Monday, 25 February 2013

Petrus, and a many others, in Yorkshire...

This could be a long write-up as it was a truly momentous day. The southern chapter of this "club" made up of Irish Pete, Chewy and Young Will (that's me...don't ask) made the train journey from King's Cross to Ilkley to meet up with the Northern Chapter - Nobby, Mr G and Ronaldo Mortino. Having dropped a bag in our rooms we convened in the Brasserie of the Devonshire Arms Hotel (recommended) for a light Burgundy luncheon.
Most of the wines through the whole day were served blind or partially so. The white we started with was Bourgogne Blanc 2006 from de Vogue, which by coincidence we had discussed a little on the way up. It is the wine made entirely from the Musigny Blanc Grand Cru site that, due to replanting, has been released as Bourgogne Blanc since 1994. I find it has a unique, oily texture, this was rich, with lime-like acidity and much more to give in coming years. A pair of reds followed and couldn't really have been much more different even if appellation and quality of the vintages might suggest otherwise. First was Vosnee-Romanee 1er Cru “Aux Reignots” 2002 from Sylvain Cathiard which I was delighted about for a few reasons, amongst them the fact that I have heard such great things but also that it is the first Cathiard wine I have drunk. There was a lovely combination of red/black fruit and mulled wine spices but with a precise freshness too, really lovely and whilst it is still a "puppy" it is very enjoyable. The later was Vosnee-Romanee 1er Cru “Beaumonts” 1999, Dominique Laurent - precision and freshness are two words you couldn't really use here. Famed for use of 200% new oak I am not sure what Monsieur Laurent used here but it over powers the fruit and leaves it dry and "exposed". There is no real length and the fruit is stewed. The bottle remained a third full, not because it was actually awful but because there was no charm or fun to be had..a strange wine.
Having eaten well and rested from the journey it was now time for a walk up to Bolton Abbey and a quick cigar for a couple of us - a Quai d'Orsay Corona - a lovely elegant day time smoke that worked well. 
After a quick 15 minute break for the dreaded blackberry we re-assembled for a brief comparative tasting.  The two wines in question being both 2007 and 2008 Gevrey-Chambertin Vielles Vignes from Domaine Roy Marc. This was a nice tasting. The 2008 was the star, an underrated or "insiders" vintage with the 2009 and 2010 over shadowing it. The 2007 was also good but lacked a little of the focus and red fruited character that you expect of 2007, it might just be in a little bit of a phase.
A brief break and then it was pre-dinner Champagne time with a Krug 1995 Magnum, this was rich and very yeasty/biscuity, I would have put it down as being at least 1988 or older such was the intensity. Had we had this with food it would have been a little more balanced I feel but it was most certainly a decadent start to an amazing evening. We then headed off down the road to the Boxtree in Ilkley. I will not dwell on the food much but we were very very well looked after in terms of both service and the food itself so many thanks to Andrew, Didier and the team there. Next on the agenda was the first of 5 blind white wines. Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese (Long GoldKap) 1995 from Prum, this was a confusing one as it had a relatively lower acidity, I was a decade or so out and actually went for Rheingau. It was soft and beautifully rounded a great drink and nice now.
From there we were seated and served a Piesporter Goldtropfahen “Feinste” Auslese 1959, Bischofliches Konvikt (J.Harvey and Sons, Fuher 9403) clearly not a wine anyone was going to get spot on!! I guessed Spatlese 1976 but confused the age with a lower ripeness. It was lovely, refined with a classy richness. Now it was white Burgundy time and first was a bottle that was a late addition from one of our hosts, thankfully so as it was delicious. Meursault 1993, Coche-Dury was the wine and the guesses were all Premier and Grand Cru and from more exalted vintages. There was that wonderful Coche character of a struck match and slight edge of reduction. Coche almost never disappoints, there was fruit, structure and a lovely texture to this, for it's "humble" status it was staggering.
The last two whites were served as a pair.  Both were Grand Cru 1992's from Neillon, first Batard-Montrachet and then Chevalier-Montrachet. The character you think of with these two Grand Cru showed perfectly. The Batard a little more extrovert and a little more initially expressive it has shoulders and a more sturdy feel. The Chevalier a dash more refined and a little less showy. The two wines got better and better in glass and opened out. These were very impressive. The 1992 whites remaining slightly under praised those I have been lucky enough to drink have been spectacular.
The wines so far were more than you would dare hope for on even a special wine night but amazingly they were really setting the scene for what was to follow. A Petrus bonanza of sublime proportions. As a warm up to this evening I had read the chapter in Neal Martin's book "Pomerol" on Petrus and I have to say it is a great read, the style works well and gives you information and an understanding without being too intense, recommended. Prior to this evening I had been lucky enough to have tasted 2010 at the En Primeur stage and drunk the 1998, 1990 and 1979 at generously thrown dinners or lunches. On this evening we had 5 vintages with one "imposter" thrown in. The first flight was Petrus 2001, Penfolds Grange 1982 and Petrus 1982. The 2001 was by a long way the youngest tasting 12 year old wine I have ever had. Having to put a vintage on it was very difficult for a few reasons. I knew that the vintage we would be having were all very good ones and I knew there would not be anything overly "young". This left me with a real dilemma as both the intensity and purity fruit were making me think of a very young wine, almost barrel sample young. I plumbed for 2003 thinking about the intensity angle. The 2001 is the year my son was born and so a vintage I have an attachment too it is also generally stunning for, especially, Pomerol. This is a generally magnificent wine, simply brilliant. The Grange was next and whilst the character was very different the texture and class was apparent. Blind I can't remember what we all went for but in retrospect (as always) there was a slight eucalyptus nose with the dark fruit. If you own Grange 1982 you can be very happy. So a legend was next and I am delighted to say that having not excelled on the blind front so far (Irish Pete and Chewy having done better) I nailed this one. Why? well mainly because this was exactly how I imaged (hoped) it would be, the 1982 had expressive and "easy" extrovert fruit combining with the high-toned Petrus liveliness. A simply great wine, so much there and so complex but at the same time so easy to enjoy...a special moment to try a special wine.
The next trio was Petrus 1975, Petrus 1967 and Petrus 1964. I was passed making many notes by now and just enjoying the wines. The 1975 is my birth year and to have this hot on the heels of the 1982 was wonderful. There wasn't the expressive exuberance of the 1982 here or in the rest of the flight as these wines were in the next stage of development. Having said that there is a very definite Petrus character, very much a character and not a style. You get no sense of wines that are "made" just fruit from a great site expressing itself. The 1975 had great balance, a drier type of fruit to the 1982. My notes simply say "very good!". The 1967 and 1964 were both in good condition holding a strong colour. The 1967 had a dark fruit character but with a savoury development as you would expect. The 1964 had a very complete feel and texture with a saline edge to the palate that I liked. It had been a simply amazing two flights of Petrus. The 2001 impressive for its youth and purity, the 1982 for its expression and completeness then the 1975, 1967 and 1964 for their array of more developed and savoury complexities. I will certainly never have all of those again in 0ne sitting.
We were almost done but first Climens 1986 and Yquem 1986 were waiting. It is always compelling to have these two great estates alongside each other and this was no exception. A little like the Batard and Chevalier earlier these performed to type. The Yquem having a little more intensity and more depth, having said this if Sauternes had 5 phases of development this would be only in the second of those phases. There will be a very long life ahead of this. The Climens is a little more feminine, only by comparison, the fruit a little less tropical and the volume turned down a notch... both very fine indeed...
Drinking great wines with great friends is what it is all about in my book and this was exactly how this wonderful day does make the return "fixture" more than a little daunting.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Italian Wine night at Zucca (Just for a change)

Raw mackerel and Sicilian Prawns
Last week saw a gathering of a few wine trade friends with Mr Sabourin orchestrating the wines everyone brought and Mr Harris (proprietor of Zucca) making sure we had a brilliant menu, expertly cooked and assembled by Chef Megan. So to get up and running we had a delicious bottle of Perle 2004, Ferrari which sees 4 years on the lees and is right up there amongst the best of sparkling wines, it was still youthful but a great wine to get the juices flowing for food.
Next on show was my offering for the evening, a pair of Meursault's from a producer I feel is a little under appreciated - Thierry Matrot - you will see Thierry et Pascale and also Joseph or Pierre Matrot on bottles but it is all one estate run my Thierry and Pascale, with the next generation involved too. New oak use is very low (max 25%) and the wines age brilliantly. Interestingly on this evening the Meursault Charmes 1er Cru 2008 seemed to out perform the Meursault Perrieres 1er Cru 2008. Both were good and a couple of our party "argued" that the Perrieres was getting better and better. The Charmes just seemed to have a little edge in the refinement stakes, either way a good pair.
Mr Harris does the necessary 
Moving away from Burgundy, briefly, was a richly fruited but now almost dry bottle of complex and unctuous Hattenheimer Pfaffenberg Riesling Spatlese 1989 Auktion wine, Schloss Schonborn, amazing depth of flavour and development, brilliant, a real wine of texture and supreme length.I must get more Rhinegau wine into my cellar. With quite a bit more fish to come, including the best Tuna I have ever had, Sam then kindly decided a bottle of Puligny Montrachet Folatieres 1er Cru 2005, Leflaive would be a good idea, how right he was. Having had the very same wine but 2 months ago at home (here) again with Eric and Sam (it was Sam's bottle then too) this was going to be interesting. The one in November was good, rich, yeasty more Meursaultesque, this bottle was "electrically" Puligny, a rapier to the taste buds, not showing 8 years at all, a dash of reduction (I like that!) and such a balance of beautiful fruit with great acidity, stunning.
Keeping with the idea of wine in pairs we then had a fascinating combo, two wines 30 years apart but with many similarities - Barbaresco 1971, Francesco Rinaldi & Clos de la Roche 2001, Hubert Lignier. The parallels between Burgundy and Barbaresco/Barolo are often talked about, the importance of site/terroir, one grape variety, oak use, long-lived refined wines etc. This pairing showed the similarities and may be differences amazingly well. The Barbaresco held a great colour and fruited nose there was no way it was 42 years of age. The structure was elegant too, no hard edges. F.Rinaldi also made a great barolo in 1971. The Clos de la Roche had some intensity but a gorgeous purity of red/black fruit, real freshness and elegance but with a backbone, I love the 2001 reds and this is no exception, a long life ahead as it had little development yet.
Roast shoulder of lamb with Spelt
The next wine was rightly served alone and has to go down as one of the most significantly memorable I have had - Barolo Riserva Especiale “Mussolini” 1937 - the Mussolin part is because of the ‘Vini di Regime’ slip label that identifies this as being for the leader himself and from his cellar. With 1937 not being a vintage of any great note, a glimpse at the wine and the beauty of the bottle was enough but the wine itself actually was amazing, it took a few moments to come out of itself and then it was elegant floral salty wine of complexity, the most amazing feature being that after 25-30 minutes in glass it was becoming more expressive and floral the opposite of a wine that shows a little and then dies...a unique moment.
A brace of reds from one of the great vintages, 1964, was next - Barolo Riserva 1964, Guiseppe Mascarello & Barolo Riserva Speciale 1964, Giacosa - they were delicious and especially so with the Lamb. As a weird coincidence I had the Mascarello about 2 weeks previously (see here) and the bottle on this evening was far superior, very elegant, that classical roses and tar profile but so elegantly fresh, a light rosy colour with little development on the rim. The Giacosa got a slightly luke warm response from Eric but I enjoyed it very much for its contrast to the style of the Mascarello, far more earthy, more masculine, a little grittier and harder but then that countered the other wine well.
The black treacle tart with salt was well matched to the glasses of Vigna del Volta 2008 Emilia, Malvasia Passito and the meal was done, stunning food amazing wines and a lot of laughs...many of which seemed to be reserved for my gold braces...they ain't seen nuffink yet!!

Betting on the "Orses", a beginners guide...

I was asked to write an article as a introduction to Horse Race betting and managed the below, may be of interest...

Betting on the horses, a beginners guide...
To start with, a little like wine, Horse Racing is a massive topic and one nobody will ever truly conquer from a betting point of view so if you want a hobby that means you can say "I've done that" it isn't for you. If however you enjoy a bet and love the idea of having a parallel universe to dip in and out of then I can thoroughly recommend it. The blend of different race courses, horses, owners and the betting make it a great “place“ to spend time.

Why do it?
For me personally Horse Racing followed from starting to do some spread betting on the cricket in the late 90's and finding there wasn't enough cricket on to get stuck into so I turned to greyhounds a little and then racing (which is 98% of all betting I do). Do I make money? No, I am a little down, just shy of £1500, over 12 years but love it and for a hobby that is next to no cost. Interestingly I have no interest in Casinos, never go to them and would be bored in seconds if I did. I like betting not just gambling. The complexity of the fact that any of the following, and more, can affect a result in a given race:
Going – Possibly the main key point, this is the softness or not of the ground and generally varies from Heavy, very wet and barely race-able, to Firm, as hard as it can be and still be safe. Almost all horses have a preference and it can be crucial to their chances in a race.
Trip – This is a term to describe the length of a race, like the going most horses have a preference for a certain trip or range of trips. It can be anything from 5 furlongs (a furlong is an eighth of a mile) to 4 miles 4 furlongs (the Grand National).
Trainer – Responsible for the training of the horse, and in consultation with the owners picking the jockey and the races it will race in.
Jockey – The rider of the horse. Some jockeys are “retained” or salary to ride for a certain owner or may be linked to certain stable, many are freelance. Jockeys in National Hunt (jump racing) carry more weight typically than on the flat.
Fitness/Form – Just like humans some horses are simply faster than others and some are fitter than others. Getting to know which horses need a few races before being at their best is all part of the game.
Time since last run – Some horses need a long rest between races and some, especially sprinters, can run even two days in a row and thrive on lots of racing
The track – One of the greatest elements of UK racing is the variety of the layout and undulations of the racecourses. Some are clockwise (right-handed) and some are anti-clockwise (yes, left-handed), some are flat as pancake, Newbury for example and some are very undulating, Cheltenham and Towcester to name but two. As a result the “horses for courses” saying can be a very true.
Draw – This refers to where in the stalls a horse is drawn to run, only applicable on the flat as jumps racing does not have stalls. Some tracks seem to run faster one side that another and it can be a very important component to a race especially at a very sharply turning track where an outside draw can be the kiss of death. Chester is possibly the best example of this.
Number of runners – Some horses are happier dominating in a small field and others like to be amongst a pack.

Golden Rules To maximise the fun and to avoid getting into trouble I advise looking at these!
Don't stretch yourself – remember it is meant to be fun and making a meaningful amount from betting on racing is very hard work and requires much discipline so set yourself limits you can afford.
Acknowledge your temperament and bet to it – A key point for me, some people “need” to win regularly so should look at shorter priced runners and look for a high strike rate, others are more patient and can put up with less winners but make them more rewarding, work out where on this scale you are.  
Look for "value" – there are whole books on the concept of “value”, in short you should always look to back horses where you feel they have a better chance than their odds suggest. This ties in with the temperament point above and is a crucial concept!
Keep a record – make a log of your bets, it stops you kidding yourself as to how you are doing and you can learn from it. It also stops you having flippant fun bets as you’ll have to write them in too.
Don't chase losses - There is no last race, it is always better to quit behind and come back another day.
Be wary of betting and drinking – common sense.
Losing runs just do happen – This also ties in with the temperament point but when a losing run hits have no fear of just taking a break.
Shop around for the best prices – The bookmaking world is a competitive one and especially as a new punter there are great offers and prices out there, is a good place to start.
Stick to the better grades of racing – The best and most valuable races offer the best betting opportunities, horses tend to be more consistent, all trying and ridden by the best jockeys plus the bookmakers have to compete on price.

So with those things done let’s have a look at some practicalities. Firstly the types of bets, here I’ll keep it simple as these are the meat and drink of things. Win only is the most common and rather obvious. Each Way is essentially two bets, one to win and one to be placed in the top 2,3, 4 or even 5 places depending on the number of runners and type of race, check this before betting. £10 each way means £20 in total! Place, this is purely a bet to come in the first 2,3, 4 or even 5 places depending on the number of runners and type of race, like each way without the win element. Next is the big question of who to bet with? I would shop around and see what works for you, I personally am wary of on-line as it can just become too easy. On-course in cash with one of the bookmakers is the most fun especially when you are collecting winnings! The vast majority of my bets are over the phone as I enjoy the interaction and normally want to take a price. This is worth expanding on, if you back a horse and you think the price will get smaller (shorten) because others will back it or you just want to make sure of knowing what price you have then ask for the specific price when you bet otherwise you will get the starting price (SP) which is the general price when the race starts. You will hear people refer to the betting exchanges, this is for another time. Have a staking plan. Just putting the same on everything is not always the best way, the more “value” you feel you have the bigger your bet should be, do not make the mistake of putting more on shorter prices and less on longer ones. May be look at specialising on either Flat, core season is March to November or Jumps racing, core season is October to April. I love both but it is a lot to keep up with so may be pick one. Be very wary of tips and tipsters, inside information can be helpful but for obvious reasons most of the best tips are not passed on!

So what next? Well if any of this sounds interesting then start by buying the Racing Post or look at their website. Go to race meeting, if you are near London try Sandown or Ascot as great tracks otherwise almost all the tracks will look after you well. Watch Channel 4 racing, very good coverage and useful whatever level of knowledge you have. Happy punting!!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Domaine de La Romanee Conti 2010's

Thursday was the day for one of the annual treats - the Press Domaine de la Romanee Conti Tasting. I will write my views on the wines but clearly as I work for the agent I am biased, although when it comes to these wines what I think is of little consequence to their success but I feel it is important, if only for myself, to try and note my impressions.
Following the 2009's last year (see here) my only "fear" was that the lush and seductive allure of the 2009’s would make the 2010's seem somehow awkward in comparison. I needn't have worried as they showed a very different style (don't like that word) but rivalled if not surpassed the 2009's as a whole package. A small note for accuracy I tasted at between 7.50-8.20 am as I was also checking the bottles for the actual tasting. We always serve them very cool, as they would be served at the Domaine. Rather importantly given the name of this blog there is no 1er Cru Cuvee Duvault Blochet in 2010.
Notes, actually they are more comments, are in the order that the wines tasted:

Corton Grand Cru - Brooding black forest fruits, good precision, earth and fruit, a little spice then some graphite and gritty tannic notes. This is more Corton that the 09 Corton was, good - 17-17.5
Echezeaux Grand Cru - Higher, lifted red fruit notes with a little hint of tangerine. The nose has a silky poise about it, so different from the Corton before it. I always find Echezeaux a bit like a day when you go to beach expecting a cloudy day and the sun comes out. Lovely - 17.5-18
Grands Echezeaux Grand Cru - Up in weight and intensity on the Echezeaux, a little more heady. The fruit is more bruised and complex, lovely balance of red and black fruits. A keeper. I think after 14 years of tasting Grands Echezeaux on release I finally get it!! Impressive - 18
Richebourg Grand Cru - Darker fruit and a wet stoney minerality, a little asian spice, bigger brooding with definite grip, a real keeper. Long term wine, potentially profound for those who are patient, hardest of the wines to be definite about - 17.5-19
Romanee-St-Vivant Grand Cru - In some ways the star of the tasting. I feel there is no doubt of RSV's place "above" Richebourg now, many would disagree, such a complete and vibrant wine, so Pinot. It has the femininity of Echezeaux ans the intensity of La Tache, not far off perfect, stunning - 18.5-19
La Tache Grand Cru - Very fine, the hardest to write about really, a good sign, grip and real length to the stunning finish, not over dense, good fruit and that spicey note as ever, very good La Tache, serious - 18.5-19.5
Romanee Conti Grand Cru - One of the first times I can remember this being a step up on La Tache, often it is only time that separates them, a large and in the future, indulgent wine, the texture and depth of the fruit and structure is profound, beyond normal adjectives really and essentially as good as it gets - 19.5-20

With Lunch afterwards a it has become traditional to taste the Montrachet which this year is atypical for the Domaine. There is often a hedonistic edge of Botrytis about the Montrachet but in 2010 it is a serious and focussed wine, this will need at least 10 years but will repay that in spades (18.5-19.5).

Oh well just another year before the 2011's...