Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Gaja at Zucca

I was delighted to get an invite from the UK agents for Gaja to a lunch at my Favourite Zucca. The format was a good one given that Gaia Gaja, Angelo's daughter, was in town sadly with very limited time. She came for a session pre-lunch and talked through the 2011's before also talking through the wines we were to have with lunch.

She is a very good and engaging host who does a very good job saying what must be similar things almost day in day out, you don't get that feeling and that is quite a skill. She had a few good sound bites, all delivered in a cheeky fashion, my favourite of which was "Nebbiolo - the variety the french don't have".

On a more serious note I have had a fair few Gaja's down the years and always found them to deliver, possibly more in a solid way than a charming one but that is down probably more to my bias towards traditional Barolo and Barbaresco than anything. The wines that the family make are good to very good and certainly you can't claim to have explored Piedmont and it's brilliance (bias again) without spending considerable time on these wines.

Before the tasting Gaia spoke a little about 2014. A vintage with a cool June, warm July and then very cool August (average 17 degrees) before a better September/October. Severe green harvesting was needed if what was to be picked would be ripe. It was a year where Gaja saw production in Barolo down by 40% and Barbaresco down by 20%.

When talking of 2011 Gaia mentioned that if was a decent year, better in Barbaresco than Barolo (which is still in concrete). Simpler to 2010 in having an elegant/lighter body...

Barbaresco 2011
Bold tannins but not too much so. Lovely nose, clean, saline with cherry fruit then other red fruits, roots and rhubarb, some lovely sweetness. A blend of 14 different vineyards sites. Impressive.

Costa Russi 2011
The last site to flower and the last to be picked. It is a site that has less humidity and is cooler with a more compact soil. I found this denser, darker and creamier with more texture, a little more wood does show but there is again a little saline, bold and lovely if obviously youthful.

Sori Tildin 2011
Gaia suggested that the addition of a little Barbera is a little like a little Merlot with the Cabernet in Bordeaux. This site is a little sandier and nearer the top of the hill. I found more spice, a deeper wine but not darker than the Costa Russi, more tannin, it took a little while to open in the glass. There was a bell-pepper lift to the wine that I liked. Very good.  

We then re-visited the white that we were served on arrival:

Rossj Bass 2013
A blend of 95% Chardonnay and 5% Sauvignon Blanc this wine is named after Angelo Gaja's youngest daughter Rossana. The grapes come from three sites planted in 1986: The Rossj and Bass vineyards in Barbaresco and a small vineyard in Serralunga. It is a wine I have enjoyed before. Ripe lemon and lime fruit combine with a small dash of toastiness. The fruit character is a little like a generous Chablis as there is real minerality. I like this! They so also make another serious white Gaia and Rey which is 100% Chardonnay and requires more time.

We then moved on to the, as ever, immaculate food:

Antipasti Misti

Taglerini, Pheasant Ragu and hazelnuts

Slow cooked pork shoulder, porcini and yellow polenta

Chocolate semifreddo, pecan ice cream and caramel

Barbaresco 1998
Thus had a slightly rancio nose, iron and resin this was a good drink but not up to Sori San Lorenzo 1998 served even more recently. There is a very true ferrous and iron-like character and with food this is good. Fully mature I would argue best drunk now.

Conteisa 2005 Magnum
Conteisa is a Barolo (with Barbera) in the same way that CR or SSL are Barbaresco. From a site in the Cerequio vineyard in the La Morra sub-district. Very good, nicely done in a sometimes tricky vintage, quite bold and dark but not without freshness, impressed.

Costa Russi 2008

I really like the 2008 vintage in Piedmont and I think it'll prove a savvy buy for many in years to come. The 2004/2006/2010 vintages are spectacular but the 2008 is a little more feminine and I expect the drinking windows to be massively wide. This wine was true to my words, not overly big of rich but in a lovely balance that I think will stand it in good stead.

A cracking lunch - Will and Adam - thank you...and Gaia of course!

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Petrus...a great visit...

The day after a splendid evening of Trotanoy at La Fleur Petrus (yes I am very late posting this) the C&B team gathered early in Libourne and headed out to Petrus for a full visit. It was a brilliant day, even the weather performed as I hope you can see in the pictures below. I had visited Petrus before but only during "primeurs" to taste the vintage. The last time being the "perfect" 2010...

The weather is a point worth going back to because 2014 is a vintage that to a large degree was saved by September sun and heat, the date of this visit was September 17th. They did not start picking in earnest for another week, it was pushing 30 degrees and very settled.
Elisabeth Jaubert shows us the vineyards...
Petrus is written about in many places - Neal Martin's book has a large and brilliant chapter on it - so I will not bore you here. It is an amazing site on a button of blue clay that is the high point of Pomerol. Interestingly the vines do not go deep but go into the blue clay that is 4-8 metres in depth. There are many parcels to the plot and the wine in recent times has been 100% merlot, a rarity even in Pomerol. One of the advantages to being on one site is that picking can be precise and as shift or slow as needed. It can be 2-3 days or 2-3 weeks.

Once the grapes are harvested in terms of winemaking things are kept "simple", approximately 50% new oak with racking every 3 months or so. Petrus uses three coopers for the barrels.
The Chai allows for lots of parcels to be kept "apart"
After the tour of the vineyard and chai we moved inside to taste the 2013.

2013 - Vibrant, rich, bright, it has an opulence as well as a nervousness, an almost stem-like crispness, cranberry and black berry. A stoney minerality that goes when the glass is swilled, tart opulence again, over time the middle will fill out. It is a relatively feminine Petrus.

We moved onto Clos Videlot, Jean-Pierre Moueix's stunning former home, for lunch around one large table with every topic covered. Olivier Berrouet and Christophe Jacquemin were both on great form along with Elisabeth and Virginie.

After some lovely Bollinger NV (a little bottle age I am guessing) and a Beaune Blanc 2008 from Drouhin the real "work" began as we had two vintages of Petrus in front of us, one from magnum and one from bottle. Having had a few older vintages through the generosity of customer/friends I was fairly sure I had not had these two before. There was a pause with everyone slightly hoping someone would dive in. Adam made a good call and said lets nail it down to a particular decade...are we talking 1980's? The answer was "yes" for both wines. I now stepped up to the plate and picked the left hand glass (the wine from bottle, not magnum) as 1985. My logic being it was balanced and elegant, seamless...I thought it was not a potentially "weaker" vintage - 80, 81, 84, 87 but not a "bold" vintage either - 82, 86, 88, 89...this only left '83 and '85 and I expected '85 is more complete and precise. To great relief I was correct...exam passed!

The wine from magnum was left to the others, I was keen not to take any of the gloss off my respectable performance. The magnum was 1989, a more savoury, bigger, bolder wine with more richness but not over the top sweetness. I found the 1985 more complete at this time but that is the age and fact it is bottle not magnum. It was a truly brilliant lunch and we headed back to the airport without really wanting to!

Monday, 29 December 2014

Tenuta di Trinoro vertical

I am a little overdue on posting about this cracking tasting. A colleague - Sara Guiducci - has done a far more in depth post on the C&B Blog but I wanted to get my brief notes down. I hosted the evening by introducing Andrea Franchetti who spoke and as well as ever with his own brand of savage honesty to the fore as always. Also for me it had quite a large overlap with this other Vertical in Oxford at the start of the year.
I won't go into too much background but this tasting took us back to the very first vintage, 1997, although there was a wine (Cupole di Trinoro, now the name of the second wine) produced in 1995. Andrea made his way to creating wine via Bordeaux and his passion for Cabernet Franc in particular stems from a bottle of Petit Cheval 1990 he once had. The estate picks very late, even in November on occasions with 125-135 days of "hang-time" not unusual. 

As the tasters assembled we had a glass each of the Guardiola 2012 from Andrea's estate on Etna. 100% Chardonnay but totally unoaked this is a wine I have enjoyed from the start but to be honest the 2012 is a serious step up on the good vintages before. It manages to be both unctuous and fresh, rich and delicious. There is considerable and enjoyable complexity to this wine. With that we started the reds and it was only the principal wine - Tenuta di Trinoro itself. All the wines were pre-poured and questions came along as and when. No fixed "flights" so to speak.

Cabernet Sauvignon predominant which is rare. Rich and full, drought was less of a problem here than previously. It is a deep dark wine but a wine with opulent balance. The Cabernet Franc that wasn’t included was of good quality but just did not make the blend (there was a new wine made called "Magnacosta"). Opulently beautiful…time will treat this very well...

A real favourite of Andrea's, a “monster” was how he described it– red fruit, cherry and almost elegant on nose then bold and generous – it is a cracking wine of extremes. It fermented for about a year which is remarkable…overall there were 12 pickings of Cabernet Franc (the predominant variety in contrast to 2012). A hot year like they used to get...unique.

This is a vintage I know quite well from tasting over the years. Until the 2011 came along I considered it the most extrovert of the Trinoros. A riper, higher toned wine than previously, but elegant and in balance, it now has an ever so slightly chalkily enticing palate…Andrea commented that it was an easy vintage (a little like almost all of Europe then!).

"Dry leaves being raked" was Andrea's comment as it was a very dry vintage. To my palate this was the one wine that may be showed less than I expected, it is slightly in an "in between phase". Oak a little too obvious, high octane and opulent but in a more vegetal style. I'd love to re-assess in a couple of years.

After this point everything was served from Magnum simply because there are very few bottles of these vintages at the estate (not that there are many magnums!!)

2006 Magnum
I can't quite remember the context but there was a comment about the “Disease of ripeness” this had an exoticness, balance on palate, new leather with a refreshing greenness (I can never explain what I mean by this) – more corrupt but in a good degraded sweetness fashion!

2001 Magnum

To use Andrea's own words "The best I have made". I asked around the room at the tasting and afterwards and if people were asked for 2 or 3 favourites then they all included this wine. It has a simply superb balance of sweet, slightly degraded fruit, tannin and a refreshing acidity, complete.
1999 Magnum
This was a really interesting vintage, far gentler than many. Mellow notes of herbal water, cucumber water, a lightness, delightfully mature with some sweetness still. Drink and enjoy.

1998 Magnum
“Smaller and neat” was Andrea's comment. I found a little dark fruit then some mint and iodine. A savoury saline edge gave complexity. More masculine than the 1999. I really liked this.

1997 Magnum
So the first vintage and from vines planted, amazingly, in 1993. The vintage is one that in many ways put Italy on the modern fine wine map. This was mature but with some good dark fruit, Iodine showed as well, mellowness. Very good right now!

The overall standard was very high, the differences were very encouraging with all the wines having their own personalities...I just can't wait to see what a trio like 2012, 2011 and 2009 taste like in 10 years (or for that matter the brilliant 2001)...

Friday, 19 December 2014

Mostly Magnums at Hawksmoor...

An end-of-year gathering organised by Jordi at Hawksmoor in Basinghall Street. The price of admission was a magnum. The food was what you would expect, well executed, filling and meaty!

Dom Perignon 1990 - This was on great form, quite bold on the nose and then both refreshingly and fresh fruited on the palate, far more citrus than bread or biscuit, ripe and quite full, it got the appetite going.
Riesling Smaragd 2010, R.Pichler - Dry and following the DP may be too dry to be fair on it, it was not young or mature and was a wine of texture over extrovert aromas and flavours. would be great with oily fish.

Meursault Charmes 1996, Roulot - Possibly wine of the day for me. If all mid 1990's Burgundy was in this sort of shape then the fine wine world would be a happier place. The nose had a little reduction on the attack (a thing I love) and then the wine was all waxy mellow citrus and frankly so delicious that I struggle to add many many adjectives- complete and as good as you could ever expect - wonderful!

Chambolle-Musigny 2007, de Vogue (2 bottles)
Fresh and pure red fruit, this is very Chambolle and very pretty, not overly serious and whilst it will age why would you when it tastes so lovely now.

Corton Renardes 1971, M.Gaunoux
Soft powdery, slightly bruised red fruit with an fresh acidic lift. There was then some white pepper spice. The wine held together well in the glass for 45 minutes or so and then got a little fragmented into it's parts and became a little medicinal. The high-toned sweetness of the fruit was remarkable, fascinating wine.

Ermitage Le Pavillon 1989, M.Chapoutier
If it is possible to be medium weight and a bit of a bruiser at the same time then this is that very thing. Quite primary with black fruit and some black pepper, not "too much" but certainly with more complexity to come. Promising and balanced.

Magdelaine 1985
My red of the day. Now before people shout that I am being biased (not that it was my bottle) I need to point out that this Chateau does not even exist anymore in terms of production as one estate. It has been "rolled" into Belair-Monange . The wine had a real charm and perfect balance between sweet and savoury with a lovely elegant medium weight and no hard edges at all. I would imagine that in magnum this will remain delicious for many decades. This is stunningly understated and all the better for it.

Domaine de Chevalier 1961
Savoury and deep in colour, this had good initial fruit and then became more "stocky" and deeper and more saline with time. For Pessac of this age it had amazing texture and weight.

Leoville Barton 2000
To me this was the only real disappointment of the lunch, it was just far too much on the savoury side, even a little metallic, ferrous and blood-like, it just needed some sweetness and lift. I might be being harsh...

Stag’s Leap “Cask 23” 1991
I thought this was really lovely and had a slightly sweet fruit finish, this worked well in contrast to the slightly dry finish of the Barton and the Chevalier. I would not have been near the 23 years of age if served blind, there was evolution but in a very sedate and steady way. Really lovely.
Percarlo 1990
Good sweetness to the ever so slightly bruised fruit, a good bit of spice that was balanced by a dash of minty freshness, really good, better even that when I had it during this tasting, the sort of wine I'd love to have spent a while with.

Tenuta di Trinoro 1997
Rich and pretty opulent, ripe without being over the top, nice balance and the slight sweetness worked well at the end of the meal...this is a wine I've had a couple of really in-depth looks at, the first of which was here and the second I need to write up!

Then there was one more wine that came around during the meal...
Mystery Chambolle-Musigny Amoureuses
This was absent of either producer, although Negoce was the thought, and vintage. I agreed with our organiser that it may well be 1966 but that can be no more than an educated guess. I wish I had taken a pic so I could do some research. It had a lovely mature Pinot sweetness without a hint of stink or farmyard, feminine for sure...

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Connaught...three pairs...

This was a dinner at the excellent "Sommeliers Table" at The Connaught...the first time I had been back since Sussex's 40th some four and a bit years ago. I am delighted to report the food is as outstanding as I remember it being. The gathering was a very knowledgable and opinionated group which is always good, this was my first outing with this group though I know them all individually.

We kicked off with a magnum of Krug 1996 which was tasting very well, serious with real depth and power. There is great acidity which balances the biscuity, saline and savoury palate. Clearly a wine with a long life ahead of it (especially in mag of course). It begged to be drunk but at the same time served the perfect role of making you hungry, very impressive. Thinking about this afterwards I wish I had left a small glass to re-taste later.
The main part of the evening was three pairs of red. There was a 1998 in each flight so the fundamental questions were.

1) Did you like both?
2) Did you have a preference?
3) Which one was the 1998?
4) Once 3 was revealed what vintage was the other?
5) Have a stab at what they are?

Now clearly getting all five questions answered and recorded for each of 6 wines by the seven who didn't know the wines was going to be a task - or 210 tasks in fact. So we tried our best and i'll refer to general themes where I can. Interestingly the there pairs were very obviously from the three regions, namely - Burgundy, Piedmont and Bordeaux.
So the first pair was La Tache 1998, DRC & Romanee-Saint-Vivant 2001, S.Cathiard, we had them with two delicious courses. Pumpkin Ravioli, Mostardo di Cremona, lobster with sage and Sea bass with white cocoa beans, clams, calamari, parsley.
To start with two of the most sought after and talked about producers is a rare treat. The preference for each was split down the middle. I got the vintage the wrong way round feeling that the initially more savoury nose of the Cathiard was the 1998 and the purity of the nose on the La Tache was 1999. As time went on the initially purity of the La Tache faded an the wine remained complete but may be without the depth you might expect of the this great Cru. The consensus was that it was slightly underwhelming. The Cathiard was just not very 2001 to me. It showed well. A little degraded and deeper/darker of fruit than 2001 would generally be from my experience. There is very little (circa 2.5 barrels) of this made. I liked it, as I think everyone did, I just ever so slightly wished the extraction had been a little more sympathetic...either way a lovely opening pair.  
As soon as we were served White Truffle Risotto from Aquerello rice, Parmagiano Reggiano I knew that we would probably be in Piedmont. The dish was great as was the Chicken, Jerusalem artichoke “albufera" that followed. The two wines in question were Barbaresco "Asili" Riserva 1996, Giacosa and Sori San Lorenzo 1998, Gaja. The room was fairly split over the preference possibly a slight leaning toward the Giacosa.
There was a collective failure on the 1998 scenario mostly, I feel, because the Gaja was so incredibly youthful. The Giacosa was open and slightly "frazzled" (a good thing with traditional Nebbiolo), there was sweet fruit on the nose and some oranges, always a traditional oxidative style. The Gaja was a markedly different style but a very impressive wine, vibrantly primary with cherry fruit, dark cherry at that, quite powerful too, I would be fascinated to see if it stays so bold and then fades over time or whether it does degrade and may be show more Nebbiolo character. A lovely pair for the stark differences.
So now Bordeaux - Cheval Blanc 1998 Petrus 1999 served with Venison, Medjool date, pumpkin and Brussel sprout. This was a brilliant pairing, wine/wine and wine/food. Both wines had such lovely perfumes, helped by the cool but not cold serving temperature. The Cheval was initially more savoury and I think a shade more complex, I had it down as Trotanoy and I did just prefer it when forced, although in honesty I think the whole table loved both. The Petrus was a little closed initially then, with air, a high toned red fruit started to come out more and more, that trade mark Tropicality (not that that is a word) of Petrus. Both wines just had that fruit, structure, savoury balance that you want - really top notch. Both have serious futures but to own either and not have tried them at this lovely stage strikes me as a little bonkers.

The sommelier for the evening, Mirko, was then asked to pick a wine for the deliciously comforting and correctly over the top Armagnac Baba with chestnut and quince. We were all discussing mature Sauternes with vintages from 70's and 80's getting a few shouts. I thought the wine had an element of Rieussec rancio richness about it...but actually it was Chateau Tirecul-la-Graviere Cuvee Madame 2001, Monbazillac so despite all being "wrong" we were wrong for the right reasons I suppose. A good choice.

A brilliant evening of gentle teasing, wonderful wines, smashing food and lots of laughs. Our organiser/host and the team at The Connaught had all done us proud...
The baba

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Up, up and De Vogue...

I'd been looking forward to this evening for a while, two real reasons. Firstly I love the wines and however biased that may be it comes from the fact that this historic estate is making wines as good if not better than ever. Secondly, if there is one thing as good as lovely wine it is drinking it with fun people you really enjoy the company of and that was the case here. Great array of de Vogue a couple of years ago was an additional reason!
We started upstairs at the Ritz with Champagne Delamotte Blanc de Blancs NV, it is drinking so well now, and that is on the back of having had it 3 or 4 times in the last month, the 2008 base seems to be wonderful and won't, sadly, be around much longer. We then moved downstairs for dinner. Six round tables of ten. Jean-Luc Pépin took us through a history of the estate and with de Vogue that is quite something, one owner, one family back hundreds of years. We were then into the wines:

Bourgogne Blanc 2009 was served with Native Lobster with Oscietra which worked well and I have to say here that this wine is an academic one rather than an obviously hedonistic experience. The vines are all classified as Musigny Blanc Grand Cru but the wines has not been classified as such since after the 1993 vintage due to a lot of replanting. This had an unctuous richness but with some tropical fruits before a very nutty palate, quite dry with some yeasty notes. There were also some briney elements to the nose as it opened up adding a saline edge. As to when it will again be called Musigny Blanc, sadly Jean-Luc could not be persuaded to say... 

We then moved to the next course of Squab Pigeon with Cep Purée with a trio of Chambolle's - Chambolle-Musigny 2007, Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru 1999 & Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Amoureuses 2001. This was a great combo because all three had their marked similarities but also pronounced differences, contradictory though that may sound. The pigeon was superb especially when you consider this was 60 people at one time.

Chambolle-Musigny 2007 - This is made from a combinations of holdings but two of them are 1er Crus - Les Baudes and Les Fuees - this had a linear nervouness, a real focus, also a light raspberry fruit and some orange rind. A dryish finish, a good if slightly simple wine. I like the vintage for it's purity and the fact you can drink and enjoy them now, some people don't thinking it is weak, being lightweight.

Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru 1999 - This is all from young vines that could all be released as Musigny, therefore Grand Cru in all but name. The estate has done this since 1995. The wine was much richer than the 2007, more texture, more layers. Black fruit as well as red, a little whiff of truffle too which adds a lovely savoury edge without reducing the sweet fruit. It has half the primary purity characteristics of a 1999 and then a little of the savoury beefiness of 2002. Impressive all round and will certainly continue to repay cellaring. Ready to be enjoyed? Yes, but no rush whatsoever. Impressive.

Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Amoureuses 2001 - The final of the trio and the last non Grand Cru of the evening, a moot point in a way as Amoureuses is in the top two 1er Crus that would be Grand Crus in the Cote de Nuits (by general consensus before you think I am being overly obnoxious). The wine itself was a joy. Femininely defined power and poise, so much to come, lots of prettiness and correctness but no lack of fibre and structure albeit hidden. Jean-Luc described Amoureuses as "the first lady of Chambolle" and romantic though that sounds it is spot on! It was very "2001" by which I mean there is a lightness of touch and a freshness. Where 2001 sits in the trio of 1999, 2001 and 2002 over time we will have to see but my feeling its that like 1991 in Burgundy those that have the balance will be wonderfully rewarding. Smashing wine. It's such a shame there is so little of it.

The two Grand Crus reds to accompany the rather good Venison Wellington, Madeira and Truffle Jus were Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru 1999 and Musigny Grand Cru Vieilles Vignes 1993. They made an good pair. Bonnes Mares is in many ways the odd one out at this Domaine having, as it does, half a foot in Morey-St-Denis and half in Chambolle. This 1999 was superb, for me the wine of the night - although run close by the Amoureuses (many people had the Musigny 1993 as theirs). The Bonnes Mares nose was airy and gravelly with lots of wet minerals then a palate of boldness, good structure but as with most 1999's the freshness and fruit sits above that grip. I really loved this. Musigny 1993 was at a different stage, more secondary and evolved more "old school". The 1993 vintage was tricky as yields were low. My notes have an array of comments - almost redcurrant, spice, degraded, masculine grit. Overall the impression was of a wine really strutting it's stuff and decadently trying to test your ability to spot different aspects... 

One wine remained - Musigny Blanc Grand Cru 1990 which was served with Cheese. So in many ways we were back to the beginning. The 1990 was as with the 2009, unctuous and nutty on the palate. Two members of the press at the dinner each had a take - "like a Vendages Tardive" was one and "with aged Rioja blended in" was another. The wine was very complex indeed but to me, in honesty, not as good as the 1992 and 1993 that I've been privileged to drink. 

...and with that the evening came to a mellow end...splendid - great wine, good food and very amusing conversation...whether my bias shows or not - if you love Burgundy then De Vogue is right up there...

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Not your normal monday...

A text comes through on Saturday lunchtime, "there is a "tasting" on Monday evening and your presence is required!". Now when this comes from one of the chaps on this special trip to Burgundy all you do is clear the diary and hope that there is nothing crucial planned for Tuesday. The theme was 2004 and we were on Bordeaux with the odd interloper from California, Burgundy and Champagne. The venue was one of "the chaps" houses with splendid cellar and even more splendid wife who cooked up exactly what was needed to set us up for the evening.
The dinner wines...
The format was to start with some Champagne and then white Burgundy before embarking on the reds. All the wines with one exception later in the piece are from 2004 which following on from a tasting back in june of Burgundy 2004 ten years on was likely to be very interesting. Ten years is the accepted time to "look in on" a Bordeaux vintage and 2004 has a reputation for being medium in weight, traditional and possibly a little under appreciated. Following the "freak" that was 2003 and then being overshadowed by the excellence of 2005 was always going to be an issue! All the reds were double decanted before serving.

As the team assembled a bottle of Laurent Perrier 2004 vintage was consumed in quick time. The vintage is a good one in Champagne and this was very typical of the style, taught but not closed, youthful but enjoyable now. The white wine was then Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Combettes, E.Sauzet - a couple of bottles of - both showed well. There is a lovely mid-age maturity here, still some citrus and shortbread as well as a little white fruit then a lovely nuttiness on the palate, a lovely time to drink it. Such a good site.

We decided to start the reds with two St.Emilions - Chapelle de AusoneTroplong-Mondot - the former was mellow and soft, very complete, soft red and black fruits and certainly not more than medium body, a little bit of what I'll call "good greenness" that added freshness, I assume from young vine fruit. The Troplong - an estate I have often found to be "too much" in terms of oak and extraction - was quite toned down. A gentle wine making approach was key in 2004 and this was on good form. Blacker fruited and weightier. There was a small discussion on price and certainly the Chapelle does not warrant 3 times the price. A good start.

The next commune up was St.Estephe. Ormes de Pez & Cos d'Estournel were the representatives here. The Ormes had a nose of slightly reduced beef stock and then after a couple of swirls it mellowed to show more fruit. The palate had red fruits and good freshness with acidity and a little pencil led, an interesting wine and at the price very good value (ranks with Phelan Segur and Lafon Rochet for me). Cos was a more serious package altogether. Deeper and darker fruited with classical cedar elements to a quite savoury nose, grown up and young at this stage, good balance and a promising future...impressive.

Now we popped over the atlantic and had - Dominus & Stag's Leap, Artemis. There was contrast here between the Artemis' opulence, density and open fruit and the more restrained, arguably more elegant Dominus. There was a split vote I think on this. The Dominus would be exciting to own but you also can't knock the easy pleasure and value of the Artemis. These two were certainly as young in developmental terms as any of the Bordeaux...

And now downstairs to the cellar for the St.Juliens - Lagrange & Leoville Poyferre. Lagrange was very "proper", a balance between decent enough fruit and a savoury side, neither a disappointment nor exciting, a "steady" wine. The Poyferre was very typical of this estate, quite extrovert and open, rich but not heavy and archetypal cool vintage Cabernet fruit, neither too young nor is there a rush to drink this, open and ready now, unpretentious but that is not to say simple at all. Good.

At this stage our host started to throw in some very generous curve balls. The first that was served blind to everyone except me was Cheval Blanc. With the odd nudge the tasters got there pretty quickly. I was impressed, the Cabernet Franc had a really edgy freshness and very poised red fruit (almost red currant) that really marks this estate. It is tempting to think it will only age in the mid term but I think this could just be a wine with a very big drinking window. One to watch.

Briefly back on the original planned line-up it was Pauillac time - Clerc Milon & Pontet Canet. May be it was the class of the Cheval Blanc and Poyferre that preceded it but the Clerc came across as a little crude and "blunt". Absolutely nothing wrong with it but a little foursquare and hard. The Pontet Canet was one of the most obviously young wines of the evening, rich and black but not over the top in extraction. Good but it left you feeling it will repay a couple more years.

There was a comment at some stage in the evening that we had omitted Margaux as a commune so our host took up the challenge and opened a bottle of Palmer. This had a serious and smokey nose as well as a persistence of red black fruit, not quite the elegance of the Cheval but I think given a few more years the smokiness will meld into the wine and this will take on the Margaux fragrance. It is certainly a good deal more serious than the 2007 I has recently. Very good, quite serious.

So with one wine to go, the non 2004, what did I think of the vintage? Well these wines had all clearly been well stored and we had no cork issues whatsoever which is always a relief. I was impressed, I expected the wines to have less in common with each other but there was a similarity of weight and stage of development. The wines did not seem too light but at the same time there was no over-extraction. The wines were all appreciable now but I think they will age nicely before ultimately mellowing gracefully. I think that if you own the wines you've got classical claret to be enjoyed from now on.

As talk turned to the trip that might follow the Burgundy Bonanza, mentioned above, our host had one last trick up his sleeve - Yquem 1994. This was decadent and full, not as sweet as Yquem can be, I think blind I would have had it as 80's rather than 90's. There was a creme brulee richness and some apricots as well as spice. A brilliant evening of many laughs...

If only every Monday...
Only the Yquem 1994 was is missing...
The perfect beef...
Your normal Monday scene...