Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Truffle-tastic at Zucca...

I am delighted to say that something of a tradition appears to be emerging…a November truffle extravaganza at Zucca.
Sam (Harris) organises a great menu, Eric gets a fun crowd along and we all bring wine then eat our way through about nine courses each coated in white truffle. The 2013 Truffle crop would appear to be stunning. The best bit of it all is that people are generous and choose interesting bottles, about half way through you can't work out whether its about the wine or the food - perfect!
As always we kicked off with Perle 2006 from Ferrari, showing well at the moment with a little edge of lemon shortcake then a dry finish it sets things up well.
So, with some Sprat Fritti and Broccoli Fritti it was time of the first white, my white. Meursault Perrieres 2009, Matrot in Magnum, it's my wine so I can say what I like, I took it because I have a lot of time for Thierry Matrot and think that he makes some seriously good wines. This, however, was decent but no more than that, ready now, a little broad and loose, not worth cellaring further. The next white was very poised Chablis Grand Cru Valmur 2003 from Raveneau you would not have guessed 2003 in a "million years". Chablis purity and a lovely whiff of old gym socks that you some times also get with White Bordeaux, beautiful texture and very expressive but in no way "of" a hot vintage, very moreish and a perfect combination with the delicious triple header of Pesce Crudo (see pic at bottom).
And so to the red as the Venison Carpaccio smothered in Truffle hit the table, the dishes were all good but this might have been in the top three for me. The red of choice was spot on, lots of black and a little red fruit exploded out the glass, charm with a dollop of extrovert, it was La Dame de Montrose 1990, two bottles served separately. The structure was soft and I would say this was definitely at a beautiful peak now, really great. It is so nice to be excited by a Bordeaux.
The next five reds were all from magnum and were all decanted as the "Dame" had been. We ventured into Burgundy next with Romanee-Saint-Vivant 2000 from R.Arnoux. Open, mellow and fruited without a bite of structure. The 2000's are looking lovely now and certainly it represents one of the vintages to be drinking. A totally new dish to me was served with the RSV -Potato & Mushroom cake, fonduta, Saturday breakfast was being cancelled as I started it and that was only the last of the Antipasti!
The structure of the wines took a bit of a step up from here with Ornellaia 2000 showing next. It showed superbly, ripe and a touch sweet with a dash of tobacco. It was expressive and stopped short of being too much, may be a little tarty but in a good way, just lovely from now onwards. The dish with it was what Sam described as an "old school" pasta dish - Ox cheek Cannelloni, Cauliflower Cheese - slow cooked comfort food with Truffle everywhere? Yes please!
The next wine was the only glass I didn't finish - Voerzio Barbera d’alba Riserva Pozzo dell ‘ Annuziata 2007 - it had been decanted at 4pm and was still almost impenetrably rich and port like. I have not had it before and it'll probably out live me. It would also stand up to chocolate very well. If you own it then forget about it for a decade I'd say, incredible stuff that was just hard to gauge in amongst wines with a different texture and weight.
Risotto Bianco came next and once the "truffle squad" had been you actually couldn't see the Risotto, apparently Adam who did the food with Megan helping as well, doesn't like doing Risotto, well all I can say it that it's pretty awesome. It worked really well with the next magnum, Barolo Brunate 1997 from Marcarini, this is a wine and vineyard I know well but I hadn't had the 1997 before. It can be a tricky vintage as it is often a little open, lush and lacking focus but this wasn't. As "Henry the 8th" my fellow diner said "the cool serving temperature was crucial" to how well this wine showed. Warmer vintages need cooler temperatures. The wine showed tarry red fruit and a little tartness (in a good way). Really very enjoyable.
Pigeon, Hare & Lentils was the next course served and may be it's the fact that I live in North London but I love lentils especially in this sort of dish. It was a prefect foil for one of, if not the, wine of the night - Barolo Brunate Riserva 1988 from Giuseppe Rinaldi. Rinaldi is a wizard of a producer and one whose wines I do anything to buy. My notes are hard to read by this stage but I can tell from their erratic nature that the wine was exciting and exacting. Lots of fruit but a lovely degraded complexity, dense and rich but also elegant and with a cracking saline quality that I love in the best Barolo. Simply put, a brilliant wine.
The main course (yes that's right the rest was just a warm up) of Grouse, Roast Carrot & Wild Mushrooms was now served and along side it the oldest wine of the night. Another legend of Barolo - Cappelano. The wine was Barolo 1964 from 2 different bottles. The wine had a nutty, hazelnuts and walnuts, finish as well as some sweet but degraded red fruit, lovely but I would suggest it has little more to offer from here on in, the savoury bacon and tar edge was delicious, the odd "frazzle" too but not too many.
A fascinating blind white was served with the selection of Italian cheeses, it was a couple of bottles of Clos Joliette 1970, Jurancon Sec. It was like dry toffee apple and one of those wines that was fascinating on the nose but slightly harder work on the palate, really intriguing. And so to a lovely Pistaccio Cake with a cracking couple of halves of Avignonesi Vin Santo 1986. The Vin Santo was brilliant and even at the end of this feast of wines and food it caught the attention for having a beautiful rancio edge to a lovely nutty but fruity nose…as good a Vin Santo as I have ever had.
Staggeringly good evening as it goes - thanks to all for their generous bottles.

Beautiful Pesce Crudo
Potato & Mushroom Cake, fonduta

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Zucca then Golf then...

A slightly chaotic blog this one but a few memorable wines have been drunk so here we go.
Starting with a delicious dinner at Zucca with a great wine lover. Two good bottles were opened. A very nice, if still simple due to its age, bottle of Bernkasteler Badstube Spatlese 2008 from Prum and then a serious bottle in the form of Grands Echezeaux 1991 from Rene Engel. The Prum was decanted which is necessary at this early stage, still simple it had lovely ripeness and vitality, really wakes up the taste buds. There is a long life ahead for this, I would probably next look at it again in 3 years time. The Grands Echezeaux was really something, nothing like a wine of 22 years old in honesty. I would say this was just starting to hit the second phase of it's life, vibrant and complex but still with forceful fruit really beautiful. 1991's along with 1993's really are lovely. The Truffle pasta and then Mallard went brilliantly with these wines.
The following morning it was off to the Wildernesse Golf club in Sevenoaks for a round with friends as their guest. We got lucky with the weather and after a good front nine things sort of fell apart for me this meant it was cigar time. I got out a nice mellow, easy, morning Robusto - Saint Luis Rey Regios from 2012. The round was really enjoyable and after a quick beer we then ventured off to The Vine, also in Sevenoaks for some lunch. The food was spot on, all the dishes tasting delicious and working well with the wines. We hadn't really co-ordinated much and ended up with four reds. They were an interesting selection starting with Charmes Chambertin 2005 from Tortochot, not a producer I know at all. The wine was primary but not closed, clear and clean red fruit with a tiny bit of tannin. Many of the 2005's do appear to be showing more than was the case 6-12 months ago. This is a wine that will age well but I don't see it being an epic. Lovely, relatively simple and a nice drink. Next up was the oldest bottle of the day and both the most unique as well as interesting. Troplong Mondot 1962 is not something you see everyday. I have to admit to having a real mental block over this estate. I am, in polite terms, not a fan. I find the wines they make now to be a little monstrous in character and extraction and just not the sort of thing I like to drink. This though was very different, elegant and with red/black fruit, poured straight from the bottle it drank well immediately and over the next 30 minutes, much longer and it might have faded but it was both fascinating and impressive for a vintage that is decent but not a patch on it's predecessor. The last two reds were both red Hermitage. The first Hermitage 2008 from Tardieu-Laurent, this was my offering and before you think why such a young Hermitage? I'll explain. In 2008 the plot that this wine was from was harvested even later than Chave and the elegance of the wine really impressed me recently so I thought it was time to re-visit and share it. It showed well, very primary but with a lovely feminine red fruit in amongst the more "butch" darkness, it was good but then I was somewhat trumped by the next wine! Hermitage 1998, Chave. Absolutely delicious, only really getting into 3rd gear but very easy to appreciate. I love the wine at this stage because it was mellow but is in now way either primary or older, just in a zone of loveliness, really superb. So two young wines that showed well and two more mature examples that were delicious, you can't ask for much more than that.
After a couple of days of normality it was time for another wine merchant friend to come over. This just means more bottles to open! We started with Hattenheimer Pfaffenberg Riesling Spatlese Jubilee Label 2009 from Schloss Schonborn which is a wine I have followed for some time as I think it offers stunning value and lovely richness. This showing did not disappoint. I am trying desperately to leave some for a little while but not managing it very well at the moment. The next bottle was infanticide, Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses by Nathalie & Giles Fevre, even decanted it didn't give a way a great deal but did have a lovely texture and was very try to Chablis I just kind of wish I hadn't opened it. On to red and a wine I know very well, Barbera Cerretta 2008 from Giacomo Conterno which was great with Mrs H's brilliant, if labour intensive, chicken pie. It just has guts as well as elegance and fruit, tricky combination to pull off. We then went onto one last bottle and I have to say I was really impressed. The wine in question was Slowhand Pinot Noir 2009 from Muddy Water in Waipara, NZ. The clarity of the red - strawberry and raspberry but in no way bitter - was staggering, not far off the kind of character you get from Felton Road. I will certainly be having more of that!

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Some cracking bottles and stunning food - Alyn Williams at The Westbury...

A lunch that grew in number from a catch up for two to a feast for five. Great fun with very like-minded wine lovers in the trade. All wines served blind except the Champagnes (apologies for no photos of the wines). Food was from the tasting menu at Alyn William @ The Westbury - if you like seriously good food then go!
Pol Roger 2002 opened the proceedings in style. Opulent but in check, quite rich, it is perfect from now on. The food came thick and fast - Crab, miso and pepper - starting us off as we moved to the Pavillon Blanc 2005 which if I'm honest was a little strange. There was a character on the nose that was familiar to white Bordeaux and I nearly went there with my "guess" but I eventually decided that the nutty, savoury finish meant it was a White Rioja with age on it. Clearly I was wrong but there you go. The bottle was in no way faulty but it did, as the chap who brought it said, match the other he has had...bit of a mystery I'd love to know if you have had a similar experience? The next course was delicious - Orkney scallop, cucumber, muscatel and scallop broth - and went well with Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet Garnd Cru 2007, Leflaive. I adore Bienvenues Batard from Leflaive the 1999 being one of the greatest white wines I have ever had. This 2007 was quite open, not problematically so, but had a real, almost Meursault-like richness. The acidity is there and the overall wine is enjoyable but just a shade underwhelming on this showing.
The next course was an amazing combo, I almost wanted the watermelon bit to fail but not a chance it's a stunner - Burrata, Iberico ham, watermelon and cobnuts. We were now into a pair of very good 1er Cru red Burgundies, I think we all agreed the quality was pushing for Grand cru. The first - Vosne Romanee 1er Cru Petit Monts 2010, George Noellat - was fascinating to have blind as we would not have gone for 2010, I went for 2007 Grand Cru. Very fruited and extrovert, beautiful clean deep red fruits. It had been opened but not decanted in the morning at about 10am. The producer has holding in other 1er Crus in Vosne and also both Echezeaux and Grands Echezeaux, very much one to watch, a delicious wine. Another stunning course arrived - Turbot, cepes, garlic and sea aster - really great food, perfect balance. The wine up now was my bottle - La Forge de Tart 1er Cru Morey Saint Denis 2007 from Clos de Tart. It showed brilliantly which was very pleasing. Very clean and a little decadent, made a beautiful pair with the Noellat. Makes you realise that much as mature red Burgundy is wonderful it is a mistake not to also drink these wines when they are young. The others got near to the wine quickly but then I tried to help by saying it was a 1er Cru made from entirely Grand Cru fruit and not produced every year, that made it harder not easier. There was no La Forge in 2009 or 2010.
We moved onto the true "red wine food" now with a lovely dish of Wild Mallard, Williams pear, cavolo nero, chestnuts and cider. The next wine did a good job of fooling us all. It was Cote Rotie La Mouline 2004, Guigal and the main reason it fooled me was that I always think of oak with these wines but this was a gorgeous expression of fruit, red and black with a dash of spice but a lovely medium weight. No attempt at all to wrestle with you just charming balance and this after nothing more than a very brief decant. Really wonderfully handled wine from an under-rated Rhone vintage. I didn't even bother picking a dish of the day but if I had this next one would have been a contender - Devon Ruby red Sirloin and cheek with turnips and croutons. The flavour and quality of the fat was exquisite. The last pair of reds were served side by side and after a lot of time was spent (by us not the restaurant!) muddling our glasses up we got things organised. The Ornellaia 2001 impressed with the fruit balancing the savoury elements well, there is no rush at all with this wine but if you have some I would start now as it is in a lovely place. The other red was Ridge Montebello 2003 and it did not disappoint. Just enough extrovert fruit but all in that poised balance that the estate seems to just manage over an over again, medium body at most.
A couple of puddings followed the first Cornish Cheescake, chasselas grape, oats and seeds really hitting the spot before the second was not quite my thing - Lemon, Gin and Marigold. We had one last bottle with these and it was a very serious Bollinger Grand Anne 2002. Somehow I have not had this before. It was very, very good. Lovely tight structure and very vinous, impressive and a keeper for sure.
In short, a brilliant lunch with so much good (and bad) chat and amazing food!
When I asked or pen and paper it was suggested (by my "friends") that I might enjoy some colouring in!! 

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Pinot Noir at The Square

It has taken me far too long to get around to writing up this splendid lunch, generously hosted and organised by a great wine lover who also supplied all the bottles. The theme was a simple one - Pinot Noir.
All the wines came from either Champagne or Burgundy. The venue was The Square, certainly one of London's best and the kind of place where the logistics of 16 wines and 15 people is carried off in a relaxing and efficient way. The food was tremendous as always.

To "kick things off" with the canap├ęs we had Philiponnat Royale Reserve Brut, a soft and creamy Champagne that worked well pre-food at lunch as there is a decent dosage in there and the acidity isn't prominent, very good.
The first course was a tremendous Grouse Pie, delicious and done with a great deal of finesse. The three flights of red Burgundies that followed were all served blind but with many a theme to ponder, a lot of thought had gone into this! With there being a few of us supposed trade "experts" in attendance the initial comments were, rightly, expected to come from our seats. Over the course of the meal we did pretty well with a combination of educated guesses and the odd stab in the dark!! In the first flight you could find several themes, one vintage was different, two were 1er Crus etc.
Gevrey-Chambertin Mes Favorites VV 2001, Domaine Alain Burguet had lovely soft fruit, was very true to 2001. Primary with a dash of orange zest. Very good.
Gevrey-Chambertin 1999, Domaine Claude Dugat was the first glass I finished, never a bad sign, very drinkable, elegant and complete if not overly complex.
Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Les Cazetiers 1999, Domaine Philippe Leclerc this was a step up, good weight of fruit, a little drier than the previous two, bigger also, classy. Very slightly oxidative with a developed note at the end, I liked this, certainly not a fault. Impressive.
Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Clos de Varoilles 1999, Domaine des Varoilles The only one of the Domaines in this first flight that I know well. This was possibly the stand out, though very different in style from the Cazetiers, very pure and poised. Good acidity and focus, very fine.

The next course was now upon us Roast breast of Yorkshire Grouse with Croustillant of the leg, baked Celeriac and Blackberry. We were also into a flight of pure Grand Crus, always a good thing! As you can see the themes continued with different Crus and different vintages. One of the main surprises in this section was that the 2005's were showing as much fruit as they were, it certainly caught me out.
Echezeaux Grand Cru 2005, Domaine Jean Marc Millot was inky in Pinot terms, rich, very fine, excellent freshness of fine and forceful red fruit, splendid.
Chambertin Grand Cru Clos de Beze 2002, Domaine Drouhin-Laroze was fresh too, soft, expressive and surprised me as it did not have the "animal" I have come to except from 2002. Good.
Grands Echezeaux 2002, Dominique Laurent a massive surprise for me as I have found the Laurent wines far too much for me in the past, too thick, too rich and over the top. This was not. A lovely loose and drinkable structure, some development and orangey, red fruit, good balance, it did develop in glass quickly which may not be the best sign but it is in a good place now and was very enjoyable.
Grands Echezeaux 2005, Domaine Henri Villamont had the biggest and driest of the structures but then it is 2005 and it is from a very fine Terroir. This was how you would hope and expect it to be, big, quite bold and ready for a long future. There is a little bit of polish there too. One to watch.

A brillaint but very un-Square like course follwed - Cheese and Ham on toast. I could eat it every day! Oh and more themes!!
Romanee Saint Vivant Grand Cru 1998, Domaine Poisot This was a totally new name to me. A producer who until 2009 (it might be 2010) had sold the vast majority of his crop to a large negociant but had some older stocks that our host had found. The wine was good, excellent from now on. There was a slight minty note, it is a little "high", almost some eucalyptus.
Vosne Romanee 2007, Domaine Sylvain Cathiard ok, so this is the "joker" in the flight. There was a tiny hint of coffee and mocha from oak but otherwise this was not over oaked at all. Lovely intense fruit and a expressively elegant finish. Fine effort from a vintage I increasingly love for the purity of Pinot character.
Romanee Saint Vivant Grand Cru 2007, Domaine Follin-Arbelete It's not a competition but if it were this might have had the overall gong for "WOTD". A very fine, deliciously rich without going over the top, wine that had lots of class. A real Grand Cru intensity and depth. Very fine.
Romanee Saint Vivant Grand Cru 2003, Domaine Poisot so a different vintage of the RSV from Poisot. This was very complex, inky, fruit laden (the fruit being a little mulled), savoury sweetness, not very long on the finish, good but very much a 2003, lots of extremes. The wine as a whole was decadent and good.
A really brilliant pudding followed - Brillat-Savarin Cheesecake with Pink Champagne and White Peach, Lemon Verbena and Peach Sorbet. To accompany we had three nicely contrasting Champagnes.
Delamotte Rose NV a wine I know well and one of the only Rose Champagnes to be made the "proper" way. This is mellow whilst soft and almost strawberry fruit but dry. Showed really well.
Gosset-Brabant Grand Cru Noirs d'Ay NV was a first for me from this house, may be it was all the wines before but something made me think of a dry pineapple like flavour, drier than the Delamotte, really good, must try more from them.
Egly-Ouriet Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru Les Crayeres this might just have grabbed the most attention of the Champagnes. Really delicious, richly fruited with raspberries but not a touch of sourness.
What a splendid lunch, good conversation, a lot learnt and a very generous host!

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Dinner with Bastien Tardieu of Tardieu Laurent...

It was great to Bastien Tardieu, son of the Michel who founded Tardieu-Laurent back in 1994, in town for a relaxed dinner at Daphne's in South Kensington recently. Especially so as he needed to leave again to over see the vineyards at the crack of dawn the next morning. You can get the full Tardieu-Laurent background info but essentially the business is a Negociant-Eleveur that only deals in old vine parcels from the best blocks. The aging is then reductive with only topping up, they work/have worked with 80-100 different producers some for as long as 8-10 years now.

We started the evening with the Cotes du Rhone Blanc "Guy Louis" 2011 as an aperitif, this wine is a hommage to both of Bastien's great grandfathers - Guy & Louis - it has fruit from a few communes but is essentially a declassified Crozes-Hermitage Blanc. The wine is very young but has great balance the weight of fruit and structure is all from the fruit with no new oak used at all, nice way to start.

We then moved onto a pair of whites with the Tuna Tartare. Condrieu 2011 was the first one and I have to say I share Bastien's thoughts on "not being a fan of Viognier except in Condrieu". This wine sees 12 months in barrel with 30% of that being new oak. The wine went down well. I like the slight oaking as it adds a touch of smokiness and balances the extravagant fruit you get from the variety. There was a lovely freshness but also richness, the fruit being somewhere between lychee and dry-pineapple. I enjoyed it and would drink it over the next 1-3 years the style worked well alongside the very different next white Hermitage Blanc 2010. This was really great, a serious wine that, showed well but clearly has masses to give in the future. We were already in potential "wine of the night" territory (not that it's a competition). The sort of white to decant and then wallow in. There was one great fact from Bastien on this and that it that originally Hermitage was 100% white and now it is only 15%. This wine was a taut, tight but rich wine with minerality in spades, and a dry honey and Greek yoghurt fruit character ever so classy.

A flight of Southern Rhone reds was up next with the Lamb. Starting with Gigondas VV 2010 this was atypical in its seriousness for Gigondas, it was classically proportioned and savoury, with dry black fruits, a wine that is in need of time to flourish and expand. The raw components are all there to leave it for a while and come back to a gem. We then had two different vintages of Chateauneuf-du-Pape VV the 2009 and 2001. The wine sees 24 months in barrel of which none is new. The plot from which this comes is in one of the top spots - La Crau. The 2009 was the only wine on the night that, to me, didn't quite give its showing. The fruit was a bit bruised and whilst there's a lot of it there there was a little bit of balance missing. Might just be me or the bottle or most likely the moment. What a contrast to the 2001 from magnum, this was terrific, lovely forceful elegance, delicious. This has an age to go but if I owned it I would be starting, slowly, now. Just what the commune is all about.

The final pair of the evening with Mushrooms on toast was Hermitage 2008 and 1998. In a way the 2008 was the star...just so good for the vintage, pure elegant and not overly big (something slightly Piedmontesque about it!!). The explanation may come from the fact that the plot the wine came from was the very last harvested even after Mr Chave's. I feel like I've been rude about the 1998 by association when really it was a marvel. With lovely, getting mature character, a savoury sweetness that was so moreish.

And off to bed for Bastien! Cracking wines.

A German and three Italians or one 2007 and three 2008's...

This was a cracking little sunday selection with a couple of friends (and former colleagues) a few weeks back. I've been meaning to write them up for a good while but just not got round to it:

Bernkastler Badstube Kabinet 2008, J.J.Prum - I have had several bottles of this now and whilst I wish I could be more patient this is just delicious now. I am a big fan of decanting young Riesling as it just opens out so much, in texture as much as anything. This has a little bit of what I like to call Prum-Stink. The white, slightly floral, fruit is in perfect balance with the acidity, it is just the sort of thing to wake up the taste buds and refresh the mind.

Barolo Cannubio 2007, F.Rinaldi - I decided to show this as I want to see how it compared to the Brunate 2007 from the same producer that had so impressed me a few weeks ago. This was also splendid and poised, slightly redder fruit than the Brunate. I first started buying the F.Rinaldi's after having a few older (1971 & 1979) bottles and then loving the 2006's. The 2007's are going to develop nicely but will certainly get drunk before the 2006's & 2008's.

Percarlo 2008, San Giusto a Rentannano - Having had a Vertical tasting of Percarlo a year or so ago this was a first re-visit in a purely drinking capacity. The wine is impressive, has grown an extra savoury component. I would say it is best left now, this was enjoyable but in 5-6 years will be even more so. The magnum I have will stay tucked away for well over a decade. The estate seems to be going from strength to strength and is on of my favourites in Tuscany.

Barbera Cerretta 2008, Giacomo Conterno - Anyone reading this blog regularly will not be at all surprised by this appearing, it is in a lovely place at the moment, the rich but red/purple fruit balancing the acidity and the grainy tannins perfectly. To think that this wine has got better every year since Roberto took it over in June 2008 is very exciting.

And that is that - it was great as ever to catch up with old friends and realise that nothing changes, well except for their cool new addition "Henry"! Lots more blogs to write so better get to it!