Monday, January 31, 2011

Beaune Grèves 1er Cru 2006 Bernard Morey

White Burgundy has been plaguing my thoughts of late. Not in a terrible way, but certainly in a pervasive one. I'm not sure whether it's my belated 2009 report or just that pretty much whatever glass I raise at the moment, I'd prefer it to be white Burgundy. In any case, I spent all bloody day counting stock with my colleagues and at the end of it all, I wanted some wine. Good wine.

I can't tell if it's the light or just the wine, but there's quite a youthful greenness to the gold.

So the nose is buttered cotton candy with notes of pear and fresh toffee popcorn. Pineapple perfume on the edges sits with fresh cut chillies. After awhile there's an exotic, curry edge to it.

Nice, fleshy, textured palate. It feels bright but not overburdened by acidity. In fact, if it weren't for the lightness of touch, it could be called flabby. But it's not. It's lime jellies and fresh melon that slowly gives way to cardamom and a gentle touch of lemon rind and anise. Not a rocket science wine by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly scratched the itch. For now.


Tasted 30 January, 2011 at Shorehead

Friday, January 28, 2011

Pol Roger 1988

This may have been the wine that founded the Naughton Dining Club. We tasted it together, in the cellar of the old St Andrews Oddbins, and it blew all of us away. On New Years Day, Pete Crawford decided we should revisit it, and see if was still the bottle of awesomeness that we tasted nearly a decade before.

It is bright and youthful by candlelight.

The nose is rich, balanced, with clotted cream and lemon zest. Perhaps meringue but without the egg.

The palate is pure with great lift and brightness. Bright lemon pith citrus with rich toast and a wee bit of flint. It fills the mouth with a soothing mousse that gives a great sense of creaminess. I love 88 Champagnes, and this one in particular. Delighted that nostalgia aside, this is still an absolutely cracking drop.


Tasted New Years Day 2011, Naughton


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1997 Conti Constanti

I opened this vaguely hoping to chart its progress in the last 4 years since I last tasted it. I was, however, hammered. I also wrote that babbling preamble that I'm including on this note for posterity or maybe out of a sense of guilt.

So what do you do at 230 in the morning on New Years Day? I'm hiding in the cellar, surrounded by my wine and my friends' wine. I would normally drink Amarone. That is my drop, not just at this time of year, but at this time of day. Sadly, I've no Amarone left in my part of the cellar, and Pete's not given me permission to open his Quintarelli.

Dark but with bright ruby edges. It has maturity.

Spiced, black forest fruit.

Almost like I'm tasting it for the first time: Dark and with notes of smoked meat. It's somewhat crazy.Far more backwards than 7 years ago, the first time i tried it. Every sip seems to fold in on itself.


Tasted New Years Day 2011, Naughton

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Moët & Chandon 1961 (from Magnum)

I had this wine once before, in the cellars at Moët. It was disgorged then and there for that tasting. And it was nowhere near as good as on New Years Eve.

The colour is ridiculously young. The Port should be ashamed of itself. The barest hint of brass.

How many times can I taste old champagne and think of hot buttered toast and mushrooms? Theres also coffee and cocoa. Crushed, powdered and sprinkled on everything. On the back of that is a light, caster-sugar whiff on the finish, almost cotton candy.

I love drinking this. It's sinful. The palate is all the old champagne notes of wild, buttered mushrooms, brioche and hazelnut but wrapped in that caster sugar from the nose. Not confected, but pure. I don't think I've ever tasted something that smacked so much of sugar but wasn't sweet. Quite amazing. Welcome, 2011. Be better than 2010.


Tasted New Years Eve 2010 going into New Years Day 2011, Naughton

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Dow's 1970

Why are the 1970s looking so old? Really? 40 is young for you lot! It's the new 10 as far as good vintage Port compared to most other class wines is. Usually. But these 1970s have all gone a bit mature. Not amber or garnet, mind, no - but pale. Pink on the edges. Not hunting pink either. Ah well.

Cocoa crushed espresso with winter spiced plums. And a touch of smoked ham.

The palate is much the same - the secondaries are intense - spicy, charred with plum stones and cloves, cinnamon bark and rose petal. This is lovely, and still young on the palate regardless of colour. Port is a remarkable thing, really. There's a bit of booziness on the finish - 70s have always shown a bit hot to me - but great stuff. And maybe I need a bit of booziness.


Tasted New Years Eve 2010, Naughton

In retrospect, I didn't need a bit of booziness.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Vega Sicilia Valbuena 1998

I opened this for a friend's birthday, though the friend was nowhere to be seen. One of the quirks of living in a University town is that it's transient by nature. People come here for a stage of their lives and then leave. You become used to it. You joke about it. But the truth is that those people leave a mark. This particular friend watched the final out of the 2004 World Series with me. For those people, you raise a glass.

Nice warm ruby on the edges, though the core is still dark.

Rich, dark stone fruit wrapped in oak-smoked game on the nose. Sour cherries. Cocoa. There's some cedar BBQ spice as well. Perfumed though, not weighty.

There's a lot of oak here. But it all starts with a big hit of fruit - plum skins and cherries and a nice bracing bright fruit acidity that the grip, tannins and wood seem to integrate with as the palate progresses. Kind of like chewing on a grape until you're left with just the skin and the pips. With air the finish becomes more like dusty leather and old office. The oak continues to integrate as the wine breathes and after awhile all comes together and harmony abounds. Fine stuff.


Tasted at Shorehead 24 Jan 2011 (Happy Birthday, Malia)


Crown Estates Svarzas Tokaji Aszu Essencia 1993

It occurs to me that typing these notes into my shiny new iPad in the midst of a jubilant New Years party was pretty much as geeky as it gets, but there you go. I should warn the reader that these are being posted in order of tasting and as the night went on - the latter notes may be abbreviated due to heightened drunkenness. Apologies.

Bronze with gold highlights.

Butterscotch and caramel on the nose, with figs and baked pepper.

Intense, sweet roast fig with just the barest edge of rust on the palate. Then it melts and bit, there's a creamier aspect and some lighter, herbal notes come through - there's a touch of mint and wild heather. The finish is clean and lingering going from rich to perfumed and back again.


Tasted New Years Eve 2010, at Naughton

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Tour de By 2000

In retrospect, among the other Bordeaux we drank that night, this was easily the wine of the evening. We opened six bottles and not a one had any problems. Cracking stuff.

Tip-top drinking. Balanced, but not boring. Still youthful, and could do with some more ageing, but this is really brilliant, and tasting great with the food. No nose or colour notes because I'm too busy eating.


Tasted New Years Eve 2010, Naughton

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Chateau La Dome 2001 (from magnum)

This bottle was kindly brought by my friend Sam, who felt he'd drunk to much of our fine wine over the years not to contribute every once in awhile.

Quite bright, middle-youth Bordeaux. Not dark and broody, but no hint of amber, rust or garnet either.

Green pepper and cassis with bramble leaves kiwi skin. So, you know, not your average Bordeaux nose.

Exotic palate - there's eastern spice an almost a note of curry. Blind, I'd think it was a St Estephe. The spice coats the cassis and blueberry fruit, giving it texture and feel. It's still a touch young, but fun to drink nonetheless. A pestle and mortar of a wine.


Tasted New Years Eve 2010, Naughton

Friday, January 21, 2011

Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1990

This last New Year's Eve was a bit of a return to form as far as wine drinking goes. There were some cracking bottles and perhaps some disappointments, but overall it was a blast. I'm looking forward to 2011.

Looks mature. Rusty. Older Bordeaux-y.

The nose is stewed plums and blueberries with tea leaves. Perhaps a touch of leather.

Aggressive green tannin suck the life from the palate. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the most disappointing first growth I've ever tried. A poor wine regardless of classification. Even the food doesn't help it (a shepherds  pie by made by yours truly). The fruit isn't all dried out though. Theres a touch of cherry/cassis ripeness. But it's so fleeting as to merely fluster the drinker. Unpleasant.


Tasted New Years Eve 2010, Naughton

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Clos du Pic 2006 Chateau Peuch-Haut

And other times, what you find is everything you loathe in quality wines these days. This was rubbish.

Big inky gooey purple.

Nose of smoked meat and baked fruits.

This is rubbish, anonymous, oaky gibberish. It's not poorly made, it's just poor. Clinical, cynical and irksome. Let it never darken my palate again.


Tasted at Luvians 8/1/2011

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Niepoort Charmes 2006

Bin-ends can be a mixed bag. Sometimes a delight is discovered, and your wine world grows just a little.

Quite pale, with ruby and lavender. Looks Burgundian, or possibly Chianti-like.

Crushed violets with wild strawberries and a touch of framboise liqueur on the end.

Plush on the palate - gentle tannins grip the roof of the mouth but don't scrape the tongue. Perfumed strawberries and cranberries with some hints of spice as well. It's reaching all the nooks and crannies of the palate. It fools you into bonjour it's quite light, though I reckon it would stand up to the richest of game and stinkiest of cheeses. Very sexy mouthfeel. The finish loiters, furtively. Fantastic.


Tasted at Luvians 8/1/2011


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fine Wine & Einstein (or Bordeaux as it relates to quantum physics & the Theory of Relativity)

I should preface this piece with the warning that I am not an expert in physics. I'm probably not even a novice. My expertise in metaphors is a touch dubious to boot.

The idea for this post first came as a reaction to the recent explosion of fine wine on the Asian market, primarily the wines of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. Fortunately, Sarah Abbott MW penned a level-headed, insightful piece that is so good that I don't have to deal with matters of culture or geography, as she's covered it better than I ever could. Instead, I'm going to concentrate a bit more on the abstract.

In order to understand quantum physics and its implications, one has to accept the existence of light as both a particle and a wave. In order to understand how fine wine works, one has to accept that it is both an agricultural product and... something else. What is that? I'm not entirely sure. Perhaps I'll have figured it out by the time I've finished writing this rant. Perhaps that something else is not a constant. It's possible that it changes, or is changing.

When I first started in the wine trade, in 2001, the average trade price for a case of Lafite 1982 hovered at just over £4,000. Berry Bros sold it in their Heathrow Terminal 3 shop at just under £500 per bottle. It was cheaper than the Latour '82. Last month, at an auction in Hong Kong, a case of 1982 Lafite sold for £84,289. That's more than double the market value of that vintage prior to the auction.

The passage of time is relative to the speed at which you are travelling. The faster you go, the slower time gets. This has been proven to fractions of a second at speeds we would consider normal, though it only becomes noticeable when travelling very, very fast - approaching the speed of light. The speed of light is constant, moving at 186,000 miles per second.

Wine is grape juice. The grapes are harvested, the juice's sugars are converted to alcohol by hungry yeast and naturally occurring sulphides (with some added ones) prevent it all from turning to vinegar. Sometimes it's put in steel, sometimes it's put in wood, sometimes it's put in epoxy and sometimes it's put in concrete. There's a nutter/genius on the Italian side of the Slovenian border that puts it in clay amphorae. That whole process is incredibly hard work but the concept and goal is quite simple: make palateable, boozy grape juice. A month ago, nine litres of that juice sold for £84,289.

One of the first things I was taught when I entered the wine trade was the qualitative difference between wines in certain price ranges. A £4 wine's goal was to be quaffable and inoffensive; a £15 wine should be complex, but not distracting; a good one should taste like it ought to cost £10 more and suggest that it would benefit from ageing. Once you enter the domain of proper fine wine, be it First Growth, top flight Californian, Grand Cru Burgundy or Barolo, there needs to be lift, that ephemeral and immediately noticeable mark on the nose and palate that suggests, even in the poorer vintages, something that was made to be better. Was it worth the money? Hopefully. If it deserved its rating, its place in the wine hierarchy, then yes. How do you know? How can you honestly assess such things? There's really only one way - to taste from the bottom up. Everything from £4 to £40 and from £40 to £400 (at the time, you could get Petrus at that price) and, if everything lived up to expectations, you would begin to understand. Of course, trophy wines were given their due beyond perhaps their actual empirical quality difference out of deference, but they still had to be among the best. Appreciation and understanding of those differences - outside or in spite of personal preference - is one of the most important qualities a wine merchant or sommelier  can possess.

The first Lafite I ever tried was the 1997. I tried it on April 30th 2002 and it was extraordinary to me at the time. The memory is a fond one, though I've since tried finer wines, including better vintages of Lafite. It retailed at £120 per bottle, though I believe Oddbins Fine Wine had it on offer at £80. This was the aftermath of an over-hyped en-primeur campaign. The current trade price for Lafite 1997 is about £500-600 per bottle, and rising. Having tasted it again recently I can categorically state that it isn't worth anywhere near that amount, regardless of prestige.

That case of Lafite '82 did not sell as a case of wine. As it approached the speed of light - or £84,289 - it ceased to be wine and existed briefly as something far greater than the sum of its parts. Taking one of the twelve bottles away would reduce its value by far more than just one twelfth (or £7,024.08). Similarly, the simple wooden box those bottles were sealed in counted disproportionately towards its merit. Glass bottles, encased in wood, filled with wine. Twelve of around a quarter of a million produced. Curiously, as soon as it was purchased, it became less valuable. A great deal of its value was its provenance - coming straight from the Chateau's cellars. Now it has a new owner, and as such is no longer of such sparkling pedigree.

A few days after the Southeby's auction there was a second auction in Hong Kong, where a bid of $13,000 won six bottles of Lafite '82. Circumstances were different - the wines were not of the same provenance. I assume they were genuine, but they weren't ex-cellars. At the time of writing, the average market price for a bottle in perfect condition from a reputable merchant in the UK is somewhere around £3,500. That's about £300 more than before the Southeby's auction.

I asked a friend in the trade what he thought of the auction and his immediate response was enthusiasm. He thought it was brilliant for both the trade and wine in general. I'm less convinced. If was simply an aberration in the market - a one off explosion that has settled - then that's that and the price will rise steadily but perhaps less violently. But I don't see that as the direction the trade is heading. Merchants and wineries are both hyping vintages beyond reason, trying to make every top wine, to some extent, as necessary to own as Lafite 82 (or Petrus 90, or Palmer 61, etc.). It's a distasteful, self-fulfilling practice that leaves wine behind. They may as well be selling internet stocks or real estate. And where does that leave us? The wine-bloggers, the wine writers and those whose interests are focused more on the liquid in the bottle rather than the hype surrounding it. For whom there are no quantum mechanics; just appearance, nose, palate, finish and most of all, enjoyment. We react with initial incredulity, then seem to shrug it off. Like the loud drunk at a dinner party, we hope that it will go away or at least just lower the volume a little. I don't think that's going to happen. I think there will continue to be outbursts; that more and more fine wines will move further and faster beyond what they were made to be. And in the midst of that all, we've should remember two things that get lost more frequently than they should:

It's only wine. And it doesn't last forever.


R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva 2000

Looking over my notes from the end of last year is not jogging too many memories. It all seems a blur. In any case, I'm sure they were all lovely. Except for the rubbish ones.

Soft, rusted red with the beginnings of garnet on the rim.

Roast herbs and caramel with perfumed strawberries and black pepper.

Again, very cold. This brings out kind of a strawberry iced tea aspect that isn't unpleasant, but it's certainly isn't what it should be. Remember, kids, always serve your wine at the proper temperature. A bit of warmth brings out subtleties of texture and the brightness of tart strawberries. This is juicy and soft, with gentle, curbed tannins (though with enough grip to make it interesting). Orange rind and cloves pepper the edges. Long and gentle on the finish.


Tasted 30/12/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop

R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva Blanco 1992

I've decided that I will try these wines whenever the opportunity arises. They're quite ace.

Quite bright, deep gold.

Roasted pine on the nose, with marshmallow on a bonfire and baked limes. There's also a touch of honeysuckle.

A bit too cold to start with. It brings out some piercing citrus with heather honey on the edges and toasted marshmallows on the finish. As it opens, the fruit becomes fleshier. There's a lovely quince texture that brings with it a bit of meatiness. This isn't as refined or elegant as the Gran Reserva, but it's still a lovely drop. It's also made in the same vein - classic and a bit oxydative. Be warned - it's not for everyone. Which is good, because it means more for me.


Tasted 30/12/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop


Monday, January 17, 2011

Beaune 1er Cru Clos des Mouches 1993 bottled for El Vino by C.P.E.F.

In the wake of Christmas we opened this odd bottle from my parents' cellar. We drank it with Epoisses, as apparently we'd not indulged enough over the previous few days.

Mature colour, but not as mature as you'd think. Still bright and more red than garnet or rusty or amber. Still with lovely brilliance as well.

The nose is perfumed and meaty. Fleshy strawberry with a hint of ground pepper and mulched herbs. A touch creamy as well.

Mature in all the right ways and still young in all the right ways. Soft, gentle tannins wrapped around an elegant creamy strawberry compote. Drunk with epoisses, the purity of the fruit becomes more apparent, as does the still-vibrant acidity. The finish gets all ephemeral and lovely. Not hugely complex, but hugely pleasurable, and drinking beautifully.


Tasted at Miller's Court 27/12/2010