Friday, December 28, 2012

Quintarelli Amarone 2000

I've mentioned before the special place Amarone takes in my heart. Any chance to try Quintarelli should be cherished. The great man himself passed away this year, and the world is poorer for it.

Not as dark and broody as I was expecting.

Liquor-soaked raisins covered in chocolate with some meat behind it.

Awesome backwards and properly bitter. Intense sweet dried fruit mixed with plums and the most bitter of dark chocolate. Proper mole style. Chillies. Long. Powerful. Amazing. For such power to be so nuanced, for all that layered complexity to be so clear and pristinely structured is remarkable. 


Tasted 4 December 2012 at SWiG

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sassicaia Vertical

This was a treat. My boss was hosting a top flight Italian tasting and opened all the bottles at the office to make sure they were in good condition and give us a chance to try them. Sometimes it's not so bad being a wine-merchant.

Sassicaia 1988

I love 1988 as a vintage in a lot of places, particularly Champagne. Not had the chance to try many from Italy, so I was curious and not a little bit excited.

Lovely depth of colour still. Slightly paled with age.

Very cedar-y and leafy on the nose. Just underneath that is juicy cherry and cassis. Truffles.

Lovely, leathery and quite delicious. Texture is grainy and nuanced. Great length. Superb fruit purity, though I wish a touch more of the secondaries came through.


Sassicaia 1990

Bottle variation can be a blessing and a curse. This was a curse.

Darker but not by much.

Earthy, slightly animal nose. Of Brett? Should blow off. Doesn't blow off. 

Very tight. Something a touch off, sadly.

Can't rate.

Sassicaia 1999

Italy was blessed by some truly extraordinary vintages at the end of the last century and the beginning of this one. And with so much attention being paid to overhyped '97s, you could do worse than picking up some great '99s at pretty good prices. Not this, of course. This is stupidly expensive and never worth quite as much as you pay for it. 


Big, meaty, savoury nose of Parma ham and perfumed edges.

Palate is huge, juicy with cassis and cherries. Softening tannins but still with lovely grip and a touch of tactile bite. It gets leathery as it goes on, with great wood integration.


Sassicaia 2001

Another of those great Italian vintages. I would be very happy with a cellar full of '01s and '04s. 


Softer nose than 1999. Caramel notes and Ceps as well as dark forest fruits.

Beautifully integrated berry fruit that's wrapped tightly in cocoa and herbs. Forest floor. Soft right up until a bracing and gripping finish. 


All tasted 4 December 2012 at SWiG


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Monday, December 24, 2012

Barolo Granbussia Riserva Speciale 1978 Aldo Conterno

This was a bit of a genie out of the bottle wine. As you can see from my note, it absolutely astounded when first tried, but coming back to it shortly afterwards it was beginning to dumb down. Those first few moments, however, were magical.

Pale ruby and rust. Bright highlights. Very translucent.

Big, bursting nose of roasted cherries and oranges with cinnamon, wild forest, old wood (but not wet) and a lot of leather. Crunchy, piercing and brilliant.

Oh my god that's so fresh, elegant and youthful. Bright cherries in all shades - fresh and sour, stewed and sweet, dried and crunchy, with a tanned citrus acidity, brow-beaten leather, cedar and the sense of walking on crunchy dried pine needles in an autumn forest. Such a wonder of age and freshness. I'm speechless. The barest of sips and I could almost write a book about it.


Coming back to it and its age shows somewhat. Far more muted, earthy and secondary ***. The genie fled the bottle, perhaps, but still - quite the experience. 

Tasted at SWiG, 4 December 2012

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Equipo Navazos la Bota de Oloroso 28 Bota Punto

This is expensive. But should you get the chance, you should taste it. Really.

Quite pale for an Oloroso. A golden amber.

Varnish and mahogany and almonds and caramel and roasted oranges, dusty Victorian office-rich wood, leather, pipe tobacco.

All from the nose on the palate but with the most rich and sensuous mouthfeel utterly elegant, held by polished wood and a baked citrus acidity. Silky. Leafy notes. Length for miles. Amazing; truly amazing.


Tasted 22 November 2012 at Swig.


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Monday, November 26, 2012

Vega Sicilia Valbuena 2004

It's always amused me that Spain's greatest winery (that doesn't make sherry) has 'Sicilia' in the name. I don't know why. Part of me hopes there's a ridiculously great boutique winery on Sicily called 'Ca' de España' or something like that.

The last vintage I had of this was, I think, the '98, and it was tasting awesome. This I got to sneak a sip of before the bottle was whisked away to a tasting to which I was sadly NFI.

Lovely gradation of colour. Ruby rim, dark core.

Meaty, with dusty red to dark fruit on the nose. Intense.

Palate is young but serious. Pure, juicy redcurrants and blackberries, wrapped in dust and leather in some sort of barren dessert. Like drinking a western. There's a taut, sinewy texture that everything rides on. It grabs you and tugs on the tongue. Ace. Classic.


Tasted 22 November 2012 at Swig.


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Friday, November 23, 2012

Clio Jumilla 2008

This is from Jumilla, which I used to know as one of those great value regions of Spain that punched well above its weight. Well, this bottle is one of those super-premium depleted-uranium-density monstrosities that weighs roughly the same as a magnum of normal wine. It's a lot of weight to punch above. 

Ruby edges with a purple core.

Violets on the nose, followed by cassis and cocoa. Quite powerful. 

Ripe, rich and forward, viscous and mouthfilling. Bit of a bruiser but serious stuff regardless. Not my style, but impeccably made. Silky tannins. Great length. This is one of those wines that's polished almost into anonymity. It's delicious and would be great with a perfectly grilled chunk of fillet, but it's not going to tell you very much. 


Tasted at Swig, 22 November 2012.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Verget Le Montrachet 1992

This was my fourth Montrachet. Yes, I keep count. It's about counting how lucky I am to have tasted the things I have. There are those luckier and those unluckier, I know, but it's important to me that I remember that I'm very lucky, and that I shouldn't take it for granted. 

I'm firmly in the group that feels that this is the unparalleled greatest white wine vineyard in the world. I've tried three different growers' wines, and while all different, they stand towering above the neighbouring vineyards. It's remarkable. 

Green and gold.

Hilarious. That smells like Yquem. Sweetly resiny and spicy with outrageous tropical candied pineapple fruits and a whiff of lacquer. Jumps from the glass - I'm scared to swirl and coax more out of it. 

Incredibly rich, ripe and busting out all those indulgent notes from the nose. It starts off with that sweet tropical fruit and then from the back sides follows up with melted butter, cream and a nutty vanilla depth. All seems in its proper place, held there by gorgeous acidity. Not a note out of place. Gorgeous. Persistent - the finish goes on for minutes and the memory lingers even longer.


Tasted 5 November 2012 at The Sampler.


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Monday, November 19, 2012

Coche-Dury Meursault 2001

This was a wonderful example of the better wine and the better wine now. I have little doubt in my head or heart that this is not as fine a wine as the '95. There's less to it. But its integration; its general harmony; the way its structure simply glides across the tongue and palate beguiled me, and makes me think that this is a wine truly at its peak. I feel it won't show a great deal more than what it's showing now. While the '95 has a couple of years before it gets that harmony, this all right here, right now, and it's brilliant. 

Drink now, in quantity, preferably with seared scallops.

Almost the same colour as the '95. 

Nutty, with marmalade and orange peel. Worryingly oxiditive at first, but it blows off, revealing fresh hazelnuts and chantilly cream and lemon posset.

Lovely, silky and rich on the palate, with beautiful integration. All that from the nose. Utterly decadent. Not as complex or serious as the '95, but all the bits and pieces just seem to be fitting together better at the moment. Really beautiful, charming, lovely and very, very long on the finish.


Tasted 5 November 2012 at The Sampler.


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Friday, November 16, 2012

Coche-Dury Meursault 1995

It was a dinner in Beaune 8 years ago that I first tried a wine from this producer. Until then it had only been rumour, hearsay and the like. It was, I believe, a 2000 vintage Puligny. He only does one Puligny, 'Les Enseigneres'. It was amazing. My boss at the time thought it was amazing too, and he considered it crucial not to consider anything amazing because amazing things cost amazing money. 

It was a great dinner all around, with great food, company and other splendid wines. It was only my second buying trip ever, so I was fresh-faced and excited. Lots of things stand out still, but that Puligny stands out just a little more. 

Deep gold but still incredibly bright at the core. Light dances through it.

Nose of rich butter and fresh toast. Very soft, gradually bringing out marmalade and honey. As air hits it, more flint & slate.

Palate quite hard at first, with mature cheddar and hard tack biscuits and a bit of gripping salinity. It loosens up then, but without losing it. Rich and toasty with soothing buttered pineapple and bright, young bracing citrus acidity that guides the flavour throughout the palate. Then the finish lifts into the sensual and ephemeral, echoing for moments. Sensational. Decanting advised.


Tasted 5 November 2012 at The Sampler.


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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Gaja Sperss 1993

 I continue my year of Piedmontese bliss. This was extraordinary for what wasn't there - food. It screamed for some manner of rich game dish, or truffles, or a mushroom risotto, or SOMETHING. And I didn't have anything. And that made me sad.

Still very young colour. A bit of tawny purple with the ruby.

Sandy, dusty, cherries and a touch of pomegranate. There's a classic, dusty Victorian office about the whole thing- leather and mahogany. There's something very juicy under it all as well.

Gentle, supple, touch sweet cherry, grainy, leathery. So much about feeling. Silk, satin and suede, with that gentle, juicy cherry fruit that just slips along the tongue, and yet there's a power underneath, I know with the right food this would just lift up beautifully.


Tasted 5 November 2012 at The Sampler.


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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fernando de Castilla Aged Amontillado

Honestly? I don't taste enough sherry. I don't. So here's some more.

Lovely light caramel colour.

Salted smoked almonds, toffee, vanilla and a whole mess of woodspice. It just smells awesome, really. No coaxing necessary, though I do want to linger over it at length.

Toffee popcorn and wood varnish on the palate? Sound weird? Good, maybe it will scare you away and leave more for me. This has such gorgeous poise and balance, at once rich and as light as a feather. Toasty, nutty, long and elegant.


Tasted 5 November 2012 at The Sampler.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Scholium Project 'Prince in His Cave' 2010

This is 100% Sauvignon Blanc that spends a lot of time with wood.

Golden and a touch cloudy.

Outrageous cut-grass nose with passion fruit, pineapple and pine resin. Like Kiwi Sauvignon turned up to 11. Quite a bit of cat's pee.

The palate is a bit at odds with the nose. Softened by tons of oak, those aromatics are compressed. There are some lovely rich notes to it, but It's a bit hot and boozy. It's good, but I feel it doesn't fulfil the promise of the nose. At that price, it should do.


Tasted 5 November 2012 at The Sampler.


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Monday, November 12, 2012

The Scholium Project 'Choeporoi' 2008

Natural wine from California made by a classical scholar. Colour me curious. This wine is kind of a homage to Vin Jaune from the Jura, and spends some time under a natural flor. It's all Chardonnay from Napa and somewhere else.

Young but golden. Bright.

Big, oaty nose with toast, butter & hay surrounding almost painfully ripe pineapple. There's a hint of mint as well.

Juicy, fleshy and fibrous palate that's big and bright with all that pineapple from the nose touched with mangoes and orange flower water with a line of citrus and stone running underneath it. There are a few hard edges and it has great length. A textural feast, but many shades of the same colour.


Tasted 5 November 2012 at The Sampler.


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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Equipo Navazos La Bota de Fino Macharnudo Alto 35

I have not drunk enough of the sherries from this remarkable… project? Experiment? It's not a bodega in its own right, is it? I don't really know what it is other than an attempt to find extraordinary sherries, bottle them, charge a fortune, and then grin knowing that the wines are worth every penny. Yes, I know I go on and on and on about the wines of Jerez and its neighbours, but with good reason. They are one of the last cool things that hipsters haven't planted their ironic flag in. And I will defend Sherry from them, offering cans of PBR and shooters of Fernet Branca to distract them from these incredible wines.

No, I don't know what I'm talking about either.

Dark, but not amontillado like. More like burnt gold - an old white Burgundy, perhaps. Very un-sherry like colour.

Sour dough, oyster shells, hay and baked lemon. Smells a bit like a hot beach near a field. Some prickly pineapple notes on the end. Biscuity, bready and nourishing scents all round.

Rich, full, salted sour dough with just the faintest notes of caramel, toffee and peanuts. Textured, grainy and mealy - grabs all of the mouth, fills in the nooks and crannies, edged with zingy stone-y citrus that asserts itself on the finish. Deep, nuanced and powerful. Utterly ace.


Tasted 8 November 2012 at SWiG.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Lilbert - Fils Blanc de Blancs 'Perle'

So one of the things about this particular cuvée is that it's bottled at a different pressure than the average Champagne bottle. It's bottled at 4psi rather than 6psi. I've done no research on what difference this is supposed to make, but anecdotally, I would say it lead to a more silkily textured wine. My friend Pete is banging the drum very loudly for this particular grower at the moment, and with good reason. The wines are stunning.

Light gold and silver. Excited, speedy bubbles.

Incredibly ripe, zingy lemon cookies and chantilly cream. Lemon meringue pie? Touch of biscuit and apple on the edges, plus some flint on the back.

That's absolutely stunning. Ripe lemon wrapped in vanilla and one of the more sensuous mousses I've ever encountered. It's like a sugar lemon crepe, though there are cookies being baked next door. The hardness and zing iness of the citrus is matched by a creaminess of mousse that wouldn't be out of place on a scone at high tea. Mouthfilling, with silky texture and length. With air, richness builds and they get somewhat more biscuity. More depth. Superb.


Tasted 14 October 2012 somewhere in Fulham

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Monday, November 05, 2012

Lamandier-Bernier Terrestrial de Vertus 2007 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs

A bit of a let-down, this. I've enjoyed their other cuvées.

Silver, slightly wild bubbles.

Fresh pears on the nose, with edges of citrus and orange flower water.

Somewhat of a let-down on the palate. Flabby round the edges. Improves with food, but not by much. Pleasant stuff, but reflects the shortcomings of the vintage.


Tasted 14 October 2012 somewhere in Fulham

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Georges Laval Les Chênes Cumières Premier Cru Brut Nature Millésime 2005

This started brilliantly, but didn't hold up.

Quite deep gold. Tiny, focused bubbles.

Intense nose of lemons, apples, sand and oyster shell that brings out soft chantilly cream on the finish.

Crunchy green apples. Like biting into a fresh golden delicious, but with a richness and sense of depth and sweetness that's stunning considering there's no dosage. That apple fruit gets earthy and savory as goes, and that mousse grips, that fleshy start tightens up, there's a touch of salinity and biscuity-ness and touch of savoury mushroom. Long on the end. To start. But as it goes on, that voyage on the palate goes awry. The apples become stewed and cidery. The structure disappears. It remains interesting, but not as much. It shortens over the course of a bottle, as though it doesn't like the air. Surprising, really, for it to fall apart so quickly, and massively disappointing. 


Tasted somewhere in Fulham 12/10/2012


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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Taylor's Scion 1855 Vintage Port

An old friend received a small sample of this remarkable wine. It was shared on a quiet morning.

Quite brown but with a reddish tint.

Sherry-like, with raisins and walnut on the nose. There's also some dusty leather. Remarkably fresh and bright. Lifts from the glass with little coaxing required. Caramel and cocoa arrive with time. Dark honey notes. Touch of smokey creosote underneath the sweetness. All of this, but gently, and in the proper place. More than a century and a half has smoothed out all the edges. Like a perfect skimming stone.

So much life on the palate. Juicy bursts of raisins soaked in caramel to start, cranks the saliva glands into overdrive, before the raisins turn to figs, with all that crunchy, seedy texture. Figs immersed in oranges and quince, then roasted, caramelising and burning the edges so very slightly. The journey on the palate is utterly gentle after that initial burst. Soft, and hangs around.

Quite remarkable.


Tasted at Luvians 5/10/2012

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Chambertin Grand Cru 1999 Christophe Perrot-Minot

Another top bit of kit. I love The Sampler. 

Very young colour. Not showing its age.

Gentle nose of soft red fruit and a bit of forest floor. Pretty.

Palate is sensual. Plush red fruit guided by gorgeous tannins. Mouth-coating, long and elegant. Juicy and still young. Just that silkiness of the tannins that show the age, and perhaps a touch of stinginess to the fruit.


Tasted 14 September 2012 at The Sampler

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Monday, October 22, 2012

G. Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia 2006

It's slowly becoming a mission of mine to drink as much Barolo in the autumn as humanly possible. I feel it is the ultimate seasonal fine wine. You can hear the dry leaves crunching under foot as you sip it. Well, I can at least. Maybe I'm weird. Maybe people don't hear leaves when they're tasting wine.

Great colour. Ruby edges with a pure, deep core.

Candied cherries on the nose, with saddle leather and cocoa dust. Hint of tar.

Holy shit what a wine. Those cherries are so rich and sweet and sour and utterly entwined with tight, gripping stone, wood and tar. The integration and structure are astounding. Nuanced but powerful. So very young but still compelling and rewarding. Would love to be able to afford a case of it and chart its course over a few decades.


Tasted 14 September 2012 at The Sampler

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Vosne-Romanée 2008 Sylvain Cathiard

Pale, pretty with lovely brilliance.

Cranberries and a touch of the farm on the nose. Quite heady.

Goodness that's sexy Burgundy. Ripe cranberries, cherries and raspberries, juicy and more-ish. Supple on the tongue as well. Perhaps a little all over the place, but immensely pleasurable.

Tasted 14 September 2012 at The Sampler

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Chave Hermitage 1999

It's been some time. I've been busy settling into London, writing books and the like. Last month, accompanied by a former colleague, I headed to The Sampler and trolled their lovely bottles for tiny tastes of joy. They did not disappoint. I've never tried a wine from Chave I didn't like. I was only somewhat saddened that they didn't have any white open for tasting.

Burgundian colour.

Pretty and meaty. Crushed dried flowers, raspberries and a bit of leather. Quite stony.

Those raspberries join cherries on the palate. Bright, crunchy fruit wrapped in dusty, still slightly rasping tannic clutch. Beautiful finish that opens up and releases purple flowers as it drifts off.


Tasted 14 September 2012 at The Sampler

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Domaine des Baumard Trie de Spéciale Savennières 2000

Golden. Bright.

Honeycomb and lime/lemon citrus with a bit of wet chalk.

Rich, full palate of fresh honeycomb and honey. A touch of sweetness there. Bees-Waxy palate. Lacking somewhat in complexity but more than makes up for it in sensuous deliciousness.

Tasted 14 September 2012 at The Sampler

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Friday, September 14, 2012

salt & old vines

Well, I'm back from France. Harvest was about as organised as it's ever been, which is extraordinary. It's looking to be a long ripening season for the reds, which is good. Sadly, it meant I only got to work on whites and rosés while I was out there. Not that I don't like making white and rosé, it's just that cleaning the press is more of a pain in the ass than cleaning the de-stemmer. 

Tasted quite a lot of very good juice and early ferments. Roussanne and Marsanne both looking to once again be exceptional this year. There's a bit more acidity than usual, which in that part of the world is a good thing. As always, I'm excited to see how the wines turn out. I wish I could have been there longer.

I'm heading back in November, to assemble the fermented wines. I've never been back for that part of things, so it should be exciting. Hoping there's enough good Carignan to assemble another Red Socks blend, but you never know. 

November will also be a research trip, for this new book that I'm writing. It should be close to finished by then. It's an exciting project. You see, it's a story about winemaking where the mountains meet the sea. The nice folks at Unbound will be publishing it. If you'd like to read it, I highly recommend supporting it here. You get your name in the book and quite a lot more. 

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Clos Bagatelle La Terre de Mon Père 2007 Saint Chinian

It's harvest in the Roussillon at the moment, so I've not had much time to take notes. My thoughts on wine these days tend towards the interminable time of a press cycle, or the failure of cooling equipment. It's my fifth vintage here. Every time I think I don't know what I'm doing, I do something right almost by reflex. Then I think I know what I'm doing and I bollocks something up. Such is the way of things.

Dark with ruby edges. Deep core.

Nose is wild herbs and ripe blueberries. Meaty, dense and perfumed.

Tight knit, intense and focused. It starts with a dusty, tannic, peppery crunch, which reveals pure dark blueberry and black currant followed by black olive savoury notes. The tannins turn to a rough suede, giving a serious, sexy grip. Delicious.


Tasted at Luvians 23/8/12

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron 1985

I'm more familiar with the Comtesse de Lalande, but I do have very fond memories of '90 Baron at a stylish restaurant in north Kensington in the company of friends. The '90 was the laughable price of £60 on the wine list. So we had two. I don't know how afforded my lifestyle in my mid-late 20s, but it could go some way to explaining why I have no savings and still rent, rather than own. 

Colour is perfect for the age. Fading a touch, but still bright and playful in the light.

Nose is glorious, rising from the glass in all directions. Cedar and herbs, dark stone fruit, cocoa and leather.

Harmony. Fruit and secondary integration flows across the mouth effortlessly. From beginning to end, everything is in its proper place. All the nuance of the nose comes through but with more ephemeral notes, and small pinpricks of wood spice along the way. Lovely, proper claret.


Tasted 28 July at The Sampler

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Bourgogne 'Cuvèe Halinard', Bernard Dugat-Py 2009

I know these wines only by reputation, the reputation being exceptional. I picked this up as an introduction to the domaine as it was the most modestly priced of those available. And by 'modestly priced', I mean no such thing. It was hilariously pricey for AOC Bourgogne, at over the £30 mark. Still, with more senior village offerings well over twice that, I figured dipping my toes in at £30 would reward a Burgundy nut like myself, or prevent me from spending more on a disappointment. 

Dark Burgundian shade, laced with purple and a deep core. Broody looking.

Bushels of sweet red fruits with some darker plum and savoury tones on the nose. Very heady and quite floral - bit of violet to it. Intense.

The fruit has a piercing, juicy intensity to it, but it's surrounded by lush, soft gently textured tannins that don't show off their serious side until the beginning of the finish. The fruit gives way to the youthful hints of savoury notes, but they're still a bit under-developed at the moment. And just like they lingered on the edges of the nose, those violets linger and drift on the edges of the palate. This is luscious, sexy style Burgundy from the most luscious and sexy vintage in sometime. That focus of the fruit provides a great line to hold everything to it until it gives way to secondaries and tannin. Very long on the finish. Decadent, delicious stuff. 

Frightened to say it's worth the money. I know 1er Cru wines from lesser growers that cost more and deliver less. Horrifying, as it means I'm going to wind up buying more of these, and I can't really afford to.


Tasted 21 August 2012 at Shorehead

Friday, August 24, 2012

Sassicaia 2001 (from half bottle)

I feel this is a good but not a great wine. I think maybe it should be priced around Tignanello level, and it isn't. I've tried four or five vintages of it now, and have enjoyed them, but feel its fame and status spring more from the incredible change it wrought, rather than the liquid in the bottle every year. Maybe I'm just grumpy. 2001 was a lovely year in Tuscany, the end of a great run of vintages that started in '95.

I've never had the '85, which is meant to be immortal. 

Dark. Young. A bit bloody.

Crazy nose. Butterscotch, toffee followed by dark black currants and chocolate.

Sexy palate. Everything is there from the nose, with it starting quite sweet and generous. The fruit appears mid palate, quite juicy, but it softens a bit too quickly in the mouth. Good length. 


Tasted 28 July 2012 at The Sampler

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Gaja Barbaresco 1995 (half bottle)

I wish I had made it my New Year's resolution to drink more wines from Angelo Gaja, because that's what seems to be happening this year, much to my delight.

Still quite young looking. Pale, but vibrant. No Nebbiolo browning as yet.

Nose is forest and forest fruits that turn to cherries, with a bit of roasted herb. Beguiling stuff.

The palate doesn't follow through. It's good. There's that crunchy grip, but it seems a touch dried out. The finish does not linger, and stops a bit short. It's still charming and has bright spots, but is past it, sadly.


Tasted 28 July 2012 at The Sampler

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ardbeg 1975

Not a lot of people know this, but as well as being a wine nerd, I am quite an epic whisky geek. My old employer specialised in single malts, and stocked over a thousand different bottlings, from the most basic Grouse right up to rare expressions worth tens of thousands of pounds. For well over a decade, I tasted, studied batch numbers, noted wood finishes and peat parts per million and noticed the sea-change that has run through the industry. Fewer whiskies are filtered these days, and younger expressions, barely over the legal age of three years a day, now crowd the shelves at specialists. First-fill bourbon casks are used extensively to tame with wild heat of young malt, and whiskies that ten years ago would have seen at least 7 or so more years of time in the cask are bottled. Thus distilleries see a faster return on their investment, not having to wait a decade or more for spirit to reach acceptable maturity. There are endless 'finishes' that see whisky go into various casks that once held Madeira, or Sauternes, or Rum, or Burgundy.

Quality, as with all things, varies. Wood finishes are marketed as adding something extra, but more often than not are used to hide faults, flaws or simply youth. If you aren't deeply cynical of whisky marketing, you should be. Don't listen to a word of it. 

I rarely note whisky. Like beer, I was really into it before I worked in the business, and so for some reason never felt the need to interrupt my enjoyment with notation. I made an exception for this particular dram as it was so special to me. Ardbeg released two bottlings of 1975 after Glenmorangie PLC bought the distillery in 1997. One was bottled in 1998, the other in 2000. The recommended retail price was £44.99, or about £2 more than the RRP on their current 10 year old. It's one of my all time favourite whiskies. It was the sort of whisky that could make a whisky lover out of anyone. On a recent visit to Ardbeg, we were told that the only remaining pre-1997 stock left at the distillery was 3 barrels of 1975. I assume they will be bottled in three years time as a 40 year old, and priced at several thousand pounds. Times change, I guess. 

This particular bottle was a gift to me from a former employer; a hoarder who knew its value to collectors. He gave it to me on the promise that I would drink it and enjoy it, and not 'collect' it. This note is from the very last dram poured from the bottle. 

Very light caramel. Only just past gold.

Nose is hot one second, warm the next. All manner of brine, burnt honey, wood smoke. Sings somewhat.

Whisky like this doesn't really get bottled any more. Or if it does, it's thousands of pounds. Most importantly, there's structure. It starts, has a middle, then finishes. The fire and smoke start it all off, before it all tightens up and closes in, grabbing the palate before spreading like a brush fire. Then it tucks in again with white pepper, and all the caramel sweetness that the nose promised. You'll taste it for too long. And never again.

Tasted 8 July 2012 at Miller's Court

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Viña Real Rioja Gran Reserva 1986

I overlook Rioja frequently. It suffers, in my mind, from ubiquity and (ironically) its general high quality. I shouldn't do that. I should try to drink more of it. But then I realise if I were to drink more of everything I say I should drink more of, I'd be a gibbering drunkard unable to string two sentences together.

Rubies and amber.

Perfumed with old lavender and cherries. There was a hint of mothballs, but I worked out that this was just remnants of the neutral gas used to keep the wine - it dissipated quickly.

Very gentle palate. Soft red stone fruit and suede. Lingers with charm. Utterly sensuous. Feels lovely in the mouth.


Tasted 28 July 2012 at The Sampler

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Domaine Bunan Bandol 2007

The wine section at M&S always flusters me. I know their buying has great strengths, and there are, as supermarket wines go, some good bottles. But I don't know many of the producers and so I always feel I'm flailing about, unable to make an informed decision.

We're having lamb shanks, and so I thought lamb shanks in the summer would be great with a Bandol. So I took a punt on this. Mostly Mourvèdre with a bit of Grenache and Syrah.

Dark core with ruby going to purple on the edges.

Touch hot on the nose, with garrigue, herby notes of rosemary and a bit of sage. Fruit takes some coaxing, but when it appears, it's blueberries with edges of redder fruit.

That heat from the nose disappears on the palate. The fruit is nicely integrated with those herbal notes, and there's lovely, modern mouthfeel to it; polished garrigue if such a thing exists. The only thing that's lacking is a touch of structure. It doesn't seem to have any edges and without anything to pull it in, it feels too heavy in the mouth. The flavours compliment the food, but its weight makes an already rich meal a bit too much. Seems to put on weight with air. Not worth £15.

Tasted at Miller's Court, 29 July 2012

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Guigal or two

I've been aware of The Sampler for some time, though fear for my wallet led me to avoid it. This was pure idiocy on my part, and I can only hope that the wine gods look down on my attempts at fiscal responsibility as a mere temporary lapse of reason. Bizarrely, I didn't browse much, but what I saw suggested a meticulous selection - names that were familiar brought glee, while the unfamiliar looked exciting and seemed to be screaming 'buy me'. That's about as good as it gets with wine shops.

The reason I didn't browse was because I was there to taste. The Sampler has several banks of enomatic machines. These machines keep wine bottles in a neutral atmosphere, allowing samples to be dispensed pretty much indefinitely without the wine oxidising. They're pretty much the most awesome thing since bacon. 

My mate Pete and I decided on two rather epic cuvées to kick things off. 1992 was not the greatest vintage in history of the Northern Rhône, but it was better than in Bordeaux.  

Guigal Côte Rôtie La Mouline 1992

Mature but no amber. Faded purple and ruby.

Nose is dusty and sweet, with piercing juiciness on the end, as though to remind you that there's still life there.

Intense, concentrated on the palate. The fruit is dark, ripe and knit tightly to the wood and secondaries. You don't just taste them together, you feel how they mesh with each other. Oak apparent, but feels old, tempered. Very long, with quite a fresh juiciness to it. 


Guigal Côte Rôtie La Landonne 1992

Darker than the La Mouline. More purple and less ruby.

Nose has a nice earthiness to it. It's a bit more rounded - less dust and more suede, softer fruit.

Palate follows the nose. More rounded and supple, with greater harmony between the fruit and the secondaries. It's like silk, plums and bitter chocolate. It seems gentler, but as the finish arrives it reveals a tight stoniness underneath. 


Both impressive wines, and ageing with elegance. I think perhaps the Mouline wanted a bit more for food, though the Landonne was the sexier at the moment. The Landonne had me discovering more, hence the extra star, but scores are stupid anyway.

Tasted 28/7/2012 at The Sampler, South Kensington

Monday, July 30, 2012

Mas des Masques 'Les Silex' Chardonnay

So I've got a job at the moment, with a small wine importer/retailer/wholesaler in West London. I've always liked their wines, and have noted a few up here before. One of my favourites is this little number. Far finer wine writers have already noted their approval of this cuvée, but I thought I'd throw my two cents in nonetheless.

It's a strange wine; an NV blended from 2007 & 2008 fruit. 

Quite a rich, young gold. 

Full, fleshy nose with quince, pineapple, biscuits, roasted walnuts and buttered toast. It's a nose that makes you want to take a sip, maybe even a gulp.

You'd be forgiven for thinking it's a fat wine. It leaps out from the mid-palate, rich and bursting with fleshy, fibrous pineapple and lashings of toasted, buttered nuts. But then there's this great lemon-citrus that tugs back as the finish begins and pulls everything with it, leaving the tongue pleasingly stuck to the roof of the mouth. Lingering, but never sticky. Folks keep comparing this to Burgundy, and I see where they're coming from, but I feel this is of its own. There's a lot of Southern France in this glass, in the best possible way. 


Tasted a lot, but most recently 28 July 2012 at Miller's Court.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Lilbert-Fils Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru à Cramant NV

I loved the Olympic opening ceremony. It managed to be nostalgic while still connecting to why people love Britain; why Britain is fantastic now. I also loved the Champagne I drank. I hope to drink more. 

Silver and pale gold, with fast, pinprick bubbles.

Pears, apples and walnuts with a hint of butter and shortbread.

The palate begins with a pleasingly sharp tang of lemons and green apples, grabbing with a hard, angular tug. That leads to the mid-palate and that quick, fine mousse dissolves itself across the tongue, bringing out a beautiful fibrous white fruit fleshiness. Its gentle lusciousness then falls away, revealing a hard, stone-like core. Great finish. Superb wine.

***** Tasted somewhere in Fulham, 27/7/2012, whilst watching the Olympic opening ceremony.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

busy times

This is a busy month. I have a new job and am splitting time between Scotland and London. I also have a book to write, which should be taking more time than it is. Then, at the end of next month, I return to Collioure to make wine. It will be my fifth vintage with the fine folks at Coume del Mas and Mas Cristine, and I'm very much looking forward to it.

I like being busy. It beats the alternatives. But I miss my cat, and I've not been running enough. I've also not been blogging enough. I'll try to manage about two posts a week, but if this corner of the wine web seems a bit quiet, I apologise. I'm still tasting and drinking. And even if I'm not ranting here, I assure you that somewhere out there I am ranting.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Schiopettino 'la Viarte' 2007

Schiopettino, or Ribolla Nera, came close to extinction during the Phylloxera scourge. New plantings in the '70s saw a small comeback, but it's still relatively obscure. Quite a lot of it goes to make sparkling wine. 

I'm going to be honest, this is one of the most interesting wines I've tried in ages. It's different, and structurally doesn't follow any path that I'm familiar with. Folks set in their ways will probably want to steer clear. 

Dark. Vivid.

Nose is powerful but a touch muted. Coffee grounds, a touch of cranberry. B Bit of wild herbs on the edges. Quite beguiling.

Violets, rosemary and assorted herb by the bushel on the palate. It's almost like bitters. Star anise and cedar, quite hard but there's cherry peeking around the edges. I really like this. It's backwards and rustic, but not dirty. Fascinating stuff. Like a well seasoned black and blue ribeye.


Tasted at Luvians, 16 July 2012

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Manzanilla Pasada 'Pastrana' Bodegas Hidalgo

Single vineyard sherries are uncommon, as are Manzanillas bottled with this much age (hence the 'Pasada' in the name).

My love of sherry is no secret, so I'm just going to let this note roll. A wee side note - I thought this was more Amontillado-like than that Williams and Humbert I tasted a couple of weeks ago. It's still not very Amontillado-like.

Gold but with just a hint of brass.

Nose is lemons with salted hazelnuts and peeled almonds. There's a whiff of something fleshy and tropical just towards the end.

Lean and fleshy all at once. Palate goes right from the very tip of the tongue throughout. There's that briney citrus and then midway through the salted nuts arrive with riper, more exotic white fruit that is bone dry but rich nonetheless. Clean, sea-like salinity on the finish. Perfect for a sip on the balcony in the summer.


Tasted at Shorehead, 16 July 2012

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Chambolle-Musigny 2004 Mugnier

I love these wines. This is wearing its age a bit, but I didn't mind. 

Quite mature for only 8. Hints on amber on the edges. Rust too.

Bit aged on the nose. Soft, stewed cherries and general earth tones. Gentle. Basket of fruit on a hot summer's day.

Pulpy, juicy palate with soft and gentle strawberries, cranberries and redcurrants. The tannins have softened considerably. This is mature, drinking now and probably should be drunk quite soon. It's charming, though, and a pleasure to drink.


Tasted at Luvians, 15 July 2012

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Trousseau 2005 'Singulier' Tissot

Today was kind of a 'try weird new things' sort of day. Today's weird new thing was the varietal 'Trousseau', found mostly in the Jura region of France, nestled in the Alpine foothills. Trousseau is more famous by its Portuguese name, Bastardo. And from what I understand, it is a wee bit of a bastardo to cultivate in the Jura, needing gravel soils to retain heat from the day's sun. Not many people make it any more, which is a shame. The bottle from Stephane Tissot was quite a revelation. 

Colour's light and a touch dusty.

Pretty, bright, cherry stones and strawberries with a dusting of chocolate on the nose.

Palate is restrained to start, with those light red fruits, then it gets taut and grippy, with dark forest and almost a hint of varnished hardwood. In a good way. It's revealed subtly. Tasty stuff and that little bit different. Elegant rusticity.


Tasted at Luvians, 16 July 2012

Monday, July 16, 2012

Gaja Barolo 2007

Opened recently at my local wine merchant. Don't know what I'm going to do when I don't have them to call on anymore. 

Great colour: dark, translucent and bloody.

Bright red and dark fruit nose with tar and suede and a touch of smoke.

Forward and sexy but in a classic way, which matches up with what I know about 2007 as a vintage. It's taut, fleshy and well-integrated, with the tannins forming a grippy lattice around crunchy dark cherries. This will soften and get more elegant, but I really like its crunchy grip at the moment.


Tasted at Luvians, 13 July 2012

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Salomon Undhof Wachtberg Erste Lage Grüner Veltliner 2010

This was a wee punt on my mum's behalf. She likes wine and likes to try new bottles. I didn't know the grower, but we bought it at Lea & Sandeman, and their buying tends to be fairly spot on. 
Gold and silver with a bit of tarnish. Bright and light.
Lemon, green pepper; there's melon and a hint of the exotic on the nose as well. Some meal-y, grain-mill notes emerging. 
Both rounded and grippy on the palate. Green fruit and citrus zing to start things off. These lift the palate to the mid point, where that oat-iness from the nose kicks in, grabbing the tongue and setting off a late palate explosion of textured spice. Great structure with good nuance and complexity. I think it's a bit pricey (about £20), but it's a very complete wine. 
Tasted at Miller's Court, 10 July 2012

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Gaja Costa Russi 1998

A winemaking friend of mine celebrated his birthday on Sunday, and a few assorted trade folks brought some odd bottles. Some were curiosities, some were donations from absent friends, unable to attend. As wine pot-lucks go, the quality was fantastic. We hid happily under the gazebos, sheltered from the rain, swigging cracking plonk whilst eating as much from the grill as possible.

One wine stood out among some rather daunting competition. This was opened later in the day, after the crowd had thinned.

The beginning of rust on the rim, with a warm dark blood ruby.

Cured meat, truffle, fig and mushroom with forest detritus and a hint of cherries. Heady, rich and promising.

Rich, cured red fruit, knotted and layered with incredible power and delicacy. You tug on it in the mouth, grabbing at each phase of the palate. Tar and evergreen forest wrapped in juicy black cherries and cranberries. Dry and longingly rasping, like a kiss at the end of a long night. Incredible.


Tasted on the Trelawney Estate, Hackney, 8 July 2012

Friday, July 06, 2012

d' Oliveira Boal 1908

We had been planning something like this for awhile. My mates and I wanted to drink old Madeira, and our suppliers were letting us down. We reserved bottles and they were sold to others. We ordered online and were told they were out of stock. We were beginning to suspect some sort of conspiracy. There must have been some plot to prevent us from buying old Madeira. It wouldn't surprise me. True Madeira fans are maniacal in their passion. 

I did some research and we secured this bottle from a merchant who, and I am not making this up, questioned our love of Madeira before letting us buy it. I fucking love the wine trade.

Dark, treacle. 

Dark moscavado sugar with balsamic vinegar, coffee grounds, pata negra. Very savoury. It starts off with an edge of varnish that gradually dissipates. 

Gripping, tight, viscous espresso/ristretto. Intense, savoury with salted caramel sweetness following only at the very end of the palate, though as the finish lingers it very much goes back to coffee. It's quite a simple note, really, but it's not a simple wine. All the flavours work like a fractal, as they follow a similar pattern/flavour profile that echoes on grander and lesser levels as they go on. Every sip it hits you differently. You clasp your lips close and press your tongue to your mouth as though you're sucking on a boiled sweet, trying to squeeze more and more out of it, even though as your mouth waters, your eyes tear up a bit. It lasts for five or ten minutes, but it's sad that I know that, because it means that I finished my glass.

***** wow

Tasted at Naughton, 29 April 2012

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Case Ibidini Insolia 2010

I don't know why these guys don't use the 'z'. Z's a cool letter. I would argue that it doesn't get used enough. But instead of an Inzolia, this is Insolia. So there you go. If it were from Tuscany, it would be Ansonica.

My flatmate grilled some chicken thighs marinated in honey and spices and I thought this may do the trick. It's from a co-op, but a good one. It's also bottled on island, which I feel is important. 

Light and bright, with gilded edges to the silver.

Peach and very light hazelnut on the nose. Small hint of pear drop.

Soft, with that rounded Mediterranean white feel to it that sort of drops in the middle of the palate and spreads out from there. White fruits with a bit of pear, and hazelnuts. This is pretty simple stuff. A good summer white that won't leave scratching your head, looking for nuance. Nice with the food.


Tasted 4 July 2012 at Shorehead

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Le Cigare Volante 2006

The last vintage of this I tasted was the 2004. I think I prefer the '06, though they are quite different. 

A friend and local wine merchant opened this as I prompted that there should be something American opened on the Fourth of July. We dodged a bullet, as he was half tempted by 'Conundrum', a wine that tastes a bit too much like a soft drink for my palate.

The label notes that it is a 'Red Wine of the Earth'. I like that. 

Bright, dark and beautiful.

Deep, dark, intense fruit wrapped in earth and chocolate on the nose.

Blackberries and pomegranate smashed with a velvet glove. All the power and intensity from the nose comes through, but with a bright elegance that slips across the palate, rather than pummelling it. Firm but gentle tannic grip. A bit of pleasingly prickly spice as well as sour cherries. There's an almost Burgundian nerve and harmony to it. Tasting brilliant.


Tasted 4 July 2012 at Luvians.

Egon Müller Sharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett 2002

It's nice that some of the most extraordinary wine estates in the world have entry level wines priced within the reach of the average punter. Well, maybe not average. Average-incomed. You have to possess a bit of passion and curiosity to go looking for this, a bit more than average. It's not only nice: it's important. Price is not always necessarily reflective of quality in wine, but it's necessary that there are benchmark hierarchies that work, that illustrate the scale and scope of wine from the basic level to its true heights. There should be a noticeable quality progression, for instance, from basic Bourgogne to village wines to premier and grand cru. Or from basic Kabinett to Spätlese to Auslese… etc and so on. Making great wine at every level, not just the top, is the hallmark of not only a great winemaker, but one who understands that quality is not just the reserve of the wealthy. 


Pale silver - does not look 8 years old.

Apple, lime and flint on the nose. Very fresh and youthful. Zingy.

Incredibly bright and young - fresh lime and green apple skins, tasting as thought they're being drunk over stone and flint. Nuanced, layered, long. Great precision and structure and altogether classy. Superb now, but will last an age. I don't know if I'd want the weight it will no doubt gain, though. Thinking drink it now.


Tasted at Shorehead, Winter 2010

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Domaine Cauhape Jurançon 2000

I really like Jurançon. I should endeavour to drink more. You should too.

Nose is roasted apricots with nutmeg and toffee.

So unbelievably good with the lemon posset. Texture, fruit and sweetness all in superb harmony - spices and nutmeg come through as the finish begins and takes quite some time to end. 

****(*) five stars with a good food pairing

Tasted on Crawford Gardens, Summer 2010

Monday, July 02, 2012

Chateau Routon Sierratage 2005

A couple of years ago, I went for a holiday in Northern California. It wasn't a wine holiday, just a normal one, but I did wind up touring some of the wineries in the Sierra foothills. The most interesting of the bunch was Chateau Routon (geddit?), a horse farm and winery that specialised in fortified wines (port style) and a few table reds. They also had ice cream. 

They describe this as a 'Cask Port', which we all know is incredibly naughty. It's a bend of Touriga Nacional and a couple of other Port varietals and aged in cask for two years before bottling.

Impenetrably dark.

Candied blueberries with smoked bacon, fresh spearmint and maybe a touch of gun smoke on the nose.

The palate is rich and spicy with all those candied fruits and savoury notes from the nose coming through nicely. There's a circular, rounded structure to the tannins. This is still very young and certainly needs a bit of time, but it's actually fairly delicious at the moment. Quite earthy, too.


Tasted on Crawford Gardens, Summer 2010

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Warre's 1970

I'd not tried this in some time. If memory serves, this was their 'tricentenary' bottling, celebrating a staggering 300 years of making Port. 

Dusty looking and pale.

Hot on the nose with sweet cranberries.

Palate is gentle with cinnamon and dried, spiced apples with cranberries and sugar plums and more winter spice. Long and delicious and the best I've had it. Still a fair few decades left in it as well.


Tasted on Crawford Gardens, Summer of 2010

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 1996

I've accidentally drunk a great deal more Mouton-Rothschild than I ever intended to. This isn't a bad thing.

The barest hint of fading on the rim, but still deep and dark.

Nose is savoury and minty and kind of brutish, with plums and wild herbs on the edges. It gets headier as it opens up.

The palate is backwards and ungiving at the moment. With coaxing, the ripeness of the fruit comes through, coated with sandy tannins. Leaps out with the food, but still seems to lack a bit of lift. I want to re-taste, as I was somewhat underwhelmed.


Tasted on Crawford Gardens, Summer 2010

Friday, June 29, 2012

Leoville-Barton 2000

I tasted this with some trepidation. I have a case laying down and thought, 'you better be bloody good'.

Dark and unremitting.

Fantastic nose. Dark fruits with smokey edges and a tar note that opens to anise and cinnamon. The fruit is sweet.

Larger than life on the palate - big, rich, structured claret. Hints of all on the nose, but they're still all tripping over each other. Incredibly young, dark and unyielding. There's more to come. This was clearly infanticide, but the exciting kind. Years and years left.


Tasted on Crawford Gardens, Summer 2010

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Chateau Palmer 2000

I think Palmer's overrated, but it has a sexy label. I think they know they're overrated and so they try to get more out of their wine than it can give. 

Chocolate and violets on the nose with lavender and blackberries. Is nose feel a thing? Because it feels felt-y on the nose. Weird.

Soft, supple and complete. There's maturity there already and everything seems to have 'arrived' - there are no dark corners of the palate leaving question marks. It's all there to see/taste. Roasted violets and berry fruit with cedar bark. Incredibly sexy, though somewhat simple.


Tasted on Crawford Gardens, Summer 2010

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Williams & Humbert Collection 12 yo Amontillado

I've no idea why Williams & Humbert decided to put a specific year stamp on this Amontillado. I thought that age statements on sherry were restricted to the VOS and VORS classifications. The youth and freshness of the wine seems to undermine whatever qualitative determination the statement has, so I can only assume it's a marketing decision. I don't think it's a good one, either. Sherry drinkers know the solera system and its age-defiance. Slapping a year on it - one I assume is either the mean or minimum age of the wines within the solera - doesn't do anyone trying to wrap their head around sherry any favours. Especially, in this case, as the wine is fairly atypical for an Amontillado.

Unless that's the point; to show that your average Amontillado is actually much older than you might think, and that at only 12 years, it's just barely in its post-Fino state. But that's not explained anywhere - you just get told it's 12 without any context.  

Maybe I just don't get it. Maybe I'm over-thinking the labelling. I don't usually care about labels, unless they're awful. In any case, this banter is distracting from what is, actually, an incredibly tasty sherry. Maybe they should have called it that.

Very pale. A light, golden brass, looks perhaps a little low on the filtered side of things.

Brine, salted nuts and chestnut mushrooms on the nose. Lively and fresh.

I said on Twitter that this was far more Fino-like than Amontillado-y. The front of the palate is lemon rind riding chalk dust, with a fresh saltiness. It's a bracing start that doesn't pick up that expected nuttiness until midway through, and even then, the zing and citrus pervade throughout. Blind, I might have guessed a Pasada. I wonder if the flor maybe wasn't quite dead yet? Regardless, this is a truly fantastic sherry. Ignore the label, as it claims to be medium dry. Nonsense. Bone dry, and brilliantly so.


Tasted at Shorehead, 27 June 2012 

Ridge Monte Bello 2000

You don't need me to tell you Paul Draper is a genius, but Paul Draper is a genius. I've posted a fair bit about Ridge on this site, and I hope to continue to do so. I really love their wines. 

Rich, dark fruit on the nose, wrapped in cedar, tobacco and dusty leather. Lovely, bright, ripe nose.

The palate is fantastic - savoury, balanced and with great lift. Tasting this amongst some 2000 vintage Bordeaux and this is the most old world and claret-y of the bunch - great, tensile rope-like structure with saddle leather, cocoa powder, prosciutto or speck with integrated oak grain that comes right at the end. What an amazing wine. Long. 


Tasted on Crawford Gardens, Summer 2010

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Lustau Almacenista Oloroso Pata de Gallina (Matured by Juan Garcia Jarana)

This comes from a 38-barrel solera somewhere in Jerez de la Frontera. I think it's an absolutely awesome wine. I've been drinking it quite a bit recently. 

Light for an Oloroso. Nice brightness and brilliance. 

Nose of salted caramel with a bit of cocoa. But not heavy - quite elegant nose.

This may be one of the most elegant Oloroso's I've ever tasted. Blind, I may call it for a Palo Cortado. Like the nose, you have that salted caramel, cocoa and a pervasive nuttiness, but it's so gentle on the tongue. It's somewhat contradictory: rich but light, powerful but elegant. It lingers for some time. I feel better for having a glass.


Tasted many times, but most recently at Shorehead, 25 June 2012

Monday, June 25, 2012

Richebourg 1998, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti

Quite early in my wine trade days, I was given the task of sourcing a selection of Richebourgs from different growers for a tasting. It was fun. I cracked several tomes and scoured the web in search of the best growers and vintages. Wine merchants from all over this small island had me pestering them on the phone, sorting shipping and payment details, clarifying provenance. The tasting was for someone's 60th birthday and time was of the essence. In the end there were six bottles - 3 x '95s and 3 x '97s from growers such as DRC, Leroy, Meo-Camuzet and Anne Gros. It was not easy to hand those wines over to the customer, not easy at all. And sadly, I was not invited to the tasting. 

Dark in the glass, with just a hint of ruby on the rim.

The nose is pungent - savoury and masculine Burgundy with perfumed edges and stewed cherries, layered with a hint of lacquer and beef jerky. It's never the same twice. 

Meaty on the palate, layered with ripe, sour, bright red fruit and just-softening tannins. There's so much there - it cascades across the mouth and then grips it in all the right places. Cherries and cocoa, beaten saddle leather and wood spice. Beautiful. Wine of the night. 


Tasted on Crawford Gardens, Summer 2010

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Newton Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1987

Keep your eyes peeled. I found this bottle in a liquor store in Arcata, Humboldt County, way-Northern California. It was dusty, seemingly long forgotten. It was on a shelf next to a display of beef jerky, Doritos and dips. The price tag on it read $20. The clerk, a white guy with dreads who smelled as though he'd been doing beer bong hits in the back room, gave me a big cheesy grin and said something like, '87 man, hella cool. Far out  - you gotta drink that ****, man'. It was like being in a Kevin Smith movie.

It was a bit of a risk - a 23 year-old bottle from a package store - but I figured it was worth it. Worse that could happen is that I get a dud bottle and a fun story. 

Still very youthful colour. Dark.

Smoked cherries with a bit of green stalkiness on the nose - there's a bit of debate as to whether it's very slightly corked. 

The palate is soft and charming with supple stone fruit and good texture. Then, sadly, it disappears, going totally hollow. There's still some nice vibrancy there. Just past it and maybe a hint of TCA. Fun to buy though.

Oh, and only 12.5% abv. 


Tasted on Crawford Gardens, Summer 2010

Friday, June 22, 2012

Jean Luc Colombo Cornas Masterclass

I attended this masterclass last year, following Hatch Mansfield's acquiring of the agency for these wines in the UK. I'd known of Colombo for years, but had never really tasted the wines. This masterclass brought us through their single parcel Cornas cuvées. Cornas used to be considered the scruffy cousin of Hermitage and Côte Rotie. Now it's considered the expensive scruffy cousin of Hermitage and Côte Rotie. The wines are all 100% Syrah. 

Jean Luc Colombo Cornas 'Les Méjeans' 2007

Sort of a breakfast Cornas, though I'm not sure I'd pair it with cornflakes. A blend of younger vines from their holdings in the appellation.

Nicel floral on the nose, that are quickly followed by some bloody, more savoury notes and maybe a touch of mint?

Lovely grip - bright red and black fruit with a touch of liquorice. Good unity between the fruit and the structure. Interesting - a light style of dark wine. 


Jean Luc Colombo Cornas 'Les Terres Brûlées' 2007

This parcel of vines is between 20 and 60 years old, and the cuvée is said to be their 'prettiest' expression of Syrah.

The fruit is more intense on the nose, as is the black olive tapenade and crushed rose petals.

Serious stuff. Young. Dark, tight and tight knit with fantastic grip. Grabs hold of the tongue and all parts of the mouth. Great structure but still waiting to blossom. One to lay down.


Jean Luc Colombo Cornas 'Les Ruchets' 2007

From 90 year old vines in the heart of the appellation. 

Jammy, menthol-y and a touch stewed. No floral notes.

It's a bit of a beast. Big, bramble (not stewed on the palate, just the nose), backed by very rustic tannins. Hugely backwards. Not entirely sure what to make of it. Needs time.


Jean Luc Colombo Cornas 'La Louvée' 2007

The name means 'she-wolf', which is kind of cool. The vines are around 70 years old, with great south-eastern aspect. 

More ephemeral, floral and elegant on the nose. Roses, strawberries and some darker blueberries as well.

Fantastic integration. Soft and pretty to begin with that then deepens as the palate goes on. Not as rustic as the others. Fruit, structure and secondaries all in great harmony. You could probably crack this one open now.


Chateau Lafite-Rothschild 1985 (from half bottle)

Wine geeks should read widely. No two palates are identical and you should get as broad a view as possible when learning about wine and seeing how certain tasters react to certain wines. I read too much Parker when I started out. It was easy to do, as there were so many notes to read. But I thought that I was doing something wrong. I disagreed with him on a lot of wines and what did I know? 

Now, it's a different story. I don't tend to check specific notes on anything I taste, unless it's awful and I need to determine whether it's a fault or just a terrible wine. When looking for new things, I look to folks like Jamie Goode and Jancis for some guidance, but mostly winemakers and old friends; folks who get excited about new, brilliant wines.

In any case, I've had this a fair few times, and always liked it a lot more than Parker seemed to.

Showing its age in the colour - no amber, but some rusty ruby. Looking a touch Burgundian.

The nose is simply beautiful, though there's nothing simple about it. Floral and stone fruit notes with rounded herbs. Soft, elegant and balanced. I could smell this all day.

The palate started off a bit dumb - blind I doubted my call of a first growth from the nose. With time, it blossomed in the glass, becoming charming and ephemeral. It's faded somewhat from its glory days, but boasts elegance and balance that you don't find very often. It's a shame that it doesn't quite live up to the its aromatics - a little past its prime, but lovely nonetheless.


Tasted on Crawford Gardens, Summer 2010

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Y'quem 1996

I remember the first time I tasted Y'quem. I was at Number 9 Park, in Boston, with my sister. The one that I like. They were pouring the '99 by the glass for $25. My sister was doing a wine-tasting course at the time and I was like, 'I guarantee you that they won't give you this to taste', and so we split a glass. It blew my mind. As far as I was concerned, it was to your average Sauternes or Barsac what an Aston Martin DB5 was to a 1988 Ford Fiesta. It's a comparison that should separate all truly extraordinary wine from the average bottle in every instance, and I know that similar metaphors are often used in the trade, but with Y'quem it seems like anyone could smell and taste it and realise that it exists at a different level. Its concentration and intensity seem too much for its physical form.

So, you know, I liked it.

This bottle was a gift to the Naughton Dining Club from a lovely couple. They gave it to us the day before they got engaged. They have since divorced, which is very sad. 

The wine, however, was excellent.

Gold. With its own light.

I always get pine resin with Y'quem's nose. Rich, resin-y, laden with pineapple and candied melon, chantilly, white chocolate and flecks of spice.

Young, with a palate that pops like the bubbles of an aero bar. Caramel coated pineapple, wood varnish, fresh chilli spice and maybe a bit of rubber. Not rubber in a bad way, but a sort of rubber tree plant rubber. Not petrochemical rubber. Piercing, intense sweetness. Which goes without saying, but still. Awesome.


Tasted at Naughton, 29 April 2012

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Henri Fuchs Riesling Grand Cru Kirchberg de Ribeauvillé SGN 1989

I used to drink more Alsace. Not exactly gallons, perhaps, but a healthy amount per week. I always felt the consumer's loss was the wine-geek's gain in that the wines are spectacular and, more often than not, a bit of a bargain. Some whiney chardonnay/sauvignon swiller complaining that they were 'too sweet' made every sip that bit more delicious. 

I need to drink more Alsace, and perhaps focus more on VTs and SGNs, thereby ensuring no bargains whatsoever.

We drank this in between our main - a roast lamb - and dessert - a ridiculously decadent crumble. I don't know the grower at all, thus enabling me to giggle at his name in a juvenile fashion without feeling too guilty. 

Quite young to the eye, though deepening on the edges.

Nose of tinned pineapple with botrytis must and a bit of dust. Opens to more brightness. 

Palate comes straight from the nose. Quite tight and sweet and dirty and pineapple-y with a nice oiliness. Long and decadent finish.


Tasted at Naughton 29/4/2012

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Barolo Vigna Cicala Bricco Bussia 1990, Aldo Conterno

We opened this at a dinner a few months ago. I pushed for it to be one of the centrepiece wines, and I'm glad I did. The bottle was in perfect condition, and as you can see from the notes, it still bore a great deal of youth and life. Probably my red of the year, so far.

Lovely rusty brown ruby Barolo hue. Great clarity.

Wild brambles and bright cherries, crunchy, exciting nose. Compelling, heady and perfumed.

What wines feel like this, other than old Barolo? Wrapped in tar or anise balls or forest floor is this remarkably young, bright, crunchy, juicy cherry fruit. In every sip, there's this to and fro between the two but always that sense of biting through something to get to something else. They all meld into a fruit laden savoury saddle leather and wet tar grippiness kind of thing. Brilliant.


Tasted at Naughton, 29/4/2012

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Baccarìa Frappato 2010

This native Sicilian variety always makes me think of milkshakes. Nothing to do with how it tastes; just the name. You don't often find it on its own - usually it's blended with Nero d'Avola for Cerasuolo di Vittoria.

Quite a light ruby on the edges with deepening purple to the core.

Herbaceous nose, with flower petals and some earthy, meaty notes.

Bushels of juicy red summer fruits on the palate, that seem to really kick off with a bit of food (I'm having lasagne). Very light on tannins, but quenching acidity provides nice grip without any aggressive astringency. Not much to write home about on its own - pleasant enough and all that - but really great with food. Imagine there's not much it wouldn't lift to with that acidity. Lovely, and a bargain.


Tasted 17 June 2012 at Shorehead

Friday, June 15, 2012

favourite wine

'What's your favourite wine?'

Not the best wine you've ever drunk, but your favourite. It's not as easy a question to answer. Or maybe I'm making it too complicated. Maybe you can answer it just fine and I'm over thinking it all. It wouldn't be the first time. For me, best wines are easy. I've got them categorised and everything, and can reel a list off counting by finger with very little effort. 

Favourite, to me, is different. A favourite wine is a bottle whose moment, or moments, pierce through the memory of palate, heart and mind. It may have been a revelation or a comfort, or both. It comes to be something that we consider defining as who to we are - not just wine, but food, music, art, movies, architecture. Often the story of how one particular thing becomes a favourite becomes one of the defining stories of our life. 

Again, maybe it's just me. It could be that I weigh down these moments with significance in hindsight, turning the odd moment into something far more than it has any right to be.

The first wine I tried from Freddie Mugnier was his 1997 Musigny. It was March 2003, and my flatmate at the time brought the bottle back from a trip to Beaujolais and Beaune. I cooked some lamb gigot chops from the farmer's market and decanted the bottle into my prized decanter (sadly broken a short time later). I didn't know anything about Mugnier and Musigny was almost as much a mystery. Andy paid €75 or something close to that for it, so we expected something good. What we got was something tremendous. The purity, elegance and precision of the wine blew me away. 

I spent the next seven months pestering the MD of our wine shop, demanding he find the importer and order vast quantities of every cuvée he could. It took awhile, but he did, and they stock those wines to this day. They're a bit pricier these days, sadly.

So that's my favourite wine. I love it. I wish I could afford to drink it more often.

Musigny 2000, JF Mugnier

Pale, translucent, rust with no orange. Bright to the core.

Bushels of cranberries, redcurrants, dried spice in bushes and some forest floor. Some cured, savoury notes come through with coaxing.

Bursting with crunchy, red, juicy fruit on the front side of the palate. It's no longer cranberries or redcurrants but cherries and cherry stones. There's a light dusting of cocoa that coats the cherries like leather. As it passes from the middle to the finish there's a soft heather note that slips into that perfumed, ephemeral dovetail.


Tasted with good friends on Greyfriars, 7 November 2011

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Chablis Clos des Hospices dans Les Clos Moreau 1991 (from magnum)

These magnums used to litter the wine merchant I worked for: they were everywhere. Not just from 1991, but spanning the whole of the decade, from 1990-99. Grand looking labels but shoddy cardboard boxes that disintegrated as though the inevitable entropy of the universe focussed the entirety of its attention on that sad packaging. A forage around the warehouse would result in the discovery of yet another '94, bin soiled and draped in corrugated cardboard that had been soaked and dried so many times that a light breeze would most likely reduce it to dust. Stock-counting was never easy.

Their ubiquity, for some reason, counted against them. I never tried one, in spite of some really lovely vintages laying around. Our director swore by them, and bought them every year without fail, and every year without fail we would attempt to stack the new boxes in the hope they would not collapse, releasing an ocean of Grand Cru Chablis. 

I never sold one. I don't think any of us did. But someone must have drunk them, because they all disappeared, but one. Bin-soiled, but great levels and no sign of premox. That's not a bad sign for a 21 year-old Chablis.

Nice, rich gold with still a touch of green edges.

Peach Wensleydale on the nose. Soft and gentle. Whiff of beeswax.

Bright, rich, lemony citrus with a hard, honeyed wax to it as well. Powerful stuff and still with loads of life. Opens incredibly with the food (smoked haddock fish cakes). Fleshy and gentle with a texture that gets silkier as it opens. What an eye opener. I was expecting it to be harder; more bracing. Instead it's savoury, soft and decadent. Brilliant.


Tasted at Naughton, 29 April 2012

Monday, June 11, 2012

Charles Heidsieck 'Cuvee Champagne Charlie' 1979

Opened along with a previously mentioned Grande Dame '76, as this was my host's birth year. The '76 was the better wine, but I could probably drink pints of this, should the opportunity arise.

Thin streams of bubbles rising quickly in the deep gold.

Sourdough and Cinnamon with quite exotic, slightly sweet chutney notes.

Crisp, rich and crunchy to start with, then softening and gentle on the palate, with a nice caress. There's an odd, zingy hint of quinine. Toasty, and a touch disjointed with the mousse. Almost a session wine, though that's quite a vulgar thought.

Tasted at Naughton, 28/4/2012

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Baccarìa Nero d'Avola 2010

I had two disappointing beers last night. In itself, it wasn't a disaster. You win some, you lose some; wine, beer or whisky. But they were pricey, small, 'craft' beers that both felt that they were trying too hard. One was just laden with saccharine notes on the finish. Had I something to follow it, i would've chucked them down the sink. Bummer.

Mindful of last night's travails, I decided to grab a bottle of vino for this evening, even though with the baseball on and minimal efforts regarding dinner, beer seemed more my comfort zone. I chose this because it's a vintage I've not tried and if you can show me a wine that Thorman Hunt imports that fails to be excellent, I'll buy you a pint. It also only cost 50p more than my two shitty beers from last night.

It's made at a big co-op. Just above the label sits a silver sticker that proclaims it's made and bottled in Sicily. I like this. Siciliy ships gobsmacking amounts of wine to be bottled elsewhere, including quite a bit to mainland Italy. It gets blended and mucked about with and beefs up thinner wines. It's both legal and disingenuous. So it's nice to have something with a bit of provenance.

Ruby and purple. Quite light.

Flower petals on the nose with plums and a bit of spice. Pleasant and somewhat summery on the nose.

Palate is light, with a good combination of fruit, flowers and a very gentle dusting of rustic tannin. Simple and really rather nice with my unremarkable lasagne. It opens up nicely as well, growing in the glass with more fruit, savoury notes and grip. This is not rocket science wine, but it's just so good at what it does. Very nice.

**** (under a tenner, drinkable, and better than most pub/wedding reds)

Tasted 10 June, 2012 at Shorehead

Friday, June 08, 2012

Clos Vougeot 2005, Domaine Louis Jadot

I don't know when I began to 'get it'. At what point I crossed over from thinking a wine didn't taste very appealing to recognising its youth and promise. Young wines (and old) pop up on this site quite frequently, and I hope I do them justice. I hope the casual reader has a look and trusts that I have some idea what I'm talking about. 

Some fine wines reward the odd dabble in infanticide, and the guilt that comes with it can be, for real wine geeks, a bit of a thrill. Big tannins and sweet fruit and, yeah, it's going to get better but it's so huge and awesome right NOW… you know the deal. Or maybe you don't. If you don't, don't worry. You're not missing much. Wine nerdery's navel-gazing is nothing to envy.

Some young 'uns just don't say anything. Backwards; mute. This is easier to assess if you know the producer, as you can assume it will eventually say SOMETHING (or know that if does say something, it will be gibberish). Youthful strangers may not get a second look.

And then there are the bottles that bring both guilt and excitement, for the moment and for the future. Wines that show so much promise but so little generosity. The tannins might be big but the fruit has not asserted itself yet and tasting it is like untying a bosun's knot with your tongue. Your brain kicks in, grasping and gripping textures, trying to sense the fruit and make heads or tails of it. Wines that aren't ready, but that you know and love better as they age because you knew them when they were young and rambunctious. 

This was one of those.

Light, bright and brilliant with lovely depth to the core.

Floral red fruits on the nose. Strawberries and cranberries with the odd crushed flower petal. Nice purity to it. Coaxing reveals some more savoury, meaty notes, but still with pervasive fruit.

Very young palate. Texture and integration all there but it overwhelms nuance. Bit like drinking rope soaked in strawberries. Lovely grip and would benefit hugely from food, but needs at least ten-fifteen years, probably more. There's an underlying juiciness that's not quite settled with the rest, that rises at the finish. Will be stupendous.


Tasted 8 June 2012

Friday, May 11, 2012

Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 1976

Birth year wines can be a mixed bag. Sure, it's fine if you're utterly minted and born in an extraordinary year, but for the rest of us wine dorks, it's not that easy. I do not envy Bordeaux fans born in '73. I do not envy young, poor, wine trade-lings born in '82 and desperate to taste something affordable from that seminal (though now somewhat fading) year. 

Please do not point out that wine trade-lings born in '82 are not really all that young anymore. 

I've been lucky. '76 Champagnes have lasted well and there are a fair few Germans out there that are tasting good still. Sadly any Burgundy I could afford would probably be passed it, whilst I comfort myself that any bottle I can't afford is probably fake anyway. 

I've also been lucky because one of my best mates collects obscene amounts of Champagne and happens to be quite fond of '76. Ta, Pete.

Gold going to deep brass - excited while pouring but the bubbles settle to quite tiny and slow.

Honey and burnt orange rind, with nuts and mushrooms on the nose. Quite sherry-ish. Coaxing reveals some darker forest fruits and fruit compote. Hints of nettles.

Bright, big, deep, rich and powerful. Roasted walnuts, chestnuts and mushrooms enlivened with orange citrus, butter and the kind of slight crisp you expect with the glazed part of a croissant. That citrus goes to quince; rich, spicy quince. Lovely, centred weight provides great structure and superb length. You can taste the heat of the vintage in the brightness of the wine, but it never seems hot or unbalanced. Genuinely incredible stuff.


Tasted at Naughton, 28/4/2012

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Ridge Geyserville 2009 from Double Magnum.

My friend Sam brought this gargantuan bottle to a dinner party last December. So, you know, go Sam.

Night-like purple. Very dark. Light barely escapes.

Deep and plummy; almost mulled on the nose. Cloves, woodspice.

Dusty cocoa with rich, candied plums. So incredibly ripe and yet never unbalanced. There's liquorice and softly gripping tannins. Juicy, long and really quite fine stuff. More-ish. Never as dense as the colour suggests. A fineness that eludes most Zinfandels. I've little doubt that it will age beautifully, as Mr Draper seems incapable of making wines that don't, but at the same time, I'm not sure I have the patience.


Tasted 29/12/2011 at Naughton

Friday, April 20, 2012

April 20th Edition (or: Cannabis Wine? Really?)

I first read about the growing trend for some Californian winemakers to infuse certain cuvées with cannabis sometime last year, but I can't remember where. In fact, I tried to forget the whole thing; I was happy to scrub from my memory such whispered rumour and scandal. Then, a few days ago, The Drinks Business resurrected the story, timed no doubt to coincide with herbal enthusiasts the world over celebrating 4/20 (20/4 here in the UK).

For those in a rush, and not wanting to click on the link, the basic gist is that there are some winemakers in California who drop a pound of marijuana into a fermenting barrel of wine and leave it in there for anywhere up to about nine months. The first time I read about it, I thought it was a joke. Part of me still hopes it is.

First off, I'm not a prude. I would, were I in charge of the universe, legalise marijuana immediately and tax it heavily. I have, in my day, partaken of the magical herb. At one point, during my second year at university, I was probably one or two joints shy of permanently cladding myself in hemp hoodies, a silly wooly hat, combats, uneven facial hair, living on a commune and flipping a peace sign at passing pigeons. These days such events are more of a rarity, and usually result in me collapsing in bed well before everyone else.

So it isn't the cannabis part of cannabis-Cabernet blends that makes me shake my head in disbelief. It's not even the Cabernet part, though there are a fair few Californian Cabernets that have left me shaking my head in disbelief. It is the combination of two things that can only result in something far, far lesser than the sum of its parts. Why would you do that?

Actually, let's start with why you wouldn't do that.

First of all, marijuana tastes fucking awful. That's why people tend to smoke it. People who eat it bake it into chocolate brownies in an effort to mask the taste as much as possible. People who drink bong water sit so low on the evolutionary ladder that we can only hope they never procreate. Any time I encounter notes of dope in a drink I'm tasting (usually beer, usually if it's been hopped with a clumsy hand), it counts against it. It counts against it because it's unpleasant and awful. Apparently these wines wind up smelling like a college dorm or a Grateful Dead concert. Are you kidding me? Give me farmyard-y Burgundy any day.

Second of all, wine shouldn't taste fucking awful. So, you know, don't add something that tastes fucking awful to it.

Third of all, it's hard to make wine. It requires, especially at the top level, herculean effort. Nothing should go to waste. That includes wasting a barrel by dropping a pound of ganja in it.

Fourth of all, Californian Cabernet is potent enough as it is, nes pas?

Fifth of all, wouldn't Cabernet Franc, with its vegetal leafiness, be a better match than Cabernet Sauvignon?

So, why, then?

The only reason I can come up with is that it gets you really fucked up. And that shouldn't be a reason to make good wine. That's what we folks that make quality wine fight against, tooth and nail, is that what we make is just a means to an end. Of the roads to intoxication, this is the autobahn; our own, funky, reeking version of a speedball. And that leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.

Not quite as nasty as bong water, though. Don't ask.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Champagne Week Finale: Epic Dom Perignon tasting of Epicness at Naughton, 7 April 2012

Drawing Champagne Week to a close with notes from a special tasting and some thoughts.

This tasting was originally just going to be a side-by-side between the 2003 and the 2002. One thing led to another, though, and we wound up with a full-fledged vertical tasting. It was huge fun, sparked off some good debate and we all got to drink a metric ton of DP.

However, throughout the tasting, and not for the first time, I wondered at its practical application. Comparative wine tasting at any level removes the tasters from the context for which the wine is meant. Richard Geoffroy, when he made Dom Perignon 2003, made it to be enjoyed as a singular wine, to accompany excellent food, not to be tasted with several other of its brethren. As such, how valid are our conclusions? How much further does this widen the gap between 'wine folks' who pass judgement with authority and the average consumer? This is oft-tread ground as wine discussion goes, but recent chat on Twitter and elsewhere has thrown it all into sharp relief. I don't have any answers, but it's something to ask yourself while your tasting.

Dom Perignon 2003

Mature colour, with slow and tiny bubbles.

Fat, rich nose with buttered shortbread and brioche. Roasted strawberry pips.

Big and brash on the palate with almost burnt toast and strawberry jam. The burnt notes give the impression of a shell, or skin that you bite through to gain access to the fruit. It seems to replace acidity in terms of structure, as everything rides on it and it's delivered through that toastiness. Remarkable winemaking. Not my favourite by any means but I'm kind of blown away by it anyway. Infinitely superior to Bollinger 2003.

Dom Perignon 2002

Paler, more lively mousse and brighter.

Flecks of lemon peel, apple and a touch of cream to it. Lemon curd.

Palate is buoyant, bursting, tight knit citrus and incredible grip, mouthfeel, and tightness. Fruit and secondaries are woven perfectly into each other. Great harmony. Slatey and chalky texture. So young, remarkable and brilliant. Lovely nerve and energy.

Dom Perignon 2000

Beginnings of brass on the gold.

Bushels of butter and hay on the nose.

Soft on the palate, sensual mousse but lacking grip. There's a bitterness on the finish that's not pleasant. Perhaps a touch too flabby.

Dom Perignon 1999

Active mousse, nice colour.

Very mute on the nose at first. As it opens it's all pencil lead and limes. Flinty and citrusy.

Disjointed on the palate. Rambunctious mousse that stops abruptly midway through, releasing an almost oily butteriness. Needs perhaps to be wrapped around som fore gras. Instead we have it with pheasant and it really livens up. It grabs the food and lifts with lush, tropical notes.

Dom Perignon 1998

Shed its silver and and bright gold.

Heady nose of balanced hay, chantilly cream and crunchy green and red apples.

Lovely harmony on the palate. Subtle and pleasing combination of all the barnyard - hay and biscuits and brioche, and fruit basket - pear, apples and a touch of quince, all held together with a lovely creaminess. At its peak. Not the best wine, but perhaps the best wine now.

Dom Perignon 1996

Superb brilliance with lively, pinprick, racy bubbles.

Brioche, toffee apples, clotted cream, candied lemon peel and quince on the nose.

Full and youthful. I'm sure this is one of the more youthful wines on the table. Big, mousse, exciting but not aggressive. Younger and livelier than the last time I tasted it, I imagine this is about to close down for its awkward teenage years. Just beginning to show fleshy white fruit and quince. No mushrooms yet. Perhaps a touch of cep. Its class is indisputable.


Put simply, the 2002 and the 1996 were the champions of the tasting; their reputation as fantastic vintages is wholly justified. I can only hope that I am fortunate enough to taste them as they mature over the next three or so decades.

The 2003 is remarkable for existing, but I do not think it ranks highly in the echelons of vintages that I have tried. Time may change that, but for now, it is what it is, an accurate reflection of that hot summer. When I interviewed Richard Geoffroy, he made it clear to me that reflecting the vintage was paramount to his mission as a wine maker. As such, it's a success. But when held against wines like the 2002, the shortcomings of the vintage become apparent.

By the end, we wound up asking more questions than the wines were answering. Wine can't really answer questions, but it provokes the asking in spades. The biggest question was how much more reductive the wine-making style in Champagne has become over the last decade. It's not unique to this region, by any means, but my own anecdotal, tasting evidence suggests that more and more houses are going this route, most likely to counter the noticeably hotter summers. Has anyone else noticed this? Young wines are paler, with more apples, pears and pear drops. Tangy, youthful marmalade in a young Champagne seems to have become a thing of the past. It's fascinating, tasting the changes in the world and our response to it through wine.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Champagne Week: Pol Roger 1990 (from magnum)

Magnums are fun.

Still very youthful colour with steady, small bubbles.

Nose of forest fruits and lemon rind. There's a bright fresh pithiness there as well. Still very youthful and exuberant.

Beautiful velvety texture on the palate. Quite fibrous and quince-like. Light red fruit followed by a citrus grip. The toast and brioche are still in hiding but there is a nice early note of mushroom and earth that shows up on the finish. This is lovely now, but there is a great deal more to come.


Tasted at Naughton, 29 December 2011

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Champagne Week: Champagne Roses de Jeanne Blanc de Blancs Lieu-Dit 'La Haute Lemblé' 2006 Cedric Bouchard

The middle wine of a three wine tasting, this was the best combination of fun and serious. Not terribly tasty with pizza, though.

Quite pale; silvery, with lazy bubbles.

Bready, floury nose, with hints of candied lemon peel. Quite blossom-y, with a richness that comes with coaxing.

The palate rides the mousse and then erupts as it hits the middle of the tongue. It's rich and doughy, with roasted citrus that melts to leave a flinty anise note along the edges. Generous, but still with good focus. Vibrant - hums a bit.


Tasted somewhere in Fulham, 4/3/2012

Friday, April 13, 2012

Champagne Week: Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Tradition 1er Cru Extra Brut

We opened this as the last wine in a tasting of complex, intense, serious wines and it was glorious relief. 100% Biodynamic.

Very pale. Quick mousse.

Clotted cream, strawberries and floury scones and lemon curd. Bubbly high tea on the nose.

Strawberries and lemon rind, nicely integrated fruit, mousse and texture. Soft, but not flabby. Not as cerebral or complex as some of the bubbles I've tasted recently, but relaxingly so. Gentle and elegant wine that is delicious and more-ish.


Tasted somewhere in Fulham, 04/03/2012

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Champagne Week: Blind Blanc de Blancs Tasting at Naughton, 18/2/2012

What better thing to do on a cold, February night than to taste a selection of Blanc de Blancs blind? Well, kind of blind - we knew what the cuvées were, we just didn't know what order they were being served in. Which can lead to mistakes, as that little knowledge of what's available can bring preconceptions and affect how you interpret your tasting.

I don't blind taste often enough, though I do find myself designing blind tastings quite often. From my experience, the less you focus on what the wine could be and the more you focus on what you're tasting, the better you'll perform. The three of us tasting all scored 50%, though we didn't get the same 50% right.

Wine A

Quite a straw colour.

Hay and coconut nose - manages to be exotic and restrained at the same time.

Gentle palate. Creamy with green and red apples that develop caramel notes and a touch of marzipan. Textured and gentle with a long finish that leaves a slightly sweet, powdered sugar sensation. Charming, delicious and harmonious.

My guess: Pierre Péters 'Les Chétillons' Cuvée Spéciale Grand Cru 2002

Wine: Pierre Péters 'Les Chétillons' Cuvée Spéciale Grand Cru 2002

Wine B

Again quite pale, silver.

Nose more apple-y and forward.

Palate quite balanced, luscious but with good acidity. Soft. Possibly a touch of dirtiness. Short.

Immediately pleasing, but doesn't hold up with air, sadly, and falls apart after about an hour.

My guess: Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2000

Wine: Delamotte 1999

Wine C

Darker. Feel this has a bit more maturity than the others.

Lean nose that seems a touch disjointed. Bit dirty.

Loud on the palate with big mousse and a lack of balance. A bit of teenage Champagne rambunctiousness.

My guess: Delamotte 1999

Wine: Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2000

Wine D

Just the very beginnings of brass on the edges of rich gold.

Clotted cream, apples and a hint of toffee on the nose.

Rich palate that is just starting to caramelise with age. Initially quite simple, though. As it breathes, complexity reveals itself with bready, textured mouthfeel and more expressive fruit. The other wines shut down a bit as the night went on, whereas this just got better and better.

My guess: Pol Roger Chardonnay 1996

Wine: Pol Roger Chardonnay 1996

The most disappointing of the bunch was the Comtes, and it increased my conviction that 2000 is not a great year in Champagne. The Pierre Peters was delicious, though that powdered sugar finish still has me scratching my head. Regardless, they're a grower I recommend seeking out, as the wines are compelling from entry level up to the top. Delamotte's continued inconsistency frustrates me, and the next time some wanker from Corney & Barrow waffles on about how 'it's basically Salon', I shall have to be restrained from punching them in the face.

The Pol's another story all together. On the one hand, it was easily the best wine of the evening. On the other hand, it took about three hours of breathing time for that to become apparent. Now, the folks I taste Champagne with are strange, and we are more than happy to let a bottle breathe as needs be. But I would venture that we're the exception. Champagne tends to be cracked open and drunk, often in haste, which is, forgive the rhyme, a waste. That said, I have a hard time telling someone to open a bottle and let it sit for three hours.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Champagne David Léclapart 'L'Amateur' Blanc de Blancs 1er Cru

A tiny cuvée from a tiny producer - only 8000 bottles per annum.

Fast bubbles - already some deeper gold and green.

Nose is intense; layered. Fino notes- flor-y, sour dough-y that lead to limes. Green apples. Changes with with every sniff.

Remarkably bracing, gripping palate. Like sparkling manzanilla, with an unmistakable salinity. Piercing precision and nerve. Tastes like both the oyster shell and the liquor. Biting right from the beginning to the sharp, lingering finish. Rigid structure and focused mouthfeel. Demands food. Gets sharper, more citrussy as it opens and the temperature rises. Flint-shard mouthfeel that reveals flavour, rather than the other way round. While I keep tripping over the idea of a fizzy Manzanilla, it occurs to me that the sensation is more like base wine - Champagne pre-secondary fermentation. If you've ever tried a base wine, you'll know it's a jarring experience.

I don't really know what to score this. It's extraordinary, but pretty weird. Perhaps with the right food. It is certainly not for everyone. I've never had a champagne like it - the focus and purity is awesome.

***(**) - buyer beware; not for the faint of palate

Tasted somewhere in Fulham, 4/3/2012

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Champagne Week

It has been my great fortune to drink quite a lot of Champagne of late, Champagne of all shapes and sizes: grower bubbly, vintage bubbly, non-vintage bubbly, grand marque bubbly, blind bubbly, blanc de blancs bubbly. To celebrate this springtime decadence, the remainder of this week will be dedicated to the notes from these tastings and some observations on the region in general.

To start with, we have a wine from Vertus.

Champagne 'R', Vve Fourny & Fils Vertus Extra-Brut

Green & silver with medium, slow bubbles.

Slate and green apples on the nose with a hint of lime and crumble. Whiff of strawberry. Kind of like water biscuits on the first smell. Very dry biscuits.

The palate kicks off with with apples baked with lime rind. Bracing and dry until the end of the mid palate, where a burst of ripe white fruit kicks up, rolled in oats. Great balance of thinking and feeling wine. 100% vinified in oak, and while there's not much oak to be tasted, its influence is felt with a softness that arrives as the finish develops. Fantastic wine that, once you step back and stop nit-picking the bits and pieces, shows great harmony. The blend is 70% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Noir and 15% Pinot Meunier, though the red fruit definitely makes its presence felt.


Tasted at Naughton, 07/04/2012

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Parker adopts 1000-point scale

In a move that has left the wine world reeling, renowned hedonist, critic and cyclist Robert M. Parker Jr. announced Sunday morning that he would be dispensing with his polarising 100-point scale and replacing it with a more comprehensive grading system.

"Wine is too nuanced, too complex, too vast a subject to trap within the confines of a mere hundred points" Parker explained while tucking into an enormous lobe of foie gras decorated with Maryland crab claws. As he washed it down with a La Mission Haut Brion '89, swilled from a Sommelier series Riedel tankard, he stared at the liquid for a moment and reflected. "For instance, this used to be a hundred point wine. Which is nice and everything, but now it's a thousand point wine - how f***ing cool is that?"

Wine merchants throughout the world have been left on tenterhooks, wondering what the new scores would be and how it would affect prices. One anonymous source based in Hong Kong suggested that an extra zero could be added to the price tag as well as the score. He salivated, rubbed his fingers together and gazed emptily into space as he made the remark.

The cynics and whiners in the trade, those who eschew the hundred point scale and find 19% table wines with obscene sugar levels and no acidity ungodly, were unsurprisingly non-plussed by the announcement. "I don't even know where to start. This is ridiculous," said one Phd-touting wine blogger. Another just laughed and cracked open a beer.

Producer reactions were a mixed bag. Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon gazed for a few moments at a perfectly cut piece of quartz and then returned to his crossword, muttering something about sleep. Michel Rolland bought an oak forest and winked at this journalist conspiratorially.

Bizarrely enough, some Twitter folks were most vocal in their outrage, claiming that Parker, by increasing his scale, had in fact stolen a precious character from their limited budget.

One journalist was mauled by a rottweiler, having mistakenly pestered Robert B. Parker, creator of the Spencer For Hire books, for a quote.

In the midst of all the furore, The Wine Advocate offices revealed that whilst the scale would be 1000 points, simply being a wine would immediately qualify for 950 points.

So there you go.

Happy April.