Monday, 28 July 2014

Three special bottles and two new (to me) restaurants...

I was very lucky last week to try two new restaurants and have some lovely bottles...

First up was a trip to Umu in Bruton Place, just off Berkeley Sq. This is a location I had heard a massive amount about..."the best sushi outside Japan" is even? The setting is a nice mix of West and East, the crowd for lunch was a good mix. I was well led through the menu by both waiter and my fellow diner who had a few visits under his belt. I didn't take notes or pics of the food (it just didn't feel right to do so) but without doubt there were some of the best mouthfuls I have ever eaten! Sushi to die for, excellent Lobster, incredible grade 11 Japanese Wagyu may be pricey BUT it's very very good and as an eating experience flavour-wise it is hard to beat!

So what did we drink? Well, to start a bottle of Billecart-Salmon 2004 which had good focus, a nice texture and performed well. To follow it was Chevalier-Montrachet 2010 from Francois Carillon. The historic Carillon estate was split after the 2009 vintage to allow Francois and Jacques to set up their own Domaines. The 2010's were the first for each. The holdings were split but amongst them was Chevalier and Bienvenues and to split these would, as I understand it, left both with two little to be able to really "use". So Chevalier went to Francois and Bienvenues to Jacques. This wine is in such short supply that the UK gets bottles not cases. I had never had it before but, whilst I am totally biased, I was incredibly impressed, there is great acidity but also a flattering amount of lemon fruit, generous and full, over three hours (having had a double decant mid morning) it got better and better. This is a Chevalier with a nod to both the Montrachet and Batard, very smart wine.

The red to follow was a real treat - Monfortino 1982. The last time I had this was at Monfortino Magnum Monday 1970-2006 back in May and on that day it showed well but at the same time I was very keen to see it in it's own right. It did not disappoint one bit. I decided on a cool temperature (crucial) and a gentle double decant 2-3 hours before lunch. There was good red fruits as well as that slightly ferrous saline edge, an almost perfect time to drink it. The 1982 will never be a monster. The vintage as a whole remains under appreciated I feel, there is real class and grace to the best wines. It went superbly with the beef but would have drunk brilliantly alone as well...

All in all a really rather splendid way to spend a Tuesday in July.

The second new restaurant could not really have been much more different - Mash Steakhouse - in Soho. This is the only site of a Danish set of restaurants set below ground in Brewer Street. The food is good, well sourced steaks and the selection of sides and starters you would expect BUT the thing really gets exciting when you see the wine list. On this occasion those I was with had, very generously, arranged for a bottle to be there but more of that in a minute. We first had a glass, ok two, of de Fieuzal Blanc 1990 which was fully mature and slightly clinging on by it's fingernails but nevertheless was a test of the senses. With starters over it was time for the red - Grands Echezeaux 1995, DRC. The only previous time I had this was during  Grands Echezeaux, DRC 14-vintages. This bottle was from a private cellar that had been supplied by the agent but was a little damp hence the state of the label. The state of the wine was the opposite. Fresh almost ripe raspberry red in fruit character with a glorious persistence and life, it is hard to say much more than that, it was glorious and perfect now but certainly no rush needed. I can't imagine this wine will ever be one to make savoury "old bones" it's a feminine Grands Echezeaux. What a treat!

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Didier pops in!

Didier Depond was in town briefly a couple of weeks back and one of the things we did was a small lunch for a few members of the press who couldn't make the Salon 2002 Uk launch back in March.
I was lucky to get the call and really enjoyed a tasting followed by lunch. The same wines were served at each. This may seem strange but far from it - getting the chance to taste and analyse a wine and then separately to drink it and see it develop in glass is actually not something I get to do that often.

Delamotte Blanc de Blancs NV (Magnum) I am completely biased in loving this wine almost more than any vintage. When I finally get my priorities sorted I will lay down a decent batch of it (in bottles and magnums) and give it the extra 3-4 years I like (Delamotte ages their wines double the required amount anyhow). I love traditional bottle ageing of Champagne far more than late disgorgement. This is all about white flowers and poise, a little toast and spice but minerality.

Delamotte Blanc de Blancs 2004 Drinking very well already, this will age well but is probably best drum before the Delamotte 2002 which is more strict and taut. There is generosity of white fruit again but a honeyed note also, then a finish which has a lovely saline edge.

Delamotte Blanc de Blancs Collection 1999 A recently disgorged bottling of the 1999 (the normal bottles are spot on now as well!). 1999 was a sunny and warm vintage. This has a fairly opulent nature, reminding me of Meursault more than Puligny, there is also a briney character, this is complex and spot on now, no rush mind you.

Salon 2002 "Non Dose" A unique wine that is actually only served in "Sketch" restaurant in London. As the name and pic below suggest there is no dosage. The nose is very classy Blanc de Blancs, very focussed, not overly tight but very hard to describe, a wine giving little away but with layer upon layer of nuance. It is on the palate that you can see the uniqueness of this, there is a real tension and cleanliness, almost a little tannic bite too.

Salon 2002 Probably the only time I will hear Didier refer to "normal Salon"…tasting very well, just as it did on release a few months back, I don't feel this will close up completely because (as with other good 2002's) there is very great balance, but I do think it'll be 5-6 years before a second phase gets entered…

And so the guests left energised!!

Wines in Wales

I am very late in posting this but there we go!

Our annual family trip down to Wales (back in May!) for a week is always great chance to try lots of bottles especially with my "Cousin -in-law" Cynan who loves his wine, having contributed lots of the below, and cooks amazing food!

CNDP VV Blanc 2011, Tardieu-laurent
Lovely, a bit of oak but "in check", richness of white fruits and a little sweet toffee, so drinkable.
Les Carmes-Haut-Brion 2004
Good nose or classical cedar, black fruit and gravel…the palate is a little dry now and a little foursquare. The sweetness does not last. having had this a few times I am ever so slightly disappointed by it's balance now.

La Roche Blanche 2013 Muscadet Cotes de Grandieu sur lie, Domaine Herbauges
Very taut and mineral, white fruit may be but mostly stones and acidity. The screw cap closure I think makes it even more exaggerated would be interesting if decanted. Decent though.

Chablis 1er Cru Vaillons 2007, Vincent Dampt
In good shape with an unctuous nutty (unsalted) texture. Needs food really as there is a slight side of oxidation without it.

CNDP VV Blanc 2011, Tardieu-laurent
Lovely again, a bit of oak but in check, richness of white fruits and a little sweet toffee, so drinkable. Very good with cheese and still balanced at a warmer temperature. Fond of this!
Chorey-Les-Beaune Piece du Chapitre 2004, Domaine Tollot-Beaut
Nice wine with elegance and not at all forced, slightly lifted green/red fruit, not amazing but a decent 2004.

Chorey-Les-Beaune Piece du Chapitre 2007, Domaine Tollot-Beaut
A more decadent fruit than the 2004, more black amongst the red, good and enjoyable, nicely balanced, I like this.

Les Carmes-Haut-Brion 2004
The end of the bottle from the day before, a little drier but still ok.

Barbaresco 2006, Produttori del Barbaresco
Lovely, gentle for 2006 with a nice fragrance, there is the grip you expect of 2006 but it is not a waste to drink now.

Barolo Brunate 2006, Marcarini
Quite a silky wine for a 2006, so more "Brunate" in style than it is 2006 in style. Good texture and not pronounced tannin. I liked this also.

Ardeche Chardonnay 2012, Louis Latour
Fine, a little oxidative and flabby but decent enough, unexciting.

Passopisciaro 2006 Double magnum
Crunchy red bruised fruit, a lovely nervousness and life, lifted, not light in flavour but not dense in texture. Great minerality and if anything even better on day 2. You can tell the Contrada’s (the single vineyard sites that until 2008 went into the generic wine) are in here.

Que Bonito Cacareaba 2004, Benjamin Romeo
Oranges and Melons with delicious unctuousness. There is some acidity but it is very soft, almost a creamy texture with some botrytis. Entering a slightly lifeless stage. my last bottle gone, always meant to leave one for decades but...

Barolo Villero 2007, Brovia
Understated lightness as though they have picked very early to avoid the heat, there is almost a spritz, it was fine to drink but I am not sure it’s quite right. Second time I have had it and I remain unconvinced.

Passopisciaro 2006 Dmag
Again and getting better if anything!

Recioto della Valpolicella 2010, Tesauro
Lots of dark cherry and a few forest fruits then intensity of viscosity and chocolate, long, intense but not without refinement and class. Good.


Que Bonito Cacareaba 2004, Benjamin Romeo
The last little bit - good!

Barolo Cannubbio 2007, Francesco Rinaldi
Quite dense and structured, not too warm. There is focus and I really think this estate did well in 2007.

Recioto della Valpolicella 2010, Tesauro
Good again not oxidised at all despite half open bottle from previous evening.


El Aprendiz "Albarinblanco" 2013, Leyenda del Paramo - Very clean and focussed, crisp and zippy, almost Gruner like! makes you hungry! 

Le Rocchette Barbera d"Asti 2010, Tenuta Olim Bauda - good wine this with that tell tale cool(er) vintage Barbera cleanness, has precision and very food friendly...

I am sure there are bottles I have missed!

Friday, 18 July 2014

Picque Caillou…a great find

On Tuesday evening, at Otto's, Paul Marus and I hosted a Chateau Picque Caillou dinner with the Proprietor Paulin Calvet
Picque Caillou itself is in Pessac-Leognan and is an estate we have worked with consistently since the 1960's. Paulin spoke very well on the evening, he has an almost unique position in that he has a view as a producer and owner but also, having worked with Ets J-P.Moueix, a view as a Merchant and Negoce. This gives a very real and balanced view of the wines and trade in Bordeaux.

The venue, Otto's, has been open since November 2011 and is going from strength to strength with traditional French cooking the backbone of all that goes on. A visit is strongly recommended.

So, Chateau Picque Caillou, a producer of both red and white with a total size of 20 hectares. The Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, which has a normal blend of 60%/40% accounts for 1.5 hectares, the remainder is Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and split fairly evenly. There is no desire here to make "thick" wines with richness at the expense of fruit and freshness. Quite the opposite in fact. Elegance and classicism would be more apt words.

The format of the evening was a relaxed one, a few words (and some very amusing anecdotes) from Paulin with each wine and vintage and then lots of good conversation.

We started with Picque Caillou Blanc 2008 on arrival, the only white of the night as sadly it all sells out so quickly on release. A honeyed nose that opens up as temperature in the glass rises...there is good balancing grapefruit acidity...a wine in it's mid-life phase. As the Ravioli of Snails arrived we shifted to the Red - the 2010 and 2011 vintages.

Picque Caillou 2011 - I really liked this, fresh red fruit and a good acidity that mean this wine has focus but accessible charm at the same time. Very enjoyable now, straight off the and for the next 10 years.

Picque Caillou 2010 - Delicious, masculine and darker in fruit than the 2011. In no way hard though. Complex and fascinating. Very enjoyable and appreciable now but one to leave tucked away for 3-5 years, if you can, and then enjoyed for many years.

"A great wine is always a great wine from day one onwards"

Was what Paulin said by way of a general comment that applied well to this 2010. The vintage was almost ignored until it was picked such was the obsession with how good 2009 looked. It was then a little embarrassing when producers had to say the 2010 was another "once in a lifetime experience".

The 2009 vs 2010 question reared it's head and when asked for a comparison between 2009 and 2010 Paulin used a new (to me) but very good analogy..."some people prefer a soft bed that is easy and a little decadent (2009) and others prefer a harder, stricter bed (2010)".

With a “pair” of Beef Wellingtons hovering by the table is was most certainly time to move to an older maturing vintage in Magnum:

Picque Caillou 2000 - There is a seriousness and mineral intensity about this wine, still quite tight it is more "strict" that "flirty"...a savoury wine for serious conversation. A very fine effort, drink from now on but no rush at all.

Cheese then followed and with it a vintage where the high percentage of Merlot in Pessac really made a difference - 1998. You had to pick early and once that was done the later ripening Cabernets got rained on, rather heavily. The resulting wine is really lovely... 

Picque Caillou 1998
As with the 2000 this was from magnum. A real charmer, easy structure and lovely sweet aromatic softly developed red fruit. I could drink rather a lot of this. Perfect now but the balance is such that there is no hurry at all.

We did add in one other wine to finish things off -Chateau Briatte 2007, Sauternes. It showed very well and the freshness belied the high Semillon content.

It had been a cracking evening. The next morning the first thing I did was buy a case each of the 2011 and 2012 (not tasted but good Merlot you see!). I am hoping to go and see Paulin in August whilst on holiday, I'll report back more afterwards! 

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Three amigos do Zucca...

Alessandro and Megan - thank you!
This was a lunch that popped into the diary at a weeks notice. Irish Pete and Nobby (aka Halifax) happened to be in town, so the instruction was "Lunch and bring a red"…So within seconds Zucca was booked and off we went. Nobby was late as usual but…

The menu was:

Zucca friti
Carpaccio of Seabass
Antipasti Misti
Vitello Tonnato
Rare Onglet, almonds
Casarecce, Hazelnut Pesto
Chitarra, Cuttle fish & Datterini tomatoes
Veal chop and/or Slow cooked Rabbit
Custard tart, Raspberries & yoghurt

We kicked off on the wines with a delicious bottle of Charles Heidsieck Blanc de Millenaires 1995. This is not a Cuvee I have had before but certainly one I would like to try again. A really creamy richness, quite "aged-DP" like. Little dash of iodine. All in balance and perfect now, some saline but mostly sweet fruit.

The next wine was served “Blind” by Nobby. It had Pete and I in trouble from the off, we darted around Rhone, Rioja and Loire before having I revealed as Meursault 1er Cru Sous Les Bois 1995 by Robert Ampeau which was a surprise. There was a honeyed richness to the wine but with a herbal edge and an almost tea like quality. The "apples" in the wine became more toffeed with time. It was good and very interesting but I don't think I'd rush out and buy more. Very old school and good for it. Better when cool where interestingly the Heidsieck was exception when still and warmer (always a good sign). The actual vineyard is interesting as I know it but only for red. Thierry Matrot makes a great 1er Cru Blagny Rouge from the site.

So now it was time for some red as the pastas arrived. We decided on serving Bordeaux and Burgundy alongside each other so they could spend time in glass (especially the latter):

Mouton-Rothschild 1996 - This is probably the most exciting bottle of left bank Bordeaux I have drunk in the last 6 months. Really great, classical cabernet, low alcohol, great moreish texture. Lovely balance of sweetness with a cedar note and a dash of ripe leather (if you know what I mean). My note has 'more bordeaux should taste like this' written across it. Best served in magnum I'd say a bottle not enough between three.

Richebourg 1999, Domaine de la Romanee-Conti - Brooding and serious was the first thought. Just as it should be. Dense with rich black/red fruit. Incense, spice and a little tea. Over the 2 hours or so it was in glass the wine did relax and the fruit shifted from black/red to red/black. There was always a weight and texture to this. Very very fine and the wine of the day from an exciting future perspective. Does well to combine the freshness and focus of 1999 with the Masculinity of Richebourg, best re-checked in 3-5 years I'd say. Very fine and very generous.

Still time before pudding for one more red - Barolo 1967, Giacomo Conterno - This was a decent but not exceptional bottle of this wine. It had real depth good acidic lift and a lovely grainy, bricky texture (an acquired taste for some). The fruit was on the redder/orangey side with a little ferrous element, some resin and sandalwood. Nice. 

The best custard tart there is...
Nobby had pre-ordered a tart (Custard) for pudding and very sensible it was too as it is as good an example as it's possible to get - Custard tart meets Creme Brûlée. The wine to accompany was Yquem 1995 in half bottle. This was deliciously opulent and a little like the Mouton just required no headspace, it is just a great drink. My note says "why keep?" not that you shouldn't or couldn't but I am not sure what would make this better. It isn't profound but then most wine isn't, it is "smiley juice" and that's what matters.

It was a great lunch with great wine, great food and cracking conversation…until next time!