Jean-Luc Colombo, based in Cornas, is a Rhone modernist. His Cornas wines aren’t in my favourite style, I’m afraid. But I do like the wines he makes when he tries less hard: I bought a case of his northern Rhone Vin du Pays a year or so back, made from declassified young vine Cornas fruit because it was so honestly northern Rhone in style. And I like these two inexpensive negociant wines.
Jean-Luc Colombo Les Abeilles de Colombo Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2013 France
80% Clairette, 20% Roussanne, named ‘the bees’. Very pretty, fresh and vibrant floral pear, apricot and citrus fruit. Nicely textured. Crisp but with a bit of richness. The key is the pure, expressive fruit. 89/100 (£9.99 Define Food and Wine, Le Mouton Rouge, Dalling & Co, Trinas Wines, Fountainhall Wines, Tivoli, Taylors Fine Wine, Aiken Wines, Partridges, DP Vintners, The Butlers Cellar)
Jean-Luc Colombo Les Abeilles de Colombo Cotes de Rhone Rouge 2012 France
60% Grenache, 30% Shiraz, 10% Mourvedre. Perfumed and supple with ripe cherry and plum fruit. Pure and quite elegant with some peppery notes and a bit of grip. Medium bodied. A stylish Rhone red with lovely drinkability. 88/100 (£9.99 Tivoli, The Bottleneck, Define Food and Wine, Sunninghill Wine, North & South, The Butlers Cellar, Fountainhall Wines, Bacchus et al)
Covela is back. I was a fan of this estate, which was previously owned by Nuno Araújo (related to Pedro Araújo of Ameal), and which made really interesting wines from a blend of Portuguese and international varieties, from biodynamically farmed vineyards on the border of the Minho and Douro regions.
But things went wrong financially in 2008, the property went into receivership, and for a while, production stopped. Then Covela was bought by a Briton (Tony Smith) and a Brazilian (Marcelo Lima) in 2011. Their business venture is known as Lima Smith, with this property plus Boavista and Tecedeiras also in the portfolio, as well as a stake recently acquired in Maison Champy, Burgundy. Lima Smith re-hired winemaker Rui Cunha, and these wines represent the second release (for the whites) of the new reborn Covela.
Covela Edicao Nacional Arinto 2013 Vinho Verde, Portugal
Lively, fresh, linear and pure with nice citrussy fruit. Quite mineral with lovely citrus fruit and good precision. Some pear, apple and citrus characters. A lovely dry white wine. 89/100
Covela Edicao Nacional Avesso 2013 Vinho Verde, Portugal
Very clean, fresh and linear with a mineral, subtly citrussy nose. The palate is lively and bright with subtle green herb and grapefruit notes as well as some lemons and minerals. Pure, focused and assertive. 89/100
Covela Escolha Branco 2013 Minho, Portugal
Avesso and Chardonnay. Lively, fresh, floral citrus nose with some subtle pear fruit. Crisp, fruity palate with pure pear and melon fruit, as well as bright lemon notes and some slightly spicy, mineral characters. A refined fruit-driven wine. 91/100
Ovela Escolha Tinto 2012 Minho, Portugal
Touriga Nacional, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, from granitic soila. Vibrant colour. Lovely black cherry and blackberry fruit with a hint of olive and herbs. Ripe yet fresh dark fruits, with a bit of grip. This is very stylish, showing sweet raspberries and blackberries, with good focus. 90/100
Kalfu is a new series of nine wines from innovative large Chilean producer Vina Ventisquero. They haven’t been released yet, but I got to try two of them. The Sauvignon in particular is of great interest. It’s an edgy wine, not a perfect one, but it shows the potential of Chile’s most northerly vineyard area, Huasco, in the Attacama desert. It’s so cool to see that Chile is starting to become a bit more interesting at the high end.
Kalfu Sumpai Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Huasco Valley, Chile
13% alcohol. So fresh and bright with a chalky, mineral, green pepper, tomato leaf nose. The palate is textured and pure with lovely green notes. Very chalky with some sweeter tropical notes and a nice texture. There’s a lot of green methoxypyrazine character here, but it’s a soft-textured greenness that really works. 91/100
Kalfu Sumpai Pinot Noir 2013 Leyda Valley, Chile
13.5% alcohol. Ripe, sweet, slightly spicy nose with cherries and a hint of vanilla, as well as some cola notes. The supple, sweet palate is bright with hints of chocolate and cedar under the sweet cherry and plum fruit. Supple and quite elegant, and needs time to resolve into harmony. 90/100
So, the final instalment of my write up of Tuesday’s lunch wines. The great thing about sharing a bottle among four is that you get to drink a decent quantity, and you have time to consider your opinion. Great wines often do change in the glass. Also, as tasters, we change with time – even over 20 minutes or so, the way we approach the glass, and the way we interrogate the wine will change. Presentation order artefacts will be ironed out. And we’ll have been eating, with the flavours of food bringing out different aspects of the wine. And to begin looking at the wine blind helps too: it removes some prejudice.
Francois Cotat La Grande Cote 1996 Sancerre, France
This is atypical for Sancerre in that it’s very ripe and has a hint of sweetness (although it is still just 12.5% alcohol), yet it was immediately spotted as a Sauvignon Blanc, and because we know who bought it, and its unusual characters, it was spotted as a Cotat. Sweet, exotic nose of grapefruit, some boiled sweets, and a hint of greenness. Lively in the mouth with pretty, rounded fruit that’s quite exotic, showing a hint of apricot. Delightful, and quite remarkable. 95/100
Rousseau Chambertin Grand Cru 1998 Burgundy, France
Spicy, lively and quite mineral with some hints of smoke and just a trace of animal wildness. Lively red fruit, with focused cherry and plums, as well as notes of mint and medicine in the background. Some iodine character. It has some age, but it also has freshness. Spicy, grippy and lively. 94/100
Dujac Clos St Denis Grand Cru 2001 Burgundy, France
Smooth, ripe, pure and quite textured. Sweet, lively cherry fruit as well as some fresh raspberries, and a bit of meat. Some savouriness and meatiness here: it’s quite tight, with a touch of bitterness still on the finish. A structured wine that needs more time. 93/100
Northern Rhone whites are some of the unheralded stars of the wineworld. There’s a good story to this wine, too. Before around 1995, Jaboulet were one of the top producers in the northern Rhône. Something seemed to go wrong after this with the Jaboulet wines, and in 2006 the family sold to the Freys from Bordeaux.
Nicolas Jaboulet and the Perrin family of Beaucastel formed a joint micro-négociant in 2009 with a view to creating top northern Rhône wines, and they seem to be succeeding. This white Crozes is 100% Marsanne, aged for 10 months in used oak, and it’s lovely.
Nicolas Perrin Crozes Hermitage Blanc 2012 Northen Rhône, France
13% alcohol. Full yellow/gold colour. Broad, creamy, smooth textured white with a lovely soft mouthfeel. Subtle melon and pear fruit with some citrus on the finish, as well as attractive hazelnut notes. There’s a hint of fennel, too, but this is all about the mouthfeel. Such a distinctive wine. 92/100 (UK agent Liberty Wines; £15.62 Slurp)
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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