Monday, 31 January 2011

DRC at the Drapers...RICH and RSV 93/95/03 + a unique white!

It is always a treat to have Aubert de Villaine in the Uk to show the Domaines wines but for a whole evening over dinner was a real privilege. The setting of the Drapers Hall (as most recently seen in the King's Speech) was perfect. To start the evening we had Salon 1997 from magnum in the Drawing room, there was a real atmosphere of excitement.

Moving through to dinner Adam and then Aubert both spoke about the Domaine and how the evening would work. Aubert then revealed the first wine...Bâtard Montrachet 1997, what? I can hear you think (if that were possible). This wine has never severed this outside the Domaine. It is usually for internal consumption as the Domaines 1/12 of a hectare only produces one barrel. There was a moment lost in translation when Aubert described it as being served at the Domaine in "happy hour". What a wonderful thought. The wine was rich with a dash of Botrytis on the nose - The reason for which Aubert related as being iue to the fact that the Grand Crus of "montrachet" are in such a great spot that you can wait for later ripeness without the fear of a flabby wine which you might get in you wait longer in say Meursault - the palate was more savoury and very complex with a lovely length, intiguing and moreish..if only there were more. The Pave of halibut with pea purée and lentils worked well but as through the whole night the wines held the attention the food just helping out.

So after a unique start, where to next? Well, when discussing what to show at this dinner we thought it would be most interesting to look at a comparison of two of the Grand Cru's as a main theme. The two we chose were Richebourg and Romanee Saint Vivant the reasoning being that they are very similar in quality but different in style. In the hierarchy of the Domaine's wines you could say that from 2007 onwards the Romanee Saint Vivant has just edged above that of Richebourg.

The first vintage in which we were to compare was 1995. Aubert spoke of the vintage as one that started out cool with rain into June with heat then arriving in August. September was wet again so Botrytus was a concern. Harvesting was around the 5th October and there was lots of sorting needed. My notes for the Richebourg 1995 have lots of phrases like dense, rich, muscular. There was real power on the nose and an almost menthol freshness, a touch of savory character behind this. The palate was balance but also youthful...a very impressive start from Richebourg. Romanée-Saint-Vivant 1995 by comarison was tasting les obviously youthful, more complex on the nose with a braoder spectrum of aromas, almost pine forrest freshness on the palate though, more transparent with more finesse that the Richebourg. As hoped the personalities showed so well in this pair - it is not as simple as Richebourg being masculine and Romanee Saint Vivant feminine but there is a lot of truth in that. Interestingly Aubert mentioned that he was a believer in the adage that you can't go wrong opening Grand Crus (or the best 1er Crus) at 15 years of age which essentially these were. The individual duck cassoulet was a good partner.

We then had the same two Grand Crus, but now from the 1993 vintage. Aubert described it as a vintage not that different in weather from 1995. A tricky beginning with possibilities of mildew gave way to a heat wave in August followed by a little rain before beautiful weather up to the harvest which was between 20 & 30th of September. I felt the 1993 came across as possibly more wines serious than the 1995's, a little more structure and acidity. These will repay more time very well. The personalities were all there to see. The fillet of Beef was mighty impressive especially given the numbers and worked well with the added structure.

I don't think an evening with wines as great as these really has a climax, such is the quality all the way through, but if there was one it was the two Grand Crus in the 2003 vintage. The weather is well documented but essentially - savage sun and heat from April to the end of August with 3 big storms - kind of sums it up...not like any other year. Aubert commented that he hadn't tasted the 2003's in a little while. The rule that from bud burst to harvest is 100 days was thrown out of the indow in 2003 - it was 80days!! Also intriguing was the idea that Aubert had been tempted to only bottle the 2003 in magnum but as there was so little produced this would have made keeping people happy very difficult indeed. As the wines age Aubert feels the mark of the vintage lessens and the climat (the specific vineyard site) begins to show. I think this was starting to happen. The Richebourg had an amazing Pinot/Syrah type nose, a unique (to me at least) density for Pinot in Burgundy. I would say it will be a fascinating wine to follow over the years, if only there was more of it! The Romanee Saint Vivant was to my mind a stunning wine with a real balance between fruit and structure. I think in time it will be a stunning example of what could be done in 2003. The marked differences in the two Grand Crus was really evident here. The twice baked cheese soufflé I'm afraid didn't get a mention here, far too much discussion of the wines. I was delighted we didn't get into a chat about winners and losers on the night etc, it wasn't an evening like that and frankly I have no idea which I thought was "best".

And so baring a glass of "bottled for C&B" Hine 1988 Early Landed Cognac (almost too drinkable) the evening was over. Not a dinner I will ever forget. I was a great opportunity to drink wines such as these with customers and friends who love the wine. Surroundings were wonderful and Aubert spoke in his normal concise, relaxed and informative way. The evening felt effortless, which these things never actually are so a big thanks from me for all the behind the scenes work!

As a note and for accuracy, all the wines had come direct fro the Domaine earlier in the week of the tasting.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Selections..Saturday 29th

What a great card at plus is set as will be at rugby but the bets are on...

1.30 Shakalakaboomboom 2pts win @ 7/2 - Impressive last time and very well thought of at the Henderson yard...I expected him to be 3's or even 5/2.

2.00 Calgary Bay 1pt win @ 8/1 - Like Somersby in the same colours a horse I have watched and followed a lot, likes the course and I simply feel is due a win, competitive race and a fair price.

2.30 NO BET but I would want to be against Punchestowns, just never been convinced about him over fences, be great if he really jumps into the GC picture but I doubt it. None of the other appeal enough though.

3.05 Rock on Ruby 2.5pts win @ £11/2 - Price seems very good to me especially given he is available at 9/2 or 5's in several places, if Nicholls form was better (which is a downer) he would be 7/2 or 4's. Saw him (through the fog) at Newbury last time and he looks an imposing and promising horse. My nap of the day.

3.35 Fair Along 1pt win @ 10/1 & Restless Harry 1pt win @ 9/1 - Big field for the Cleeve and several candidates for whom it is either a trial or a race to decide where (or even if) they go at the Festival. I simply feel both my selections will be there or thereabouts and at the prices I am comfortable with that.

Good luck all!!

Monday, 24 January 2011

Cheltenham Festival...thoughts and bets so far

Have only had two antepost so far bets and both are small...The season has been so disjointed that a lot of horses will go to the festival fresh and many unproven so I have held back...

1 - Mr Gardner 1.5pts win @ 26/1 in the Jewson, he looks to be Henderson's No1 in the race so will have Geraghty on board. I liked the way he ran in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Chase at Sandown, he was in with a good chance until pecking at the last but is a rangy horse who jumped well and slighly left (no bad thing for Cheltenham), looks like he needs more of a trip and at the price seems good to me. More to come next season too I think.

2 - Woolcombe Folly 1.5pts win @ 10/1 This is a less logical choice than the above but in a market where no horse has stood out I think a fresh Woolcombe looks a decent bet. Master Minded doesn't seem to have the zip of previous years and Big Zeb doesn't jump fast enough for me (I know he one last year but still). Nicholls comments that he was quite pleased WF missed his latest run were also quite encouraging. Somersby doesn't strike me as good enough so I'm happy with WF.

My big fancy for the festival is Menorah but at 5/1 with 2 ahead of him in a competetive market I can't see any needs to take the price yet as the other horses at the head of the market especially Binocular may well be heavily backed nearer the time if reports from the various yards are good - this tends not to happen with Hobbs horses. I just think Menorah has a lot in his favour, a proven attitude, a like of the track and the festival etc. I expect to have a decnt bet at 5/1's as soon as all is definitely fine, for the reason above there is no rush.

I was not remotely surprised to see Cue all but confirmed for the Supreme. I don't think anyone expected otherwise?

The Gold Cup is a race I am looking forward to but I see no reason to have a bet yet and it is in my view very hard to assess. Nearer the time I will probably look at the place market as much as anything - a good few oppurtunities there.

The World Hurdle - to complete the biggest races - Grand Crus appearance on the scene is very exciting indeed but I can't help feeling all it will do is bring out even more quality in Big Bucks. I was more taken with BB when I saw him at Newbury (even through the fog) in late December that by any other horse and it has left a lasting impression. Could be even be next years GC horse for Nicholls? He has a few to follow Kauto & Denman but surely winning more World Hurdles will prove nothing...we'll see.

Anyway, that's where I am now on Cheltenham lots more to come though sadly I won't be going this year...

Sunday lunch the way it should be...

I had been looking forward to yeaterday's lunch for weeks. The kind invite to Fran (Mrs H), Charlie (Hargrove Junior) and I from Eric Sabourin and Family had been made back before Christmas. Other guests were Jon (works with Eric) and Sam owner of my favourite current restaurant - Zucca As a lover of all things Piedmont and that being Eric's speciality I was understandably excited.

So, once we had the compulsory Campari and soda (I always think this is Italy's G&T alternative). We were on to a bottle of Brut Initial from Selosse, until about 2 months ago (with Eric at Sam's restaurant weirdly) I was a Selosse virgin. I now love the wines, expensive though they are. This was, as you would expect, toasty and rich but with poise and definition, a really great start, it was still good at the end of the meal as there was some still in the bottle! Makes me realise I love the two extremes of Champagne; Salon and Selosse - couldn't be more different but are wonderful. From the Champagne we went on to have Thai Prawn salad with 3 different 2007 Spatlese from Prum, a producer I know quite well and admire. These were spot on despite having decades of life ahead of them, it's been said before but is there better value anywhere? I found the Zeltinger Sonnenuhr the most intense and the Wehlener Sonnenuhr the most elegant and refined, they were all delicious. It did further cement my opinion that I love the germans up to Spatlese level, I am less inclined as the sweetness increases, wonderful though they are I do not buy them for myself. There was no typical Prum stink either on these - they can be quite reductive. Next up was a tasting precusor to the mature reds. For some time Eric and I had been trying to get together to taste the Francesco Rinaldi 2006's. On trust I have bought them already (as Sam had). They did not disappoint in any way. Cannubi was up first, being repurted to be more aromatic, this was definitely the case, a very revealing nose, with openess and elegance, very classical on the palate and with ages to go but pretty too. Brunate followed and played up to stereotype, tighter more brooding and masculine, harder on the palate but very good, a keeper. I am chuffed with both as purchases. I kept re-tasting through the afternoon and the quality is there in spades. The 2006's I have tasted are very much to my liking I am pleased to have bought several. So with the tastings done and conversation flowing we were onto the wines for drinking. First up was Spanna 1964 from Vallana, spice, good strong colour to the rim and very much a Nebbiolo nose, it was still very Piedmont and very Italian. I am always releaved when bottles like this are good and haven't just become "old wine". A real treat, very retro bottle/label was a laugh too. Barolo Cannubi 1990 from R Voerzio was next, being a lover of the very traditional style of Barolo I am not that well versed in Voerzio's wines. There was a strong hint of marzipan on the nose initially that then dispersed, the texture more than anything gave away the "new skool" maker. The balance was good and the wine is very polished but still with structure. I am note sure it'll improve but it is definitely holding very well. A good, good wine. Ornellaia 1988 was next as we moved to Tuscany, this was Sam's bottle and had a closed nose at first but that opened up well, it was delicious, with decent structure and classical with a savoury quality to my mind. There was good fruit too though. Sadly the middle bottle in the picture Figeac which Eric had very kindly wanted to open as it was both Sam's and my birth year, 1975 (and yes I've had a hard life!), was corked and not even in a way that meant you could theoretically assess the wine, this was "fully" corked...a very kind gesture that did not deserve such an ending. So the Tuscan adventure continued with the Figeac being replaced by a tip top bottle of Pergole Torte 1990 from Montevertine - showing great fruit balance and still with structure to come, very youthful and a great bottle. We had eaten through the great Lamb by now and were on to cheese, which as usual I ate far too much of. Eric was just about to open some sweeties when we rememebred the bottle I had bought - Rasteau VDN 2007, Tardieu Laurent - which was spot on with a rich chocolate and pear tart. Needs a few years for tannins to soften but it is a nice drink now. I was not sure what to take and have found that something for the end of the meal never gets in the way!

Many thanks Eric and Clan for an awesome day!

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Selections..Saturday 21st

A tricky day racing wise and I've not really been in the loop due to a really busy work week with all things Burgunday 2009 (they are brilliant and in most places prices nothing like as extreme/silly/exaggerated as Bordeaux 2009), Haydock off is a shame and Wincanton has a great turn out (89 runners in 6 races) but it is hard to spot a bet so only two selections today:

1pt each way on Mad Max at 12/1 in the big race at Ascot (2.35), has a good record there and will like the trip. I nearly backed him to win in the "without Master Minded" market at 5/1 but feel that is a bit of a compromise...we'll see.

2pt win Rose de Roi in the 3.25 Wincanton at 2/1 - looks like a horse very much on the up and as the whole card is sponsored by the Pipe Stable sponsor I think he may have gone here to "make sure" of a win (I'm not claiming to have noticed this but it is relevant).

Otherwise it is Poker tonight with a regular band of Dads from my sons class at school then a sunday off the mini rugby coaching before lunch in south London with a great friend and wineman and the families tomorrow..a good weekend in prospect then!

bets are on a scal of 1-5 pts with 5 point being a mximum bet

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

6 go wine mad in Yorkshire...staring Halifax, Newcastle, Sussex, London, Henley and Suffolk

Shortly before Christmas, in a very fortunate gap in the weather, I got together with 2 other guys in the wine trade, "Suffolk" who I worked with until recently and "Henley"who I know from a good lunch previously and 3 mutual customers/collectors/drinkers (I never think any one of those terms is quite right) who will continue the privacy by being known as "Halifax", "Newcastle" and "Sussex". The wine traders and one collector all came up from London the others from Halifax and Newcastle (yes, yes the names are unimaginative). The location was the Devonshire Arms Hotel - - and I must come clean now and take no credit for the organising - this was all done by "Halifax" with a large number of the wines being sourced by "Halifax" and "Newcastle" and the others from the rest of us. It was a great meeting of minds and unsurprisingly everyone got on well. Having trained it up there - and you can tell the wines to be served were serious as there was on onboard drinking - we managed a quick walk down to the river in borrowed boots and coats.Post walk and before settling in for a "little" late afternoon tasting a bottle of Tattinger Comtes de Champagne 1998 was opened coutesy of "Henley". Always a bit of a trade favourite and also relevant because along with a tasting we will come onto later this is the Champagne house that claims to have first "done" Blanc de Blancs. I will say now I haven't had a great deal of Tattinger over the years but this was lovely, balanced and ready to go, a good loosener.

Right tasting "Halifax" as is his wont tried to mislead us a touch here by serving the second wine blind having alluded to the fact it would be a different vintage of the first wine (which I brought along) it sort of was, sought of wasn't:

Romanee St Vivant 2007, Domaine de La Romanee Conti - I think this amazed several of the assembled with it purity and the ease with which you could see it's beauty - yes it was very young but in no way closed or harsh, very pure and primary and very "Pinot". The demand for DRC and the prestige (hate that word) in which it is held often belies the elegance and "alwaysenjoyableness" of the wines. A top draw start!

RSV 1989 Leroy - (Served Blind) now weirdly the conversation did come onto Leroy while we tasted this (Halifax might have pushed us mischievously that way) and we all said how little we knew of her wines. This was tasting well, a little chalky which was why I guessed '88, I was quietly pleased with being so close. A very pleasant surprise and a lovely wine. I would love to try more of her wines.

Corton Charlemagne 2000, Faiveley - this was I think by universal agreement a bit of a disappointment, it tasted older than it should have and whilst there was the depth (more of a Meursault than a C-C) it lacked freshness and poise. Interesting but nothing compared to the white Burgs later.

There was a quick break now to shower, wander about, phone the wife etc before the real "work began".
Down in the bar the evening then started with a trio of Salon Vintages 1997, 1995 and 1988. This is especially interesting as the 1999 will launch in the coming months.

Salon 1997 - I have had this more times than I deserve but it is always good, very BdB, very precise, no mucking about, will age very well and I feel won't shut down (as the 1996 might).

Salon 1995 - I remember going to the launch of this in Biarritz what seems an age ago. It divided opinion, I liked it (I am unapologetically biased) and felt it was putting on some weight, others thought it was a bit gawky and the least impressive of the three.

Salon 1988 - I have only had this twice before and as with a few 88's I always think of it as a Page 3 Champagne "all upfront and in your face" and it is definitely unSalonesque in its richness but it was in check and actually complexly lovely. Wet down very well indeed and led into to dinner in style.

Right, dinner - I am not going to write about the food as it was good but not the point of the night and most people will think this is long enough already. My notes on the wine to will t more and more vague as we go was a relaxing night and note taking would not have ben polite or enjoyable....this was drinking and enjoying rather than critiquing, it is not a competition after all.

Pair 1 - Bienvenues Batard Montrachet 1999, Domaine Leflaive - I was excited about this as I have heard such good things about the '99 Leflaives but rarely tasted any, this was all gunflint and matches on the nose, quite incredible. Now that the year is fully done I have no hesitation in making it my white wine of the year. I will seek out '99's from now on.

Batard Montrachet 2002, Domaine Leflaive - so to the next door vineyard and some of the table (not quite me) preferred this to the BBM '99 above, I can understand this as it was very very impressive from beginning to end, very complete and long. A fascinating wine - Chevalier often steals the glory at Leflaive but I tell you what these two would be right up there to my mind

Pair 2 - Laville Haut Brion 1983 & Laville Haut Brion 1990 - this was the most educational element of the day for me as I do not know the wines well, I have had a disappointing bottle of the 2003 and a great bottle of Haut Brion Blanc 1995 but that was about it for top Dry White Bordeaux. These two were terrific and nicely different but the same as well if that makes any sense. There is weight here and a definite sense of Sauternes without the sweetness, the 1990 was a little more opulent and the 1983 a little more dense and textured, a fabulous pair of wines and all 4 whites were in immaculate shape!

Trio 1 - Haut Brion 55, 82 & 89 - what a treat - two wines I have had once before and one I definitely haven't!

Haut Brion 1955 - Supplied by "Sussex" in its tissue from a complete case (see bottle on right) and in the old (therefore conventional) bottle. The level was a surprise to the provider (you can see it is mid shoulder) but the wine sung well, the colour was firm and not over mature and there was good fruit there, lovely wine and did show the style of HB, a real treat and shows that levels can be very miss-leading.

Haut Brion 1982 - the last time I had this, probably 5 years ago, I remember thinking it was so balanced, that happened again, tasting it along side the 1989 was fascinating as it is a great wine but there is always a suspicion that the 1989 is a tad bigger and better. I am not so sure I thought this was gorgeous and complete.

Haut Brion 1989 - This was richer, darker and tasted at least the 7 years younger than the 1982. It is denser and I feel still not at its peak just yet. These three vintages proved the sense in the recently quote expression that you should "sell Lafite and drink Haut Brion".

Trio 2 - I will have to admit that my memory from here on in is not very detailed but courtesy of "Newcastle" we were able to add too more legends to our list Mouton 1955 was fascinating as was the La Mission Haut Brion 1961 - neither of these I had ever had before. The La Mission was a little short which was a surprise but the breeding was more than apparent. The Mouton a little like the Haut Brion 1955 was a very pleasant surprise, with good solid fruit, amazing in wine from 55 years ago. As if that wasn't enough we than had "Halifax's" Pichon Lalande 1964 (from Magnum) and this was stunning, well above expectation, a good advert for buying the 4star vintages in magnum, it stood up well to its first growth friends. I will be interested to try other 1964's on this evidence. None of the older Bordeaux were at that "farty claret" stage, all retained fruit.

Somehow a couple of relative oddities were squeezed in starting with a suggestion from "Suffolk" who clearly couldn't cope with the lack of Rhone representation Crozes-Hermitage 1990 Alain Graillot a producer I know nothing of was lovely on the nose but weirdly almost completely absent on the palate...strange. Then our esteemed organiser chose a 1947 Scharzhofberger I am going to have to admit that both producer and sweetness level are no longer in my memory, the wine was good, alive and still complex with a dash of sweetness remaining, not that I have much experience of such things but it was what I expected. This led us into the....

The sweets - (pictured with the Leflaive's above) the food and drink was hitting home by now and I don't think I appreciated these as much as I could have but I have been waiting a very long time to try Yquem 2001 - several people who's palate I really rate have told me it is the real deal - the nose is amazingly intense and almost round in it's neverendingness. The palate weight and richness of texture is almost unique in my experience...there is no doubt that this wine will outstay (nice racing reference) any one alive today. It is amazing to think it is already 10 years old. It is the most intensely balanced wine I think I have had, I look forward to tasting it again. Climens 2001 did well not to be overshadowed but is not in quite the same class (what is really?) the wine is brilliant though and is drinkable, whilst not at its peak, now. What a finish. Amazingly Newcastle and Henley managed a few beers after but the rest of us were done.

In these times of premox and other things all the above wines being faultless was wonderful and may be a little lucky. The alarm clock at 5.50am the next morning was not nice but at least I was no off for a big friday lunch..the same can not be said of "Henley" and "Sussex" but they have survived....there is talk of a part 2 to this great evening, bring it on, a wonderful evening...

Many thanks to everyone involved and especially to "Halifax".