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