Saturday, 29 September 2012

Moresco amongst many treats at Zucca

The Glorious Trio
As some of you know I am no stranger to Zucca but even by their standards this was an extraordinary display. Sam Harris, chef/owner, was sat with us, he doesn't miss these sorts of evenings and there is a reason for this! The wines had all been organised by Eric with all the guests bringing a bottle. To kick off it had to be Ca’del Bosco Franciacorta, Cuvee Prestige, as glorious as ever, I love this stuff, never pretentious but appetising and balanced, flows down a treat, all three bottle that is. Once the assembled had all got their bottles out and those that needed decanting were resting we all sat down for the bread - Focaccia, Grissini and Cripsy Pasta. The later was a new one on me, linguine with lots of salt and crisped up, very moreish.
The first of four starters - a very elegant Sea Trout with fennel - was served up with a wine that was new to me Paleo 2009 from Le Macchiole a blend of 70% Sauvignon and 30% Chardonnay, it had a nose that I thought was a little like a dry white Bordeaux from one of the Sauternes houses but an extra layer of texture from the Chardonnay. I had a few visits back to this wine during the evening and I enjoyed it more and more as it evolved, well worth trying. The next step was back to bubbles and this time a serious and decadently aged bottle in Billecart Salmon Cuvee Nicolas Francois 1990 with Tuna & Crab involtini, a cracking combo. The Billecart was at a lovely stage, rich but still fresh enough, mature rather than old, I remember having the 1988 many years ago and this was more refined. So with half the starters done - this was not an evening for the small eater - it was time to have my contribution Meursault 1er Cru Sous Les Dos d’ane 2007 from Domaine Leflaive, in magnum, with Grilled Langoustines that had arrived from Scotland earlier in the day. This worked well. a combination of Meursault's broader structure and the leanness of 2007 went well with the gorgeous Langoustines. I am professionally biased in favour of Domaine Leflaive but this was showing really well and white Burgundy in magnum is just the job for 10 people.
The centrepiece of this dinner was 3 vintages - 1970, 1974 & 1979 - of Barbaresco Giovannini Moresco. In his prime Moresco owned 28 acres in one of Piedmonts most famous vineyards, Pajore. Between 1967 and 1979 he made just five Barbaresco's, so to have 3 of them in one sitting was a great treat. The land was ultimately sold to Angelo Gaja and is now used to produce Sito Moresco which is a blend of many different varieties including Nebbiolo but in a minority, such a shame and one not to think about too much. The wines themselves: The 1970 was very elegant, fully mature with a hint of frazzles, light in colour a wine with a real balance, I think it will start to fade gracefully from here so this timing was terrific, it complimented the Beef Carpaccio, fresh Porcini superbly. The first bottle of 1974 was the wine of the night for me until the second bottle which amazingly surpassed it. It was quite simply one of those wines that had everything; elegance, depth, fruit, florality (new word I think), savoury balance, weightless but evident structure. Not the sort of wine were fruit adjectives work well or come easily. The Risotto, Borettone Onions was a good foil to it as it was a subtle and balanced dish with great texture made even better when Sam decided we needed a covering of white truffle (it's a hard life!). When the 1979 came round I just remember liking it! It was a little more savoury and masculine but I was still slightly under the spell of the 1974 in honesty.
The next two wines were from two big names in Barolo and two with a firm association with the more modern styled wines, these were both good. Barolo Granbussia Reserva 1985, Aldo Conterno was a lovely bottle with real depth, balanced but rich and masculine with a savoury yet luscious texture, it is not going to fade at all but this struck me as a great time to be drinking it, very good. Chitarra, Veal & pistachio meatballs was again a good compliment to the wine, the pasta having a great texture to it. Barolo Rocche 1996, Vietti was up next, youthful but not too young, I like the savoury density of the 1996's and this had that but was more open than I expected. The Vietti wines do impress me as they age, the quality of the fruit comes though the oak. I'd love to see their fruit made into Barolo is a more 'neutral" way.
The two mags and Paleo 2009
That signified the end of the Nebbiolo and with Venison and Wild Mushrooms to come we were onto two magnums - Rauzan Segla 1999 & Sassicaia 2001. They were not to disappoint, both good, very different but within a similar framework. I was interested to taste the Rauzan as I saw a couple of the team from Chateau Margaux recently and asked which vintage they like to show at the moment that wasn't from a "glamour" vintage and they said 1999. A colleague at another dinner the same night had the Pavilion Rouge 1999 in mag and I think you can say that the Margaux commune 1999's are pretty dam good and now. This was very Margaux, elegant, fragrant, floral with enough weight but not in any way overpowering, a wine where you feel the winemaker let it happen rather than forcing anything (always a good thing in my book). The Sassicaia was spot on, the most that I have enjoyed a "young" Sassicaia. It had it's classic ripe green bell pepper, the trademark of the wine for me. It was open and slightly loose knit which worked well. The two mags made a great pairing.
We were approaching 11.30 by now but there were still two puddings to go!! The first of which, fortunately, was very elegant and refreshing; Raspberry jelly, lemon thyme with Saracco Moscato d’asti 2011 poured over it. I had never had Saracco before, very good it was too. The second/main pudding was simply brilliant - Custard tart, pine nut brittle, vanilla ice cream and olive oil - and the Olive oil bit is not a stunt, it works a treat, the pepper and texture of the Oil making you think, but in no way is it awkward. The Vin Santo 2001, San Giusto a Rentennnano was a great wine to have with it, intense buttery sweetnmess but with a good acidity. After so much food and wine I have never seen a pudding so well enjoyed...what an evening...I'd do it all again any day!
The Risotto before it's "covering" of white truffle!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Gaja & Giacosa at The Dock Kitchen

Great venue
I was delighted to be asked to join several members of the trade at a lunch hosted by the agents for both Gaja and Bruno Giacosa on friday at The Dock Kitchen. A great venue and as ever I won't go on too much about the food, but can safely say it is well worth a visit. We started with a few glasses of Spumante Extra Brut 2006, Bruno Giacosa on the sun deck. It is a soft and aromatic fizz, good and enjoyable if not complex, I am amazed it is 6 years old as it is so elegant and fresh. We were then seated and started to dig into Proscuitto, black figs & basil Frigatelli peppers, olives & ricotta all supported with Toasts: white beans, chopped beef & tomato. The two whites to accompany these were
Nice whites!
Roero Arneis 2011, Bruno Giacosa & Rossj-Bass Chardonnay 2011, Gaja. I really enjoyed both, Arneis is sometimes a bit tricky I find but this had enough lush fruit to go with the tartness that the grape gives, good food wine and about as good as Arneis gets. The Rossj-Bass was very good indeed, the fact it sees used oak and is therefore subtle as well as ripe works really well. The dash of Sauvignon that is added probably helps to lift the aromas too, an impressive lunchtime white that I'd like to drink again.
It was now time for reds with a very enjoyable Delica pumpkin & pancetta risotto. The two reds were
Barbaresco Rabajà 1998, Bruno Giacosa & Sorì San Lorenzo 2001, Gaja. This pair showed a lovely contrast. To take the Gaja first it was rich and bold but not without freshness and subtlety. Still a young wine but lovely even now. It had the Gaja stamp on it but not overpoweringly so. Impressive. The Giacosa was, as expected, lighter in colour and in extraction. It was good but almost a little too evolved for what should still be a youthful wine, an enjoyable delicate drink now wine that is only a dash disappointing because it is more forward than you'd expect. It is a real shame that the wine can no longer be called Rabaja.
It was now time for the main meat feast in the shape of 30 day aged Longhorn sirloin with Tuscan roast potatoes, rocket & salsa verde, a delicious piece of meat it was too, really great tasting fat on it (the key for me if not my cholesterol). The two wines to accompany were going to be interesting, Barolo Falletto di Serralunga 2007, Bruno Giacosa (from double magnum - at least) & 
This works!
Conteisa 1999, Gaja both were enjoyable but as you would expect could not have been more different. The Giacosa was an elegant and feminine expression especially for Barolo but I think this is a good way to have dealt with the 2007 harvest. It was easy to make almost overripe, late harvest type, bruised fruit, wines and whilst this may not make old bones I feel it is a good wine for the vintage. The Gaja was a foursquare wine with an angular structure, good but probably never going to loosen up enough to be charming, proper stuff though and great with the beef. We then had what read on the menu as one of those "this'll never work" combunations - Salt caramel ice cream with Vigna Seré IGT Veneto 2003 Romano Dal Forno but do yo know what? It was awesome, both the brilliant richness of the ice cream and the elegant ripeness of the Dal Forno, a real tour de force. There was of course coffee to follow but by now it was most certainly cigar time, so courtesy of Eric it was time for a Hoyo Epicure No2 from 2001, mellow and lovely, I smoked it down to my fingers and then had a possibly even better Hoyo du Depute also, I think, from 2001. I felt slightly guilty for not trying the Grappa - Gaia & Rey NV but in reality it had been a splendid enough long lunch without the need for the hard stuff...
Really fascinating...

Monday, 10 September 2012

H.Upmann Mag 46 - Corona Gorda

In the middle of a seven day spell of non-drinking I was really looking forward to a cigar. I felt like a Corona Gorda and had the choice of a Ramon Allones Extra (awesome but my last one), a Monte No3 (not had it before) and am H.Upmann Mag 46. I went for the latter and didn’t regret it one bit. To accompany it I had a bottle of water and a cup of tea, I love tea (that’s normal "builders" tea) with a cigar. The “aroma & cold draw” was lovely and gentle, hints of straw and a suspicion of a little age. The construction looked excellent, not a show stopper to look at but well-made and nice and even, it proved to be well made later too.
The Opening – Lovely and elegant, light but not too light, creamy texture, good amount of smoke. The aroma was really wonderful and again suggests some age. I have no idea of the box code as it was bought as a “single”.
1st Third – Elegance, creamy tea, nutty elements, just below medium as a whole. Good depth. The nuts were either cashews of macadamias but not peanuts.
2nd Third – Slight build in flavour and weight but still not a definite medium. More cream but less nuts, a little black pepper arrived.
Last third – Some younger leather and a dash of spice towards the end of things.
Conclusion – This was a delicious smoke, totally unpretentious right down to the simple band. Crucially it developed as the smoke went on. There is nothing not to like, perfect for the afternoon. 92points.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Marco Marengo and Renato Corino @ Vini Itailini

Last wednesday I went along to to attend a tasting of Marco Marengo and Renato Corino's wines with the focus being on 2008 Barolo's. It is the first time I have been to the 100% Italian Wine Shop, they have a good location and a good set up with many of the great names from what I could see during a brief browse.
A quick overview of what I learned about the producers, neither of whom I knew well. Both are based in La Morra on the western and slightly northern side of the Barolo region.
Marco Marengo The winery was started in 1899, Marco is the 3rd generation, they make Dolcetto, Barbera, a Nebbiolo d'Alba, one generic Barolo and 3 Barolo Crus. About 36,000 bottles in total.
Renato Corino Renato is the second generation, Corino as a larger producer first started experimenting with "newer" techniques in 1987. Renato and his brother then split the estates holdings in 2005, he makes about 40,000 bottles split across Dolcetto, Barbera, a Nebbiolo d'Alba, one generic Barolo and 2 Barolo Crus and 1 Riserva.
We started with the too non-nebbiolo wines:
Dolcetto d'Alba 2011, Marco Marengo (15) Which is kept in stainless steel to preserve the fruit and only has 4-5 days skin contact. It had a nice nose of Christmas cake and herbs, some grip with a little dryness but good overall.
Barbera d'Alba 2011, Renato Corino (15) which was bottled in July having had 3 months in barrel. Silky texture, this lacks guts and structure but then it is not supposed to be serious, nice luscious wine if simple.
The Marengo wines
It was now time to start on the Nebbiolos.
Nebbiolo d'Alba Valmaggiore 2010, Marco Marengo (16) Classical Nebbiolo nose this wine sees 25% new wood and 75% older wood for 12-13 months, it has an elegant femininity and another year would be nice. From the Roero region.
Nebbiolo d'Alba 2010, Renato Corino (16) Also from Roero, this sees 1 year in wood which are older barrels from the Barolo, has a lush liquorice feel, a little less refined that the above but a lovely drinker.
I have had a lot of joy from the 2008 Barolo's that I have tasted you only have to look back a few posts to see that, the following wines further confirmed it is a fine vintage which really expressses the grapes character and strengths.
Barolo 2008, Marengo (17+) From three vineyards in La Morra, it sees 24 months in wood of which 25% is new and then 1 year in bottle before being released as is the law, the maceration is 8-9 days long. I found this to be fresh with a briny, cherry and cough lozenge nose, good ripe tannins that left a pleasant edge of dryness almost strawberry fruit on the finish a good wine well worth buying.
Barolo 2008, Corino (16.5) This sees the same treatment as the Marengo Barolo except that I think there is more new wood, the structure is less apparent and there is more lushness to the wine, good fruit though and will be flattering from the off.
The Corino ramge
Barolo Bricco delle Viole 2008, Marengo (17.5-18) This is a very high site at 480metres above sea-level, Marco has 1 hectare here and this wine was very impressive, a fresh and almost floral nose with a touch of orange rind, again that slightly briney texture, impressive. Marco also said that with time it is the floral and feminine sides that show in this wine.
Barolo Arborina 2008, Corino (17) A classy, more modern, nose which comes from the 40-50% new wood that this wine sees. A slight iodine and savoury character on the palate, certainly more modern but good. There are 6 producers of Arborina and it became famous when E.Altare started to make it as a single Cru from around 1985.
Barolo Brunate 2008, Marengo (17.5-18.5) Marco announced that Brunate is the greatest expression of La Morra and Renato only mildy disagreed! I am a fan of this vineyard. Marco shows this wine 10 days of skin contact and then 30% of new oak. I think often in Barolo it is the type of tannins that the terroir really gives the wines. There is a powdery, bricky texture that I love in Brunate and it shows here. Very impressive.
It was sad to have reached the last wine of the night. 
Barolo Rocche dell'Annunziata 2008, Corino (17) This had a pronounced coffee and mocha nose, there is some real density here, it is a good wine and if you like the modern style of Barolo then this is well worth seeking out.
It was a fascinating tasting and very well organised (but crucially not over-organised). It is always great to have the producers there to talk through the wines. I think you can probably tell from the notes that I found these to be good but especially so with the Marco Marengo wines, there is a nod to both new and old school and I think it has worked well. Corino was good too but I just feel the oak is a dash heavy-handed, as with everything in wine this is a personal point of view.

Nice set up with attention to detail

Chateau Trotanoy at The Ritz with Edouard Moueix

Thursday night was Chateau Trotanoy at The Ritz with Edouard Moueix, which, let's face it, is never going to be a hardship. We started with Delamotte Blanc de Blancs NV which in my own biased way I recon is almost unbeatable for value, it is elegant, given more age than most standard NV's and just sets things of perfectly.
We moved through to dinner and after introductions we were onto the first wine of the night L’Espérance de Trotanoy 2009 from magnum, actually all the wines except the 1982 were from magnum. L'Esperance was a new creation in 2009, it was also made in 2010 but not as yet 2011. Ordinarily the wine that in 2009 made L'Esperance would have been used my Moueix in their more generic "Moueix Pomerol" but stood out in 2009 so this label was created. The wine is expressive on the nose, packed with red as well as black fruit. The structure is not overbearing, the palate is a little muted now but this wine will be a great drinker in 2-3 years giving an idea of Trotanoy without pretending to be the real deal. A good warm up.
One of the reasons for this dinner was that Trotanoy is unquestionably one of Pomerol and Bordeaux biggest names but it has often lived in the shadow of Petrus, well this is no longer the case, after a slight lull in the mid 80's the quality has been in s steep rising curve. This evening put this into focus. I am clearly biased but that aside Trotanoy has always been a big favourite of mine.
Some background: The estate, of 7.2hectares, was bought by Jean-Pierre Moueix in 1953 (being one of the lucky few not to freeze in 1956) and is planted with 90% Merlot & 10% Cabernet Franc on a mix of gravel & clay and heavy clay with an approximate production of 20,000 bottles.
With Squab Pigeon with Cep Purée we had Trotanoy 2001 & 2000. The 2001 as a vintage in Bordeaux, even now, is still often overlooked caming after the great 2000. The wines are superb and very balanced. This is certainly the case with this Trotanoy that I gave 18/20, it is starting to show well now but has the balance as well as an elegant structure, if you were to have two cases I would try a bottle now and go from there but if you have just one case then I would leave another 2-3 years, a seriously enjoyable wine with grace and serious charm in bucket loads. The 2000 (19/20) probably just got the nod as "wine of the night" for me. It is very very Trotanoy - dense without being crude, rich, masculine and serious, brooding dark fruit and a firm but balanced structure, in bottle another 4-5 years is needed for further layers to come out. Very impressive indeed.
The next course was a very good Venison Wellington, Madeira and truffle jus with Trotanoy 1995 & 1990. The 1995 (18/20) has a similar structure and elegance to the 2001. I really enjoyed the beginning of a secondary character. 1995 is a slightly forgotten vintage as often seems to be the case when the right-bank does better than the left, think 1998 (where Trotanoy is a wine of the vintage candidate!). I would say this is starting to be at its peak now but has a long drinking window ahead of it. The 1990 (17.5/20) is flattering, luscious and flamboyant, it is open and ready for drinking the structure appears lighter than the predecessors, I would say now and over the next 5-10 years it will be lovely...I wonder if there is a third dimension to come but I've been wrong before and it is pretentious to see instant gratification as a bad thing. As an aside it was interesting to hear both Edouard and Adam (Brett-Smith) talk about the fact that 1990 as an En Primeur vintage was a very slow and unpopular campaign for two reasons, there was little money and desire to buy in 1991 the financial position being what it was and secondly that the vintage followed 1988 and 1989 and at that time three "great" vintage in a row was not thought usual or may be even possible. The market and the UK trade's orders for the vintage only grew when people realised 1991 was going to be a write off.
The final course was Welsh rarebit and mushrooms on toast with Trotanoy 1982. This is from a massive harvest and one that had both quantity and quality in abundance, a rarity ever since. Coming from bottle rather than magnum this had a mighty impressive colour with little sign of 30 years of evolution. The balance again was lovely the fruit still showing well, masculine but softening, of the mature vintages I found this more marginally more complex that the 1990 and I gave it 18/20. It was lovely.
In summary this Chateau is a serious one and when there are some "new-fangled" and over-oaked "monsters" on the right bank these days this is the opposite, masculine wine with fruit but balance and a wonderful "drink-me digestibility"...this is what proper Pomerol is all about!

Monday, 3 September 2012

Smokes and IPA's

Until yesterday one of the great omissions from my "smoking career", for want of a better expression, was the fact that I had never had a Montecristo No2. The Monte Pyramid you could say is something of an icon in the cigar world, to have not had one was akin to not having tried Mouton Rothschild. Nobody tries to say that either of these great names are the out and out best but they are both well know and pretty dam useful at what they do. Being a bit of a geek on the cigar front I have always liked the old classics and the interesting new smokes rather than the cliché of something like a Monte 2. This may be a similar reason to why Cohiba cigars, good thought they are, are never number one on my priority list. I have also found Montecristo at times hard to love, they can be quite variable, largely due to the vast production and sometimes I find them a little one dimensional. The "flavour" on those occasions being towards a harsh dark chocolate.
This however, could not have been more different and is right up there with the very best cigars of the year so far. Lovely construction, a sheen to the wrapper and a good aroma before lighting. Once it was lit it produced a wonderful amount of rich smoke, a perfect draw without ever becoming hot or harsh. One of the things I have observed about a great cigar is that you don't need to drink with it, the vast majority of even good smokes will leave you a little thirsty or looking for a touch of liquid refreshment but such was the balance and rich elegance of this that I barely noticed I was not drinking the glass of Domaine de Saissac Cab Sauv 2010 that I had with me. The harmony and balance of the cigar made it hard to define any over powering flavours. The body was solidly medium, there was a touch of leather but not too much, some sweetness and a tiny bit of chocolate but more milk than dark. A really great smoke, easily a 95.
The previous day I had another first, a Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure Especial while watching the guys up a Finchley RFC play a pre-season friendly. It is my first year not playing rugby (too many concussions, which explains a lot) and I am going to find it hard to watch. Back to the cigar, I am a fan of the Epicure No1 from Hoyo as I love the size (Corona Gorda) and find it a graceful elegant light to medium bodied smoke. I also like the Epicure 2 (Robusto) when they are "on form". The Epicure Especial has, as far as I am concerned, one plus point and one negative. On the positive it is true to the Hoyo marque, a good elegant just-under-medium bodied blend, perfect for mid-afternoon while having a beer or at the races/golf. The negative is that I don't really see the point of this size in amongst the Hoyo range. It is a little longer than an Epi 2 and a little wider than and Epi 1 but why wouldn't Habanos just want to make the very best Epi 1's & 2's? I have no issue with them making it but just don't understand why they do. A little like the, soon to be discontinued, Trinidad's Robusto T and Robusto just don't need both. As a cigar this was a good if not exciting 90.
I have recently re-started enjoying a few different beers and grabbed the two below for a comparison. The Meantime IPA was delicious, fruity, fresh, not too yeasty and at 4.6% a good bottle I would have again. The Brewdog Punk IPA was a headier richer and more animal beer, the 5.6% helping here, more of an every now and then bottle but well worth trying. Might try them with a cigar next time!