Sunday, November 11, 2012

La Maison Romane dinner, 1st November

This dinner, arranged by ACC of the Burgundy Portfolio, was held a week ago last Thursday at the Cavalry and Guards club on Piccadilly.

I identified the building by the gaggle of tall young men in black tie hanging around outside and made my way up the impressive staircase behind some of the same chaps - fortunately they were going to a different event otherwise I'd have been seriously underdressed! As it was, I committed a major faux pas by not leaving my coat downstairs, and probably won't be allowed back.

It's a very posh club, and we had a private room where a table was laid for 14. There was a distinct horse motif to the room which was no coincidence. La Maison Romane is based in Vosne-Romanee and run by Oronce de Beler whose USP that he uses a horse, Prosper, to plough various vineyards and then receives payment in kind in the form of grapes. There's a certain secrecy as to whose vineyards these grapes are from but anyone who takes the trouble to get a horse in is someone who goes beyond the usual attention to detail in their winemaking, so this is good stuff.

The above photo is from la Maison Romane's website and stealing from the blurb for the dinner, a quote from Oronce: “Our vigneron-suppliers deal freely with their vines, but all chemical treatments are excluded as we prefer maintaining the vineyards by horse-pulled ploughing. Our chosen vineyards are mostly biodynamic, too. All the grapes are hand-picked and thanks to a contract with the vigneron-suppliers, we harvest the very same rows of vines that we work on throughout the year. The whole bunch (including mature stems) is then sorted by hand again in the fermenting room so that only the finest grapes are pressed. The wines are then aged in old Tronçay forest oak barrels for between 15 and 19 months. The wines develop according to the lunar cycle and are then hand-bottled by gravity. All these methods allow us to get the very best final product.”

En aperitif, I was given a glass of lovely-looking golden liquid which got my senses tingling right away. It was rich and intriguing yet bone dry on the finish. I assumed it was something from the Cote d'Or so was taken aback to find that it was actually a Pouilly-Fume 2008 from the Loire. Really quite remarkable.

After that, we sat down for the meal and I was lucky enough to be seated next to Paul who works at the domaine with Oronce and was there to talk us through the wines. So I was able to get the low-down straight from the horse's mouth, groan. His English was excellent which was a relief as I had things I wanted to ask - most of all, what does the horse do that a tractor doesn't? He told me that the horse doesn't compress the soil and so leaves more air in it for the various micro-organisms to thrive. Also, the chap behind the horse, who controls the plough, can see what he's doing much better than someone in a tractor could.

With the starter, a wild mushroom parfait, we had some 2008 Chablis 1er cru les Montmains and some 2010 Macon Rouge. The 2010 vintage of the Chablis was the big star of the Burgundy Portfolio's January en primeur tasting, and I treated myself to a case which is still in bond waiting for me to get my greedy paws on it. The 2008 was reassuringly good. It was difficult to make tasting notes so apologies if my comments are on the vague side, but this was tres Chablis and went down a storm.

It was also difficult to take photos, since one wished to be civilised and not sit there snapping away like an irritating bloggeuse, so G surreptitiously took some at the end which is why all the bottles appear to be levitating.

Paul described the red Macon as being halfway between a Beaujolais and a Burgundy. It's made from gamay, but had greater depth than your average Beaujolais. G and I had a red Macon quite recently which didn't wow us and I felt that this wine was overshadowed by the rest on offer.

With the main course, a partridge wellington, we had two reds side by side: the Pommard 1er cru L'Argillieres 2008, and the Corton Grand Cru Les Perrieres 2009. The Pommard was full of expressive terroir and I found it powerful and earthy. Paul thought it was showing particularly well.

The Corton took things to another level. It had what can only be described as an unusual nose - definitely not for the faint-hearted with a whiff of the farmyard, sous-bois and something a bit animal going on. On the palate, it was silky and complex - a wine to drink slowly and take seriously. I was advised by ACC to buy some back when it was en primeur and am delighted that I did. I won't rush to get it out though - it was drinking but will probably improve over the next few years.

Finally, with the cheese course, we had the two Star Terre (starter = entry level, ho ho) wines - a syrah and a grenache. In the past I've loved the syrah and not really liked the grenache, no disrespect to the domaine but just a grape preference. On this occasion it appeared to be the other way round which was perplexing but the mystery was solved when we found that our waiter had poured them the wrong way round. Whether this was true for everyone present I'm not sure. There was less to choose between them than there has been in the past, and some present - not naming names - decided to make their own mixed Rhone by combining the two. Disgraceful behaviour!

Paul mentioned in passing that the Scandinavians are very fond of the domaine's white wines, while the Italians and Spanish go for the red. Further questioning revealed that the Chablis is on the wine list at Noma, while some of the reds are on the wine list at a top Spanish restaurant whose name I didn't catch.This is a cult domaine and the stuff isn't cheap, but it's a privilege to drink it. An amazing evening!

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