Dinner at Café Sillon, Lyon, with Ganevat and Dard & Ribo

Cafe Sillon Lyon

It was my birthday. And I was in Lyon. And at short notice we managed to get space at the bar at Cafe Sillon, which I’d heard a lot about. It exceeded expectations: the set menu was sensitively cooked and very imaginative, with a couple of options for each course (for a small place like this, offering fewer options is a great idea). But it was the wine list that I was here for: one of those lists where it hurts only being able to order just a couple of bottles. Still, we drank well, revisiting the Grands Teppes from Ganevat that we’d enjoyed back in June, and then smashing a beautifully pure natural northern Rhône.

It was a fine evening, and the whole experience was very special.

ganevat grands teppes

Domaine Jean-François Ganevat Les Grands Teppes Vieilles Vignes 2013 Jura, France
An impeccable, thrilling Chardonnay from Jura star Ganevat. Intensely vivid, mineral, spicy and focused with incredible acid structure. So complex with vital citrus fruit, a hint of apple and pear, and fine spicules. So intense and linear. Profound. 96/100

dard et rio crosse hermitage

Dard & Ribo Crozes-Hermitage 2015 Northern Rhône, France
Vivid, intense and peppery with grippy structure under the sleek, pure raspberry and black cherry fruit. Focused and intense with lovely typicity. Essence of cool climate Syrah with grainy, grippy structure. 94/100

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A couple of nice Chablis

chablis

I’m a big Chablis fan, and these two bottles really hit the mark.

Sebastien Dampt Chablis 2016 Burgundy, France
12.5% alcohol
£19.50 Berry Bros & Rudd
This is benchmark Chablis, with lovely concentrated flavours of lemons, wet rocks, a twist of creaminess and some white peach richness. It has real presence in the mouth, and lovely fresh acidity. 92/100

Fèvre-Fèvre Chablis 2016 Burgundy, France
£17.50 Tanners
12.5% alcohol
Beautiful nose of tangerines and lemons with a stony edge. In the mouth this is really expressive and delicate with delicious tangerine and lemon flavours, a bit of peachy richness, and lovely balance. This is a thrilling wine that’s rich and delicate at the same time. 92/100

Two lovely sparkling wines from Langham, Dorset

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Very impressed with these English sparkling wines, from chalky soils in Dorset.

Langham Rosé 2014 Dorset, England
12% alcohol. From Cretaceous chalk soils in Dorset, this is a blend of the classic Champagne varieties. It’s an attractive light pink colour, and shows taut, compact cherry and citrus fruit with a hint of red apple and just a trace of creaminess. Lovely balance and texture here: a really refined, expressive sparkling rosé. So pure and harmonious. 92/100 (£26 Marks & Spencer)

Langham Classic Cuvée 2014 Dorset, England
12% alcohol. Hailing from Dorset, this English fizz is made from the three classic Champagne varieties grown on chalky soil. It’s rich and fruit-driven with ripe pear, apple and citrus fruit and really well integrated acidity. There’s a hint of brioche/toast, too, adding interest. It’s really delicious in a ripe style. 90/100 (£24 Marks & Spencer)

Grower Champagne: Marie Noelle Ledru Grand Cru 2009

marienoelleledru

I found this on the list at La Maison du Columbier in Beaune the other night. It was beautiful. This place has the most amazing wine list: it’s so good it hurts that you can only share a couple of bottles between two of you.

Champagne Marie Noelle Ledru Grand Cru 2009 France
Intense and bold with apple and citrus on the nose as well hints of wax and nuts. The plate is intense with amazing acidity and precision as well as nuts, herbs, a hint of anise and fine spices. Quite vinous. Profound. 93/100

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GROWER CHAMPAGNE:

Château Pichon Baron 2013

pichonbaron2013

Recently I was lucky to be able to taste all the Pichon Barons from the current era, 2001 until 2014. They were lovely wines, but one was missing: the 2013. This is widely regarded to be the weakest Bordeaux vintage of recent years (perhaps alongside the 2007), but I had a bottle lurking, so I cracked it over dinner a few nights ago. These days, a Château like Pichon doesn’t release bad wines, and the 2013 is not a bad wine. I really enjoyed it, and although I wouldn’t cellar it for 15 years, it will make fabulous drinking over the next 5-10 if you have any.

Château Pichon Baron 2013 Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
This is really fresh and balanced. Lovely blackcurrant fruit with some raspberry freshness, and savoury notes of gravel and spice. It’s definitely a lighter expression of Pichon, but it’s perfectly proportioned and drinking very well now, and will carry on drinking well for a decade, I reckon. Lovely focus and definition here. Classic Claret with nice structure and acidity. 93/100

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Champagne Dom Pérignon 2009

champagnedomperignon2009

This, the latest release of Champagne Dom Pérignon, was released out of sequence, before the 2008. It’s because of the ripeness of the year, which has produced a wine that drinks superbly young, but which has plenty of finesse and manages that ripeness superbly.

Champagne Dom Pérignon 2009 France
Amazing finesse and purity here. Fine aromatics of lemon and subtle toast, with a twist of white peach richness. The palate is pure and focused with lovely fine citrus fruit and faint supplementary hints of cream, toast and pear. Ripe and fruit driven but with lovely delicate savoury complexity. Almost perfect balance: nothing sticks out, and overall this is a lighter expression of Dom Perignon. There’s an effortless elegance here. It’s thoroughly accessible and also serious at the same time, a product of a ripe vintage but handled in such a way to maintain freshness and purity. 94/100

See also:

 

A gem from Yarra Yering

yarrayering2012

Yarra Yering, with its distinctive labels, is one of my favourite Australian wineries. I drank this gem last night: probably well before its time, but it was lovely. [Read more about Yarra Yering here.]

Yarra Yering Dry Red Wine No 2 2012 Yarra Valley, Australia
This is the Shiraz-based wine. Fresh, sweetly fruited and textural with a complex leathery, spicy, slightly meaty edge to the berry and cherry fruit. There’s just a hint of mint and medicine, but the dominant theme is supple, juicy sweet berry and black fruit. Developing very nicely, this is beginning to mellow out. It’s Australian, but it doesnt taste overripe or dominated by eucalyptus. Instead this is balanced, approachable and delicious, and will age beautifully over the next decade or two I reckon. Lovely weight here. 94/100

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Pio X 1903 from Gonzalez Byass: an ancient Moscatel

gonzalez bayas PIO X

There’s something special about very old wines. While I was tasting through the Las Palmas sherries with Martin Skelton last week, I got a chance to try this remarkable wine, and alongside it as a comparison, the same wine that had been aged in bottle since 1919.

The Pio X hails from a single barrel of wine that was made in either the 1850s or 1860s, before phylloxera hit the region. This wine was made from Moscatel Menudo Blanco (which is Muscat Petit Grains), which was replaced after phylloxera by Muscat d’Alexandria, and was the 2600 litre barrel was dedicated to new Pope Pius X (Pio X in Spanish) in 1903 by current chairman Mauricio Gonzalez Gordon’s great grandfather. The wine wasn’t fortified and had an alcohol level of just 9%.

Over the years wine was removed from this cask, most notably 1000 litres in 1911. After this the odd 50 litres were removed from time to time, but this stopped in 1946. The current bottling is from the remainder of the cask, which by this stage was just 90 litres of incredibly concentrated wine. This was enough for 120 bottles, of which 100 will be sold (expect retail price to be around £1000), and 20 kept.

As well as tasting this wine, we also got to look at the same wine, but bottled back in 1919. Just 14 wines were left, and Gonzalez Byass were sure that 7 of them were Pio X. So it was incredible to compare the journey that the same wine took in cask and in bottle. They are both equally compelling, but different.

Gonzalez Byass Pio X
The release wine, aged for more than 150 years in cask. Super concentrated and very intense with amazingly smooth flavours of raisin and spice, with a hint of treacle. So viscous and smooth and intense. 97/100

The same wine from bottle: 
There’s a freshness here with hints of mint and earth as well as sweet raisins and spice. Viscous and intense with fine herbs and spices. Some leafy detail. Compelling stuff. 97/100

 

Gamay 35, Château de Grandmont Beaujolais Villages Nouveau 2017 France

grandmont beaujolais nouveau

So, it’s Beaujolais Nouveau day. For quite a while, those of us who love Gamay and Beaujolais were a bit embarrassed by this seemingly outdated celebration. We cringed when we saw a region market itself through its worst wines. But as the reputation of Beaujolais has been rebuilt, now people are taking this day – the 17th November – as a chance to celebrate Beaujolais more widely. And we’re also seeing the emergence of some properly delicious Nouveau wines. This is a great example: it’s smash able and affordable, and is a primary, infant expression of the new vintage, capturing both the year and the place in a quick preview of what is to come.

It’s from Château de Grandmont, and one of the partners here is wine merchant and Beaujolais expert Chris Piper, who is selling the wine at £8.80 in the UK.

The wine is made from 52 year-old vines (planted on Vialla rootstock) from their Blacé vineyards in the Beaujolais Villages area. The soils here aren’t pure granite, but rather clay and limestone, with some granitic rocks. The vines are hand-picked, and the Gamay grapes are given a brief, honest six day fermentation (without any tricks such as thermovinification, which involves heating grapes and must up before fermentation begins to extract more colour and aroma from the skins), and then it is pressed. Minimal sulphur dioxide is added, and only at bottling. Screwcap seal (saranex liner).

Château de Grandmont Beaujolais Villages Nouveau 2017 France
12.5% alcohol. Vivid and aromatic, this shows black cherries, herbs and some subtle gravel notes on the nose. The brightly fruited palate has a distinct stoniness that I often find with Gamay, and delcioulsy primary, forward black cherry and raspberry fruit. There’s some grip here, and good acidity, and this all helps keep the juicy, primary fruit honest. There’s almost a cheesy, meaty twist on the finish. It may be nouveau, but it has a twist of seriousness as well as the delicious smashability. 90/100 (£8.80 www.christopherpiperwines.co.uk)

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Some thoughts on Minimum Unit Pricing of booze

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Big news in the drinks trade yesterday, although this is less relevant to readers of this blog: Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) of booze has been ruled legal, and Scotland are going to roll it out.

It’s a big deal, because now this is legal (it was claimed by opponents that it broke EU competition law), it could be rolled out into other countries. I think it’s a positive thing, overall, although the drinks trade have been campaigning against it.

How does it work? Basically, it sets a minimum price per unit of alcohol (in this case 50 p), and will impact on the cheapest forms of alcohol, such as high-strength lagers, inexpensive vodka and whisky, and cheap ciders. The cheapest bottle of wine at 12.5% alcohol would become £4.70, so very few wines will be affected. For a 4% can of lager, the minimum price would be £1.

This isn’t the answer to alcohol abuse. But it’s much more sensible than some of the other options, such as changing the safe-drinking guidelines, raising taxes, or banning advertising of alcohol. The government will need to do something about alcohol abuse, and this is the best option because it leaves interesting booze untouched.

The drinks trade needs to show it’s taking problem drinking seriously, and MUP addresses the sorts of products that tend to be abused more often. As a parent of teenagers I saw the chaotic drinking patterns of my kids’ peers, and they were drinking the likes of K Cider, strong lager and cheap spirits, all of which made it too affordable and easy for them to get very drunk.

Increasing the price of booze does reduce overall consumption, and the other way of doing this is raising duty. MUP, which targets just cheaper products, is much better for the industry because it’s not a tax. To oppose it would show that the drinks industry is interested in profit over public health, and the
consequences of this stand in terms of government public health legislation could hit drinks companies a whole lot harder than MUP.

Anyone making serious, crafted products, or with decent brands, has nothing to worry about because it won’t impact them. And it won’t touch the on-trade.

Ultimately, alcohol abuse is a symptom of something deeper in society. It has always been with us, and always will, but the problem certainly isn’t being helped by the affordability of alcohol, which has become cheaper in real terms over recent decades. MUP is much better than the prohibitionist rhetoric that wants to tell people that any level of alcohol consumption is harmful, which is not borne out by the many meta-analyses that show a protective effect of moderate drinking.

It would be interesting to see what effect introducing a MUP of say 60 p per unit would do. It’s not taxation, so if there is a higher spend, retailers and producers could benefit. Will higher prices reduce consumption? This will be interesting to follow.

My advice to the drinks trade would be to support MUP. Think of all the alternatives, and you’ll see that this is by far the most sensible and least painful of the various public health initiatives to curb excessive boozing.