This is amazing. One of the best sparkling wines I’ve tried from the UK. It has been aged on its lees for 70 months. It shows what’s possible in England with a bit of extra time on lees, especially with Chardonnay. I understand the economics, but too many wines are being released before they’ve really had a chance to show what they are capable of.
Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs Late Disgorged 2007 England
12% alcohol. Yellow colour. Lovely balance on the nose with some richer, bready, toasty notes alongside fresh lemons and some ripe apple. The palate has elegance, precision and good concentration of flavour, with nuts, toast, pears, lemons and keen but not harsh acidity. There’s also a very subtle creaminess. This is bright and stylish at the same time. 93/100 (Available in the UK from Selfridges, as of today, I’m just checking the price)
I’ve just written up the launch of Professor Charles Spence’s new book, The Perfect Meal. It’s a really good book that examines how science can help us understand what it is that creates an epic dining experience, and the insights he shared at the launch were brilliant. You can read my extensive report here.
Here’s a short film of the man in action at the launch:
The book itself is fabulous, but it is quite academic, in that it is fully referenced. I should imagine this isn’t a problem to most readers of this blog. It’s certainly accessible to non-scientists, but there’s plenty of scientific meat here to be digested.
López de Heredia, who make Tondonia, is one of the classic old Rioja houses. They are super-traditional, and make fabulously old fashioned and brilliantly ageable wines. They are not for modernists: winemaking here is quite oxidative with extended ageing in oak before release. It’s not quite up to Musar levels, but these wines are a bit of an acquired taste. Once you get a taste for them, however, you are smitten. It’s wonderful how wines that are a technician’s nightmare are some of the most compelling and fine of all. It helps to keep us humble, I guess.
I was really surprised to see this wine in the Co-operative, rubbing shoulders with inexpensive commercial bottlings. Good for the Co-op, listing some geek bait like this, although I am surprised that FMV, the UK agents, sold this to them: it is normally found in independents and it is normally more expensive (Berry Bros & Rudd, who own FMV, are selling this for £29.99).
Viña Tondonia Reserva 2002 Rioja, Spain
13% alcohol. 6 Years in oak. Very appealing young Tondonia, this, with fresh, bright red cherry and berry fruit, some grippy structure, and a savoury personality, kept fresh with high acidity. There are hints of vanilla and spice, with a tight core of fruit and complex notes of tea, earth and minerals. It’s not the greatest vintage of Tondonia, but this is a really lovely wine and it will probably age beautifully, when it will merit a higher score. 92/100 (£19.99 Co-op)
This is one of those distinctive skin contact white wines that I think I liked quite a lot. But I wasn’t totally sure. If you’ve never tried Brettanomyces in white wine, this might be a wine to check out, because I think it has quite high levels. Why wasn’t I sure about it? It’s just so extreme and full-on, a bit like a stinky cheese. Has it gone too far? Well, if you are looking for some casual sipping in front of the TV, yes. But with the right food, this could be a remarkable wine. On balance, I like my orange wines (the name for white wines fermented on their skins like red wines) with less extreme flavours, and a little more prettiness. UK agent is Les Caves de Pyrene.
La Stoppa Ageno 2009 IGT Emilia, Italy
13.5% alcohol. This is a blend of Malvasia di Candia Aromatico and Trebbiano. Orange/bronze colour. Amazing nose of tea, ripe peaches, spice and medicine. There’s lovely rich ripe peach fruit but also structure: it’s very grippy, with a phenolic TCP edge as well as floral complexity. Drying finish. Such a challenging wine, but it has lots of interest, and works best with food. Not for everyone. 91/100 (£25.99 Toast.ED, East Dulwich http://toastdulwich.co.uk/, Ottolenghi, The Arches)
In the wine trade, we taste. And then we spit. Have to, really, otherwise we’d all be permanently drunk and would die young.
Sometimes, though, a wine is too good to spit.
When I was tasting through the icon wines that The Sampler has just put on its enomatics, I found myself instinctively spitting the wines. But then I though, this is madness. Even if I drink all 16 samples I won’t get properly drunk, and there’s no particular reason that getting a tiny bit drunk would be a terrible thing. And some of these wines are so good, it would be utterly wrong to spit them. It would be a sign of disrespect.
How often am I going to get a chance to drink wines like these? This is truly a once in a lifetime experience for most of these wines.
In the end, I did spit some of the wines. Others, though, I swallowed, savoured, and allowed to become part of me, assimilated into my body.
Château Latour 1955 Bordeaux, France Warm, harmonious nose of cherries, leather and earth with a savoury twist to the sweet fruit. The palate still has lots of fruit: there are sweet berries and red cherries, plus a thrilling elegance. Incredible mouthfeel with fine grained, chalky tannins, as well as subtle spice. Taut and correct, this is a sensational bottle. 97/100
Ornellaia 1997 Tuscany, Italy
I didn’t want to like this wine as much as I did, because I am not a fan of super-Tuscans. It has a perfumed nose of ripe blackcurrant fruit with a chalky, mineral edge. It’s very classic and enticing. The palate is superbly elegant and shows smooth, ripe, red berry and cherry fruit with some sweet blackcurrant notes. Ripe yet elegant and just beautiful. 97/100 (£215)
Marques de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Reserva Especial 1942 Rioja, Spain
They don’t make them like this any more. This spent 40 years in barrel. Quite a full colour with a very warm, ripe, sweet nose with a hint of malt and some sweet vanilla and coconut, as well as red cherry fruit. The palate still has some fresh red fruit with a savoury, mineral edge and a super-long finish. There are also some lively citrus peel notes. An amazing wine. 97/100
It was a sort of Christmas party. It was pretty epic.
Noble Rot founders Mark Andrew and Dan Keeling threw a dinner for some of the people involved in the magazine, and I was thrilled to be invited. We headed to Mission E2, bottles in hand, for some banter, food and blind tasting.
The wines came thick and fast, but I still managed to scribble some notes. Notes as written, more or less, before the reveal. The first couple of wines I missed taking notes on, but they deserve a mention. A white Chateauneuf 2012 from St Prefert that was all Clairette, and a Tondonia white of uncertain vintage that tasted quite Tondonia, which isn’t altogether a bad thing (but is quite difficult when you are tasting blind).
Piedrasassi White 2011 Central Coast, California
A blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Albarino. An orange wine. Lovely perfumed aromatics. Lively and ripe with peach, citrus and floral notes. Good balance with some grip under the sweet fruit. Quite thrilling. 93/100
Lafarge Volnay Clos des Chenes 1994 Burgundy, France
Dan bought a couple of bottles of this along, which was tasted sighted but with the vintage hidden. Guesses varied, and no one got it right. I went the oldest at 1996 and was closest. Surprisingly it was a very fresh tasting 94. Tight and fresh but has some age, with firm, grip. Tannic with nice cherry and raspberry fruit, and a hint of earth. 93/100
Leroy Chorey Les Beaune 2003 Burgundy
Fresh cherries and raspberries. Tannic and youthful on one hand, but with some age for sure. A bit grippy with some leathery notes. Grippy and dry: quite Italian in style. It tastes like modern Barolo with its grippy tannins. 90/100
The next wine I have notes on but didn’t write down what it was. This sort of thing happens at dinners like this.
Failla Pinot Noir 2012 Sonoma Coast, California
This tastes like a good new world Pinot Noir. It has sweet, sappy, smooth cherries and berries and it’s smooth and very pure. A ripe style but with lovely definition. 93/100
Ghislain Barthod Chambolle Musigny 2005 Burgundy, France
Grippy, fresh and savoury. Fine-grained tannins with nice savoury notes, and real finesse. Syrah-style Pinot. 93/100
Comtes Lafon Volnay Santenots 1er Cru 2008 Burgundy, France
Grippy, savoury and dense with nice structure. Quite tight black cherry and blackberry fruit with some firmness and lovely density. Serious. 94/100
Thierry Allemand Cornas Chaillots 1999 Northern Rhone, France
Ah, the wine I brought along, and I sort of spotted it. Fresh, lively raspberry and cherry fruit with a bit of spice and some tar. A bit grippy with firm, savoury structure. Youthful but not young. 92/100
Peyre Rose Clos des Cistes 2005 Coteaux du Languedoc, France
This was a nice surprise. Warm, sweet black cherry fruit nose with lovely supple character, hints of violets and some tar. Grippy palate with lovely focus and a nice savoury edge. Lovely stuff. 94/100
Tempier La Migoua Bandol 1993 Roussillon, France
Bretty, warm and a bit animally with spicy black cherry and blackberry fruit. There’s plenty of savoury, animal, meaty spiciness here. 93/100
Behringer Howell Mountain The Colline Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1994 Napa Valley, California
A bit of menthol to the spicy, fresh black cherry fruit with some nice grip. 92/100
The last two weren’t blind.
Corison Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Napa Valley, California
Fresh, fine blackcurrant and red berry fruit with fine herby notes. There’s some real elegance here and a hint of spice. Lovely. 94/100
Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 1992 England
I think this may have been from magnum. I can’t remember that well. But it was wonderfully fresh with rounded, rich, pure per and citrus fruit. Ripe apples, pear and spice on the finish. Still very fresh and quite delicious. Forgot to score it.
London is full of great places to eat, and I had a particularly good run from Sunday to Tuesday with four restaurant visits in three days.
I’ve acknowledged here before that I make no claims to being a restaurant reviewer. It’s very hard to be a good restaurant reviewer. The best ones manage to entertain and still review the restaurant well. When I try, I find that my writing is just boringly sincere. Still, good experiences deserve to be talked about.
Sunday lunch was at Mission E2. I love this place. It was a winemaker lunch with Raj Parr and his brilliant wines. At the beginning everyone was a bit nervous and quiet, but after a glass or two people loosened up and the atmosphere was great. The food, which came on plates for sharing, was excellent. The only problem was that it proved very hard to allocate portions appropriately, and one course ran out before everyone had got some. But the benefit that comes from doing this shared plate model is a wonderful informality, which suits the place well. We had lots of courses, and a lot of wines, and it was a memorable time.
Monday lunch was at Dean Street Townhouse. My second visit. It’s a completely different vibe. This is where you go for posh comfort food: British classics that are, I imagine, immensely reassuring for middle-aged public school educated Brits. I had cod on a bed of lentils and bacon, with a side of garlic mash that I didn’t really need – a dish positively experimental compared with the rest of the menu. The decor is similarly conservative. But I really enjoyed the experience. Wine? A cheap bottle of Swartland Chenin Blanc from Riebeek Cellars. Pure, linear, fruity.
Smoked eel, La Chapelle
Then Monday dinner. It was at Galvin la Chapelle. This is an amazing space: a converted chapel in the city. It has a very high end feel to it, and the service is flawless. The food was seriously good: nothing too flash, just brilliantly executed work with good ingredients. I had a delicious starter of smoked eel, and then an almost perfect chateaubriand. I really enjoyed it, but this is an expensive place. It’s probably worth it, though, for the combination of an amazing space and excellent food.
Finally, Monday lunch. It was at Avenue in St James. This American themed restaurant, part of the D&D group, is excellent. Service is great, and it’s a big, airy, bright, spacious dining room. My only problem is the noise. The acoustics mean that normal conversation levels create a wall of sound, and so you have to shout across the table, which makes things worse. I really enjoyed the food: corn crab and then a brilliant, indulgent, juicy burger of the highest quality. I was having lunch with Marimar Torres, so this was washed down with her impressive Russian River Valley Chardonnays, Albarino and Pinot Noirs.
There’s a problem with wine. It’s just too confusing for normal people to deal with. There are tens of thousands of different products, ranging widely in price and quality, and pretty much all of them packaged the same way. So how do you make a choice? I suppose you could invest lots of time and money in learning about it, but for most this isn’t an option.
This is the problem that Shakira Chanrai’s Grapeful wine app sets out to solve. Only 24, Chanrai left University (politics at LSE) and worked for two years in banking (Mutual Funds Marketing at Fidelity) before leaving to devote all her time to app development. She grew up in a home where wine was always present – her father is a keen collector – but it wasn’t really until university that she got into wine.
This app isn’t for experts; rather it is designed for normal people who want to find out more about wine and make better choices. ‘It’s a way to avoid awkward silences on dates,’ she says. ‘I think wine is a very social product, and you can pull out the app and discuss information that can help form the foundation of decisions.’
The app is free, and available on both android and apple, and it’s just seen an update for Christmas. Food and wine matching is a strong theme, and the app is very educational. There’s also the option to buy examples of the different wine types you are being steered towards through various affiliate links. Chanrai is currently working with restaurants to help people choose wines in places that wouldn’t have a sommelier, which I think is a superb idea.
I’ve played with the app a bit and I think it’s really good. There’s room for more specificity, in terms of the exact food matches and the specific wines that are recommended. I’d like to see this as a sort of virtual sommelier: it would be great if you could type the name of a dish in and then get intelligent automated pairings, or even if you could scan a recipe and then get matches that way. Or what about scanning the label and then being given a recipe that would go well with the wine?
It’s a really good app, and it will be fun to watch it evolve. Rather than expanding it in all directions, though, I think Grapeful should focus on its key strength and become even better at that, as a tool to use in the restaurant and in the kitchen.
This is a lovely, complex, detailed and – in some senses – difficult wine from Benedicte and Stephane Tissot in the Jura. It’s aged for 30 months in barrel under a layer of flor, and was bottled in October 2011. Remarkable stuff. Like strong cheese, it’s not for everyone, but I think it’s hauntingly beautiful and worthy of deep contemplation.
Tissot Savagnin 2008 Jura, France
Amazing nose is complex and lively with ripe apples, citrus fruit, a hint of cider and some tangy, nutty notes. The powerful, tangy palate is very citrussy but also very nutty with a savoury twist, and notes of bread, spice and apples. There’s even some tannic structure. So complex and minerally with keen acidity. 94/100
Gamay. A variety that I’m growing to love. I remember Kermit Lynch memorably describing Beaujolais as ‘the one night stand of wines.’ His point: not every wine has to be serious. Not every wine drinking experience needs to be a great one. I’m sure there are points chasers out there who set themselves a threshold score: ‘no wine rated lower than 92 shall pass my lips!’ But this is to fail to understand what wine is about.
Gamay doesn’t make the sorts of wines that score in the mid-90s with the major critics. This says something about Gamay, but it says something about the critics, too. For me, Gamay can be profound. It can make wines that thrill and enchant. Wines that draw you in with their prettiness, but then compel you to stay as you realize there’s substance and complexity to them. They can have layers. If you just care to look, you find them.
Of course, not all Gamay is interesting. Most is fairly dull. But this applies to any grape variety. When it’s good, though, it’s very good, and Gamay’s time is coming soon. There’s more great Gamay around than ever. The natural wine movement has really helped, because this is a variety that seems to respond well to a natural approach. Tonight I’m drinking a lovely Gamay.
Jean-Paul Brun Terres Dorées Côte de Brouilly 2013 Beaujolais, France
12.5% alcohol. Wild ferment, very low sulfur dioxide levels. Wonderful nose of floral red cherry fruit with a sappy, herby edge and some sweet raspberry notes. Lovely perfume. The palate is very fresh with pure, grippy raspberry fruit. Nice freshness and detail. Incredibly drinkable with no excess weight: lean and pure. 92/100 (£12.80 Savage Selection)