This was the star wine in a star line-up at Tuesday’s lunch. Just thrillingly good.
Chateau d’Yquem 1986 Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
Powerful, spicy and intense with lovely flavours of marmalade, apricot, spice and citrus, as well as some sweet melon notes and a delicious creaminess. There’s also a hint of white pepper. This is tantalising. So spicy and profound. 97/100
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Had a great lunch at The Glasshouse restaurant in Kew yesterday, hosted by Keith Prothero. In attendance: Malcolm Thwaites, Greg Sherwood and me. The Glasshouse is such a great restaurant. I have never been disappointed with the food there: really beautifully presented, but also perfectly judged flavours. And the service is super – we were looked after so well, and new-ish sommelier Milena Francisco (pictured above) has really shaped the list there nicely.
We had eight exceptional wines, which I will write up in three posts, because they deserve the attention. It is so great to be able to actually drink wines like these: a quarter of a bottle each, rather than the small pours you get at a larger gathering. There’s only limited joy in a single mouthful of truly great wine. So I’ll start with the three Rhones. We tasted everything blind, so my notes are a mix of blind and sighted descriptors.
Chave Hermitage Blanc 1990 Northern Rhone, France
Quite deep yellow in colour. Mature nose with toast, apricot, nuts and some honey. The palate is rich, and although it is dry, it has a sort of resolved sweetness, and attractive crystalline fruits, with a broad texture and low acidity. Beautifully expressive with a lovely mineral core to the sweet fruit. 94/100
Chave Hermitage 1983 Northern Rhone, France
Very mineral with notes of tar, mint, herbs and spice on the nose. This is probably the best example of this vintage that I’ve tried. Savoury and spicy on the palate with good detail and nice acidity. Linear and precise with good purity, and hints of earth. Showing real finesse. 95/100
Guigal La Turque Cote Rotie 1986 Northern Rhone, France
This took quite a while to reveal itself, initially coming across as shy and reserved. It’s quite iodine with savoury spices and minerals, as well as some earthiness, but very nicely focused cherry and raspberry fruit. Sanguine, with notes of blood and iron filings adding interest to the fresh fruit and more mineral characters. Worth the wait to see it come round. 95/100
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Loved this, in the village of Virollet
For the last week I have been on holiday in France. A cousin’s wedding in Vouharte, in the Charente, gave us the perfect opportunity to get together as an extended family. So the four Goode children, their spouses, and their 11 children (ranging in age from 8-18, but with a strong focus on the teen years) shared some time at a set of Gites in Gemozac, before repairing to Vouharte where the 19 of us shared a house in the village that was in the process of renovation, sleeping a family to a room. It was like a very posh squat, but accommodation options in a small village are limited, and none of us fancied the trek to Angouleme and back each evening.
Saint Palais sur Mer
The wedding itself was the first time that all my cousins, plus the cousins of the other side of the family, had found the chance to get together, and it was superb fun. It’s great to have a very large extended family event like this, although the groom’s side of the family may have felt a little outnumbered.
Dominic, Jamie and William
Having three generations together like this brings a sense of perspective. It helps us understand our place in the order of things. It helps me remember that not everything revolves around me and my peers: we are just part of a circle, and soon others will take our place, and our role will have changed. The transitions of life are not something to be avoided or resisted.
We managed to have some enjoyable experiences, including a day at the beach, some go-karting, visiting a Cognac producer, a trip down a beautiful river in Pons via kayak, an outing to Saintes, a trip to Vertuil where other cousins have a pad, and a large volleyball tournament (where our side, the Steeles, narrowly missed out on the final to Met Police 1). And of course, the wedding itself.
The Charente is not an obvious holiday destination, but it’s a wonderfully French part of France, dominated by small, mostly pretty villages and towns, and a gently undulating vista dominated by fields of sunflowers and Cognac vineyards.
So, wine. This wasn’t really a wine-focused holiday. I had some nice local wines, including a couple of good whites from Domaine Garderat: a zippy Colombard 2013 and a bright, focused Sauvignon 2013.
Rosé was the key wine. My brother-in-law had ordered 108 bottles from Patrick Mourlan at Domaine Bastide des Oliviers, almost all of which were the regular 2013 cuvée. It’s an organic domaine and the wine is very good. In the mix Patrick included a bottle of ‘Le Naturel de Vigneron’ 2013. This was the sans soufre cuvée he makes, and it was quite delicious.
So restaurant wine lists are too trendy? Sommeliers guilty of forcing their esoteric tastes on punters? Should restaurants give their customers what they’d like, rather than what they should like?
Look: if you want the familiar and the comfortable, go to your neighbourhood bistro, or a chain, or any one of the gazillions of cheap ethnic restaurants, where you are guaranteed no nasty surprises.
Or, if you want comfortable, unimaginative eating but want to pay top dollar and have the illusion you are eating the finest, go to a large five star London hotel and eat in the restaurant there.
But the reason we go to high end restaurants is to appreciate the work of professionals at the top of their game. We want to be challenged with brave and imaginative cooking. And we expect the same of the wine list. That’s what top sommeliers are hired for. They are not being too trendy. They are doing their job.
So, I’m on holiday with my extended family in the Charente, attending a family wedding tomorrow. It’s not wine country, really – although a few wines are made here, the extensive vineyards around where we are staying pretty much all go into Cognac. Colombard and Ugni Blanc are the grape varieties, although small amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are grown to make the red version of Pineau des Charentes (a sweet fortified wine, made by adding Cognac eau de vie to partially fermented grape must).
The Cognac producer we chose to visit was a small local one, Les Grands Pateurs, which is run by Didier Charrassier. It’s located in Gemozac, and the family have 18 hectares of vines, and make both Cognac and Pineau.
We arrived as a fairly large group (three brothers in law, the older three children, and the owners of the gites we are all staying in). Didier was busy elsewhere, so initially we were hosted by his father and mother. His father, the 81-year-old Bernard, was fabulous. He explained the production process, and showed us some 90-year-old vines planted by his father, as well as conducting a tasting.
It really was a lovely visit. France does these small family businesses so well. The Cognacs were really lovely, especially the 25 year old XO, which we all bought (a very reasonable 40 Euros a bottle). Here are my notes of the tasting, but bear in mind that I don’t claim to be a Cognac expert.
Les Grands Pateurs Cognac VS (5 years old)
Yellow coloured. Fresh, bright and lively with citrus notes, a bit of grip, and a warming finish. Nice density. 7/10 (18 Euros)
Les Grands Pateurs Cognac VSOP (8 years old)
Yellow/orange colour. Some spice, citrus and a nice orange peel complexity. Some aniseed, too. Warm and rounded but with freshness at the same time. 7.5/10 (25 Euros)
Les Grands Pateurs Cognac XO (25 years old)
Mahogany colour. Very rich, rounded and bold with raisin, cedar and spice aromas and a lovely texture in the mouth. Rich and unctuous with intense, concentrated flavours. Delicious. 9/10
One of the most exciting wines of my Oregon trip was also one of the last. It was at Antica Terra with the fabulous Maggie Harrison, on a day in wine country nicely captured in pictures with my travelling companion Elaine Brown here.
When it came to tasting Maggie’s wines, I was a little apprehensive. She was very charming and smart, but she trained with Manfred at Sine Qua Non – wines that are not made in a style that I really enjoy. Fortunately, Maggie’s wines reflect more her size than Manfred’s, and are really compelling. This Pinot was especially beguiling.
Antica Terra Antikythera Pinot Noir 2011 Oregon
12.5% alcohol. Very pure, fresh, supple and bright with red cherry and raspberry fruit. Quite pure and precise; juicy and focused with a lovely pure streak of cherry fruit. Lovely precision. Maggie says that it has a non-fruit intensity, a gravelly complexity about it, and I agree. It certainly has plenty of fruit, but it isn’t about the fruit. 95/100
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One of the star wines at this year’s IPNC was actually a dry Riesling. Erni Loosen popped by the table I was at with a remarkable dry Riesling, aged for two years in large barrels on the lees.
It was the 2011 Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Reserve Trocken, and it was remarkably complex, textured and detailed. It’s made from 100 year old ungrafted vines, fermented with indigenous yeasts, and matured for 24 months on the full lees old 1000 liter Fuders.
‘My Dad always told me that my great grandfather produced only dry wines until 1953, when my Dad took over,’says Erni. ‘He told me that my great grandfather always fermented the wines on indigenous yeast and kept the wines minimum 24 to 36 months on the full yeast in the Fuder cask! I always wondered myself, how this could work, because we always had been under the impression, that such a long cask aging would be too oxidative.’
‘Years ago, I started to mature all my dry wines for 12 months on the full yeast in the old Fuder cask, what already made the wines more complex. With learning by doing, we found out that the 24 month aging on the full yeast in cask, made the wines even more elegant, than the ones which been 12 months on the yeast! Just the opposite you would think! At least there is something right, what they did 100 years ago and without turning the wines to “vin orange” or “vin Naturelle”!’
Tried these rather lovely wines from the Okanagan Valley in Canada, and thought they deserved a write-up, even though they might be hard to find. You heard it here folks: Canada deserves to be taken seriously for both Riesling and Syrah.
Le Vieux Pin Tramonto Syrah 2010 Okanagan Valley, Canada
A private label from the Okanagan, just 49 cases made. Vivid black cherry and plum fruit with pepper, spice, cloves and olives. Fresh and pure with real intensity, very much in a northern Rhône style. 92/100
Synchromesh Riesling Storm Haven Vineyard 2013 Okanagan Valley, Canada
Lovely balance here: lemons, minerals and lovely precision. A really stylish dry Riesling of great appeal. 92/100
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Fred Savart’s Champagnes are the real deal. His elevage is in a mixture of oak and now concrete, and the production here consists of small volume, terroir focused wines. I’ve reviewed one of these wines before, and this time round, I gave it an equally high rating. UK agent is Indigo Wine.
Champagne Savart L’Accomplie 1er Cru NV
80 Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay, base vintage is 2010. Taut, complex citrus fruit with amazing precision and finesse. Just beautiful in a really pure style. 95/100
Champagne Savart Calliope Extra Brut NV
From the 2007 vintage. Taut, dense and toasty with powerful flavours of citrus and herbs. Nice density here: a structured wine with good focus. 93/100
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So enjoyed this wine. It’s a Piedmont Barbera aged for four months in large botti, from limestone soils at 420-460 m.
Bochis Francesco Langhe Barbera Dogliano 2012 Piedmont, Italy
13% alcohol. Lovely black cherry and plum fruit: sleek, pure and fresh. Fine and elegant with some grippy structure and a bit of damson to complement the raspberry and black cherry fruit. A lovely wine of great purity and finesse. 93/100 (£12.50 Haynes, Hanson & Clark)