Sunday, 25 October 2015

Domaine Leflaive and Dominio de Pingus at The Cafe Royal...

This is was a special dinner for a couple of reasons. It was a chance to welcome Brice de la Morandiere to London as head of Domaine Leflaive and at the same time a great chance to taste two iconic estates together in a complimentary fashion. The choice of venue was crucial and the team at The Cafe Royal did us proud. We had used the venue once before for a Gazin Dinner with Nicolas de Bailliencourt.
Through the evening Brice spoke very well and emotionally about Domaine Leflaive, about the loss of Anne-Claude Leflaive who was for so long the driving power behind this great estate. He interestingly observed that Biodynamics must be seen as a "means to an end" and not a "means in itself". When it was Peter's turn to speak he was thoughtful and modest, as ever, describing a little about how Pingus started and what he wants and hopes to continue achieving.
We had an aperitif of Mâcon Verzé 2010 to get proceedings off and running. Mâcon Verzé is a wine I know well but sadly, due to the really small 2012 and 2013 crops, do not get to drink as much as I'd like. This 2010 is steely and fresh, very youthful with little or no toastiness at all. Still a baby of a wine but deliciously moreish.

The Menu:

Warm Dover sole and salmon mousse, dill, carrot and shallot essence
Roast quail, Parma ham and grapes
Denham estate venison, braised shoulder and butternut squash purée
Selection of French and English cheeses

The first course was accompanied by a lovely pairing, both from magnum.Puligny Montrachet 1er cru Clavoillon 2010 and Puligny Montrachet 1er cru Les Pucelles 2007. The Clavoillon was really showing well. It is the Domaine's largest 1er Cru holding and almost a monopole. Brice described it as often being masculine, almost a "Meursault in Puligny-Montrachet". It had an expressive nose with a touch of reduction, it is youthful but lovely now, with good, but not dominant, acidity. The Pucelles as a vineyard was described by Brice as "Feminine" and needing some time to open up. The nose was lovely, oyster shell, oil, minerals, a lovely waxiness then on the palate there is a Grand Cru-like ripeness. Pretty special; richness of Cote D'or and the minerality of Grand Cru Chablis.
These two were followed with Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru 2000. This had developed into the next phase of life, also a reflection of a warmer more opulent vintage than the refined classicism of 2007 & 2010. The nose had a complex nutty side, a little less waxy. This is ready now in my opinion. There is a good decadence, almost a Toffee character.

Then as Venison came out it was time for the reds:
Flor de Pingus 2010
Flor de Pingus 2008
Pingus 2008

Peter commented how both 2008 and 2010 were what he termed as Atlantic influenced vintages where there had been good rain in the preceding winter. Flor de Pingus comes from 28 hectares of vineyards and Pingus just 4 hectares. The Flor 2010 has good concentration, immediately shows itself to be a young wine. Mulberry and cool climate back fruits, tobacco and a little leather but vibrant and densely youthful, the wine saw only 30% new oak. Flor 2008 by contrast is a little more evolved, leather and tobacco show far more, there is an earthy degraded character. Then a lovely sweetness to the finish...this is good now although it will continue to develop, guaranteed by that lovely sweetness. It is a great pleasure to get to drink Pingus, the 2008 has what I scribbled down as "fresh depth", it manages to be both opulent and expressive but also taut and tight. It is a vast wine that will be best in 5-10 years and well beyond, exciting.

Rather than have, what we thought would be, the biggest wine of the night (Pingus 2008) with cheese why not use the cheese course as a good chance to have some more white and ideally from a warmer vintage like 2009. So we had Meursault Sous le Dos d'Ane 2009 from Magnum. This is spot on now, enough zip to counterbalance the yellow and almost tropical fruits of the vintage. It went well together, the textures being complimentary. In bottle I would drink the 2009 now, no pressure with mags but when it is decadent like this I say drink away.

An evening that managed to be both special, poignant and incredibly fun...

La Rioja Alta - 125 years…A celebratory dinner...

So when an invite appears stating the below it would be rude to do anything other than accept and spend the evening with many of the trade as a guest of the estate and Armit Wines, their UK agent.

D. Guillermo de Aranzabal Agudo
requests the pleasure of your company for dinner in the
Orangery at Kensington Palace on 1 October 2015
to celebrate the 125th Anniversary of La Rioja Alta, S.A.
Canapés on the terrace from 6:30pm followed by dinner in the Orangery from 7pm.
Carriages at 10:30pm.
Dress code: Black tie

The format was a simple, effective one. A white - Lagar de Cervera Albarino - from one of the owners other estates - while everyone gathered at the lovely Kensington Palace Orangery and then a selection of the reds with a good meal. One, good and concise, speech from the main man - Dr Guillermo de Aranzabal.

The Lagar de Cervera Albarino 2014 was drinking well, clean with a good and and freshness, not a complex wine but certainly not simple.

Before this dinner I have to confess to having sold a fair few of the estates wine but without knowing them well, the odd glass had been drunk and sample tastes but never anything terrible academic done by me. They have a good Website with plenty of good info and very refreshingly they are not afraid to be a little commercial in so far as they have quite a bit of wine to sell. They do this by releasing the wines with some age and at prices where people who like the wines would never say no. It is a wise and logical way to do things and one much of Bordeaux would do well to follow.

The menu:
Baked Rabbit Loin & Chorizo
Basil Crusted Lamb
Spanish Cheese Selection
Chocolate Orange

We started the evening with Vina Alberdi 2008 and Vina Arana 2006. The Alberdi, named after a former president of the firm, had a dash of Iodine and blood (neither of these are, for me, a negative and they were a theme) with some good richness and a savoury note. Not overly oaked at all, good acidity and a nice easy, ready, structure. The Arana, sometimes given the moniker of "Rioja Claret", reminded me of wet stones, a touch of metal and again an iron-like richness some good brighter red fruit on the palate, a slight notch up on the Alberdi but both good.

Up next with the lamb was the Vina Ardanza 2007 and Gran Reserva "904" 2005. The Vina Ardanza was immediately more Juicy, more structured too, again iron showed but with an almost raspberry like freshness to contrast, good fresh finish, nice wine. The "904" is so named to commemorate the 1904 merger between Rioja Alta and Bodegas Ardanza. 1904 was also a great vintage and as with the "890", that follows it has lost a "1" over the years. The 2005 is a complex wine; tobacco leaf and late harvest fruit are my initial impressions, this is bruised but not degraded, a wine of savoury complexity rather than built on fruit, classical and impressive.

Gran Reserva "890" 2001
in Magnum was to be the concluding wine. The 890 links to the first wine Rioja Alta produced, Riserva 1890. Refined and very correctly proportioned this is a wine, particularly in magnum, that needs, even demands, time. Good tannins that are very present but not harsh, very good fresh length and with less of the iron character. A splendid wine to own!

A very fine evening in good company, many thanks Mr Gossip, I now feel I know a lot more about an estate that people should embrace.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Phelan Segur - Mini vertical at No 1 Lombard Street with Véronique Dausse

The idea for this dinner came about at a splendid evening at Phélan Ségur back in March during the 2014 En primeur tastings. It was a celebration of 30 years of the Gardinier family's ownership of this St.Estephe estate. I wrote up the dinner, briefly, here

When I realised that the charming Véronique Dausse, Directeur Generale, would be in town for the Union de Grand Crus tasting we quickly set a date. The venue was to be 1 Lombard Street. We were 14 people in total, just enough for three bottles of each wine! The menu was designed to be a simple one to complement the wines without competing, a mission that I think was achieved.

Black truffle Risotto


Fillet of Beef Wellington Green beans, sautéed potatoes & creamy mushrooms


As everyone gathered we drank a couple of magnums of the ever delicious Delamotte Blanc de Blancs NV - I must tuck some away for ageing, even though Delamotte give their wines much longer than most houses before releasing them.

Once we were all seated around one large table, Véronique took us through a brief history of the Chateau and set the scene for the tasting. She commented that, because of price point more than anything, few people tend to give Phelan the ageing it deserves (we would be testing this to a degree). I said a few words, mostly about how I have always admired the property for its quality but certainly it's value. It is the first 2011 wine I bought for my son after he was born. That reminds me I should drink some with him before too long, he's fourteen so not long to wait!
A few Phélan Ségur stats:
Size: 70 Hectares
Cepage: 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% merlot, 1.5% Petit Verdot and 1.5% Caberbet Franc
Elevage: 18 months (on average)
New barrels: 50%
Second Wine: Frank Phelan

We had the five wines - youngest to oldest - starting with 2008 and 2006 with the Risotto. All these bottles came directly from the Chateau only two weeks previously. The 2008 has a little bit of "sexy" oak gloss on it, as well as a coffee note, which makes it enticing on its own. I imagine this will disappear into the wine before it reaches its 10th birthday. It is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot with good grip. It highlights the good-proper vintage that 2008 is. The 2006 by contrast has reached a very complete stage, seamless and balanced with good dark fruit character. It was superb with the with the food. Delicious now but with no rush needed.

The 2005 and 2000 were our next pairing and they worked well with the Beef Wellington (sadly no picture as it didn't last very long!). The 2005 is very classy on the nose, still quite tight but with all the ingredients. This is a very fine Phelan...I am delighted with the case I have. I think I will have another bottle in two years or so. The 2000 is mature now though certainly has a long life ahead of it. Some Asian spices show on the nose and there is a lovely blend of savoury and slight sweet black fruit. A very complete wine. This pair really showed how undervalued Phelan can be...we have one bottle of each left and I cant wait to serve them blind and really make people realise how good they are....
And so to cheese and the Château Phélan Ségur 1990. There is a little iodine here with some degradation and a lovely moreish saline note as well, good colour and nice elegant texture. It is a wine with good life and mellow accessible nature. So easy to like.

The size of the gathering, the wines, the company all meant that conversation flowed all was a lot of fun.

We had a brief discussion at the end about the Gardinier family's new London restaurant  110 de Taillevent which launches next week...I'll certainly be going...I imagine the list will have some rather lovely wines!!

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

A few Old Tawnies...

Paul Symington came into the office on Monday with my good friend Mr Girling.  The theme was a simple one - top quality Tawnies.  I was just about to launch into why there is a move to Tawny when this article arrived in my inbox - it says it all.

Grahams 1972 Single Harvest Tawny - The colour of Lapsang Souchong tea, almost a grey brown. The nose is raisins, a little caramel, then almonds, honey and a little orange peel. There is a wonderful acidity that gives this masses of life. The main taste on the plate is of nuts: Almond, Walnuts and even a little Macadamia. Superbly persistent length. Really lovely. 18-18.5 pts  
Grahams 1969 Single Harvest Tawny - Similar in appearance to the 1972 but may be a little more faded. A slightly smokey, nose with a definite touch of Islay Whisky, more Bruichladdich than Laphroaig, Saline too. Mellow on the plate, refined rather than faded, far less nuts than the 1972, more a complex meditative wine than the more fruited 1972. 17.5-18 pts
Ne Oublie from 1882. Brown tan in colour with no orange rim. The initial nose reminds me of Pedro Ximenez sherry, raisins, a little Bovril and a ripe acidity. The palate is a syrup rich texture but not heavy, this is a special and unique wine. 18pts

Reflecting on them afterwards I think the 1972 is the wine I "like" the most but all are rather special and clearly Ne Oublie is not something that happens very often...thank you Richard and especially Paul...   

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Dom Perignon 2002 to 2006 with Vincent Chaperon

When an invite arrives, from Mr Dundas, for a Dom Perignon tasting and light lunch at M Restaurant (only 5 mins from the office) it's not the hardest "yes" ever. The focus here was around the launch of the 2006 which I have tasted and liked. To set the 2006 in context we also enjoyed the previous four vintages. It is a run of five consecutive vintages and that happens rarely.

We, including lots of trade colleagues and friends (some, yes you Rupert/Gareth, not understanding that you wear a tie in the city but I'll get over it), sat down to be led through the wines by Vincent Chaperon who has "only" been at Dom Perignon 15 years and is very much Richard Geoffroy's right hand man.
I have always liked Dom Perignon - I don't have any particular need to as commercially it is significant but not a life changer and in many ways someone working with lots of smaller estate, as I am lucky to, ought/might like to find the scale "DP" a little vulgar. BUT, here's the thing, DP remains one of the few examples in the wine world of signifiant volume alongside very good to great quality. They look to make DP every year, obviously this won't happen but less vintages are being skipped as the weather seems (I'm not starting on global warming here) to be getting more "optimal" each year. Vincent led the tasting very well and seemed to invent his own word along the way - "Creamosity" - which went straight in all the note books.

So the wines:

2006 - A few notable comments on the growing season from Vincent; one of the longest harvests, a warm and dry September was key as August had not been good. So to the glass and tasting. The nose was intensely tight with an almost Chablisesque character. Very much the Chardonnay showing at the moment. Taught with lemon and lime citrus notes which then turn more to green mellon as the wine calms in the glass. The minerality is stoney and the volume in the mouth very good. There is no nuttiness as yet. The wine overall gives a very good, complete, feeling. I see no obvious reason why this will shut down.
Drink 2017 - 2026+

2005 - This vintage is only 45% Pinot Noir but the reason behind this is that the Pinot Noir was very good, too much more than this amount in the blend would have been "overpowering". The vintage's challenge was Botrytis. There is immediately more weight to the 2005. More opulence, but also more simplicity. There is almost a heaviness to this, a density. Somehow I don't "get" this. It is more "gourmand" bigger and bolder.
Drink 2015 - 2023

2004 - Lovely nose, completeness again, no rough edges. Not overly expressive, refined and poised. A little yeastiness just showing. There is a drier fruit character nose. This is the opposite of showy, a drinkers wine. Quite a savvy buy and one to be a little patient with.
Drink 2016 - 2024+

2003 - Vincent described this as a wine with "Gravitas" and I see where he is coming from. It was well reported as a bizarre year with exceptional temperatures. I had an open mind but in truth was not expecting too much. The nose was immediately bolder (especially after the restrained 2004), richer and the character that struck me was more Meursaultesque. There was an unctuous almost lactic feel to the wine and it is every bit as much a wine as a champagne in my view. There is a yeasty nutty finish also but not short or heavy. It will be fascinating to see how it ages…I really liked it. 
Drink 2013- 2020(+?)

2002 - The last wine of the tasting and from one of the most hyped Champagne vintages of recent decades. Rich, almost reduced, bold in style. Lovely nose of yeast, toast, toffee, hazelnut and cream, then Creme Brulee. It is high toned and extrovert, there is also a note of cocoa bean just peeking though. This is in the next stage of its life. It's for the hedonist. It will be seriously fascinating to see how this wine varies in character and evolution over different formats but also over the later (P2 /P3) releases that they do.
Drink 2012- 2022+

There was a good discussion, post tasting, about the later releases - P2/P3 - and how they sit in the range. I guess time will tell and there were different views on how much production should/could go into each level in % terms. An amazing phrase also got an outing in regard of the pricing differences - "economic apartheid" (more writing in notebooks). I came out of this thinking that possibly, for reasons of extreme conditions, the 2003 will be one of the most fascinating to follow.
 A good light, fish orientated, lunch followed at which we had a little more 2006, solved the problems on English Rugby and then, most importantly, tasted the Dom Perignon 1998 P2. I've said a few times on this blog that I prefer original release Champagnes (from any house) with age rather than the later releases. There is too often a mocha/cocoa bean dominance for my taste in the later. BUT this P2 was pretty special. 1998 is a rich vintage and the later release here seems to have added freshness…impressive…

Thank you Vincent and thank you Jack!

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Dominus & Napanook 2012

This is a post that I will willingly admit is totally for my own benefit, it must be my brain but I find I have to search this blog more and more to check my notes. I am therefore trying to put more and more of them down on here.  
Yesterday these two beauties appeared on the tasting bench ahead of their release. I have been lucky enough to have 
my fair share of Dominus over the years...a graceful wine that combines an, almost always, rather wonderful climate with a simple, honest approach to wine-making. Though it is often said that this is like a Bordeaux from Californian...the opposite is true...this is what California should be like...but that is my, obviously biased, opinion. Give me Dominus & Ridge any day...

Napanook 2012
Good rounded fruit, nice bit of fresh greenness then the palate is darker in fruit and more serious than normal. Good fresh finish with mixed red/black fruit. Good to very good. 17.5+

Dominus 2012
Taught, very complete on the nose, silken and appears easy to drink now but there is layer upon layer of perfectly ripe tannins, very graceful and complete (can’t get away from that word). 18.5

Both will be approachable early but thave the balance and grace to age very well.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Tenuta di Passopisciaro - red 2013's and white 2014...

Now clearly I am biased here but I love these Passopisciaro wines from Sicily, from 100% Nerello Mascalese with the exception of the white that is 100% Chardonnay with no new oak.

The best way of thinking about these Wines, not in taste terms, but organisationally is to think of Passorosso as the village wine like Gervrey-Chambertin villages. Then the different sites or Contradas, as they are known, are like individual sites. Possibly with Chiappemacine as a lieu dit and the other Contradas as 1er Crus. It's simplistic and I dislike lazy analogies but it Works in this instance. So to the tasting:

Passorosso 2013 - Formerly know as Passopisciario, this is Italy and rules change every year. Really extrovert aromas jump from the glass, a dash of volatility but not at all problematic. Tangy red fruits with a little of darker fruit too. The aromas make one think of sweetness but there is a balancing citrus side also. 17   

Contrada Chiappemacine 2013 – A slight note of pencil shavings and graphite, more structure than Passo, quite mellow with good acidity. Less remarkable than the Passo. It could well be this is just a little muted but on this showing only 16.

Contrada Rampante 2013 – Lovely, more berry fruits and a little darker in character, expressive, sweetness and more volume, good herbal lift and that almost citrus tang. 17.5-18

Contrada Sciaranuova 2013 – Creamier texture, good freshness but rounder as a whole. Crisp red fruit and a herbal dimension. 17

Contrada Guardiola 2013 – Needed a bit of coaxing to come out of its shell but it did come forward. More tannin, more structure, the keeper of the bunch so far, still has the lift but this is tightly wound. 18

Contrada Porcaria 2013 – Nose is stunning. More succulent, more ripeness and as with Guardiola there is more volume and intensity here. There is a lovely slate like mineral finish. Impressive 18+

Passobianco 2014 – This was known as simply Guardiola Bianco until thsi year. It is a wine I buy every year, in fact I have just bought some more magnums of the 2013. This is so primary at this young stage, the palate is a lovely blend of fruit and soft minerality with a saline freshness…so moreish. 18