Sunday, March 12, 2017

Dinner with Oronce de Beler, 12th March

Last night I was very excited to be invited to an exclusive evening at the Rochelle Canteen over in Shoreditch. I skulked past the hen parties and queues of revellers already forming in this lively part of London, and made it to the comparatively quiet and civilised Arnold Circus where the Canteen is located. I tailgated another customer into the premises and found a delightful courtyard garden and stylish building where ACC was already installed. A few minutes later we were joined by C and then by Oronce de Beler himself along with his colleague Bertrand.

Oronce is the man behind La Maison Romane, a domaine based in Vosne-Romanee, which I had the pleasure of visiting in October 2014. When ACC first began working with the domaine, we were all enchanted by the story of Prosper, the horse which he uses to plough the vineyards. This, along with the avoidance of chemicals, allows the micro-organisms in the vineyards to flourish and the results are spectacular. The word "vivant" was used several times.

We began with a bottle of red Eaux-Vives 2014, which is made from Gamay grown in the Macon region. Oronce described this as a good aperitif wine, lighter in style, but like Beaujolais I think it would go well with charcuterie and anything pork-related.

Next up was a bottle of Gevrey-Chambertin La Justice 2015. This was noticeably weightier and more serious. It had some classic Gevrey flavours going on, with red fruits, and Oronce said he would expect it to be still drinking in 10-15 years. He donated the last glass to the chef, who came to our table afterwards full of praise, and comped us an additional pudding!

The third wine was Vosne-Romanee aux Reas 2015. which I absolutely loved, even though it was so young. This vineyard is next to the premier cru Clos des Reas, and the wine certainly seemed premier cru level to me. Oronce said he uses whole bunches and he could taste the stems at the moment, and once he pointed this out, I could too, but it didn't stop me from enjoying it. It had the most remarkable finish, and I'll be first in the queue if the opportunity arises to add some to my cellar.

Finally, we drank a bottle of Marsannay Longeroies 2014, which was powerful and had a lot of acidity. Oronce thought the 2014 vintage will be drinking better in 5 years time, so not so long to wait for that one. I was interested to discover that there are no premier cru vineyards in Marsannay, but if there were, this would be a leading contender.

I had to ask Oronce about the Pommard 1er cru L'argillliere which he used to make, which may very well be my favourite wine of all time, and sadly it seems he is unlikely to make any more as he's focusing on the Cote de Nuits now. He modestly said that the Pommard was all about the terroir rather than him. I think it must be a bit of both! Also, the subject of marc de bourgogne was tentatively raised but this isn't something he does.

It was great to get a chance to learn about Oronce's philosophy. For him, it's all about allowing the wines to express their personality and individual character. This is what makes Burgundy so interesting, as opposed to certain other regions which are more about making industrial quantities of wine. There'll be no rise of the robots at La Maison Romane, as Oronce disdains machinery and everything is done by hand. This year the bottles are sporting black wax seals as an additional protection. I'm hoping it's soft wax rather than the sort that gets sprayed all over the kitchen sink!

C noticed that the labels on all the wines said they were 12% alcohol. It seems that Oronce carries out an analysis for one of his customers, but I got the impression that if this wasn't required, he wouldn't bother. There was a Michelangelo reference at one point about the sculptor revealing the sculpture from within the block of stone. At this domaine, wine-making is approached as art rather than science. The results speak for themselves.

Oronce's UK stockist is the Burgundy Portfolio and enormous thanks to him and to ACC for a fascinating evening and the opportunity to try these remarkable wines.

Friday, February 24, 2017

2015 vintage continued

I've been to two wine tastings within seven days! These were follow-ups to the Burgundy Portfolio's big January tasting. While that one is always very exciting, there's a lot to get through and it can be overwhelming to a mere amatrice, so I was happy to get a chance to taste some of the same wines again in a more leisurely setting at the Highbury Library wine bar up near Arsenal stadium.

Last week we concentrated on whites, and I forgot to bring my camera. There were eight of us around a square table and we started with Chablis. Both growers, Nathalie et Gilles Fèvre and Céline et Frédéric Gueguen, had managed to pack plenty of acidity into their wines and the premier crus Vaulorent from Fèvre and Vaucoupin from Gueguen were showing particularly well. Premier cru level is where Chablis gets exciting, after all. The consensus was that the Fèvre wines were very elegant, and the Gueguen ones perhaps a bit richer.

Probably the highlight of the evening, however, was the white Beaune from Domaine de la Roseraie which had already impressed me back in January. This was deep and complex and will need time to open up - the drinking window is estimated as 5-15 years. Can't wait!

We also tried an amber wine, made by Pierre Fenals at Maison en Belles Lies, which we were almost forbidden to pour ourselves as it's so precious that ACC needed to keep some back to show the following day. This was made in a very traditional way in an amphora and was very interesting but probably wasted on me!

Then, on Wednesday night, it was back to the same location to try some reds. Word must have got round as this time there were 18 of us sitting around the table so it was quite a crowd.

We began with a brace of Beaujolais - the Brouilly and the Cote de Brouilly from Trichard. For my money, the Brouilly was drinking nicely now with cherry fruit, while the Cote is richer and more complex and will keep longer.

Other highlights, for me, included three wines from Domaine de la Roseraie. First we had the Bourgogne Rouge, which has already sold out, and on the evening I confidently reported that I had bought it already but now checking my trusty spreadsheet I see this is not the case! I should have done. I have however got some of the red Beaune and the Eponyme, which is only available in magnum. The Beaune is a lovely expression of the terroir with the classic perfume, elegance and length, while the Eponyme is the jewel in the crown of the domaine and had massive cheek-coating tannins, wild fruit and generally a grand cru feel to it. What's that coming over the hill? It's a monster... wine and ACC suggested it will be drinking in 7 to 20 years so we could be looking at 60th birthday celebrations rather than 50th, if I make it that far.

We also tried some wines from Microcosmos Chai Urbain, which is a very small winery in Marseilles. I drank a couple of bottles of the Marvin rose (on the left in the photo above) last year and it was wonderful in the very warm summer weather.

It's made from mourvedre, and it has a certain grapey quality and is dangerously drinkable given that it's 14.5% alcohol. I took the opportunity to grab a case. The name always makes me think of Marvin the Paranoid Android in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which is no bad thing.

We also tried some reds from the same domaine and I was particularly impressed by the Tempete, which was powerful and intense with black fruits and liquorice. It turned out that this is made from syrah, which explains everything. Apparently 2015 is a great vintage for Rhone - well, this will do me nicely.

Thanks very much to ACC for a pair of fascinating tastings!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Chateau Latour 1969

Last Sunday, G and I decided it was time to knock this bottle of Latour on the head; it had been lying around at the bottom of the wardrobe for a long time.

We last drank this in December 2012 so it had been a while! This time I promised to make proper notes and so here they are. It was dark and glossy - so much so that when G held it up to the candle to try to show the colour, it remained entirely the opposite of translucent.

We opened it about 10 minutes before drinking, and on the nose, I found it slightly dumb, but on the palate it was smooth, and relatively light by Latour standards. It gained weight a few minutes later (I know the feeling) and accompanied our lamb tagine very well and G said it reminded him of Domaine de Trevaillon. The tannins had softened and it was approachable and less majestic than some Latours but the class was clear. "Sauntering gently downhill," said G and followed up with "Still offers pleasure but drink up," showing that he is wasted on the law and should be a professional writer of wine lists. It was possibly better 10 years ago, and I wasn't sure that I would have guessed it as a Latour if I'd been drinking it blind.

Here endeth the Latour chronicles as this was the last of the mixed case I acquired back in the day, and it's unlikely I shall be getting any more in the near future unless Euromillions finally delivers - hope springs eternal.

In other news, I can report that the 2011 reds are giving me a lot of pleasure at the moment. I've had some Bourgogne Rouge from Bouard-Bonnefoy, and some Terres Burgondes from Domaine Giboulot recently, and the vintage seems very pretty and enjoyable, rather like 2007. I see I have some Beaune Greves from Maison en Belles Lies in storage which I must get out soon...

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Recent drinking round-up

On a recent Sunday evening, D came round for dinner at my place and G also joined us.

I'd just got some wines out of storage (Wine Out Friday) so we began with a bottle of this Chablis 1er cru Montmains 2010 from La Maison Romane.

It was a lovely pale gold colour, and very typique. We felt it was at the beginning of its drinking window, but it went down so easily that I'm not sure how long it's going to last. G and I had another bottle later in the week (the perils of leaving a spare in the fridge!) which was surprisingly different and reminded me more of a premier cru Chassagne. Good with fish fingers.

Back to Sunday. The main event was this bottle of 1969 Beaulieu Vineyard brought by D.

This was a lovely dark glossy colour and had a classic cedary cabernet sauvignon nose. G detected mint leaf. It was absolutely delicious - intense, rich, and sweet, with a lovely soft texture and an amazing finish. It was very drinkable too, and it was a real treat to drink such a wonderful wine.

With our cheese, we had this bottle of 1er cru Morey St-Denis 1996 Clos des Ormes from Maison Champy, provided by G. This was again very classic and typique with the black forest gateau thing going on, but for me it was overshadowed by the Beaulieu Vineyards - tough competition.

We finished off with some of G's old kirsch which made a refreshing digestif. Thanks to both of you for another memorable evening!

On Saturday, G and I went over to ACC's for lunch. We were presented with a mystery white and invited to guess what it was. Let's just say we were completely wrong!

ACC had a new cookery book by Stephane Reynaud and presented us with this amazing sausage and lentil dish.

To go with it, we had a magnum of Morgon 2011 from Lapierre. This was glorious Beaujolais, fruity and gluggable.

As we reached the bottom of the bottle, it became increasingly more murky...

G contributed an excellent cheeseboard, and I brought along a 2009 Pommard from Domaine Parent which was another of the wines I got out recently and the first time I'd tried it. My feeling was that it needs more time, so I'm going to tuck it away for a bit. For drinking now, the 2011 vintage seems to be the way forward!

We finished off with an amazing selection of digestifs and plotted our next trip to Burgundy...

Thanks ACC for a fabulous lunch!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Madeira dinner, 26th January

Not the usual suspects

Last night, it was over to the Savile Club for G's last ever Madeira dinner. The theme this year was Malvasia aka Malmsey, and I was invited to participate in the pre-dinner tasting to enable compilation of tasting notes and determination of running order. Most of the photos here come from the pre-tasting and in a rare exclusive, some of them are actually in focus!

For the record, the report on last year's tasting is here which also includes links to reports on the previous tastings back to 2010.

G would pass the sommelier exam, no problem
When I arrived, just as the clock was striking seven, the room was empty except for G pouring the initial six wines with a practised hand. But various old friends and familiar faces soon appeared to join us and we got down to business.

1. 2002 Malvaisa from ABSL (Barros e Sousa), bottled in 2012.

This was amber in colour and clear with little sediment, as one would expect from a recent bottling. I detected toffee on the nose and it was young and relatively light. A good lunchtime Madeira, but if we're honest, not particularly exciting, given what was to follow. We gave it three stars at the pre-tasting but in hindsight I think that might have been rather generous and would revise it down to two.

2. Vinho da Volta from Justino Henriques, believed to be a solera of youngish wines.

Now it says something, given my terrible memory for wines I have drunk, that as soon as G told me this was from Justino Henriques my heart sank, even before he'd decanted it. Past experience did not bode well. You can see from the photo that it was a most peculiar colour, cloudy and pale, and not exactly inviting. "Let me give you the large glass," said G after sniffing the decanter. Thanks very much. In the bottle, it had a really horrible sediment. I'd never witnessed the bottle-rinsing process before and hope I won't have to see anything like that ever again. Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised that it didn't smell of vomit, in fact it didn't smell of anything. I was still nervous about tasting it, but it turned out not to taste of anything either. However, it had an unpleasant powdery quality that caused G to suspect the use of aspartame. Something definitely went wrong here, and after one sip the rest went down the sink. Nul points.

3. Barbeito special reserve 20 year old Malvasia, bottled in 2001.

This was a clear light brown colour. On Sunday night I wasn't getting much on the nose ("nose a bit dumb" said G) but last night a hint of varnish had emerged. It was a step up from the first wine, with more intensity and some butterscotch, burnt toffee, Werthers Originals type of flavours and a nice weight. Worthy of three stars.

4. HM Borges 30 years old Malvasia, bottled around 2013.

This was a significantly darker colour, clear, and with very little sediment. I found a hint of the potting shed on the nose (i.e. turps) which G refers to as "high toned" and I enjoyed the seductively gloopy texture but G pointed out that it was not well-integrated. It's not a single wine of 30 years of age, but rather several different wines with an average age of 30ish - apparently this is allowed under new regulations. The components hadn't had enough time in barrel to come together properly, leading to an incoherent wine, with a decidedly spirity finish. Two stars.

5. LML (Lomelino) 1962 Malvasia, bottled around 1990.

This was a dark brown colour with loads of sediment - there's a reason the level in the bottle is so low, and it's not because G and I were necking it! On the nose, it was pungent, like over-ripe fruit. It wasn't nice to drink either, which was a shame, because there was something treacly hidden underneath the nasty bit. G had his doubts about its authenticity and bought it thinking it could be dodgy but interesting. It turned out to be dodgy and not interesting. No stars.

6. Pereira D'Oliveira 1955 Reserva Malvasia, bottled around 1990.

This was a very dark colour and had improved a lot since Sunday. It was thick, rich and treacly, like Christmas pudding, with a remarkable finish. Lots of prunes and dried fruit going on. We gave it four stars.

At this point, we sat down to dinner. With our starter of smoked salmon we had some white Pernand-Vergelesses but G also advised trying the next wine.

7. Leacock, Malvasia Velhissima, 19th century, bottled no later than 1920.

This was a relatively light colour and I didn't get much on the nose but G described it as "papery". It wasn't sweet, causing us to think it might be Verdelho rather than Malvasia. This came from the Leacock sale in 2008, and apparently G bought a case which was described as Malvasia but it turned out that not all of it was. An honest misreprentation by the auctioneers, who can't taste every bottle they are selling. Three stars.

We saved the remaining five wines to go with cheese and pudding, and drank some of Henri Audiffred's delicious 2011 Beaune Gauffriots with our main course.

8. Malvasia Faja, 1934, bottled around 1980.

G thinks this was probably made by the Fernandes family who owned this famous vineyard at the foot of a cliff, but was bottled by ABSL. It was a lovely clear mahogany and a bit dumb on the nose, with a slightly thinner texture and intense, drier style. It was elegant and well-balanced with a marmaladey, Seville orange thing going on. It had a great finish, and G loved its restraint. Four or five stars - I suspect four for me, five for G.

9. Henriques & Henriques Century Malmsey, solera 1900, bottled around 2002.

This was a very dark colour and I got turps on the nose whereas G detected figgy pudding. It was like a fruit cake in a glass - raisins, sultanas, prunes - and great concentration due to the long time in barrel. The finish was amazing and went on for minutes. Big and rich but not exactly subtle. I thought this would be a real crowd-pleaser and indeed that turned out to be the case. Five stars.

10. HM Borges Malmsey solera 1880, bottled around 1970.

When we tasted this on Sunday, it was seriously bottle-sick and I really hoped it would improve by last night as there was clearly something very nice underneath. And it was much better, thanks to G's diligent work redecanting many times during the week. Treacle toffee was evident once again. Four stars.

11. Blandy Malmsey 1880, bottled around 1960.

This is a rare single vintage wine. Unfortunately, due to a loose cork, it had an accident on the train leading to G's luggage trebling in value, but fortunately there was enough left for us to taste. It was eye-glazingly good, intense, with marmalade and liquorice. I loved its precision and focus, it had a lovely texture and again a finish that went on for minutes. Absolutely stunning, and the wine of the evening in my opinion. Six stars!

12. Tarquinio T da Camara Lomelino Malmsey, solera 1853 bottled around 1970.

An amazing rarity here - a magnum of Madeira! I didn't think such things existed, and they were until recently unlawful in Madeira, but this was an English bottling by "Simon the Cellarer". Nice work, Simon.

This was absolutely lovely too, with notes of creme brulee (we were actually supposed to be having creme brulee with it, but strangely that metamorphosed into a ginger steamed pudding, still very nice). There were notes of caramelised sugar and it was again very seductive. We think it had a rum base which contributed to the touch of molasses. Five stars. 

Here they are, wine 11 on the left and 12 on the right. Some of us took ours outside for the traditional post-dinner gathering and a good time was had.

Thanks very much to G for hosting yet another unique event. It has been a real privilege to taste these amazingly rare and precious wines with you over the years, and as was noted last night, each year seemed to surpass the last. We certainly went out on a high and now on to the next thing!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Burgundy Portfolio en primeur tasting, 12th Jan

On Thursday evening, just as the first (and hopefully last) snow of the year was beginning to fall, I made my way over to the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green for the annual tasting of en primeur Burgundy, hosted by ACC of the Burgundy Portfolio.

We were in a different room this year, which required navigation down a very long corridor and up some stairs, but once inside there was the welcome sight of tables of booze and a gentle hubbub of Burgundy enthusiasts getting stuck in, including some old friends.

This will mainly be a photographic post, and edited highlights for me as there was too much to report on bottle by bottle. I did find some divergence of opinion this year but also some areas of agreement.

Nathalie Fevre was unable to be present but her wines spoke for themselves. I'd heard slightly worrying things about some of the 2015 whites, and there seems to be a view that they are for drinking in the mid-term rather than the long term. I would have no hesitation about buying the Fevre wines, and the village Chablis always seems to go down very well at the office Christmas party.

A mixed bag of other whites here - some more Chablis from the Gueguens (possibly a bit sharper than the Fevre Chablis, which isn't a criticism) and some whites from Maison en Belles Lies of which the Santenay was particularly interesting, with a kind of mushroomy thing going on.

In typical AduV style, my photos of my favourite whites of the evening, from Domaine Albert Joly, turned out blurry and unpublishable. I usually love these wines and there was no flabbiness in evidence here! I'll certainly be adding 2015 to my Puligny Tremblots ladder and once again I thought the Bourgogne Blanc was the equivalent of a village level wine.

On the next table, Vincent Perrin and his son Guillaume were presenting their wines, mostly from Volnay. This was the first vintage vinified by Guillaume and it's good to know that the future of this domaine is in safe hands. The premier cru Gigottes is an old favourite but this year it had competition from the premier cru Mitans which impressed everyone. I also have a soft spot for the Pommard.

I enjoyed trying this Irancy from Domaine Gueguen, which had an amazing nose of blackcurrants, and might see if someone wants to share a case with me.

Romain Chapuis's reds come in at a nice level price-wise. I liked the Chorey (no change there) and I found the Maranges very enticing too, with some earthy characteristics.

Action shot of the Baron going in for some Maison en Belle Lies reds! Actually, he was just rearranging them so that I could get a better photo.

There we are. It was good to see old favourite L'Etrange making an appearance this year and the Hautes-Cotes de Beaune was a bit heavier than usual. I liked the Maranges premier cru very much and the Corton was amazing, but out of my price range. I'm hoping someone else will buy it and share it with me...

On the next table, Julien Petitjean of Domaine de la Roseraie was presenting his wines, on his first visit to the en primeur tasting. This domaine was previously based in Puligny but has now moved to Beaune. We started with the Beaune Blanc, which is a style of wine I usually enjoy and this was no exception. It's made using traditional techniques and was elegant with a good finish.

The Bourgogne Rouge and red Beaune were also very good but the jewel in the crown of this domaine is the "Eponyme" which Julien makes using the best grapes from all his vineyards, and treads by foot! The mix also includes 10% white grapes. It's only available in magnum as that size is considered the best for maturing the wine, and I'm going to have to give this some serious thought, as opportunities to drink magnums don't come up that often when you live in a studio flat. On the other hand, 2023 isn't that far away...

We moved on to the other reds and found that Henri Audiffred had delivered the goods, as usual. The red Beaune had its distinctive nose of tropical fruits and I'd like to think I would spot it at 100 paces.

The other reds were all great too. A particular highlight was the Cote de Nuits Village "le Clos de Magny" which ACC had added to the offering this year. "So delicious I drank it" read my notes, which tell you all you need to know, as this year I did actually remember to spit most of the wines out.

I have six-packs of the Vosne-Romanee Aux Champs Perdrix going back to 2010 so am a committed enthusiast for this wine. Will I be going for the 2015 too? Hell yes.

I didn't take photos of the two wines from Domaine Trichard, the Brouilly and the Cote de Brouilly, but both G and I liked these and as ever, Beaujolais seems very good value these days. Having said which, the prices in the offer are very fair in my opinion, and in most cases only slightly higher than last year, which considering how the 2016 vintage has seen a drastic reduction in volume is very decent of all concerned.

After the tasting, G and I were privileged to be invited to join the growers and ACC for dinner in a private room next door, and a lively time was had explaining customs such as "Do you know the Bishop of Norwich". There was also some talk of attending the Elegance de Volnay festival in June. I missed out on it last year due to work commitments, but I'm hoping I can plan a bit better this year as it sounds amazing - not least because the proceedings commence with gougeres at 11.00 a.m!

Thanks very much to ACC, Vincent and Guillaume Perrin, and Julien Petitjean, for a great evening.