Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Domaine Bonneau du Martray at The Square with Jean-Charles le Bault de la Moriniere

As dinners go this was an absolute gem! A Burgundian estate with only three owners in over twelve centuries and a great London restaurant, The Square, made it so. Domaine Bonneau du Martray is one of only two estates in Burgundy to make only Grand Cru wines, Domaine de la Romanee Conti being the other, and under the ownership and guidance of Jean-Charles le Bault de la Moriniere it is on a rise from an already heady height. We started the evening with Delamotte NV from Magnum which went down as well as always. The first of the wines for dinner were Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2008 and 2006 with Terrine of Doversole and Smoked Eel with a Vinaigrette of Oysters, Lemon Oil and Chives. Jean-Charles described the 2008 as a “vertical” wine with classical definition and a stoniness that is becoming more and more evident in the wines as the estate moves nearer and nearer to 100% biodynamic practises. I love this 2008, there was a dash of “struck match” about the initial nose then a beautiful youthful, energetic texture, this wine has a long, long future ahead of it and is just so classically Corton-Charlemagne. The 2006 buy contrast is an “easier” wine, a little more round (not spheric, that is 2009 according to Jean-Charles) but with a less nervous edge. Everything is in balance. I have had some disappointing white 2006’s this is far from them.

From 2 younger vintages we moved to Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2002, it was commented that it was a vintage successful all over Burgundy, reds, whites, north and south. There was increased texture and weight but still an elegance that went brilliantly with the Steamed Turbot with Buttered Iceberg Lettuce, Creamed Potato and Crab. If I owned the 2002, sadly I don’t, I would be just starting to drink it from now but in no rush. My favourite geeky fact about Corton-Charlemagne is that it is currently the most northerly white Burgundian Grand Cru in circulation (I see Chablis as a separate region for the sake of this exercise). Can you name the Grand Cru not currently sold as such that is further north?
From whites we now moved to reds and the Corton Grand Cru 2003 and Corton Grand Cru 2002 in Magnum. The holding of Pinot Noir that Domaine Bonneau du Martray has is technically speaking on the Chardonnay side of the vineyard but this worked very much to their advantage in the “freaky” heat wave vintage of 2003. The vintage was very early and where many wines in Burgundy really struggled not to be negatively affected by the extreme heat the cooler spot on the Corton hill made for a wine of great texture and fruit but not at the expense of freshness and elegance. Sadly only half the usual amount could be made! This is a wine for those who are sceptical about 2003. The Corton 2002 is more typical of the site and as mentioned above it was a fine year. Especially from magnum this wine is still a “youngster”. There are layers to be revealed and arguably it was the most reserved, classily so, wine of the evening. Both wines worked very well with the delicous Venison Wellington with Quince Purée, Baked Celeriac and Creamed Cabbage. And so sadly it was time for the last wine of the night - Corton Grand Cru, Magnum 1992. This wine possibly more than any other showed the greatness of this Domaine. The wine was not made by Jean-Charles, though he will have been there for harvest time. There will have been stems included in the maceration and a very short fermentation, both things changed now, but the wine had a delicate elegance and a finesse that only great terroir would produce from a less than exciting vintage for the reds. The point of showing this wine was to show how well good the site is, it achieved this. The Truffled Brie was a great ending and managed not to overpower the 1992.
I was asked for my “wine of the night” a few times and much as I always try to dodge this questions, it’s not a competition after all, I admitted the best surprise was the Corton 2003 and the wine I would be most excited to own would be the supremely classy Corton-Charlemagne 2008. The Square really looked after us well, effortless service, great food that went wonderfully with the wines without over shadowing anything. Just to cap things off I had my first Por Larrangana Petit Corona (from a 2012 cabinet) as I wandered off to Goodge Street tube. A very young but delicious smoke, a little coffeed with some dark chocolate, an almost salty wrapper, these are a cracking robust winter smoke…

Friday, 26 October 2012

Bonneau du Martray 2009, 2010 & 2011

Ahead of the Bonneau du Martray dinner at The Square (Full blog to follow) I had the chance to grab a quick taste of the last three vintages:
Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2009
Generous but still in character with the Domaine's Corton-Charlemagne. This will be drinking in 2-3 years and then, as ever, for a while after that. It has a richness of fruit and a full ripeness that makes it very appealing and at the same time a dash less serious than some recent vintages. Very good 17.5-18. 
Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2010
Serious, the very classic nose, weight and texture I associate with the Domaine. It has a nervous poise as the acidity is very focussed. The fruit is in layers and has real depth. I see this very much as a keeper, very impressive now but definitely best resisted for 7-8 years and then capable of secondary and tertiary development. A child of a wine now with a mighty future. Very impressive. 19.
Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2011 (tank sample)
Very primary, has a lovely easy focus about it, taut but not over-wound. Stylistically little between the 2009 and 2010. Very youthful but very promising 18-18.5 
Corton Grand Cru 2011 (sample) Red fruit as well as the trademark graphite edge with a herbal note. This is not what I imagined 2011 reds to be like. Impressive, a little like 2007 with more substance and depth.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Frankel day...a special one...

Saturday just gone was a really superb day, one of those that just pops up and makes you really appreciate things. I  bought a ticket for Champions day at Ascot as soon as Frankel was confirmed as targeting the Champion Stakes although only in the grandstand as I missed the "best" ones. Charlie, my son, was always coming too but there is no need to buy tickets for under 16's for any race meeting I know of (this is a bargain, make the most of it!).
I have long had the target of going to all the racecourses on the UK mainland and am currently on 15 of the 59/60 (it keeps changing). But now that Charlie is old enough I have another list which is courses Charlie and I have been to together, so far: Cheltenham, Goodwood, Sandown, Leicester and now Ascot. I see myself as 60% jumps and 40% flat when it comes to racing and I can safely say this is the most enjoyable days flat racing I have ever had.
Charlie and the other type of  horsepower
We left early and from North London (N10) it took us 1hr 45 mins, half of which was queuing for some stupid lights by some badly planned roadworks. The return journey was a dream, 50 mins. The reason the day was so good is that whoever re-designed Ascot actually seems to realise people want to move around. Between every race we managed to get to the paddock, grab a drink or food, have a bet and watch the race all with out running anywhere. That fact we both finished up on the day was a nice thing too, however marginally it was in my case! Clearly Frankel was the main course but there were four great races beforehand and a very sensible apprentices race after. The only improvement they could make is to have a "Champion" 2yr old race but then this would be trampling on the toes of what is quite a natural end to the 2yr old season elsewhere.
We were both on Fame & Glory, who looked an absolute picture, in the first. He ran well and looked the winner turning for home but may be the ground found him out. Either way a brilliant training performance by Dermot Weld meant that Rite of Passage returned from a 500+ day lay off to win under Pat Smullen. When it comes to big international race days it never pays to ignore Weld, fortunately we took this on board for later.
The sprint was up next, and admittedly they are not a vintage bunch of sprinters at the moment, but I have always loved these races. Charlie went for Slade Power and I was on Restiadargent, but sadly we were both on the wrong side of the track and probably not quite good enough and Maarek went on to win nicely.
The third race though saw a change of luck. We were both on Sapphire, hoping that her improvement through the season would continue and also give Weld a double, to be honest she won a shade cosily, under a good ride from Smullen and now Charlie was very happy, a winner does that!
It was now Group 1 time with the QE2 to be followed by the Champion. Charlie has another winner with Excelebration who I would say posted probably the most impressive performance of the day and also the ultimate compliment to Frankel by waiting for a gap and then taking it very decisively. "If" is on of the biggest words in sport but when it comes to Excelebration you can say with some sympathy that if it weren't for Frankel he would be lauded as some horse. It will be very interesting to see who does better at stud. The Group 1's starting was also an indicator that it was time to have a cigar and out came the last Partagas Short from a box I have really enjoyed over the last 12-18 months. Such a good smoke, tasty, unpretentious and balanced.
So now it was time for the main show...Frankel...I have never seen a parade ring so packed or been so nervous about a horse I have not backed...that he got the job does was brilliant. I wish he was staying in training but I can understand why not and at least we have had 3 years of him not just two as would have almost certainly been the case 10 years ago. We will forever be able to say we were there...Well done to Ascot for a cracking day!

Monday, 8 October 2012

Partagas Salomones & Quai d'Orsay Corona

After a midweek cigar session, see last post, it was always going to be a decent cigar weekend too as long as the weather played it's part and thankfully it did. I am going to take the cigars in reverse order as one is a proper review, or as proper as you'll find here, and the other but a passing comment or two. So "first" up is a bit of a big boy - Partagas Salomones - which measures 57 x 184. It is in factory terms a double perfecto with box code POL MAR11, so young but not infanticide. This was a proper sunday afternoon smoke accompanied by a couple of pints of Guinness in the back garden with a note pad and the Sunday Racingpost. I didn't have a bet in the "Arc" thank god as I'd never have picked the winner.
Draw & Construction - Wrapper ok if not an excitingly good example. Aroma a little honeyed and generally mellow, a little loose on the draw but then I find this shape, if not size, can be plugged so this was a sort of relief.
Opening - Decent enough, leathery and straight into stride (not necessarily a good thing in a decent sized smoke like this), hay-like notes, initial thought was "a little light-weight" for a Partagas.
First Third - Mellow still, hay, straw and light tanned leather. Little or no spice. No real density to the smoke but lots of it. Burn very good and even, in fact it never required a touch up at all. I noted that it was just a touch, safe or even dull, where is the "animal"? May be the tobacco just wasn't great in this.
Second Third - In general too loose a draw to be a cigar of real substance. The leather profile continued but in the same way that a mature wine can be it made me feel it was a little "dusty", a little less than 100% clean. I was already reserving the rite to try another before really drawing a conclusion. A little black pepper spice did appear . There were elements of a pretty average SDN4 appearing which was a positive sign in a way. Just at the end of the notes for this section I observed a little nuttiness.
Third Third - No real change here from above although the slightly loose draw did catch up with it a tad.
Conclusion - Sadly the one thing this section should be, but this isn't, is conclusive. I was left a little confused. On the plus side there is a bit of theatre about this sort of size and the burn was good. On the down side it is in danger of being no more that an novelty. The profile does not smack of Partagas and there was a tendency towards dullness and a lack of concentration. A smoke doesn't need to be heavy or strong (to the contrary on many an occasion) but this lacked definition and character. The only conclusion is that I should try another, I have 4 more so that is not a problem. 87-88 (??).
The weekend's other smoke was very different - Quai d'orsay Coronas Claro - measuring 42 x 142. A smallish Coronas with box code OGA NOV 2011. This was not heavy but had real depth and density and dare I say it...class. A slightly tight draw and years ahead of it. It was a little muted but very refined. Everything about it just made me think, give this 12 months and then the depth will become elegance. It is rare that I think of buying a box of the back of just one cigar but this made me think just that. it could be the perfect mid-morning or mid-afternoon smoke in 2-5 years. I must try more Quai d'Orsay.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Cigar Night - Tonkotsu then The May Fair Hotel

The Upmann Half Corona
Over the past year or so more and more friends in the wine trade, and out of it in the case of The Prodigal Fool (see that "handle" on twitter), have revealed an interest in cigars. This varies from a casual "would like to know more" to a more seriously developing habit. Either way an idea for a cigar evening was born and we finally achieved it on Wednesday last week. Rather aptly just three days into "Stoptober".
We started with some food as seemed wise and via Mr Primack managed to get a corkage deal at the splendid Tonkotsu ( A great meal followed at a more than fair £25 a head. The food is fresh and enlivening, I actually went in after a large lunch and came out feeling full again but better for it, not always the case. I went for Tonkotsu a sea salt-based pork stock and thin noodles topped with slices of melt-in-the-mouth pork belly, half a seasoned soft-boiled egg, menma, bean sprouts and spring onions while everyone else went for the apparently even better Tokyo Spicy, Soy sauce-based pork and chicken stock and medium thick noodles topped with pulled chilli pork, half a seasoned soft-boiled egg, menma and spring onions. To accompany these and the awesome starters we had four different wines.
Villero 2001, Brovia
Muscadet Expression de Gneiss 2009, Domaine de L'Ecu: Mineral and refreshing, subtle and a great starter to proceedings. Macon Verze 2009, Domaine Leflaive: Have drunk this a lot, textured and full but with balance, worked well. Psi 2009, Peter Sisseck: This is really opening out well, not ideal with this food, almost too much fruit, but a good bottle and getting better and better. Barolo Villero 2001 mag, Brovia: The best with the food to my mind, well the main courses anyway. I love Brovia and think they have done the 2001 very well, some 2001's can be OTT but this isn't. The flavour profile worked perfectly and left me wanting more, a good sign.
With the food done and a brief break in the rain it was cigar time so we set off for the new Cigar Room at The May Fair Hotel ( En route by foot I thought it would be good to trial the new Half Corona from H.Upmann. One of the nine we had was plugged but the others seemed good if very young. The blend seems good and solid enough. They will be better with a few months rest I think, pricing is an issue for the size, a Partagas Short or Ramon Allones Small Club Corona do the job better for the same, if not less, money. I like cigars that make you stop and rest or chat for a while rather than ones you try to cram in between other things. Others will disagree but for me there is too much focus on shorter and shorter smokes (and fatter and fatter ones but that's a different topic). Having smoked that and walked via Davidoff we were at the May Fair. The Cigar Room is a bit of a climb but well worth it. They have not scrimped one bit, the decor is good the furniture comfortable and the temperature seem controllable. Our group grew to eleven and there was masses of space even when another party of 15 arrived and we were only in one of the rooms. My only comments on what could be improved is that service for a large party is a little slow. I think this lounge could become one of the very best in london and you certainly feel like you are escaping it all. We had an array of smokes amongst our party, including:
Hoyo de Monterrey Short Piramides (EL 2011)Hoyo de Monterrey Double Corona, Trinidad Reyes, Cohiba 1966 (EL 2011) and Cohiba Robusto
The 1966
The cigars were all in good condition, a tad "wet" which is better than too dry but is in need of a little improvement. The pricing of the cigars is very fair, they are roughly 5-10% more than West End retail. Myself and Eric both took this opportunity to try the Cohiba 1966 a limited edition from 2011. I have to say mine was very good, some classic Cohiba grassiness and a lovely rich but not heavy texture, a dash of dark chocolate and lots of palate covering smoke. If I owned some and I may try to get a 10box then I would have one more in the next 6 months and then leave them 4-5 years. There has been a lot of hype about them but I have to say they are very good. The cigar menu itself was good but a little obvious if I am honest. I can understand them wanting to stock smokes that they know they will sell but the thinner gauges were very under-represented. No Dahlias or Londsales. All they need is to add a Cazadores, a Partagas 8-9-8 or a Trinidad Fundadores and there would be more balance. I must pass on thanks to Nic Wing ( for setting up the booking even though he sadly couldn't join us. next time Nic...
The evening encapsulated what is good to me about the wine trade in that everyone just gets along but also what's good about cigars they make you stop and talk...all sorts of topics were covered from (a bit of) politics to movies, lots about music, many stories and much more...