Sunday, 26 June 2011

Weekend of a few Smokes...

After a quite boozy week of mostly (very good) Barolo I thought it would be a low key weekend from a booze point of view. So with some decent weather and a festival to go to, not Glastonbury but Summer Soulstice in Barnet, it turned into a good weekend for a few more smokes than normal. Having predicted I would only have one on Saturday I went for a Partagas Serie D No4 (from a 2008 Box), so far these have been great and this one certainly was too, rich and full but not OTT, savoury and a little spicy, cracking smoke, which explains the almost burnt fingers. I later fancied another smoke and only had with me a Trinidad Reyes (2009 box). This is one of my very best smokes at the moment and a really great post lunch smoke in particular. I thought it might get “drowned” by the larger richer Partagas but it just had a very different texture and flavour profile, more mocha and cream, it worked well and remains a firm favourite.

I suppose the most exciting smoke of the weekend was the just released - La Flor de Cano Short Robusto Limited release – lots has been written about this new release so see for background. The draw was excellent, almost, but not quite, too easy, there was a dash of sweetness to the initial flavour then it got deeper and deeper and quite rich. It is a quality smoke with overall medium richness, for my palate it was a little in need of a couple of years to mellow out – I am finding this a lot and think it is just me, it is an exciting smoke and well worth adding to any collection. I have a few aged smokes lined up for next weekend. I may try to go to the Coral Eclipse and Sandown and fancy So You Think to get back on track with a win at the expense of Workforce.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Not bad for a Monday

A rather unusually good Monday night with a couple of colleagues/friends and a mate at No1 Lombard Street – we were very well looked after by Matt, great food, service and care for the wines, but I am afraid this will be all about the wines rather than food.

We started with Delamotte Blanc de Blancs 2002 which has just been released, it is tight right now as you would expect and really want it to be. Still delicious it is best kept another 2 years before being in no rush to drink, at about the same price as Grand Marque NV this is a great Champagne. We then moved on to Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Clavoillon 2004 from Domaine Leflaive, decanted, this was great, I wondered how open it would be, it was at a lovely stage, gunflint on the nose and then good fruit – I was pleasantly surprised by how good it was.

One of the main reasons for the gathering was to show some great older Piedmont wines, these were supplied by my mate and Barolo Guru. All three were in immaculate condition and showed three things brilliantly: A fully mature Barolo, then a great Barbaresco and great Barolo, the latter two alongside each other was a great contrast…and so to the wines:
Barolo Brunate 1964, Marcarini - Brick red hue, lovely nose with a hint of ginger, it is developed but not tired at all a great bottle for the age. Lovely. I have had a lot of luck with older Marcarini including 1978 Brunate and 1970 Brunate...this made it three from three! Barbaresco Santo Stefano 86, Bruno Giacosa - Very good colour right to the rim, the nose was more Grand Cru Red Burg like than Piedmont, perfumed, gorgeous, rich but pretty, very good indeed, we agreed that it was at its peak, very elegant. Barolo Cascina Francia 87, Giacomo Conterno - A savoury, powerful wine with dark fruits, delicious, brooding, a dash of "frazzles" about the nose. Brilliant to compare it to the Giacosa, so different. Youthful colour. As good a 1987 as I have had from anybody anywhere (that’s not damming it with faint praise I hope).

We then had a pair of Sauternes de Fargues 05 which was balanced and very good, nothing like the intensity of the 2001 I have had recently but at this young age that’s a good thing, really drinkable. Alongside it we had a half of Doisy Daene 83 which showed really well, a little bit of marmalade and at a lovely stage but probably not worth keeping any longer than this (or may be that is just the format?). And that was that, a realy fun and relaxed evening of great wine and good food…will be doing it again…

Friday, 10 June 2011

7 go wine mad at The Connaught...staring Halifax, Newcastle, Sussex, new Sussex, London, Henley & Suffolk

Last Thursday saw the return fixture from the tasting dinner and also a chance to celebrate "Sussex's" 40th. The team assembled at 12.30 at the Connaught and after a, very good, bottle of Pol Roger 1999 Blanc de Blancs we made our way down to the Sommeliers Table. See below new Sussex looking very at home.
The first wine downstairs was Wiltinger Brauner Kupp Auslese 1988 from Egon Muller, the wine was very elegant balanced and a greater starting point. The nose opened up but sadly by that point I had greedily finished mine. Blind I wouldn't have said Auslese as the wines had developed and left that level of sweetness behind.

Once seated we had the first of 4 wines from 1971 - Dom Perignon Oenotheque 1971 - served decanted so as to be blind. I loved the mushroom-like nose but the palate didn't quite match. A great wine to have tried and a good match for the charcuterie. It would be very interesting to know how the non Oenotheque bottling is by comparison.

Next up, with Foie Gras, was a real highlight, Yquem 1971 (picture below) in immaculate condition, long, fresh but also developed and at a lovely stage, just how I love

With a pea and salt cod dish we next had two wines totally blind from the Sommelier Clos de Litanie 1971, Pomerol & Chateau Cabrieres 1971, Chateauneuf-du-Pape - The Pomerol I got wrong and though was more Pessac in style but I'll forgive myself that (nobody else did)...the Chateauneuf was a weirdly "bovrilled", semi madeirised wine, a bit past it despite probably being as good as it'll show. Nice to have some more 1971's we had 5 in total as there is still one to come.

We then went to two wonderful white burgundy producers for the next pairing served with my dish of the day - Calamari Ravioli. The wines were Bienvenues Batard Montrachet 1999, Domaine Leflaive & Meursault Les Rougeots 2000, Coche Dury they were served - I believe - in that order which was the opposite to what the sommelier said but having had the Bienvenues 1999 just before Christmas with the same crowd I feel sure I am right (and was kindly supported by others)...anyway both were splendid and showed how good those producers are. Neither has peaked just yet which is good.

And now to Bordeaux with the tandoori spiced scottish scallop, two wines I have always wanted to taste as they are great wines and rather glaring omissions from my "repertoire" - Margaux 1983 & Palmer 1961 - As they were served blind and we had taken some other Bordeaux the consensus was that they were younger, never a bad sign, the cool temperature having something to do with this. The Margaux was an elegant and balanced glass, mature but in no way past a peak, real balance and without being greedy the sort of wine you want a bottle of rather than a glass. The Palmer was exceptional, in at least three ways - pure quality (amazing), the bottle itself (a great one) and it's "differentness" (it is a bit of a freak) - it seems insane but you could decant that wine for 2-3 hours and I can't see it fading. The last mouthful was the best Given that the vinification back then will not have been complicated it makes you wonder I there is too much top Bordeaux being "made" today.

Having drunk "enough" great producers to last most months already the heat stayed on...up next with Roasted veal was Romanee St Vivant 1995, Domaine de La Romanee-Conti and Charmes Chambertin Tres Vielles Vignes 1989, J.Roty. Both wines were interesting but only one was great. The RSV was a really lovely wine that a few of us had had before Christmas, elegant, balanced and fresh with lovely red fruits, it is fair to say it was still primarily primary in character - very impressive and with a way to go. The Charmes was frankly a disappointment, a little soupy and whilst I expected it to be more masculine than the RSV I think that would be a kind way of putting it. A little too rustic and lacking the required charm. Having had the 1988 of the same wine I think it was a phase when there was a little bit too much oak and extraction - nothing like the wines they now produce.

Next was Climens 1971 which I thought was a delight and shows there is some exceptional value in good and great Sauternes (and whilst you now don't think of "Yquem" and "value" in the same sentence I do include older Yquem in that). It was a great wine and a good decision of the sommelier to serve the two 1971 Sauternes apart as we could enjoy both without a competition. Very special and both great both bottles, obviously well stored. These gatherings always seem to feature at least three Sauternes (lets face it we never drink enough Sauternes!) and so it did again as de Fargues 2001 was now served, a pick from the wine list. It was served blind to all but two of us and I have to say I thought the suggestions were entirely logical if not correct - suggestions were mainly that it was Rieussec and anything from 1989 to 2001. I could totally see why, it had a real Rieussec orange peel richness about it. A very interesting ending to the main wines.

With a some more time before the Northern contingent had to get trains we had one more Dom Perignon Oentheque this time the 1995. I liked this, although my palate was a little jaded by this stage. I think 1995 Champagne will always suffer from being next to the ultra classical and superb 1996's. The 1995's are a lovely drink, softer and suppler with a lots of balance. In time they may be a good value, if different, alternative to the 1990's & 1996's.

It was then upstairs to the bar for a slightly underwhelming Jacquesson 1990 Magnum. Nothing wrong with it but I didn't think the complexity you would want from that great vintage. It did show that the glass matters as the glasses were designed to match the bar not the wine...a small but relevent point.

Henley made a very wise shout that it should be "cigar time", never something I disagree with so I accompanied Henley over the road to Sautters where we purchased seven Sancho Panza Belicosos - a cigar I love. A great way to finish a great day. Special thanks to Henley and Halifax for the organising and to Newcastle for some especially generous wine choices.

Roll on another trip to the North for round three, all we need is a tenuous excuse!!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Conterno Blog 3...the vineyards

Just some pictures from the two vineyards Roberto owns, first up is Cascina Francia. The first photo being of Roberto with the southernmost vines behind him. The second is looking west. You get some idea of the severity of the slopes here from the pictures but in reality it is far steeper than it looks. The vineyard faces west south west and even though it was a very hot muggy day for May you had a cooling breeze coming up the slope towards us. The Barbera is on the lower slopes.

Next up was the 2008 acquistion - Cerretta - The first of the photos is taken looking across Cerretta in the foreground towards Castiglione Falletto on the hill top in the distance.

Cerretta is a more complex vineyard as it is not a Monopole and there are a few different parcels. When in the two vineyards you can really feel why the two spots produce such different styles.
And sadly this was the end of the trip...but have no fear I'll be going back...

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Giacomo Conterno...tasting the wines

Having grabbed a quick breakfast in Monforte we headed just south out of the town to Cantina Giacomo Conterno to meet up with Roberto (pictured above) again, this time for the business of tasting the young wines as yet unreleased onto the market. You could feel the temperature change as we made it down to the immaculate cellars. We were very much in Roberto’s hands in terms of order of tasting – Barbera - Barolo – Barolo Monfortino. All the wines were tasted directly from barrel in the Burgundy glasses that Roberto likes most. It was a staggering tasting.
I have put my scores (in brackets out of 20) and rough drinking windows. These are not purely tasting notes, there are comments and observations thrown in too….

Barbera Cerretta 2009 (17.75-18.25) 2012 - 2015+
Harvested at the same time (22/23rd September) as the Barbera in Cascina Francia. A "very good year for Barbera, end of august was very hot when normally there are storms". Rich, deep with dark fruit. A hint of violet about the colour. A really fresh edge to the wine - Dark cherry, cassis and a touch of mint. Very pure and clean but with balance. Structured but still juicy. Up on intensity over the 2008.

Barbera Cascina Francia 2009 (18.25) 2014 - 2017+
Similar in overall colour to Cerretta but darker at the core and this followed through to the wine. A base, savoury nose with stones as well as real dark fruit. A chunky minerality but with definition. Fruit and real guts. No rawness. As Roberto commented "more salty than Cerretta". Serious wine

Barolo Cascina Francia 2007 (18.25 -18.75) 2014 - 2027+
Elegant light colour especially after the Barberas. There is no Monfortino in 2007 although 1 barrel was made as Monfortino and then blended in 2 years ago. The 2007 vintage was not so hot but followed a very dry winter when there was little or no snow, no ice and hardly any rain. The 2007 will not need as much aging as many Cascina Francia's (certainly less that the ultra-classical, very structured 2006 that preceded it) as there is a more immediate balance to the wine. We discussed racking with Roberto at this stage as he commented that this had been racked just 10 days ago. In the 1st year there is typically 3-4 rackings and then after that 1 racking every 1-2 years. I found the wine very impressive and also seductive a great wine to show those unfamiliar with Conterno's style of Barolo.

Nebbiolo di Barolo Cerretta 2009 (18.25) 2014 - 2023+
I have called it this as it is not yet decided whether this will be Barolo Cerretta or Langhe Nebbiolo as it was in 2008. If it is the later then it will be bottled after 3 years rather than the 2 years the 2008 had...if the former then it'll be bottled after 4 years as per Cascina Francia. Roberto says he is 70% decided it'll be Langhe Nebbiolo again in 2009 for a couple of reasons, firstly when tasted up against the Cascina Francia 2009 you can see why (though in isolation anybody else would release this as a Barolo). Secondly he is so pleased with the 2010 that he thinks it would be good to start “Barolo Cerretta” with a great vintage. We'll see what is decided. The wine was expectedly lighter than the CF 07, very defined strawberry (fraise de bois). Very, very elegant more depth than the Langhe Nebbiolo Cerretta 2008 that I had last night (trying to keep the trip going you see). I think this is a seriously interesting wine whatever it is released as. The very best thing is that Roberto has two such different "Crus" to work with. They complement each other perfectly.

Barolo Cascina Francia 2009 (18.75 - 19) 2018 - 2032+
Very, very fine, Elegance but also "grit and grip". Seriously good combination of richness and savoury minerality, you can now see why Roberto thinks Langhe Nebbiolo for the 2009 Cerretta wine when compared to this, it is very impressive.

Barolo Cascina Francia 2008 (17.75 -18.25) 2015 - 2030+
More degraded fruit character, a touch of mocha, there it is a maturity about the way this wine is. Roberto commented he could see a common thread with the 1971 we had had the previous night. He felt it will need 5-6 years in bottle to come together. I liked this and also loved the sense that had built up of the Cascina Francia showing the different years so well, there was a similarity but a very definite vintage variation. Just as there should be…

We then moved on to taste the Monfortino...three vintages in the order 2005 - 2004 - 2006. I ask a few questions on Monfortino generally. The wine is not a set parcel but often comes from the same area. Cascina Francia was bought in 1974, Since 1978 the Monfortino has always come from only the Cascina Francia vineyard (as had all the Giacomo Conterno wines until the Cerretta vineyard was bought in 2008). The only "decided upcoming non-Monfortino" year is 2007 as it did not stand out enough, this is quite controversial as the vintage is being lauded as a good one. A Monfortino is always "made' and then blended in if not selected to be released on its own. The typical aging for Monfortino is 7 years although this can vary, it was 8years in 2002 and may be the same in 2006, see below. The freak year of 2002 where there was a Monfortino but no Cascina Francia was due to the vineyard missing hail - and having seen how steep Cascina Francia is, the rain runs off it anyway - and being in Roberto's words "all exceptional" when he made this comment to his father he said "Simple only Monfortino"...a brave move as with the choice of not making 2007 Monfortino. Roberto is here to do what is right not necessarily what is expected. The Monfortino is always labelled on the front as Cascina Francia but on the back of the giant Botti it has a Monfortino label...a nice little "hidden" touch (see below).
Monfortino 2005 (18.75-19.25) 2015 - 2035+
Wonderful degraded fruit but also a savoury “bovril-ness”, a good acidity. Very very fine. It is a “straight down the middle” Monfortino. Very balanced I think this will shut down less than most. There is another level of complexity. Tasted blind I am not sure what vintage would have guessed at. Really impressive. I can’t help feeling 2005 is an underrated vintage as it has come amongst 2004,2006 & 2007.

Monfortino 2004 (19.75-20) 2014 - 2040+
The most anticipated wine of the trip as the ingredients are there for a potential legend, this makes it exciting but also nerve-wracking. I have never scored a wine 20 but I think this is the closest to perfection I have tasted hence the score. There is nothing I would change about the wine. I initially wrote, light depth. This is because there is so much there but at the same time it is so fresh. The precision is immense, roses, violets, strawberries but also that classic tar and savoury edge. It just got better and better and there was no way I was going to spit it out. Amazing balance of freshness and a word BRILLIANT.

Monfortino 2006 (19.25) 2018-2038++
I am a big fan of 2006's as I think they are what Barolo is all about, you can argue 2004 is the perfect vintage and you're probably right but I would rather a 2006 style Barolo than an easy fleshy (2000?) style any day. Roberto was spot on to show this last as it is a big chap on the finish. It has that degraded maturity of fruit on the nose and is a harder but totally in-check version of the 2005. Roberto says he may well give this 8 yrs in Botti rather than Monfortino's standard 7. This is one of the treasures of traditional Barolo - longer in very large Botti/barrel means more elegance and a chance for the wine to meld together and soften an fraction. In the world of new oak wines where the oak adds structure here the very old (50-55yrs in places) wood allows the wine to mellow and breathe. A deeply impressive wine that in 30 yrs time will be fascinating "up against" the 2004.

Some notes on the 2010 vintage – it has been an amazing run from 2004 to 2010

2010 - Very late harvest, lots of tannin which meant you had to harvest very very late to make sure you had the fruit (and tannin) ripeness to go with the tannic structure - Classical like 2006 but may be even better.

After this we headed to the Vineyards…more of which tomorrow…