Thursday, October 12, 2017

Trip to Finger Lakes part I - Ravines Wine Cellars

G and I are back from our visit to the Finger Lakes, and we had an absolutely amazing time. We stayed with D who lives in the middle of nowhere with no internet or mobile phone signal, just lots of woods, peace and quiet. I can see why he likes it there so much.

We arrived on Tuesday evening and the next day, we drove out to the Finger Lakes for what turned out to be the first of three days of intensive wine tasting. Heaven! On our first day, we visited Keuka Lake and our first stop was Ravines Wine Cellars, which is run by Morten and Lisa Hallgren, who are friends of D. We were treated to a tour of the winery by Morten. This was on 20th Sept and they were in the middle of the harvest so it was very kind of him to make the time.

The winery was very impressive with its state of the art equipment and enormous stainless steel tanks, and we discovered that Morten had been to the wine school in Montpellier and spent a year at Cos d'Estournel. He's all about making wines for the long term.

Then we were treated to a tasting of eight wines and I can honestly say they were all excellent. The Finger Lakes are perhaps known best for their rieslings and we tried three of these.

The 2015 dry riesling had a lovely floral, limey nose and was zingy with good acidity, elegant and serious, with a great finish. I thought it would go very well with oily fish and at just 12.5% nothing to frighten the horses. The 2015 from the White Springs vineyard was richer, with peach and citrus and was very special, with a finish which lasted for minutes.

Then we got to try a 2007 riesling, which was very Germanic on the nose. Apparently 2007 was a warm vintage and this was close to its peak at 10 yars. It had a wonderful line of acidity down the middle, a great backbone, and showed that these wines are built to last.

Next up was a barrel-fermented chardonnay 2015 and Morten explained to us that he has a special technique with this, and 15% of the grapes went through a dehydration process. For me this had nuttiness and notes of toasted bread, almost brioche.

Then we moved on to cabernet franc. Morten told us they are trying to make the Finger Lakes synonymous with cabernet franc and put the area on the map. Apparently it's overtaken pinot noir as the leading red in the area, possibly because it's more forgiving. More on that later... The 2015 was certainly a great example of the genre, dark purple with lovely juicy fruit. G said it was crying out for goat's cheese, while Morten mentioned a charcuterie plate. It was lively and croquant now but could easily be put away for 5 years. I see Morten actually said it could be put away for 10 years!

After that, we had a cabernet blend from 2005. We subsequently found out that many wineries in the area make a blend like this and it's usually called "Meritage", some weird invented name which I'd never come across before. The example at Ravines was made from 50% cabernet franc, 30% cabernet sauvignon and 20% merlot. My notes read that it smelled divine and G said it was "wholly successful" as a claret substitute. It had a cedary thing going on, lovely fruit and elegance. Morten said that they couldn't pursue the newer, more luscious style in the Finger Lakes and he's not interested in competing with Chile or Australia. Not arguing with that. This wine still seemed very young, and I reckon you could keep it another 10 or maybe 20 years.

Next we had another chardonnay, from 2014, which was unoaked. This was from the Argetsinger vineyard. It had a gentle florality on the nose and I detected apricots and stone fruit on the palate. Again it had an amazing finish. It struck me as being a gastronomic wine and we brought a bottle back which we had at lunch on Sunday, when its elegance really struck me again and it reminded us of an Auxey-Duresses. It went brilliantly with smoked salmon and was generally very classy indeed.

Finally, we tried this 2013 late harvest vignoles. This is a botrytised wine and they only make it when the conditions are right. It had a lovely nose of apricot jam and an amazing gooey, velvety texture. It had great acidity to balance the sweetness and again the finish was extraordinary. "Good god" said G. Morten told us that their chef was enjoying himself making things to go with it. I wanted some blue cheese right there and then. If I tell you that we bought two halves to bring back with us, that gives some indication of how fabulous this wine was.

This was a really impressive tasting and enormous thanks to Morten for taking time off to show us the range. I just wish we could get them in the UK...

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Lunch at mine, Sunday 10th Sept

Last Sunday, I hosted lunch at my place with D and G. We kicked off with this Combe d'Eve 2010 which is a Cote de Beaune white from the biodynamic winemaker Emmanuel Giboulot. I had just got it out of storage a couple of days earlier and was eager to try it.

It was still very fresh and had excellent grip along with citrus and florality. The finish went on for minutes, and I detected notes of lemon zest and maybe even lemon syllabub, getting fancy here!

It was drinking very well now and G and I had another bottle on Tuesday so I don't think it will be hanging about for long. On Sunday we drank it as an aperitif and also with the portion of watercress soup which remained after the blender decided to shoot it all over the kitchen. However, I think in future I'll be drinking it with fish.

G's cooking, on the other hand, was impeccable and this was a stunning piece of brill, which barely fitted into the roasting tray!

With that, we had this Meursault 1990 from Abel Garnier which we first tried back at Easter. Once again, it was a specatcular deep gold colour and very gastronomic. Obviously it was fully mature, and we had a slight wobble wondering if it was all right, but we hung in there and were rewarded for our patience. As on previous occasions, it had a certain mushroomy quality, and was rich and mouthfilling.

With the cheese course, which consisted of far too much goat's cheese in my opinion, which reminds me, not sure why G is taking so long to set up his Odyssey de Chevre blog - we had this 2002 Clos Des Papes Chateauneuf from Paul Avril, provided by G who picked up a couple of bottles recently.

My god. I put my nose in the glass and made some unbecoming guttural noises much to D's amusement. It was extraordinary, drinking perfectly now, big, rich and delicious and extremely decadent. I always thought I was a Northern Rhone fan but this wine made me reassess that completely. There was some debate about whether the fruit was red or black but the balance and structure were perfect and the finish was amazing. G tells me that this vintage isn't highly regarded but as is so often the case, it seems it just needed time to come round and means bon rapport qualité prix for us!

We finished off with the most expensive strawberries in history along with this half of Aigle Blanc Vouvray 1989 which was a very enjoyable middleweight sweetie. It had notes of nectarine and apricot and D spotted some mint on the finish. G got this for a song some time ago, which was particularly pleasing!

We finished off with coffee, marc and chocolates, and looked at D's recent bin label acquisitions. I hope to see them in situ when we go to visit him in the Finger Lakes next week. Hopefully there will be a full report when we get back, bears willing...

Saturday, September 09, 2017

SPNS dinner, 6th Sept

On Wednesday night, it was over to the Savile Club, fuelled by the Atomic Blonde soundtrack. I was transporting precious cargo across London, not a wristwatch containing secret codenames, but this 2014 pink fizz from Domaine Alice Beaufort which had been stashed in the boardroom fridge all afternoon to keep it away from the prying eyes of my colleagues.

I first tried this at a wine tasting held by the Burgundy Portfolio at Highbury Library and maybe the fact that it was my birthday that night had something to do with it but it was love at first taste. It's made from pinot noir grown just outside Champagne, but the winemaker, Quentin Beaufort, comes from a family which makes Champagne so he knows what he's doing.

What did the assembled company think? Notes of wild or tinned strawberries were detected and there was a reference to Eton Mess. Dangerously drinkable was the general verdict. "Easy to have too much" said P. Say what? There was some debate about whether it would age further. ACC is convinced that it will, but I only have three bottles left, one of which is in the fridge, so I don't give much for its chances.

We moved upstairs to the dining room and straight onto a pair of whites. First was this 2014 Chardonnay Barrel Select no. 02 from Domaine LeSeurre in the Finger Lakes, provided by D. This was a revelation. I would never have guessed it was chardonnay. For me, it had notes of lime and it reminded me of a really elegant riesling. It had an amazing finish and was highly regarded by everyone.

As you can see from the above, the winemakers at this domaine are French. I hope we get to go there in a couple of weeks' time. ACC said that maybe it was a different clone of chardonnay from the one which we're more used to, which might explain why it flummoxed us.

The other white was this Bourgogne Chardonnay 2013 from Domaine Albert Joly, provided by ACC. Funnily enough the 2012 has been my house white lately, so this was particularly interesting for me. The 2012 is definitely playing at village Puligny level, and has that strict thing going on which we love about this domaine, but the 2013 was fuller, richer and more powerful. G said it was less serious than the LeSeurre but that wasn't a criticism!

I took a photo so that we could compare the colour of the two wines. G remarked that normally you'd expect the New World wine to be the one on the left. Not this time!

With our main courses we moved on to the reds. P had brought along this Nuits-St-Georges 1999 from Jaffelin and enjoyed telling us how little it had cost him back in the day. It was classic old school NSG, drinking very nicely now with resolved tannins. Sometimes I find NSG a bit challenging but this went down just fine. It even got a "Wow" from D which isn't something we see very often!

G, on the other hand, had brought along a dodgy Croatian red made by the waiter in a restaurant where he dined while on holiday recently. Apparently "moje corno" means "my red". It was 15% and first impressions were that it was weird, certainly the nose was a bit strange. I got a lot of black cherry. It did have an extraordinary finish and reminded D of an old zinfandel. Generally I would have to say the reaction wasn't enthusiastic, but it was certainly unusual and very much in the spirit of the SPNS.

G redeemed himself with a bonus wine, a bottle of "Very Old East India Madeira" bottled by Berry Bros in 1959. Apparently it was a leaky bottle which is why he brought it along. The leakiness didn't prove to be a problem. For me it had lots of toffee and caramel which made sense when it was revealed that it was a Malmsey. "Absolutely splendid" said G and nobody in their right mind would argue with that. A pleasure to drink. More leaky bottles please!

Thanks everyone for another great evening.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Lunch at mine, Sunday 6th August

Last Sunday, the boys came round for lunch at my place. Supplies had been procured the previous day, as witnessed by my brother and sister-in-law who bumped into me carrying about 50 kg of food back along Goodge Street, and the pork was in the oven by 7.30 a.m. Fortunately we seem to be into autumn in London now so it wasn't unbearably hot. I'm sure the neighbours enjoyed the smells emanating into the corridor!

We started with a fizz brought by ACC, which was this Vin Petillant Naturel made by Romain Chapuis.

We loved the label, and the wine too. It was very refreshing and we wondered if the grape was muscat, because it was quite grapey. It turned out it was gewurztraminer! I would never have guessed.

Not what we were expecting

I got up to sort out the smoked salmon and left G to decant the next wine, a white Corton 2008 from Domaine Parent. As G began to pour it into the decanter, we all got a shock. It was red! And yet clearly in a bottle with the white label - the gold trim rather than the red. Not sure what happened there. G and I drank it the next day and we'll never know what it actually was, but felt that it wasn't a Corton as it was lacking that wild quality, so probably a Pommard with some age on. It had big shoulders and was fully mature. No hardship.

Fortunately, past experience has shown it's always a good idea to have a backup white, and I was very glad I'd taken the precaution of putting this Chablis 1er cru Montmains 2010 from La Maison Romane in the fridge. It was stunning as usual, rich and bigger than your average Chablis.

I'd remembered that I had this magnum of Moulin a Vent 2009 from Trichard tucked away and given that Beaujolais has a great affinity with pork, decided this would be a good opportunity to drink it. The four years or so it had spent in the wardrobe had done it no harm at all. I chilled it slightly, and it positively whizzed round the table. It was magical, with a heavenly perfume, very smooth and drinking perfectly now.

Rare sighting of a green vegetable!

With the cheese course, we had another wine from La Maison Romane (in fact the Oroncio sub-brand) - a Chateauneuf du Pape La Primaute 2007. G picked this up from a shop in Beaune on our recent visit. We'd never come across it before and I have a feeling it was the last bottle in the shop. It was splendid, the Platonic ideal of Chateauneuf with ripe Grenache fruit, juicy and sweet. For once, the bottle admitted to 14.5% as opposed to Oronce's usual 12.5%.

The Baron goes in for some cheese

We finished off with coffee, some lovely artisinal chocolates brought by the Baron, and a couple of digestifs - this Calvados which I picked up in Beaune, and a Marc de Bourgogne "hors d'age" from Pierre Fenals which recently landed and is available from the Burgundy Portfolio. The Baron gave us a wonderful reading of Arabella Fotherington-Tomas's school song from the Compleet Molesworth, and our Sunday afternoon was complete. Thanks to all!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Lunch at Le Bouchon du Palais, Dijon, 27th June

On Tuesday morning, there was just time for a final trip to Mes Bourgognes to pick up some goodies to take home, and then we packed up our belongings and travelled slowly in convoy down to the station, fortunately only a five minute walk. We caught the train to Dijon and then attempted to make sense of the left luggage situation. Fortunately the boys had prior experience of this, which involves buying a ticket at the station but then depositing the actual luggage at a hotel a couple of minutes' walk away.

Duly unburdened, we strolled into town to our lunch destination, Le Bouchon du Palais. ACC and G discovered this place last year, and had raved about it, so I was intrigued. It's tucked away in a sleepy little square behind la Place de la Liberation, and there were tables set outside, so we decided to sit at one of those.

First up were some aperitifs. I foolishly went for a glass of cremant, while G ordered a Pontarlier which turned out to be an extremely superior anis and much research since we've been home reveals that it's not available in the UK, sparking dreams of starting an import business.

We had a pot of white wine with our starters.

G had this house terrine...

...but I was thrilled to get this fried camembert which was absolutely huge, in case you can't tell. And this was a starter! It was cooked to perfection, all gooey inside.

For our red, we had this Beaujolais Le Ronsay 2015 from Jean-Paul Brun, which is one of these very pure, natural Beaujolais which I particularly enjoy.

As a main course, I went for this chicken dish which I'd heard was the thing to have. The waiter asked me if I knew what it was, and as I wasn't entirely sure, he then explained it to me. It was a chicken supreme swimming in a cheesy sauce made with three different cheeses. Amazing.

For pudding, G had ice cream, while ACC and I went for profiteroles, which was scarcely necessary in my case, but I justified it to myself on the grounds that we weren't going to have time for dinner that evening.

We lazed around for a bit in the sun and watched a little dog wandering around the square. I had spotted a sign for "Luxury Flat in Dijon" on the wall behind us and it appears that they have three flats right next door. The temptation to pack it all in and just move there was very strong!

We also spotted an open window into some legal offices and ACC reminded me of the scene in Engrenages when Monsieur le Juge had his diary stolen. I was just waiting for Josephine Karlsson or Pierre Clement to walk past, but we were a far cry from that gritty series.

In case it's not obvious from the above, I loved everything about Le Bouchon du Palais. The drinks, the food, and the relaxed yet charming service were all perfect and this was possibly my favourite meal of the entire trip.

There was time for a wander round Dijon before catching the TGV back to Paris. I'd made the schoolgirl error of booking the Eurostar before booking the TGV and then finding that there wasn't a TGV that gave us a comfortable time to get across Paris, so there was a crazy rush involving the dystopian RER system, followed by the dystopian passport control at the Gare du Nord, but fortified by cheese, chicken and profiteroles somehow we made it onto the Eurostar train with seconds to spare!

Many thanks to ACC for organising yet another fabulous trip. We packed so much in to a short space of time and as always it was great to be in Burgundy, the place where the magic happens. Until next time...

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Evening at La Dilettante, 26th June

Just a short one today... On Monday evening, we met up with ACC and Vincent Perrin at La Dilettante, and spent a cheerful evening discussing everything under the sun and drinking some excellent booze, see below. As at the old Caves Madeleine which Lolo used to run before opening La Dilettante, the wines are set out on shelves and make for exciting browsing - it's almost like being in a bookshop!

This was an Arbois white from Domaine du Pelican, which is the Marquis D'Angerville's outpost in Jura, and G recalls that it was very pure.

Then we had an Arbois pinot noir, l'Aide-memoire, which was relatively light and just 12.5% alcohol.

We finished off with the amusingly-named L'arselle Collines Rhodaniennes from Bouillot-Salomon, which was from the Rhone, heftier and more animal.

At one point Vincent was talking about labels, and it's noticeable that many of these wines now have much more artistic, eye-catching labels than the traditional Burgundy label. It seems to be the way forward.

We also talked a lot about Saturday night at the Elegance des Volnays dinner and how interesting it had been for us to try so many different vintages of the same wine. Vincent used the word "partager" (i.e. sharing) several times, and indeed that's what it was all about really. And we talked about bottle sizes and how wines from magnum really do seem to age better, even further down the spectrum. The white St-Romain from Domaine Perrin being a good example. Apparently Guillaume has been keen to bottle in magnum and Vincent is coming round to his way of thinking!

An honourable mention should go to the food at La Dilettante. We had an amazing charcuterie plate, an amazing cheese plate, an amazing salad (dressed with hazelnut oil) which perked us up a lot, and the best croque monsieur I've ever had. I'm looking forward to going back and having it again!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Tasting at Domaine Audiffred, 26th June

As if the day hadn't already been very enjoyable, in the afternoon we travelled up to Vosne-Romanee to visit Henri Audiffred at his domaine. This was my fourth visit here, and always a good time is had.

In fact, on the Eurostar trip up on the Friday, we'd been feeling a bit stressed out right up to the point where I opened a bottle of Audiffred Bourgogne Rouge 2011, which I've just got out of storage, and the world suddenly became a much happier place.

We were slightly early, so loitered suspiciously by the vineyards while curtains were twitched in the house across the road. Then Henri came along riding a little tractor thing (technical term) and it was time to begin!

Four wines were laid out for the tasting, and some extras were added in along the way. For once, I made proper tasting notes so can give a more comprehensive report. We started with an Aligote 2016 which had been put in bottle just last week - it still had a slight prickle. This had a lovely nose and was floral and fresh, with great acidity, precision and elegance. I could easily have got stuck in there and then!

Next up was a Beaune Blanc 2015. This had notes of tropical fruit (G said passion fruit, I got mango) and was very attractive. We thought it was one to drink sooner rather than later, as seems to be the case with the 2015 white wines in general.

The third wine was a Nuits-St-Georges Les Argillats 2012. For me, this smelled like summer berry compote and was on the light and elegant side for Nuits, which suited me just fine.

The Pommard 2013 was very different, with earthy notes and, for me, prunes, while ACC mentioned black cherry. It was heavier but still light by most Pommard standards.

Want. It. All. 
Then it was on to the Vosne-Romanee 2012, which is made from three different parcels. "God, that's good," state my notes, while ACC said it was very stylish. There were notes of blackcurrant and it was quite light again and with a great finish. Pure pleasure, and a great expression of the village.

At this point, Henri offered us a mystery wine, which put us on the spot! What could it be? It was very purple in colour and quite sweet with a lovely texture. I guessed that it was a Gevrey-Chambertin. Wrong! It was Cotes de Nuits Villages 2015. Very impressive and, as usual with Henri's wines, playing in a league at least one notch up from its appellation.

Finally, we did get to taste an actual Gevrey, possibly to show us the difference, the Gevrey les Marchais 2012. It was absolutely lovely, relatively delicate and elegant for a Gevrey and I detected strawberries but the classic liquorice thing was also present and correct. G's notes report that "animal noises of pleasure were made" and go on to say "Buy all the wine!" I can't argue with that.

Thanks very much to Henri as always for a wonderful tasting.