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.