Sunday, 6 April 2014

Balanced perfection...

Two weeks ago "Newcastle" hosted another (some of the others are here) epic Luncheon. This time at Alyn Williams at The Westbury. This blog will deal primarily with the wines but the food was exceptional as the menu below and picture at the end of the blog suggest:

Lobster, new season broad beans, ricotta gnocchi,  jack by the hedge
Foie gras, rhubarb, walnut foam and crumbs
Wood pigeon, three cornered leek, charred & blanched, morel discs, blood orange
Beef barbeque cheeks, truffled pommes daupin, vichy carrots, croutons
Candied carrot cake & liquorice ice cream 

So onto the wines, as is often the case Salon opened proceedings and in this case Salon 1988 in magnum. I have tasted and drunk the 1988 a fair few times down the years and it tends to be a bigger bolder style that some years and a richer more biscuity wine. This magnum was very pure and whether it was an especially good magnum or just that this wine is great in magnum I can't be sure. It has some white fruits, a mellow completeness but also focus, very easy to enjoy, very refined, a cracking start.

The Lobster that came first was perfect for white Burgundy and so it proved. The pair of wines; Le Montrachet 1990, Ramonet and Musigny Blanc 1991, de Vogue where both good in different ways. The Ramonet stole the show with it's taut opening and then layer upon layer of depth and flavour, from mild reduction to stem ginger, but never losing it's linear nature, a wine that there is no rush to drink, stunning. The Musigny was a little more muted, a little heavier of texture. The 1993 was the last vintage before they started a widespread re-planting exercise. A lovely pair and that Ramonet will be with me for a while.

Next with the Foie Gras was a trio of Germans. Firstly, Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese 1970, JJ Prum (Loeb bottling), almost a nutty nose, mellow, a wine of texture, not over sweet, almost a smokey mint element to the end. Really fascinating. Next was a more textbook Wehlener Sonnenuhr, the Auslese 1995 (JJ Prum of course). It had a classical nose of sweet unhoneyed fruit and citrus freshness but with a fair weight of texture as well. If the 1970 was in stage three of it's life this was starting stage two, vibrant and expressive. The final "musketeer" was Maximin Grünhäuser Abtsberg Auslese 1996 (Barrel 55) which got everyone talking especially when compared with the 1995, more heady, more weight, a little Lap sang tea, more bold, more viscous. I am biased but the 1995 did it for me on purity, the 1996 was a wine to wallow in.

So two wonderful courses in and five whites done it was time for the Pigeon to see some red Burgundy and boy did it see some. A quadruple of Chambertin Clos de Beze from Rousseau is right up there! This was a fascinating run of vintages:
1981 - a vintage of no real repute, arguably one you would say should have been drunk. This has a lovely nose of cheesecloth and deep fruit with some spice, a little iodine, light red fruit to follow, not a wine with much density. The wine in glass became a little more savoury but was a delight, so impressive for the vintage.
1989 - a vintage I have struggle with in Burgundy for some reason but a good one. Again gentle clean red fruit and some spice. More weight, a little more muscle, delicious now whilst the texture and fruit are in great balance.
1993 - the insider's vintage. A little more chunky, more primary, not forceful but potent, a masculine wine with time to come. Serious, very complete. If you own it, be very happy!  
1996 - a controversial vintage, classical yes but will the fruit out way the tannin and acidity is often the question. This was a little more muted, christmas spices but not heavily so. Good acidity and a little dryness from the tannins but there is balance.
As often happens, debate turned to which you want most and some sort of consensus was to drink now, 1989 and to own, 1993 but as always it's a near pointless decision.

As Pigeon needs Burgundy, Beef needs Claret and as Claret's go this was a blue-blooded pair. I had never had them side by side and certainly not both from magnum. Lafite 1990 Latour 1990 - they both played to their character. The Lafite was more mellow,  little easier, balanced, quite sexy and aromatic, the fruit was "Cabernet black" but not heavily so, poised. The Latour was very big shouldered, darker with more iron and more depth, more powerful and certainly masculine (compared with the latin Lafite this was Anglo-saxon meat eater). Pencil shavings and good tannin made an appearance. I love the pair, "exactly as they should be" is my rather lazy conclusion.

Cheese means port and the Warre 1963 was lovely, got better and better, there was red fruit to the fore but some grey pepper and some marzipan there, I really liked it.

A very fine Carrot cake pudding was accompanied by the compulsory Sauternes match-up and this time the two teams were - Climens 1986 & Yquem 1986. The former had a dash of burnt caramel, a little smoke but then in glass just mellowed and settled into stride, classy. The Yquem has a more hazelnut-like richness and a heaviness, a chewier texture, it was a bigger wine for sure possibly with more botrytis but on this occasion I just about favoured the fruited freshness of the Climens.

A very refined and greatly enjoyable lunch, well refined if you take out Ronaldinho's jokes. Mr G you did us proud! AGAIN!
Foie Gras
Carrot Cake

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Prowein…my first trip...

I heard a few good things about Prowein wine fair held in Dusseldorf each year and when a colleague showed interest in going (and organising thankfully) I was very keen so two weeks ago on Sunday morning the alarm went at 5.30 and off we went.

The fair is spread over seven halls and has a massive spread of exhibitors, from producers, to collections of producers to agents to negociants, wine merchants and wine accessory people. We were there to taste many wines we offer but don't get to taste, too see producers we work with and most of all to see agents and brokers who we work with. From all the above angles it was an efficient way to get the job done.

From tasting on arriving at the show at lunchtime on Sunday to leaving at lunchtime on Tuesday it was pretty non stop with the evening reserved for a couple of beers and some (rather large) Pork knuckles, see pictures lower down.

So what was there that we tasted and left us impressed?

There were good tastings of Chateau Lagrange, both first and second wines from 2010 and 2011, then The Thunevin range, finishing with a ready to go and easy Valandraud 2007. But the first tasting that I felt taught something was going through the Taylors Tawny range from the nutty woodily delicious 10 year old to the 20 year old which was sweeter, with more fruit and dates, on to the 30 year old that had a refined cognac nose (but not sprity). There was though one more to go and that was the soon to be released 1964 Single Harvest Port (again a Tawny, well Colheita technically, but not called either) this was more Spreyside Whisky than Cognac with fruit and a wonderful acidity…quite a treat.

We then tasted the full Peter Sisseck range but I will write the Pingus wines up another time and have written up Rocheyron before. The wines that were interesting for this exercise where those I'd not tasted before. Rocheyron Rose from 2012, a meaty and savoury merlot rose. The La Fleur de Rocheyron 2011 from 100% merlot and deliciously opulent now. Psi 2011 was gorgeous, both 2010 and 2009 have needed just a bit more time to come round but 2011 looks like it is "out the blocks" lovely.
F.Rinaldi - cracking range
I was then delighted to taste the range of wines from Francesco Rinaldi, a producer I buy for myself each year (and often write up)  - I'm keeping the 06's and 08's while I drink the 2007's. We did the whole range:
Gavi di Gavi 2013 - Clean, crisp but not neutral, just about to be bottled, expressive and impressive in equal measure.
Dolcetto 2013 (cask sample) - Crunchy red fruit, primary, delicious almost carbonic in flavours.
Barbera 2012 - Easy, not serious, softly done, darkish fruit.
Nebbiola d'Alba 2012 - From vineyards between Alba and Barolo. Bruised red fruit, easy light and ready to go.
Barbaresco 2010 - Gentle fruit, almost dry Ribena in flavour. I have had some great older vintages of this especially the 1979.
Barolo 2010 - A step up, blended in the traditional way from three or four sites, really good, very complete, combination or red and black fruit, sweetness that makes it drinkable now but certainly best kept, impressive.
Barolo Cannubi 2010 - Needs time but very classical and impressive but with a lovely red fruit leaning.
Barolo Brunate 2010 - More brooding, deeper, darker more saline and savoury, a keeper, classy.

We managed to get a good slot at the Guigal tasting table and go through much of the range. It worked well that we also managed to taste the "La La's", wines I am not as familiar with at a younger stage.
Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2012 - 65% Viogner which is very high for a Cotes du Rhone. It was a good combination of perfumed fruit with a oily richness on the palate, a little spice on the finish too.
Condrieu 2012 - Mellow nose with good balanced palate, not OTT.
Cotes du Rhone Rouge 2011 - Berry fruit, a little jammy but good jammy, nice, medium weight palate.
Cote Rotie 2010 - A more Bordelais nose than I'd expect, inky on the palate, violates and a savoury edge. All in all at a rather strange stage in evolution.
Chateau d'Ampuis 2010 (Cote Rotie) - Bottled Nov 2013 after 36 months in oak (1/3 new). Made from the 7 best vineyards except for the "La La's". Oak shows a little in the texture compared to the straight Cote Rotie. The wine feels like it needs a little more weight of fresh fruit but then I think it may just be a serious wine that leans towards the savoury and meaty.
Cote Rotie La Mouline 2010 - 11% Viognier which is very high. Floral almost, lifted and very pure of fruit with some pepper, lovely.
Cote Rotie La Turque 2010 - Deeper and a touch darker, good acidity, a lot of fruit weight.
Cote Rotie La Landonne 2010 - 42 months in new oak is a test for any wine. This is a bit of a monster (not in negative way), savoury, saline, meaty, stocky, has no Viognier and is deep. Some black pepper and spice. Very Syrah.
I would own the La La's in reverse order of priority to their stature (so La Mouline the priority). Great to get to taste these especially given the legendary nature of the vintage.

We saw a few of the Bordeaux Negociants while we were there and several wines impressed. I've mentioned a few below. It was interesting to note that with the 2011 and 2012 campaigns having been generally tough and the 2009's and 2010's "dead in the water" pricewise they need to sell some wine.
Will be buying this again!!

"G" Guiraud 2013 - is a cracking wine that given it'll be around £100 a dozen in bond I will be buying at least a case of. It has a cracking blend (70% SB / 30% SEM) than means it'll have legs for the next couple of years.
Pavillon du Poyferre 2011 - Rich, nicely heady, slight spice, quite bold, quite proper, good.
Palmer 2007 - Really easy, lovely, elegant but is this good enough for the stature of the Chateau?
Need one of these at home!
Guiraud 2004 - From a massive bottle (Imperial I think), tasted really good in a not young or old way, fresh enough to drink a fair bit of but with a little rancho character. I am impressed by how active Guiraud are being, they seem a Sauternes house with a real energy.
Paviel de Luze 2011 - A nice easy but complex, smokey, iron-like side to balance some good fruit.
Croix de Beaucaillou 2006 - Good mineral texture and a balance of earthiness and fruit. I do though have a bit of a problem with the 2006's. I find them overly foursquare.

At one stage we tasted the full Vietti range courtesy of the German agent. I am more than a bit of a traditional man when it comes to Barolo and as a result have never been a buyer of Vietti. The wines though from Barbera d'Asti 2010 to Barolo "Villero" Riserva 2010 were impressive. If there has been a turning down of "oak-volume" then brilliant.

Retro Aussi Tawny
Having done a recent tasting of the Penfolds bin series icon releases for this year there was a few other wines to look at on the Penfold's stand. The Grange 2008 which I had not tried and is obviously a very high profile wine. It was impressive, refined, bold but also poised, massive life ahead of it. As soon as I saw they had a Sangiovese 2007 I had to have a try, I liked it, it had a warm Tuscan (in land) feel about it but definitely showed the Sangiovese variety, nice. The last wine to try form this stage was the "Grandfather" an impressive "Tawny" with upwards of 50 years age to it…lovely unctuousness but acidity backed brown fruit with prunes.

At the Chateau Musar stand we met up with Serge Hochar and his team, an honour. We tasted the full range from the tyoung ("Jeaune") wines through the Hochar rage and onto the headline act. Chateau Musar is one of those wines that never fails to excite and interest. I'll be honest and say it is quite some time since I have tasted the wine. We were served a few vintages:
2007 - Leather, spice, sweeter leather, a lovely salty tang, old wood and warn bruised fruit.
2004 - Delicious, mellow, perfect balance, easy but not boring, red fruit on top of the finest leather, refined, very impressive.
1998 - Slightly browner fruits, in the next stage of life, tea and herbs, a little liquorice, a dash of eucalyptus and mint also. Good.
1979 - Soy and Chinese spices, salty with a whiff of swimming pool, tiny bit of mint as well.
1977 - Spicey old sadly leather and black fruits with some spice to follow.
On the interest side the 1974 has only been recently released and there was never a 1992. Also did you know that the "Decanter Man of the Year" was created to give Serge an award?

So what next? Well a very good tasting with Wine & Soul from Portugal with the white field blend "Guru" really impressing from 2012 and 2013. The 2012 reds from Quinta da Manoella, both the VV and the "Manoella" were very impressive in terms of the pure fruitidness. The Pintas and Pintas Character 2012 also hit the spot, big wines with a blue candied fruit but a wealth of freshness. Then we were onto their 10 year old tawny which was on the fruity side, may be not showing the full 10 years of wood but good. The Pintas 2011 Port was very impressive which I am delighted about as it showed ok but not more back when we tasted the Port 2011's on this showing it has really come together, deliciously decadent and with cracking balance. Then there was the 5G Tawny (G = Generations) which was mind blowing…more on that another time…

More general tastings took us past Fontodi where the 2010 Chianti Clasico was lovely, charming and very easy, the Flaccianello 2010 was a little bit of a monster, was it balanced? Time will tell, there's a lot going on…Heitz Napa Cab 2009 was easy mellow and very cabernet without being too much of one thing. The Heitz Trailside Vineyard 2007 was special, complete, balanced and rather splendid. Jonata another winery I know next to nothing about (but there's a fair bit of info out there) was impressive in doing a range of wines with integrity…a stunning White Bordeaux blend was very fine. Monteverro in Tuscany make some delightful wines too…solidity in "red country" but the Chardonnay impressed a lot. We then passed by the Tenuta di Passopisciaro and Tenuta di Trinoro wines and tasted as we went, impressive as ever and often written up here on this blog.

One of the next people who we managed to taste with was Dal Forno. Now this I was really looking forward to as, with the except of the odd bottle, I have very little experience. I left, having tasted, a little confused. The people were wonderful and very very honest, saying that 2008 was an average vintage, no hype, not great but not bad. So why was I confused? Well because the wines were massive and as I have no experience with them I do not know where they are going.
Valpolicella Superior 2008 - Was to quote my notes exactly "herbs, spices but mostly herbs - delicious. Savoury but with fruit depth. GRIP, savoury fruit…bruised". Just not really like anything I've tasted before.
Amarone Monte Lodoletta 2008 - was a little more fruit focussed…a surprise when you think that Valpolicella will "out fruit" Amarone. This was more mellow but also rich and bold. Not quite sure how you end up with both.
Vigna Sere Rosso Passito 2004 - is just knock out gorgeous in a "sweetness meets meat dryness" sort of way, sweetly draws you in and then tannins you out…fascinating. Can a wine be savoury and sweet at once.
In summary I am intrigued by the Dal Forno wines. I have just remembered an occasion when the Sere worked a treat… HERE
Mighty impressive
The first tasting on the last morning was the Ridge range. Wines I have enjoyed and made by a man that is massively respected for his quietly confident but humble approach.
Estate Chardonnay 2012 - Generous fruit and all in-check and balanced, beautiful use of oak to frame the fruit but nothing more.
Monte Bello Chardonnay 2011 - Very refined, clean and rich at the same time, lovely texture, great.
East Bench Zinfandel 2012 - A new wine for Europe (as a market) and 100% Zinfandel. Red blooded fruit, a little spice, easy to enjoy, unpretentiously delicious (a great "magnum with friends" wine).
Geyserville 201271% Zinfandel, 19% Carignane, 7% Petite Sirah, 2% Mataro (Mourvedre), 1% Alicante Bouschet - Headily dense fruit, a little closed, classy.
Lytton Springs 2012 82% Zinfandel, 16% Petite Sirah and 2% Carignane - Planted in 1901, more "Rhonesque", a little more savoury and structured.
Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 - Good classical blackcurrant but restrained, savoury edge, good.
Monte Bello 2011 - a remarkably lovely 12.8%, so so balanced between sweet and savoury and between black fruit and red, a very complete wine.
Monte Bello 1995 - Mellow easy black fruit, come mushrooms, a dash of eucalyptus and then a tobacco edge but no one flavour dominates, elegant.
Monte Bello 2013 (cask sample) - richly fruited, red over black, deliciously primary and pure...
All in all a cracking range of wines…Bravo.

Good showing
Next up we tasted the Achaval Ferrer range, very good showing it was too but I'll write them up another time. Pieropan was another stand we tasted at, great Soaves as ever but the reds also very good in a delicate way…impressive. A brief tasting at Scavino was interesting, a few different vintages and sites.

The next place we stopped between meetings and really tasted was Castello dei Rampolla so that I could add a few recent wines to the  Sammarco and Vigna d'alceo 1983-2006 tasting done recently.
Chianti Classico 2011 - quite glycerol, quite "high", very good but ripe, ripe, ripe, may be OTT or may be just needs to mellow. 2011 was hot and easy after all.
Sammarco 2005 - Lovely with an intriguing combination of tobacco and sweet red fruit, well balanced.
Sammarco 2009 - Nice work, more texture, good acidity, quite opulent but balanced also.
Vigna d'Alceo 2009 - More mellow than many at the tasting, a good thing.

Along the way we managed to taste the Sassicaia 2010 and 2011. Both showed well if slightly subdue as they do in youth. The 2010 was tighter, less expansive but with a lot of glance and some red fruit…promising. The 2011 was easier than the 2010 classically subdued Cabernet. A good showing from both.

Nice just add "1272"
We swung by Jacquesson and tasted the 737 (2009 base) - toasted, fresh also, not too big, mellow, easy. Then the 736 (2008 base) which had a bit more weight over the 737, a lovely drop, delightfully toasty nose. To get the vintage of the base wine from the Cuvee number all you do is add 1272 to the cuvee number!

And so to the final tasting - Zilliken - brilliant wines, I'd heard good things, all justified and lovely people, oh and they do an awesome gin….right taxi to the airport...

The food each evening was just what was needed after a day on our feet and with lots of varied tasting going on. Both the places we went were welcoming and efficient with delicious food that was cracking value…After both suppers there was time for a cigar or two…once in the Capella Bar and Cigar Lounge at Hotel Breidenbacher Hof which was a nice setting with slightly over humidified cigars and slightly odd service then the other time was just outside in the old Town over a beer seated near a "patio" heater…The Bolivar was the pick, the Party Short as sturdy as ever and the Hoyo needs years…

Schweine Janes - this man's back must be "crackling"
Schweine Janes - perfect post tasting dinner
Hoyo - Grand Epicure EL 2013

Pork Knuckle again, this at Brauerei im Fuchschen

Bolivar Short Bolivar - Asia Pacific release 2008

Partagas Short (REA April 2010)

Not a new agency just yet...