nose with both honey and fruit (tropical and orchard), rich with good acidity there too, impressive, one of the stars.(18)

Guiraud - A serious and slightly closed nose with lots of Botrytis on the plate more than the nose. Very good although somehow I expected more.(17)

La Tour Blanche - Lovely delicately fruited nose, nothing like as bold as Climens or de Fargues, good texture. (16.75)

Nairac - Vanilla and Creme Brulee nose, very full-on, a more oxidative, rancio style, very full and quite old school, hits the ground running, not to be aged in the longer term I'd have thought (but may well be wrong).(16)

Sigalas Ribaud - Good relatively straight-forward nose, good depth, a little simple at this stage, would love to re-taste.(16)

Suduiraut - Very full-on rich creamy nose, lots of Botrytis vanilla notes along with hint of orange rind, sample was a little warmer than it might have been, good wine.(17)

As a range they were impressive and the high Botrytis probably masks the fact that there is also decent underlying acidity. As it is a vintage that will probably move very little in price over the years I look forward to trying them again.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Royal Hospital Road courtesy of "Newcastle"...

Given some of the truly memorable lunches and dinners that I have been lucky enough to go to and the fact that I am only 35 it may seem a little premature to say the below was one of the great lunches of my life but frankly it just was and I am confident it will remain that way. I have been trying to think of how to write it up. There was just so much good food and truly exceptional wine over the nearly 6 hours that it would become tedious or worse arrogant to write it as one great long meal. I think I will do the food then the wines. The menu was selected by "Newcastle" who had done a lot of work on it and provided all the wines. To say this meal was ALL down to him is totally correct and is something I am very grateful for. So the food:

To start Pressed foie gras with peppered Madeira jelly, smoked duck, Peach & almond can see this with the Prums...simply delicious and in the best of proportions.
Up next was Stuffed pig’s trotter with veal sweetbread, parsley, Dijon mustard, warm apple sauce & ‘Waldorf salad’ with reds, don't panic we went back to whites which was a great tactic for a long meal, one for the note book. This was simply amazing, I am not going to describe it as I am too greedy with great food to make notes but it was spot on! Then back to whites we had one of the extreme highs - Fillet of turbot with truffle linguine, Scottish langoustine & cep - which for a bit of an Italianophile like me was stunning, a bit of everything in the dish...with the dry, and German, whites behind us we were into carnivore territory, Roasted grouse, foie gras, savoy cabbage, girolles, liver pâté & bread sauce the wines (two burgs and another wine as below) with this course were fascinatingly diverse and therefore I paid slightly less attention to the food...I can't say that for the next course which was brilliant, very traditional and simple, all the better for it, the sight of several of us gnawing on the bones must have been amusing, the full dish was - Côte de Boeuf, bone marrow, sauce choron and red wine jus from here it was - Selection of cheeses - to mop up the brilliant reds and get started on the Port. I have to say I am not always a fan of cheeses in the middle of a marathon meal but this worked. A brief interlude to wipe the palate came in the form of - Green apple, basil & lime sorbet & wild strawberries - before the Sauternes came along with a brilliant - Caramelised Tarte Tartin of apples with vanilla ice cream - that was the sort of pudding you could eat until you're ill.

So with the food described what about the wines? We started with a magnum of 1995 Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Tattinger, I had never had this vintage before, my only comparison is Salon 1995 that I know pretty well, I am a fan of the 1995's they aren't the 1996's in classicism but have a wonderful apply acidity and freshness, I really enjoyed this perfect apertif.

A pair of Prums followed - 1982 & 1983 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel - we had all the wines after the Champagne blind. Both of these two were in great condition and tasting younger than they are. I think my thoughts were that the 1983 was a Auslese GK and the 1982 was a straight Auslese or even Spatlese. In age I had the 1982 as being 5 years older than the 1983. I am happy with these guesses as it is, at least, logical. The 1982 was wonderful, slightly drier and a dash more tangy, but the 1983 was magnificent - the best Riesling I have ever had - everything you wanted from the Mosel and with decades ahead of it. There was a theme that happily went on through the whole meal here...all the bottles absolutely sang, a rarity.

We went to red now for the first time with a trio of wines in Burgundy glasses - 2002 Romanée-Saint-Vivant Grand Cru, DRC, 1990 Clos de la Roche Grand Cru, Dujac & 1955 Barolo Riserva Monfortino, Giacomo Conterno - The first two were clearly red Burgs and I was relieved to call the Monfortino as Barolo, I went for a second tier producer (wrong!) and a wine from the 1960's may be '64 or '67, good enough for me. In fairness if you have had old Nebbiolo then it was not hard to spot, it was also almost orange really really interesting, I loved it. The two Burgs were much harder, I had their ages way out thinking the 2002 was more like a 1990 and the 1990 more mature still. Also if I had to spot one of them as DRC wine then I would have gone with the 1990. They were both very good and clearly Grand Cru. I do find that 2002 reds in general are more prone to the farmyardy style and more "degraded" than many other vintages of 9 years old tend to be, this is not to say they have aged prematurely as the intensity is there they are just far more like that. The opposite of the less serious but brilliantly precise and youthful 2001's. The 1990 was a serious wine, impresive.

We are now staying with Burgundy but moving to the white side of things with - 1996 Meursault Perrières 1er cru, J-F Coche-Dury, 1996 Meursault Perrières 1er cru, Comtes Lafon & 1988 Montrachet Grand Cru, Domaine Ramonet - this was a fascinating trio. The best showing I have ever witnessed by a Lafon, I've just been a bit unlucky over the years. The Coche was brilliant, isn't it always (?), although it was suggested by others not to be as good a bottle as we'd had previously but only by a fraction if at all. The Montrachet had an amazing almost Botrytis nose that I've often found in my fairly limited Montrachet experience, it appears to come from the fact that Montrachet is often very late picked, a dash of overripeness. The acidity was good on it though and staggering to think it is 23 years old. We had these blind and my guess was that they were all Grand Cru, they certainly had the quality, - one Chevalier one Batard and one Bienvenues Batard - or such like, age wise I was early 1990's so 1990 or 1992 as they were clearly from a fine vintage. I kept my glass of Montrachet and it got better and better.
The next pair were Rhones and Guigal's at that - 1998 Côte Rôtie ‘La Turque’ &
1996 Côte Rôtie ‘La Landonne’
- These were on cracking form and I nearly made a mistake I have made before but stopped myself and said Rhone. The mistake is that there is something in the oak used by Guigal on these top wines that always makes me think of Haut Brion, anyway know that I know it can be quite helpful because when I think it is one or the other you can quickly tell which from the texture these are undeniably great and impressive wines, I am not sure if they are totally my thing but I have limited experience and there is (or should be) a place in every top cellar for this style and character. Very youthful even at 13 and 15 years of age, almost primary.

The next four wines I think have to have formed the best quad of mature Bordeaux I have ever had in one sitting - 1970 Château Petrus, 1966 Château Lafeur, 1964 Château Latour, & 1955 Château Mouton Rothschild - The Petrus was in some way the odd one out it was youthful, funky, almost tropical in character a truly remarkable bottle but somehow less Bordelais that the others. The Lafleur was exquisite in every way...perfect Pomerol at a perfect stage in its evolution. The Latour was just so Latour and I love it for it...very Pauillac, ultra classical and better than it should have been and then for the Mouton 1955. It was very well pointed out around the table that when Mouton was made a first growth (1973) this was the sort of wine that the decision would have been judged on and I can see why the upgrade came. It was vibrant, fresh, almost with that mint element still there, rich but not heavy a masterpiece. I have to mention the vintage now as I have has several 1955's recently - Trotanoy, Haut Brion amongst them - it is a seriously good and reliable vintage and the sort of year that makes me wonder what the Bordeaux of today will taste like in 56 years time.

A bottle port- 1983 Quinta do Noval Nacional - was an impromptu addition. I have never had Nacional before and as port was what first got me into wine, simple names and not many vintages, I was excited. With the taste buds waning a bit I made a strong mental note to remember this, it was supremely good, rich but balanced young but so ready as well as having years ahead of it...I must drink more port! It's a steal after all.

The final three wines were - 1947 Château Climens, 1938 Château d’Yquem & 1935 Château Filhot - a specialist subject of our host and a growing interest of mine hence next blog on 2009 Sauternes. I was a little past note making but loved them all. I made two mental observations. Firstly, that the Filhot was amazingly good and far bolder than I could imagine their wines now becoming as them seem to have gone for a lighter style now, not that this was heavy but it was intense. Secondly, that it was hard to tell which of the other two was Yquem which is normally relatively easy. Having had a few Climes now 1971 and 2001 amongst them there is no doubt that Climens is staggeringly good. All this has to be put in context though with '47 a great vintage and '35 less so and '38 even less so.

A truly exception lunch was over but not before we met the chef and saw the full line up in the Kitchen. The service and style of the whole team at Royal Hospital Road was superb. I am sure that I write for all the guests (Halifax and Suffolk featured her as before), we were 7 in total, when I say thank again to Newcastle for his generosity and organisation...the only problem now is whatever next?!?! A good problem...

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Monprivato 1970-1990...

Wednesday night was Monprivato night at the Maltings Cafe run by Sam Harris of Zucca fame. The tasting was attended by a familiar collection of merchants & brokers and hosted/organised by Eric “Barolo Guru” Sabourin. For me as a Barolo fan this has been looming large in the diary for a fair while. My knowledge of Monprivato being fairly limited to recent bottles of 1986, 2003 & 2006. I guess what I wanted to know was how good is the vineyard and is it in my opinion, when mature, a first growth/Grand Cru?

The format was 6 pairs of wines with just some bread to keep the palate going. I scored out of 20 which I have put below, I found scoring them tricky because you have to be aware that amongst wines of this age some bottles will show differently from others. There was one curve ball thrown in but a very interesting and totally logical one.

So Monprivato, the info is essentially here - but it is interesting to note that it took from 1967 to 1970 for Mauro Mascarello to convince his father that a single vineyard wine was a good idea, they had always blended this in with other vineyard holdings. This tasting was of wines from between 1970 & 1990 so was all “like for like” from 1993 there has been a wine - CA' d' MORISSIO – made from a part of the vineyard in some vintages but this is not relevant here.

Before staring we had some Ayala NV sans dosage, decent and Moreish. So the tasting…oldest to youngest, all the wines had been double decanted and had time (2hr or so to settle).

1970 Rich strong firm colour, surprisingly so, a savoury bacon edge to the nose but also fruit and freshness. Structure good and masculine too, fruit more black than red. Impressive, will keep but I don’t think it’ll change or evolve much more as the structure and fruit seem locked in the same balance. Good start (18).
1976 Lighter, browner, slightly “bricky” colour. Bovril and frazzles on the nose, fully mature and a nice example of aged Nebbiolo but a bit out of its league here (15-16).

1978 Dense colour with a little brown. Deep and darkly rich nose. Reminded me of struck matches and mushrooms. Brooding and masculine in style, has grunt to it. Very good (18+).
1979 Fascinating to have this next to the 1978. Lighter more feminine, fragrant and very good. Like Volnay next to Chambertin. Redder fruit, impressive especially for the vintage (17).

1982 Mid colour with a touch of everything about it. This was deeply impressive. Red fruit and gorgeous balance, everything in check, lively acidity, great wine (19).
1984 An awful vintage but this was a more than decent wine. A bit of soy and Worcester sauce. I put “no faults but no charm”, probably one of the best 1984’s I’ve had from anywhere! (16.5).

1985 The curve ball – this was Monprivato 1985 from Brovia – they sold their tiny (less than an acre) plot to Mascarello in 1991 so 1990 was their last vintage. This had a different texture/profile to the Mascarello’s which is no problem (I am a big Brovia fan). It had a dash of Christmas cake and spice with a finish that reminded me of Palo Cortado (17.75)
1985 The “real” Monprivato 1985, a lighter redder colour, a salty tangy to the wine that I liked. Like the 1982 in profile and made you want the 1982 again, good if rougher round the edges than the ‘82 (18).

1986 A spicy soy-ish edge to the nose, green pepper and more spice too. “Feminine but butch” someone said and I get the idea. My note here doesn’t do it justice, very good (18.5).
1988 I have written “dash of ketchup” which is strange, this was more than decent but not in the top few wines (17.25).

1989 This final pair was very good as you’d expect. I got a lovely balanced nose but with a definite crème brulee element to it. Vibrant and fresh it gave a slightly immortal feeling, very hi-toned, a star (19.25).
1990 A more evolved nose, still complex, good fruit but it was the palate that this wine took off, very impressive and expressive, sweetness and depth (18.5).

As an aside there was also a bottle 1971 that Eric felt was not good enough to show, it was not perfect but it was interesting, closewst to the 1970/78 in style, so a more masculine wine.

So what of the Monprivato vineyard? As far as I am concerned it is definitely a Grand Cru, the quality was very high and there is a real sense of place to the wines…it was deeply impressive.

After the tasting we had a great selection of food that Sam had created, I ate far too much to quickly but then that’s just my greed. We had a double mag of Fontalloro 1997 to accompany it, this was delicious, balanced, vibrant but mellowed from the bit of age…a good choice.

Bravo all round Eric & Sam!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Cigars and Lunch

Yesterday was a busy but good day...after clearing the decks in the office I headed over to the West End to meet up with Nick Hammond, a cigar journalist and blogger amongst many other things, for a discussion about wine and cigars and what we could do togther...a few good ideas for articles and tastings popped up and more will follow. After that coffee I still had 20mins before needing to head off to lunch so accompanied nick to Sauters of Mount Street (a great bunch of people with a website well worth viewing if cigars are your thing). The trip there was made all the better by the fact that Berta Corzo was there rolling cigars on the spot. Nick fired one up but as I had a lunch to follow I have mine for the next available smoking slot. A Robusto in size from a blend (the tobacco was flown in for Berta's arrival) similar to Cohiba but a little richer in flavour and aroma. I can't wait to smoke it, it smells awesome and looks immaculate.

Having left Nick herfing away I jumped on the jubilee line to London Bridge and walked to Zucca, my favourite restaurant (see Decanters October issue for glowing review) to have lunch with a customer. The food was great as ever, if you go make sure you order at least 2 starters a head and share, it is the only way to do it. The wines were St.Peray 2009 from Michel Tardieu (Tardieu-Laurent) a blend of 50:50 Marsanne:Roussane, it has great fruit, a balanced nod to oak and good acidity. I am not famed for my love of Rhone whites but that is changing and the reason is wines like these (I still can't "do" Viognier though). The red was obvioulsy Barolo, one I have not had before - Capellano Gabutti 1996 - at a lovely stage now, just opening up, good fruit, great balance and a wiff of healthy decay...great stuff. I was delighted when my friend said he couldn't eat cheese as Zucca's tarts (and other puddings) are great! Didn't need much supper after all this...

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Solaia @ Massimo's thanks to "Sussex"

Sussex (referred to in other posts) decided very generously - he supplied almost all the wines with a couple of bottles from the UK agents - that a Solaia Verticle at Massimos (pictured below) was a good idea. You won't find me disagreeing with that. For several reasons; I've very little experience of the wine, that is a fair sized omission for an Italian-wine-ophile, several of the people going are good buddies and thirdly I've not been to Massimo's before despite several people saying I should.

The evening started, as is only sensible!!, with a Jero of Krug Grand Cuvee. But not just any Jero, this one was signed by Olivier Krug. It was still quite taut very good for getting the hunger going but will still improve, youthful but very Krug. This was served with a selection of Mixed Crudo, all delicious. We then had the first of two Italian whites an oaked but balanced and good 2009 Miani Banel Sauvignon Blanc, it had good dose of freshness but also a waxy element. The second white was, richer but not with the desired freshness, a 2008 Jermann IGT Were Dreams. Interesting but no more than that. The two whites were served with Lobster with cherry tomato salad Crispy scallops with lentils and delicious Octopus.

We then moved on to Pasta with Ragu and the first flight of Solaia’s – 1990, 1997 & 2004 – The 1990 was a little funky, sweaty and a little bricky a good bit of proper Italian decay but then actually went t Bovril aromas a little too quickly. It may well have been great straight out the bottle but the more air it saw the more it lost any fruit. The 1997 was one of the two wines on the night that was a little closed and angular but that did improve in glass (the 1996 being the other), I liked this without there being any major wow factor. The 2004 (from magnum) was a very proper wine, quite decadent and lush but also tightly structured, a bit of green pepper, very Cabernet…impressive

With the delicious secondi Piatti - Rack of Lamb (see right) with spicy fregola, chickpeas and passion fruit sauce – we then had the 1994 & 1996 – the 1994 was the most pleasant surprise of the evening and apparently is a wine Piero Antinori often uses when showing off the estate. It had superb balance, was really moreish, complex and at a lovely stage. The 1996 was, as mentioned above, a little more taut but it did over time give more aroma away, it was the one wine that really needed the decanting.

The last trio was 1978, 1982 & 1985 with cheese. The 1978 was the one wine of the night that had elements of tertiary character, it had a more Burgundian feel (relatively speaking), very balanced and elegant. The 1982 was disappointing, a slightly strange confected nose of almost marshmallowiness and then a dried out finish, this is a little too negative but against the 78 and 85 this was the lesser wine. The 1985 was interesting as there were two bottles but one very much better that the other, luckily I had the better one and it was lovely it had a weird note of almost toffee without being sweet, good length and very slick, not quite the balance of the 1978 but very good.

The overall feeling in the room was that the 1978 was the pick and the 2004 had great potential. I love the 1994 for its balance and would love to try the 1985 again. My overall feeling on Solaia from this one tasting (that is not enough for a definite view) is that it is a very good wine but not necessarily a great one.

I haven’t majored on the food or venue but both were excellent, the private room comes highly recommended as the cooking is all done in there against you.

Thanks again to “sussex”

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Some days you just have to...

There are some days when the wine trade is like any other trade, spreadsheets and problems but I'm lucky and most days have things to really look forward to. That was definitely the case last monday. I've been looking forward to a dinner in November with Katharina Prum @ Nobu but when the chance to go with Alison (Buyer) and taste the menu with a couple of Prums - Kabinett 2007 & Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese 2009 - I amazingly managed to clear my diary!

En route I managed to drop in on Sautters of Mount Street to say hello. This all came about after a bit of bantering on Twitter. I picked up a Bolivar Petit Belicoso LE 2009 and a Flor de Cano Short Robusto. Been wanting to try the former for a while and the later again - even if it is a stupidly small smoke.

So on to lunch, we had 6 courses to go through and had chosen the two wines above as they meant we could cover all bases of sweetness. The dinner in November will feature 9 wines - an aperitif and 4 pairs. The six courses were:

Seabass Tiradito - in essence a carpaccio with lemon and seas salt and some coriander, lots of flavours, I loved it but was worried about it with the wines, it was even better with the wines, a great start.
Lobster salad with spicy lemon dressing - a few mushrooms thrown in too, the salad was spot on, the muchrooms had a little warmth and the lobster was chilled, worked very well and was good with either wine, very good.
Rock shrimp tempura with creamy spicy sauce - any one who finds Tempura stodgy or heavy needs to try this imply delicious, dangerously moreish.
Black cod with miso (soaked 72 hrs) - An amazing dish which is very rich but also fresh, the soaking makes the sweetness all encompassing but not OTT, went very well with the sweeter style (Auslese). You then have a good chunk of a specific ginger root that cleans the palate.
Beef Kushiyaki - Kushiyaki basically means skewer, this was delicious and went well with either style of Prum.
Assorted Sushi - I thought this would be strange timing but the thinking is that it cleans the palate and I don't now disagree. I loved it but then I love sushi.

A wonderful monday lunch!!

Monday, 22 August 2011

El Rey del Mundo Tainos 2001

The first time I have had one of these. A good, proper size at 7 x 47.
The appearance was great, nice richly coloured wrapper and nice oils in it too. The aroma cold was of tea and a little linseed oil…a classy yet mellow aroma.
My initial thoughts: great draw and even burn, lots of cool smoke, it started at light to medium bodied with a woody, tanned tobacco and a touch of vanilla cream (not sweet Vanilla cream). As an aside, I had wondered what a glass of Palo Cortado (E. Lustau) sherry would be like with the was awful, not a good combo…anyway I discarded the sherry and cracked on with the smoke.
The first third; stayed at a mellow, medium level with a little hint of spice and a subtle note of nutmeg there was an element of tea loaf there too, not fruit cake but tea loaf, it was hitting its stride.
The second third was to my mind the very best as a nutty note arrived, roasted almonds and (now really going for it) a touch of macadamia.
The final third had a bit for spice and continued well. The post smoke aftertaste was of dates which was un expected. If I had to rate it I would go a mellow but solid 90. The only reason why it is not higher is that I expected a bit more richness.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Partagas Culebras

One, or should I say three, of the cigars I brought back from the trip to Spain mentioned in my last blog was a Partagas Culebras. I looked up the history of this cigar (on ) and it is an interesting one. Until 2005 Culebras was a standard (but machine made) production cigar. Re-released in 2007 as a LCDH cigar and discontinued in 2011 as part of the new policy of releasing LCDH cigars in limited numbers. It is a unique smoke in a physical sense and I was kind of thin king it’d be ok but actually it had a great draw a really good burn and that Partagas spice but if anything a touch more mellow. It was a real joy to smoke, I had forgotten to take a drink into the garden but this cigar was so balanced and enjoyable that it didn’t matter.
The flavour profile didn’t change much but that didn’t matter. I wonder if the other two are going to be as good, no reason why not other than the fact that I know expect them to be good, and from recent wine and cigars tasting this can be dangerous territory. Under promise and over deliver is the best way. Try a Culebras…another reason Partagas is definitely by brand of the moment.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

A holiday in Spain...lots of smokes...

A recent week away with the family and friends in north-eastern Spain, as well as being a great break with loads of food and wine, was a great chance to smoke several cigars. I took a few with me but also found a good cigar man in the town of L’Escala which meant I could take advantage of the good pricing (30-40% cheaper) of Cigars in Spain and try a few new cigars. First up after lunch on the first day was a Cuaba Tradicionales, it had been a while since I had tried a Cuaba and sadly this was not a good start. The look and feel was fine but the construction was so tight at the head that I had to cut about an inch off to get it going, the eventual flavour was ok but by then the smoke was all but done…I have some more so will try again soon. On day two I thought I would put the Cuaba behind be so went for an old Favourite - Hoyo Epicure No2 (pictured) it was on its normal glorious form with some Tawny port after dinner, mellow but not dull. The wrapper was a bit pale and from the “sandpaper” category but flavour excellent. The following night we drove in land for a great dinner at our friends brothers house, rabbit on the bbq as well as more different types of sausages than I think I’ve ever had in one sitting. The wine flowed but at the end of it all it was time for a R&J Short Churchill (picture). This was a cigar I had heard mixed things about but never tried before. I was really impressed and will definitely be getting some more…very classy, a little spice, great construction and a good size (if silly name). The next day it rained proper cats and dogs all day so by the evening it somehow felt wrong to launch into a big cigar so I went for one of my favourites a Partagas Short, this was from a box I am trying to leave for a while but have already smoked 4 of, a slightly loose draw but all that spice and gorgeous Partagas character. I love this cigar as it is small but not a compromise. My mid-afternoon smoke, I was on holiday after all, the following day was the other smaller cigar that I am a massive fan of, the Trinidad Reyes, it is very different from the Partagas, as different as Bordeaux and Burgundy in wine, but as good. Creamier, latte coffee flavours but not too smooth. I have never had a Lancero from Trinidad but I must as I suppose it is the Reyes older brother. I can see those two smaller format cigars being cornerstones of my smoking in years to come, both can be smoked in 20mins or preferably a little longer. Next up after a hot day and large dinner was Partagas Serie P No 2, like the R&J this was a first and also a smoke I had heard mixed things about. This was my highlight of the week smoke wise, really dark oily wrapper I wondered if it was going to be a young monster but it was delicious from the off, dark chocolate but not harsh a real after dinner treat, very impressive and also nicely different from the Serie D No 4 in style…I like the size too, not a massive fan of pyramids but this longer one makes sense, I would love to lay some of these down for 2-5 years. The last but one day of the break saw me in the Cigar shop again to buy a few other sticks I had not tried before, two of which are mentioned after this next one which was a nostalgic choice, Toscanello (pictured), I had to buy a pack when I saw them. I last smoked a Toscanello on honeymoon 12 years ago when I first got into cigars and I remember loving these veined cheroot’s dark, rich, earthy, rustic flavours with Italian Espresso. This time I had it with normal coffee, it would be a great after lunch smoke when you had little time. The other two smokes I bought were Joya de Nicaragua Robusto and Vegas Robaina Famoso (pictured) the former was creamy and light, very easy to smoke, lots of thick smoke, a little one dimensional to be critical but a good smoke and a good choice for a larger ring gauge but at any time of day. The Robaina was disappointing, it had an overly tight draw which is always off putting but even so it smoked very plainly, nothing wrong with the flavours but not enough of anything or any development…I will give Robaina another chance at some stage but this was a shame…so now I can turn my mind to my next smoke which will probably be something like an HdM Epicure No1 I should think…