Friday, 31 October 2014

Lunch at Ronaldinho's...

A brilliant luncheon served by Ronaldinho at his house, brilliant food and just the job for the vast array of wonderful wines. Almost all the wines where from the cellar of the house. The storage, as the bottles showed, is perfect.

The assembled was the usual gang "The lads" – Ronaldinho, Irish, Chewy, Newcastle, Halifax and a couple of "Bon oeufs" who more than got the idea, I think they’ve spent years practicing!

There was the normal amount of boyish abuse as one would expect but at the end of the day everything was just so dam enjoyable…

The wines:

Scharzhofberger Riesling Spatlese 1999, E.MullerBeautiful balance, fresh, young with a little spritz and soft citrus fruit, years ahead of it.

Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese 1996, J.J.Prum
A little resinous and with more volume than the Muller, more texture, more richness but not the focus in honesty.

Chevalier-Montrachet 1986, Neillon
Smokey, honey, yoghurt, then struck match, not really showing the full age that it is, a lovely wine.

Montrachet 1992, RamonetBeautiful acidity and richness, profoundly good, very fine, smokey element but also rich fruit, white fruit, a little reduced with that hint of struck match, sublime, a wonderful wine that would be in the top ten bottles of the year any year, a privilege.

Mercurey 1971, Hugues & Yves de de Suremain - (served blind) Fascinating, fully mature, not serious but with aged red fruit and a little spice too, we all had a guess and I think I went for 60’s Gevrey…one of us went for Grenache and I could totally see why. Not the shabiest of vintages!

Volnay 1er Cru Taillpieds 1993, d’AngervilleDeliciously opulent colour, nose of red fruit and violets, almost cranberry, a lovely crunch to the fruit. Very interesting to contrast with Clos de Ducs 1993 tasted a few weeks later (blog to come!).

Volnay 1er Cru Taillpieds 1990, d’AngervilleBeetroot strong in colour, slightly chalky texture, opulent, a wine you’d love all to yourself to drink over a few hours and really wallow in. Juicy richness and a combination of red and black fruit.

Dominus 1991 - Mint and eucalyptus, amazingly youthful, opulent, almost like a time capsule or like it had been under screw cap. This was served blind and while I said I agreed with the idea of USA (or Australia even) I said loudly that there was no way it was Dominus! Oh how wrong.
Giscours 1966, BBR bottling - Very distinct black pepper, some nervous acidity, very good, dark fruit but not without lift, somehow I couldn't get as excited as some about this but it was very good.

Palmer 1966, BBR bottling - Gorgeous nose of sweet fruit and a floral edge of violets, really stunning, the palate did not live up to the balanced fresh beauty of the nose but to be fair it was a crazy act to follow.

Ducru Beaucaillou 1970Saline, has a little hint of swimming pool, this goes quickly, then we have a good luscious palate that is delicious right now.

Palmer 1970 (magnum) - Pepper and mint with a savoury edge, more savoury than Ducru as a whole, my note says “I like this but it is not exciting”

Romanee-Saint-Vivant 2001, S.CathiardQuite high octane, very pure, very lifted and very red fruit, some creaminess to the palate, very much primary, really good, stops short of being too glossy. Impressed.

Romanee-Saint-Vivant 1990, DRCDecadent, delicious, so fine, perfect now but no rush of course, has real depth of texture, red fruit mainly but also some black in the back ground, in an early secondary phase, so long, delicious, just lovely…

Bonnes Mares 1985, Dujac (magnum) - The sort of wine that almost makes you feel guilty for loving it’s openness and just pure opulent loveliness. There is a slightly degraded, sweet Asian spice and a slight orange rind aroma, really very delicious. Could drink lots of this...

Chambertin 1983, RousseauMature in a masculine way, a savoury earthiness to this, good power but not a bruiser, I liked this, may be not the freshness of some of the wines but very impressive for 1983.

The order got slightly strange from here, as did my note taking...

Yquem 1975 – Superb, I have had this a couple of times and always liked it but this particular bottle was on electric form, bright and focused but maturing, a very classical Yquem, a sort of savoury crème brulee base but at the same time fresh fruit…bang on!
Cheval Blanc 1964dry but very decent if not exciting (bottle was a very low level).

Fonseca 1963in many ways a similarly brilliant experience to the Yquem, just a pristine example of a great bottle, black fruit and compote but also just the right amount of pepper and spice, not heavy but rich and full, still in mid age, excitingly good.

Chambertin 1990, Rousseau - Was just as you can imagine, rich, brooding and full. So very long...should have paid more attention...

Chewy and I managed to avoid the drinks trolley on the train home but I am sure we talked some right old nonsense rather loudly...

A legendary day...when's the next one?

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Just the 38 Clos Vougeots then...

This was a fascinating tasting of 38 Clos Vougeots from 2011 totally blind with no set order. Having helped get hold of the wines from Chateau de la Tour I got an invite from Joss and Camilla at Fine & Rare wines to what was essentially a  press tasting. I found it both difficult and very interesting as blind tastings so often are.

So what was I looking for from Clos Vougeot? Well, Pinot in a masculine yet elegant way, uncompromising but stopping short of hard would be roughly where I would come at things.

The vintage? A good choice because it is not an overtly tannic vintage. It is also good to assess wines in bottle, young without being too recently bottled. It is as fair as you can be.

The wines - all scored out of 20 are below - the notes are as written at the time and before knowing the producers:

Pierre Andre
Pretty nose, clean nice fruit, good palate if a little "skinny", not lush but honest. 17

Sylvain Loichet
Rich, smokey, oaky, some “burn”, serious, the palate is still lush but drier in the end. A keeper. 17.5

Lucien Le Moine
Pepper, spice, a little nervous “greenness” in a good way. Pencil lead, skins used a lot?  Serious but balanced, rich, long. 17-18

Louis Max
Muted but somehow perfumed, elegant, taut may be a little simple.  Red fruit a little bit of orange. 16.5-17

Bertrand Ambroise
Darker fruit, a little spice and a herbal edge, a little mint, has a depth to it, palate a little closed a shade dry. 16-17

Higher octane, a little riper, more density but also a little simpler at the stage, more extraction, good fruit and balance. Good acidity. Not really my style but good. 17.5-18

Olivier Bernstein
Almost bacon fat, richness and reduction, masculine wine.  Serious, a little dry and may be lacking in elegant fruit, deep. Hard to decide on a score at this very early stage. 16.5-17.5 (+?)

Oranges and almost unripe red fruits.  Pretty nose but not very Clos Vougeot and certainly not Grand Cru, has a dryness, hollow, very dry in the end. Would love to see other peoples notes. 14

Chateau de la Tour
Rich, a little gamey smoke, bold (decadent), has good fruit. Ageworthy and generous. Nice! Good wine. 18-19 
(small note here, I know Francois and his wines and it is interesting - and possibly says a fair bit that I preferred this to the next cuvee "Up" at this stage. See Vielles Vignes later.)

Clos Frantin (Albert Bichot)
Smokey and a little slutty, very open.  More dryness and tension on palate.  Fruit a little muted but a good if oaked finish.  Good length. 17-18

Jean-Jacques Confuron
Open red fruits, very pretty without being simple, impressive. Then a lovely attack before some more savoury elements.  Some grip, elegant and good, balanced.  18-19

Mid red-black fruit character then a little polish.  Lush but then quite dry.  Good fruit. Slightly glossy. Overly safe winemaking? Decent if a shade dry. 16.5

High and intense, slightly oaked but in a good way.  Texture is very good not goey but intense, quite bold tannins.  This is good. 18

Very muted, dark fruit if anything.  Nice sweet attack then closed again. Very hard to score, either closed or quite serious? 17 (?)

Elegant but with a savoury edge, quite uncompromising, pure though, nice palate, silky but not limp. Good, serious, long.  18.5+(?)

Tangerine rind and light red fruit, crunchy not very Clos Vougeot.  Far better palate but still a little red for CV. 16

Denis Mortet
Light, fresher on the elegant end of the scale, good.  Good red fruit but not distinctive and a shade easy, still nice. 17

Muted but what is there is quite lush, lovely, lots of fruit, very pure, little or no oak showing quite extrovert on the palate which is so different (in volume) from the nose. 18

Jacques Prieur
Quite subdued, a zest of banana skin, then cream, a little “wacky” but I think this is just character. Some spice before a good tannic finish, would love to re-visit in time. 17-17.5 (+?)

A little "dairy", then with air this is impressive, open fruit, red with orange, nice. Nice, easy, pretty. 16.5-17+

Darker almost cherry fruit and a slight whiff of polish.  Then palate whilst modern and a shade dry has good fruit to it. OK but a little safe? 16.5-17

Domaine d’Eugenie
Open, a subdued smokiness in the background, then a nice palate with everything in place but may be a shade subdued in fruit. OK. 16.5-17

Purity and a little polish, quite modern, quite open, a little silk, nice, grip a little greater than some. Good balance ultimately. 17-17.5

A shade vegetal if not offensively so then some nice fruit, a little pencil lead, and quite firm but this is nice to see, this is very Clos Vougeot. 17+

Anne Gros
Almost tropical, exotic fruit but not red/black.  Palate is redder and quite modern. Quite extracted.  Sturdy but masculine, quite bold. Not really my style but I can see a lot of character. Very possibly one to watch. 16.5-17

Gros Frère et Sœur
A nose of tinned tuna and capers but not offensively so. Then quite medicinal, almost root beer. Too much for me. Would love to taste in 2-3 years when some of these more wacky characters have mellowed. 14 (??)

Michel Gros
Quite high toned, delicious but not very Burgundian.  A little spicy with blacker fruits, can’t decide what I feel on this. Then quite gamey, a little dry also. May well be an uncompromising heavy style that needs time? 16

Redder fruits and an almost wet meat (good steak) aroma, more elegant, lots of pure red fruit, not that serious but good.  Long.  17

Gérard Raphet
Quite simple. Good red fruit and acidity, nice in mouth, quite intense and long. 17+

Henri Rebourseau
Brooding black fruit power but with lift, bold, rich, grown-up. More serious than charming. Very good Clos Vougeot. Bold structure. 18

Oak is too overt here, fruits seems good but is drowned out. Sweetness to the palate, may appeal to many people, ripe, full, sweet and bold, it is balanced on the palate but the nose must meld into the wine. Worth a re-visit. 16-17.5

Maison Roche de Bellene
Almost a light nose, certainly compared to the colour.  Then the palate is light but not lacking in lushness. A little hard to make out. 16.5

Smokey and a little reduced, neither of which are too much. Palate has a sweet attack then works well, I like this, elegant despite the oak which I feel will disappear onto the wine. 18

Domaine de la Vougeraie
Slightly sweaty nose, then dark fruit in turn, palate has sweetness but then dryness.  OK but not exciting at this stage. Good length. 17-17.5

Henri de Villamont
Mid red/black fruit, quite old fashioned. Palate has more, is not stunning but is very solid, this is good if not exciting. All the parts are there. 17

Bright, black cherry, quite glycerol, good though, a little dry but proper. Nice. 17

Chateau de Santenay
A shade muted but good, complex nose.  A little dry but with nice fruit that is long if not bold. Quite elegant. 17

Chateau de la Tour Vieilles Vignes
A little oak but well integrated nose, quite enchanting nose, quite bold tannins but actually just a big wine so this balances, good with a shade of dryness at the finish. 17-18

The conclusion: Well there are clearly some surprises and it goes to show how hard it can be to taste blind, in terms of pure tasting I found the third quarter the hardest as you're getting a little fatigued but the end is not yet in sight. I was quietly impressed. I think I would have expected a few more high points but I certainly expected more low ones too. In the opening of this I said I expected Clos Vougeot to learn towards masculine and uncompromising…you can't then necessarily expect things to taste well at this tender age when those are viewed as positive attributes…you don't expect Cornas at 3 years to be charming (if that ever happens anyway) for the same reasons. All I can say is that I will actively seek out some of these wines to try in the future, and not just those at the top end of the scores.

Many thanks to Joss and Camilla.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

One very fine "Cousine"...

So this Skype-tasting with Stephane Vivier, Hyde Villaine's Winemaker, from back in July has taken me far too long to write up. The estate itself has a cracking Website with lots of information so I won't go on too much about that. This was a tasting of one particular wine from the estate - BELLE COUSINE - a wine named in honour of Pamela de Villaine, Larry Hyde’s cousin and Aubert's wife, this wine takes advantage of the cooler Carneros climate, where Merlot thrives, blended with Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot, picked earlier, provides the core of the blend.
We covered the vintages from 2006 to 2009 in that order:

2006: 14.5%, 88% Merlot - 12% Cabernet Sauvignon. A warm growing season, lots of tannin (the highest of any vintage alongside 2013). This wine is bold and rich with a fair degree of extraction, quite international with warmth and dark but not overly black fruit character. Big foods now or keep it and see. 16.5/20

2007:  14.5%, 60% Merlot - 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. A stressful and cool growing season with a tiny crop. Lovely complex nose, real balance, much more mellow than the 2006, very complete with a lovely persistent but not angular texture, reminded me a little of Dominus, impressive. 18/20

2008:  14.5%, 60% Merlot - 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2008 growing season was marked by extremes. The coldest spring since 1970. The Hyde Vineyard’s proximity to the San Pablo Bay certainly diminished the impact of this cold weather. 2008 was the second year of a drought that led to smaller clusters and berries therefore bringing an increased concentration. The wine is very open and expressive, more red fruit character, more feminine and at the she time slightly less ripe. I like this, a good nervousness.  17/20

2009:  14.5%, 60% Merlot - 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2009 winter was dry through until rains in the early part of spring. Bud break was later than usual avoiding any risk of frost damage, from there mild weather created a long, slow ripening vintage leading to wines of balance but no lack of concentration. I really liked this, an elegance and a little drier, more herbal, lighter notes in general a little leather and cedar, elegantly complex. A definite buy. 18.5/20

I think what struck me about these wines was the very welcome vintage variation - the 2007 and 2009 were more my style, the 2006 and 2008 possibly more what people expect of Napa. There is a lovely balance and the wines will I believe age very well, especially the 2007 and 2009 with their balance. Would love to go and visit some day...

Thursday, 2 October 2014

RHR - another epic!!

This was a brilliant luncheon organised by "Newcastle" who features often on this blog. "Halifax" had also contributed some bottles. So it was for the four of us to relax and enjoy a brilliant meal at the hands of Clare Smyth - Chef extraordinaire and Jan Konetzki - Sommelier extraordinaire.
The menu was exceptional and to pick a favourite course would be simply silly, though I did get tempted when looking at the gallery at the bottom. The large and well flavoured early season white truffles are not to be missed and added that unique aroma and flavour to several dishes.

Steak tartare with Oscietra caviar
Scottish langoustine, handmade linguine and white truffle
Cornish turbot baked on the bone with seaweed, palourde clams, sea beet, wild chervil and charred spring cabbage
Smoked potato and poached egg ravioli with lightly roasted garlic emulsion and white truffle
Norfolk black leg chicken Albufera with "Ceps on toast"
Cote de Boeuf with smoked bone marrow, shallot sauce, rainbow chard and lovage
Cucumber sorbet, salad burnet, lemon verbena and mint
Wild Strawberry custard tart with lemon balm, lavender and mascarpone sorbet

So what do you drink with that rather wonderful line-up? Well we started with Dom Perignon Oenotheque 1973 - having had the 1971 three years ago I was expecting quite a bit of weight, an almost coffeed richness but the 1973 is a music played at a lower volume with some mellowly tropical fruit and real moreish drinkability, not a chewy wine as some late disgorgements can be, it disappered quickly with the canapés.

The white wines were served as a blind pair. I had them about 5-7 years apart and I had the older one as Montrachet due to the richness and weight. They turned out to be 19 years apart and from the same site and same producer. The producer part is true but there is a sense of two different regimes about the wines. The wines were Chevalier-Montrachet 2002, Domaine Leflaive and Chevalier-Montrachet 1983, Domaine Leflaive. The difference is that the 1983 was made/overseen by Anne-Claude's father Vincent and the 2002 was Anne-Claude herself. The 1983 has an old school yeasty richness about it, more oxidative and a little wilder. Really very very good, a superb wine with the food. The 2002 is a marvel, so pure and clean, so bright and so youthful in colour, a wine which manages to have weight but in a very defined and feminine way, lots of minerality here. An absolutely fascinating pair.
From here is was red for a while! A half bottle of Vina Real 1959, CVNE followed as an intriguing interlude. I think I remember plumbing for Bordeaux but being tempted by Italy. there was a slightly vegetal edge but this was in good shape for its age. Bovril, beef stock, iron-rich blood and a little iodine all gave away elements of the maturity but there was a lovely saline edge too, very fun and staggering from a half.

We then had a pair of reds - Clos Saint-Denis 1996, Dujac and Barolo 2005, Bartolo Mascarello. The similarities between Barolo and Burgundy I think are more emotional and complexity/intrigue based than the actually style of the wines. These two made a good pair. The Dujac, was loose and quite sexy, I actually had it as Cote de Beaune (Lafarge I mentioned) and a fair bit older, mid 80's. There was a slightly grainy easiness about the wine. There was fresh red fruit to start, then more oranges and if anything it actually got younger as we drank it not older. I really enjoyed it - quite a "tart" of a wine but why the hell not. The Bartolo is the first bottle I have tried of this from my cellar. I buy the wine each year and there is a school of thought that this is one of the leading 2005 Barolo wines. This was very youthful in it's purity, very zippy and fresh, very red fruited, I was impressed but at the same time realise this was near infanticide. I never regret drinking a bottle young and this has a very bright future, if I had 12 bottles I'd look again in 2-3 years but as I have only five it'll be 5 years before I breach another.

From here we went to Bordeaux. I have had a very good run of Bordeaux recently and much as I realise there is a disgruntled Bordeaux buying public out there when the wines are "on" they are simply brilliant and that much not be forgotten. This was a blind magnum. We got to "serious left bank" quickly and knew there was some good age but I was then playing the man and had this as 1960's/1970's Latour. My note reads, letter for letter:

"Proper job, saline, delicious, some herbs, delicious, easy yet elegant, grainy grip. Just lovely, cep and truffle join in…yum...more please"

So what was it? Montrose 1959 in magnum, I was delighted by this as I really like the savouryness of Montrose and much as I was out on the year I do (quietly) pat myself on the back for the "proper" note as that's what I often say when I mean savoury complexity with fruit but not in-your-face fruit. It was just a great wine to drink, no edges but not simple, richness but not through alcohol. One more red appeared now and was a little different from what went before. It was Arietta H Block 2000 (or I think it was, no photo), this was all about the Cabernet Franc (100%), red crunchy fruit and a refreshing stalky (good "green") character but ripeness, would love to explore this estate more some time.
Croft 1955 - "odd" label
Cheese!! That means a proper bottle of port on these fine occasions, Jan got the port tongs out and did a mighty fine job. A look into the kitchen at this point was priceless, everything having a place and a process, prep well underway for dinner. As we tucked into the cheese the Port was slipping down a treat, clearly serious age, this was very mellow, elegant with a dash of white pepper, the bottle in question - Croft 1955 - a delight, refined power. If there is one quality wine style that modern life seems to have it "in" for then it has to be the fortified side of things. Port got me into this whole game and Madeira and Port still fascinate me (sherry never quite got me but it has many trade friends). Yet, so often these wines are not given the time they deserve. The great contradiction is that they are all making better wines now that ever...

After the cucumber sorbet - try it, it's amazing, though may be don't put it in your mouth in one go - we had a lovely elegant desert to accompany the Yquem 1948. It quite a grunty even savoury Yquem, a meditative wine, with good rancio character, the creme brûlée is intense with only a medium sweetness, there is a wild decadence about this vintage. I would imagine it is almost best drunk now, while the sweet and the savoury wrestle about with each other.

And from there…home…smiling…top wines…top food…top company…just lucky to be there.
They taste every bit as good as they look...
Now this could catch on...
If I had to choose? May be, just may be...
Turbo Turbot
Smoked potato and poached egg ravioli - brilliant dish
There's rather splendid chicken under the truffle!!
Only "Henry" (old post) ran this close...
Great cheese - Comte to die for...
What a team...