Wednesday, May 24, 2017

SPNS, 15th May

On Monday night, it was a double bill - first the spring/summer tasting of the Burgundy Portfolio, held in the delightfully-named Dragon Hall, and then off to the Savile for the Swiss Pinot Noir Society. I had to be careful not to overdo it on the former especially as I had a six hour meeting the following day... but was impressed by the range on display which included some lively new additions from autres regions.

After the usual impossibility of finding a black cab in the rain, we eventually made it to the Savile and went straight upstairs to the dining room where a chilled bottle of Etoile was waiting for us, provided by D.

This is a non-vintage fizz made by Chandon in the Napa Valley. For me, it was elegant and relatively light with nice toasty notes and a great finish. Others detected baked apples and butterscotch. G, who has drunk far more champagne than me (she says bitterly), said it reminded him of Krug. A very enjoyable aperitif.

Then it was on to an Austrian rose wine made from pinot noir rose, from Weingut Schlossberg, provided by T. Notes on this were sparse but favourable, the general verdict being that it was a very pleasant, crisp light pink and good summer drinking.

With our main courses, we moved on to a pair of clarets. First was this Chateau Charlemagne 1995 Canon Fronsac from P, who bought it at a very favourable price back in the day. It was fully mature but not over the hill, with resolved tannins and good fruit, and despite quibbling in certain parts about the authenticity of the crown on the label, everyone rated it very highly.

I provided this somewhat mysterious "Pauillac" 2012 which refused to be photographed properly. This came from the Wine Society who state that it is from "one of the area's best-known properties in the heart of the commune". This divided the company with T saying it was wasted on him whereas everyone else seemed to enjoy the big, rich, powerful style. I wonder if it would be worth tucking some away for the future. Distinctly reminiscent of Latour and a fraction of the cost. I'll say no more!

It's always a joy to see a bottle looking like this once the contents are emptied. This was a 1962 South Coast rose muscat from from Massandra in the Crimea. A possible homage to the Ukraine's hosting of Eurovision perhaps? It was provided by G, another auction acquisition.

As is often the case with muscat, one was reminded of Turkish Delight, but for once I didn't find that offputting. It was a beautiful tawny colour, concentrated and luscious, but with good acidity to balance it. Some detected ripe figs, and it certainly went very well with my glazed pear dessert. A very special wine. Thanks everyone for another fascinating evening!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Eurovision party, 13th May

The Eurovision Song Contest always provides a good excuse for a party with its many drinking game opportunities and this year I was joined by G and ACC. We didn't feel the need to wait for a key change to get cracking...

ACC had mentioned that he was going to bring a French pink fizz but we weren't expecting this, which looked dangerously like sparkling shiraz, my least favourite alcoholic beverage of all time. In fact it was a natural wine called Aubunite La Sorga from the Languedoc, which ACC had brought back from a recent trip to Paris. It's made from a grape called Aubun, with which I was not familiar, and was relatively low alcohol at 11%. Once again I have to confess to not making detailed tasting notes, but can confirm we did enjoy it! Très glou-glou. And what a font on the label!

Next up, to accompany some Ginger Pig pork pie and sausage roll, and a couple of token vegetables, was this Fleurie 2011 from Jean Foillard. G brought a bottle of the 2009 vintage back from Brussels of all places last year, and we really enjoyed it. It's one of these very pure Beaujolais which tick the boxes for me. So I went online and randomly found some 2011 and snaffled the lot, only five bottles but I've been working my way through them with great pleasure. As usual, it went very well with charcuterie, and had notes of black cherry. I think it took us a whole 22 minutes to get through it.

Then it was on to a bottle of Terres Burgondes 2011 from Giboulot, which is another light, pretty number with scintillating fruits. I love it, and the 2011 vintage is going down particularly well at the moment.

The rest of the evening is a bit of a blur and for me the winning song was rather dull. I prefer this sort of thing (sample lyrics "Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey!") and was delighted to see Ruslana perform in the interval with a song which was mysteriously similar to her 2004 winner. Altogether now: "Shi-di-ri-di-day, shi-di-ri-di-da-na!"

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Tasting of German wines, 26th April

G kindly invited me to a tasting of German wines in Southwark a few days ago. I accidentally took the long way round out of Waterloo Station and then discovered that my knowledge of the area wasn't as good as I thought it was, but eventually made it to the designated meeting point only about a minute late.

The tasting began with five white Rieslings from the Saar and Mosel, all from the 2014 vintage. They were medium sweet or perhaps off-dry, only about 7.5% alcohol, and with lovely tropical flavours (we seem to be finding passionfruit in everything we drink at the moment!), peach and lime marmalade.

Comments were made about how you could drink these wines at breakfast, or mid-morning, at lunchtime, or in the afternoon in the garden (for those lucky enough to possess such a thing). They were very approachable even so young, with a certain freshness and good acidity, and wonderful length. My favourite was the Erdener Herzlei Spätlese from Weingut Dr Hermann in the Mosel, which positively demanded an apricot tart. It was extraordinary to find that they cost between £7 and £14 at the cellar door, although that was a couple of years ago and G referred to the prices on the tasting sheet as "charmingly inaccurate".

We then moved on to four red wines, all Spätburgunder i.e. Pinot Noir. Unfortunately the photos came out somewhat blurred so I won't post them here but the wines looked beautiful in the glass, a translucent red, and I detected notes of cherry on the nose. Unfortunately on the palate they were not my kind of thing, and I wasn't alone in this. There was a particular unpleasant bitter quality on the finish which reminded me (sensitive readers should look away now) of bile. I didn't say this out loud, but everyone around us poured them away, self included. I had hoped that the first wine was a duffer and I think everyone kept trying to convince themselves that each one was better than the last ("Oh, this is not too bad" said someone about the third) but in my opinion they were all equally awful. Oh well! At least now I know to avoid them in future.

Fortunately we didn't end the evening on a sour note, as the chap who had organised the tasting produced this 1990 Trierer Deutschherrenberg Auslese from the Mosel as the final wine. This was more like it! It was a beautiful golden colour and was absolutely delicious, with floral notes along with the classic petrol of Riesling, and honey. It had great acidity and balance, and a splendid finish, and reminded me of the days when G and I used to drink Bernkastler Bratenhofchen in the late 90s. Wonderful stuff and very generous of the organiser to share it with us. I may not share his taste in reds, but this reminded me how much I love this style of white, and I'll be looking out for it in future.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Recent drinking round-up

Yes, it's time for another Recent Drinking Round-up!

We begin with this Cuvee 11.9% from the Wine Society. It's from California, and had been sitting on my wine rack for a few weeks with the result that I couldn't remember much about it by the time we actually drank it. What grape was it? How much did it cost? I decided not to check until later. The only thing we knew for sure was that it was 11.9% alcohol, which seems remarkably precise.

It was a dark purple colour which reminded me of Gamay, and G described the nose as "sprightly". It seemed young and glossy with notes of black cherry and blackberry. It actually had a finish and we might have thought it was from the Languedoc or something weird from Austria, if we hadn't known it was from California. G correctly identified that it was Syrah, which would explain why I liked it, but the price was rather more than I was expecting at £23 a bottle. Checking just now, I see the Wine Society have it on special offer at £20.50, which is more reasonable.

To the other end of the spectrum... a certain wine merchant brought this Meursault 1990 from Abel Garnier to my attention and a bottle was duly tried as part of a decadent lunch at St John on Good Friday, resulting in a purchase of all remaining stocks. This is an old school Meursault - deep gold in colour, fully mature, with a yeasty, mushroomy quality. G made reference to elderly churches and beeswax. It still has very good acidity and is nicely balanced, austere rather than blowsy. It seems that it had been sitting in the cellar of its previous owner undisturbed for a very long time, and is still drinking well but is unlikely to hang about. "Wholly enjoyable" said G.

I was in Highgate yesterday and took the opportunity to visit the butcher there, but it appears that I have been spoilt by the Ginger Pig as I found the selection rather limited. My plan to slow-roast a piece of pork shoulder had to be abandoned and instead I ended up getting some lamb shanks which went in the slow-cooker. G offered to supply a bottle of this Chateau Batailley 2002 to accompany them, which confirmed my weakness for Pauillac. It was a beautiful dark garnet colour, and had that classic cedary nose. On the palate, we detected blackberry compote, liquorice, tobacco and chocolate. G observed that 21st century claret is designed to be drunk relatively young - this is a mere 15 years old and drinking very nicely now. It's available commercially for £35 a bottle. Apparently 2002 isn't regarded as a particularly good vintage but this wine certainly hit the spot for me.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Dinner at mine, 19th March

Last Sunday, D joined me and G for dinner at AduV Towers.

We kicked off with this 2010 Auxey-Duresses Les Clous from Bavard. It was my final bottle. Fortunately, it turned out to be all right!

It was medium-weight and quite citrussy, with good minerality, and went well with our smoked salmon. G talked about the influence of the grower's village on their wine-making style, and Bavard is based in Puligny. I must find a way to get more Auxey on my wine rack in future, especially since it offers comparatively good value next to the wines of Puligny and Meursault.

Then, with our chicken, apricot and pistachio terrine, we moved on to this 1994 Oregon pinot noir "Laurene" from Domaine Drouhin, brought across the pond by D. This was extraordinarily like old school Burgundy, right down to the hint of the sugar bag. If we'd been tasting it blind, I think we would have guessed a Volnay from the seventies. It was earthy and sweet on the nose with notes of tinned strawberries, had a lovely velvety texture and a great finish. It must have been made with very ripe fruit. D said this winery is still operating but the prices have soared since the early days. Meanwhile G got stuck into the dregs, which tells you how good it was.

Finally, with the cheese course, I produced my old favourite Pommard 1er cru L'Argilliere 2008 from La Maison Romane (as discussed last week). This was my last bottle of this wine too, and again I was relieved that it was how I'd remembered. I find this wine completely heavenly, again with delicious sweet red fruit and yet also elegant, not like your normal powerful Pommard. G described it as premier cru Vosne Romanee which just happens to be made in Pommard. We guzzled it, while hatching plans to visit upstate New York later in the year. I can't wait!

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!