Sunday, 25 November 2012

Hyde de Villaine at HQ

In the same room in which Aubert de Villaine was awarded “Decanter Man of the year” a couple of years ago we had a great dinner to showcase the wines of Hyde de Villaine. The beginning of this venture came in 2000 when the de Villaine family from Burgundy and the Hyde family of Carneros, California, decided to work together on a family run project in Carneros. Larry Hyde, Hyde Vineyard’s manager, is cousin to Aubert de Villaine’s wife Pamela. Aubert is very well-known in the world of wine as Director of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and co-owner of Domaine A&P de Villaine in Bouzeron in Burgundy’s Côte Chalonnaise. So this combination of very varied skills and experience, has a lot of practicality, logic and most importantly family inspired drive about it. In fact with the exception Stéphane Vivier, the winemaker from Burgundy, the entire organisation is family.
The evening started with a pre-dinner drink of De la Guerra Chardonnay 2009 & 2010 in the drawing room. The De la Guerra is the young vines of the Chardonnay, the style is refined but forward aimed at being accessible early. The 2009 vintage was a cooler one and the 2010 more rich and typical of California. Both drink very well now.
We then went downstairs for dinner and after an introduction from Adam (Brett-Smith) it was time for Aubert to give a little historical insight into the property and for Charles "AJ" Fairbanks to introduce the next pair of wines. But first Charles said that he felt the project was about making "Californian wines with a Burgundian philosophy". The first pair of dinner wines were Hyde Chardonnay 2008 & 2009. Both come from approximately 30year old plots planted from 1979 onwards and interestingly are planted the "wrong way round" i.e north south when the normality of the time was east-west. So the two wines; the 2008 was from a warmer/more normal vintage, it showed lemon shortbread fruit and a savoury yeasty edge to it, rich but not heavy. The 2009 was cooler as a vintage and this shows. It was a real star, a little closed initially on the nose it opened out and shone brightly. Very much a burgundian style, all about the texture and elegant depth, delicious. That pair was matched with braised winter vegetables with roasted chestnut and buttermilk dressing which worked well.

With the main course of Guinea Fowl filled with trompette mushrooms and spinach we had the next pair, namely of Belle Cousine 2007 and 2008. Belle Cousine is named after Pamela de Villaine for reasons that might be obvious from the above. The blend is generally Merlot predominant with the remainder being Cabernet Sauvignon, the specifics of these two are 60%/40% Merlot/Cab for the 2007 and vice versa for the 2008. Charles spoke of the fact that they always look to pick a little earlier than their neighbours as they view the acidity as being very important and also the freshness. This 2007 was lovely, black fruited and balanced, a little tar and an easy structure with good complexity, it will develop well and has elegance as well as full fruit. The 2008 was clearly a "warmer-climate" wine, more forward, rich and opulent. More lush and a little more unctuous too. I asked Charles if there was a little more oak, he said not but that the one year extra of age on the 2007 had allowed the oak to totally integrate. It was a fascinating pairing and the 2007 in particular is a wine I feel the need to own, a perfect "change of pace" wine.
With cheese the Californio Syrah was next, 2006 and 2008 were the vintages. This is the smallest production wine they make and in fact was never planned from the outset but the Syrah they produced was very pleasing so why not? The plot is 15-20 years old. The 2006 and 2008 vintage are similar stylistically in terms of climatic conditions. In introducing the Syrahs Aubert coined a new tasting term, to me anyway, in describing the African market spices he finds in these wines as "souk". There is a combination of production methods here with 2006 and 2008 being made from a combination of both open and closed vat batches. The wines contrasted each other well, the 2006 had a bit of the animal about it with a slight funky stink (in a good way) as only Syrah really can. The 2008 being a purer fruit expression at this stage. Both had an "intensity and an energy" as Aubert put it.
The atmosphere of the evening was great, lively and lots of debate and interest. If I had to take one white and one red away to drink I would go for HdV Chardonnay 2009 and Belle Cousine 2007 for their excellent balance and simple enjoyments. I think it is very fair to say this tiny estate is only just starting to reach where it will go and as a result remains a little under the radar...that in itself is very exciting!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Otto's for Luncheon

Last Friday lunchtime I had a good chance to catch up with a customer/friend over a few bottles he kindly wanted to share. I was in for a treat. The venue was Otto's not far from Chancery Lane or Holborn and purveyor of good, mostly French inspired food, always made well and a very positive attitude to wine, good glasses, know how to serve it etc.
Scallop carpaccio
It was to be a meal of two whites and one red. The Whites were both Chardonnays from Mark Aubert in Sonoma Coast. Both whites were from 2010, The Aubert "Ritchie" Vineyard and the Aubert "Lauren Estate" Vineyard. The fact we had Ritchie on the right and Lauren on the left was a sensible decision as the labels are strikingly sameish. Having consulted the notes on the wines it appears both wines are as the names suggest from different locations. Both see largely the same winemaking - harvested at night for freshness, from different blocks (5 for Ritchie & 6 for Lauren), Barrel fermented and then given 11 months in new French oak before 3 months in tank with no fining or filtration before bottling. The later fact was clear as the wines were slighty hazy, something I quite like. So what did they taste like? There were encouraging similarities and differences. Both had quite high alcohol (15.2% I think) but neither showed it. They had a lime an lemon sherbet type fruit but were wines of texture. The differences were in shape as much as anything. The Ritchie was a rounder more lush example, the fruit being almost over-ripe but not quite. The Lauren is a more Burgundian Meursaultesque expression, more savoury, less opulent, all in all a shade classier to my palate. Both good and many of these comments only apply as we tasted both together. A really interesting pair that continued to evolve, certainly of high quality.
The red was back on more familiar ground for me - Barolo Roche Riserva Especial 1974. The bottle was in good condition with a good level. On decanting the wine had a classic old Barolo nose of frazzles and herbs. It then over 20 minutes in the decanter relaxed and became a medium bodied, may be even on the light side of that, elegant and sweet fruited fully mature Barolo. I have had a few older Vietti's now and they seem to have stood the test of time very well, possibly without ever becoming show stoppers.
A rather splendid lunch!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Domaine Trapet at 1776 - 1Lombard Street

1776, the new restaurant at the back of well-known city spot, 1 Lombard Street, played host to a launch of C&B’s newest exclusivity in Burgundy, Domaine Trapet. I say new but we have worked with the domaine for decades it is just that previously we shared the representation. The evening started with Delamotte Brut NV from magnum, one of my preferred ways of starting any evening! With both Jean-Louis and Andrée Trapet joining us for the evening we had 5 wonderful wines ahead of us. We started the meal with Marsannay Blanc 2010 accompanied by Black Truffle Risotto and Parmesan Crisp. Marsannay is a small commune, 220 hectares, but not one to be dismissed lightly, there is real quality here. This wine was first made in 1993 from a 50 acres plot. The style is taut and energetic, the 2010 was tasting and drinking very youthful but there is flesh to be added to the bones. A good bracing start.
Jean-Louis then spoke about how he felt you had to have high density of planting, 12,000 plants/hectare, and old vine rootstocks to really make the most of terroir. Jean-Louis is one of those people you meet from time to time who clearly makes time to think about what and why things need to be done. His summation of wine is based on the idea of  “three meetings” that of soils and vine, grape and vigneron and finally bottle wine and glass (the bit we all love!). He feels that when making wine you have to be aware of all of these stages to get a complete wine. As a taster we now had Latricières-Chambertin Grand Cru 2010. Any fear that this would be too young to appreciate disappeared as soon as I put my nose near the glass, the fruit was brilliant, clear, bright and clean, I put “heavily fresh” in my notes. There was real depth but at the same time it begged to be tasted. There was structure there on tasting but it was so easy to drink and enjoyably so. Very fine. This wine was the very first parcel of Grand Cru that the family bought in 1904. Latricieres has a microclimate with a fresh cooling influence. Further adds to my feeling that 2010 is a very very good vintage.
We then had two mature or maturing vintages of the Domaine’s other Grand Crus - Chapelle-Chambertin Grand Cru 2003 & Chambertin Grand Cru 2000 – both served with roasted Veal noisette with mixed root vegetables, gratin dauphinoise and crispy leeks. The Chapelle as a vineyard, Jean-Louis commented, has a skinny surface of stones and you have to be very gentle in working it, as a site it blooms and flowers first reflecting it’s warmer situation. The wine had a decadent richness and a slightly degraded “2003esque” nose with a dash of leather and tar. Over the evening it evolved and “freshened up”. Having been harvested in August it is clearly atypical but delicious at the same time. The Chambertin is something very special. As a site; the top is white Marl, the middle well drained and the bottom is deeper. This all adds significant complexity. The 2000 was at a lovely stage, one where it develops in glass. It is just getting into stride, a balance of fruit and savoury, with underlying but graceful power. Very impressive I would never want to decide which of this and the Latricières to own, at such differing stages of life they are both stunning.
Then we had a real rarity at a C&B dinner, a pudding - Apple Tarte-Tatin and vanilla ice cream – with Sporen Gewurztraminer 2008 from the Trapet Estate, Andrée’s family estate, in Alsace. As with Burgundy this is farmed 100% Biodynamically. Sporen is a Grand Cru planted principally with Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris but Trapet actually produce both Gewurztraminer and Riesling. The Sporen Gewurztraminer 2008 was delicious, unctuous and with medium sweetness it was both attractive and serious, went very well with the food and left everyone wondering why “Trapet Alsace” is not better known…it will be!!
If you get the chance to go to 1776 then do, I have focussed on the wines here but the food worked really well and the atmosphere was great! A cracking dinner.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Italy at The Arches

Last friday it was time for an Italian wine lunch at The Arches in Swiss cottage...The well known Harry Gill joined us and as ever Ivana was at the helm and look after us very well. After a glass of the very good balanced and refreshing house champagne - Comte Audoin de Dampierre Brut Grande Cuvee - we settle into our seats for a white with a selection of cold meats. The white in question was a quirky choice but a dam good one (if I say so myself), Langhe Bianco Rossese 2009 from Josetta Saffirio. I have visited Saffirio and it's a modern orientated Barolo producer who makes a great Barbera as well as this delicious, 100% Rossese, white. The style of wine it most reminded us of was north Rhone white, think St.Peray. There was a lovely texture some good white fruit. As the wine went from cold to cool it really showed more and more. When I got back to the office I bought some and also the last bottle of 2008 that was sat stray on the system. Can't wait to try them again.
The steak and thick chips then arrived and obviously it instantly became red wine time. Up first was sadly a rather tired Brunello di Montalcino Pian del Vigne 1997 from Piero Antinori it was hollow and thin of fruit and actually when we re-visited later we felt a tiny bit tainted. Anyway there was lots to get through so on we charged into Barolo Cascina Francia 2005, Giacomo Conterno. If ever you want a top quality Barolo to help explain that Baroli that have balance can be drunk earlier then this is it. About an hour in a decanter and it was singing elegantly, it will continue to grow and develop but is a picture of poise now. I am seriously biased mind you. To follow the Barolo we were back to Brunello with Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova 1999, Casanova di Neri. A modern style of Brunello from a very fine vintage. It was at a lovely stage with some development but still good fruit. Savoury richness has replaced any obvious new oak coating. The texture was rich but in no way out of balance. A wine on it's plateau and a lot of fun to drink.
It was now time for Mr Gill to delve into his box of tricks and serve us 2 wines blind the first sadly was very tired but also an abject lesson in going with your gut instinct not trying to second guess the server of the wine. Despite it having seen better days we had a go at naming the wine. I went for early 70's Tuscany which is irritating as there was a frazzle like character that can only come from old Nebbiolo but I didn't have the courage of my convictions it was - Barolo Reserva Especial 1969, S.A.S Cerequio. I have had one of two 1969 wines from Piedmont and from what I have heard (borne out in my couple of bottles) that Barbaresci seem to be better than the Baroli. The next wine stumped us all due to its wonderful condition. We were all in Bordeaux and the left bank too but I think I went for the oldest and I was only at 1995. The wine was medium to full bodied, in wonderful harmony, very classically St.Julien on reflection (I think I had said Pauillac) it was Gruaud Larose 1985. If you get the chance to try it then do, great wine. The next wine was not blind and took us to the southern hemisphere - Block ‘3’ Pinot Noir 2010, Felton Road - the first Felton Road I have had actually. It was deliciously fruited, soft but interesting and a very good awakening. Not on the sweet side which for me is a very good thing. I look forward to trying more of their wines.
I almost to left without trying the final wine which would have been a big mistake. It was Passopisciaro Bianco Dolce 2007 from Andrea Franchetti in Sicily. It is technically a passito produced from a blend of many white grape varieties (none of which I know the names of). The grapes were tied on the cellar beams at Tenuta di Passopisciaro to dry for four to five months before extracting minimal amounts of the remaining concentrated juice. A striking, almost luminous, golden amber in colour, it has an immediate wow factor. The nose is extraordinary, a complex blend of savoury and sweet aromatics. Unctuous, honeyed, a decadent, opulent and silky mouthful. This wine is a totally unknown quantity in terms of "drinking window" but that hardly matters as this was the last bottle I know of!!
A cracking way to spend an afternoon!

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


Another great and very interesting evening of Italian wine drinking/tasting last night. The venue was Zucca and Eric was at the helm of the tasting as ever. The evening was all about the top wine from San Giusto a Rentannano namely “Percarlo”. The wine was first made back in 1983 but so little was made that the 1985 was the first real vintage that was sold commercially. The wine was named as a tribute to a friend, “Carlo”, of the owners family. It is a tricky wine to pigeon hole in so far as it was outside the Chianti rules at the time it was made, because it is 100% Sangiovese without the then required 15% white grapes, but isn’t now. So in many ways it more truly a “Super” Tuscan than the imported grape variety “Super Tuscans”. No 2000 or 2002 of the wine were made. The grapes which go into the making of Percarlo are selected, bunch per bunch, from vineyards whose soil is composed of layers of sand and stones which lie 2 to 5 meters deep and rest on beds of clay.  The vineyards are situated at an average altitude of 270 meters above sea level. Fermentation and maceration take place in enamelled cement vats and last up to 35 days. The yeasts produced are natural. Aging is in French oak barriques for 20-22 months before being bottled unfiltered and held in bottle for another 18 months before being released.

We started the evening with some Ayala Zero Dosage, a good palate cleaner if a little too "zero" for me, it set things up nicely. All the Percarlo's were from magnum with the exception of the 1988 and 1993 which were from bottle, there had been a mag of the 1988 but we drank that back in august on the golf, bbq, poker day. All wines had been decanted out of the bottle and back in just before the tasting. We tasted in flights of two or three wines. I have put a (my) definite score by the wines I deem mature or as near to it as matters and a range for those that I expect to show marked change/development.

Flight 1 – The mature wines
1988 Fully mature and showing the class of the vintage, a few people found it to be a little weary but I felt it was very Sangiovese and drinking well, as expected it is a little softer than what I remember of the magnum being. A fine start. As with the 1993 very much a wine to drink rather than taste. (18)
1990 More density of fruit and more “showy” a little bit of the lushness you expect from most European '90’s. Flattering on the palate, it doesn’t evolve much on the finish which is all that stops it scoring higher, very good. (18)
1993 A bit of a crowd-divider, I loved the elegance and almost Nebbiolo like “bricky” development. Some felt it was past it’s best. Definitely one to drink up as a little bit of dryness and shortness is coming into play, very Italian! (17)
Flight 2 – The "inbetweeners"
1994 This was, like 1993, not an easy vintage. I felt it was decent, a little simple, not complex, enjoyable with cool freshness but no more than that. (16)
The normal scribble!
1995 This was another wine that got debated in some depth. The main question was a bit of a “Bordeaux-1986-question” namely will the fruit live on long enough once the structure drops down a little or will balance never be achieved? I was slightly undecided but feel the wine does lack for a little charm, the depth and texture are not in question, the fruit is blacker than the other mature vintages. I felt it was impressive but it would be low down my list of wines to drink compared to others here.  (17?)
1996 (corked)
Flight 3 – The teenagers
1997 A quite toasty nose with everything going on, richness, not much subtlety but there is balance so that will come, very good and classy for a 1997, some of which are a little OTT. (17.5-18)
1998 In some ways the wine of the night for me, a touch of the elegance of the '88 & '93 with the fruit and depth of the 1997. It was very Italian with good structure but the support was more on the side of refreshing acidity than tannin, a good thing, some leather and spice too. This was a strong flight but for drinking there and then the 1998 had it for me. Proper wine, would love to own it. (18.5)
1999 Not to the degree of the 1995 but this wine lacked a little charm. I felt it will even out though. Masculine in style and robust in personality a little foursquare. This all sounds too negative as it was good, nearly very good. Judgement slightly reserved. (17-17.5)
Flight 4 – The youngsters
2001 I slightly seemed to differ from the crowd on the 2001, I found a lightness of touch especially on the nose with some red fruits, the tannin was definitely there on the palate and may be a touch too obvious but otherwise I found it had good elegance. Enjoyed it. (17-18)
2004 This was awkward and might, whilst not faulty, have just not been the best magnum. There was depth there but just no balance, a little closed may be but more strange than anything. Not unpleasant just awkward. (15-17?)
2006 Dense, rich, a little darker, more volume to this wine than many. Young for sure, good potential. (17-17.5)
Flight 5 – The babies
2007 A little bit of a tart, tarry too, dash of licorice and a little high-toned. Very 2007ish, “showy”, may be a touch too much “lipstick”. (17-17.5)
2008 Has some similarities to the 2007 but with more refinement. Very balanced and impressive, there may be nothing to it but I see some similarity to a slightly larger 1998. A great way to end. (18-19)

Post tasting it was pasta and pheasant ragu courtesy of Sam, what a great dish it was too…could have eaten it for ages. A double magnum of Fontalloro 1997 was a willing accomplice. A great tasting…the 8’s just had it for me but a lot of good wines and very few disappointments.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Midweek heaven - Zucca, Truffle, PLPC

A chance to catch up with a former colleague at Zucca turned into a terrific lunch with the addition of a few truffles. We started on a bottle of 2003 by Bollinger. I had not had this before. Very few, if anyone made an 2003 and in a way Bollinger didn't either, well not under the "Grande Annee" label anyway. The wine had a good and persistent bubble (I never like the word Mousse). It was quite vinous, acidity was there but not piercingly so. This reminded me of a bottle of older Champagne that was a little worse for wear but that had then been "pepped" up by a dash of a young non vintage. This is a great trick, in fact I would rarely risk opening an old Champagne without a pepping agent at the ready. Anyway back to the 2003, it went well with the various starters, sea bream Capaccio, Salt cod and Zucca Fritti. It is not a wine I am desperate to buy but certainly one I think you should try.
Up next was a bottle of, yes you guessed it, a Giacomo Conterno wine. This time the 2008 Barbera from the vineyard Robert acquired in June 2008, Cerretta. The personality of this vineyard is more forward and feminine than the mighty and serious Cascina Francia. The two are a great foil for one another. This 2008 a similar vintage for Barbera to the 2010 is just starting to really shine, I love the dense red fruit and focussing acidity. I would love to do a big Barbera tasting at some stage, it is such an under appreciated variety. The main course we both went for was divine. As pictured just simple truffled linguine but it was one of those dishes that just shouts "simplicity is best". With the two wines, a good catch up, and the food it was a simple and enjoyable lunch. Zucca being a perfect 20 minute walk from the office there was just time for the second Por Larranaga Petit Corona from a 50 stick cabinet I bought with some mates recently. A cracking full-on smaller smoke, dark chocolate and milky coffee, too young for sure but delicious, I have 20 more so will try to leave most for 12-18 months, not sure how well I will do with that...