Saturday, 21 May 2016

A Stunning Pair in Hong Kong

Dinner in the American Club in Central last evening was a extraordinary feast for the senses. I am told much of the club was refurbished six months ago and it really is very smart indeed: not smart formal, but smart like the finest railway waiting room of the 1950s, complete with some small shiny white tiles and flat, large, cake-shaped light shades. I hadn't been for many years and certainly didn't recognise the place.

We dined on steak, I having started with a scallop carpaccio in a lime/citrus concoction and served in scallop shells. The steak - a sirloin - was utterly delicious and cooked perfectly rare.

We started with a Chablis. And what a Chablis it is: the '09 Grand Cru Bougros Cote de Bouqueyreaux from Patrick Piuze. There was the merest smudge (like a melted droplet of white chocolate) of wood over the aromas that were rich and citrus and, like the sauce on my scallops, majoring on lime. In the mouth, such richness, but also precision; weight without heaviness; a proper sense of the soil. This is brilliant white wine. I wouldn't wait...not sure I could if I tried!

The red I have had before and with the same kind person with whom I found myself in the American Club last evening. Last time out it was extremely good. This time it was off the charts, out of the building and doing loop-the-loops over the hills of Kowloon. 1994 Chateau Latour. Here's the note:

A super-complex nose offering a dry set of aromas that take in iodine and cedar and come across as being very saline. The smell is stunningly crisp and of fruits red and black. There's were bits and pieces of smoke, cedar and dried herbs; something very airy about it and even a distinct floral whiff. Blood-like iron. And finally, with air, a hint of something balsamic to accompany the plum-pudding, cake-like scent. Later still, it became rooty smelling, earthy, drier. Really pungent and dense set of aromas. The palate is, of course, fully resolved, rich, medium plus weight with a dusting of fresh, upright tannin from the mid-palate. Walnut rising. Extraordinarily fine, dark fruit. The tannin becomes increasingly fresh, remaining very fine and fully integrated. There's a graphite thread to this. Putting it down was hard; finishing the bottle a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. 

Snakes alive. I will wait many a month to taste another wine this fine. With huge thanks to mein host!

Friday, 29 April 2016

A Tasting, a Margaux and Sweets

Château Citran

I was in London yesterday for an annual Bordeaux tasting. An inexplicably conjoined, loose affiliation of diverse châteaux come together each year to show three or four vintages of their wines, to include the new primeurs harvest. 

On offer were the 2015, 2014, 2013 and 2012 vintages of Châteaux Canon and Rauzan Ségla, Branaire Ducru, Léoville Poyferré, Gazin, Smith Haut Lafitte, Pontet Canet, Aiguilhe, Clos de l'Oratoire, Canon La Gaffelière, La Mondotte and the Sauternes property Guiraud. And I have to say that it was rather fascinating.

What is clear is that 2012 produced very lovely wines on the Left Bank, whist on the Right Bank I found the wines of that harvest just lacking a bit of energy and dimension (at least for the time being). 2014 has thrown up stunning wines on both sides of the estuary: wines that I will happily drink for many a year. And the '15s? Well, they simply have more of everything and delightfully pure and transparent fruit to boot

Monday, 11 April 2016

Troglodytic and Overwhelmed

The tasting room at Château Barde Haut with St Emilion vineyards beyond

First and foremost, I have to state that there are a great many worse places to find oneself on a wet Thursday morning than in the company of Denis Durantou tasting a line-up of his wines. But anyway, I am getting ahead of myself. It was a Thursday morning that started at my hotel in downtown Bordeaux, with me rising early to pack, pay up, and vamoose.

Duly vamoosing, I hit the morning traffic and crawled, precipitation not improving the standard of local driving nor the pace of the action.

With uncanny ability, I arrived wildly promptly at my day's first appointment. And that's where M Durantou comes in...or, rather, where he pokes his head 'round the door to check out who's just arrived outside his tasting room at Eglise Clinet.

Was there ever an address that offered wines of such extraordinary value? Much of the line-up here is a bargain in whatever vintage you'd care to name, but in a year like ' And was there ever a wine so worth a sizeable ticket as Eglise Clinet? Well...the answer is possibly yes in this case, but both it and its second wine Petite Eglise are completely wonderful, offering the sort of warm, enveloping comfort one realises when one gets into one's own bed after an extended period away.

There followed: Evangile; Canon (a James Suckling 100-pointer this vintage); Ausone and all its attendant wines (seven all told); Cheval Blanc (to include an ambrosial Yquem), and Vieux Château Certan. That was before the real work started with the Union des Grands Crus tastings at Beauregard (for the Pomerols) and Couspaude (for the StEms), plus rapid stops at Pavie Macquin (really just to taste the Beauséjour Duffau Lagarosse), Angélus, La Conseillante, Canon La Gaffelière and Barde Haut.

With that lot under my belt, I had insufficient time for the Jean-Luc Thunevin tasting in the centre of St Emilion and also had to pass up on the opportunity to sample the wines of Jonathan Maltus. Shame; shame...And all the while the rain fell and dampened the vineyards, but not my mood, for the wines are really very good.

I sat outside a bar under the magnificent troglodytic church of St Emilion protected by an umbrella and enjoyed a small beer and a cigar., It wasn't the most homely of spots for such an activity, cold and damp as it was, but it allowed me to reflect on my days in Bordeaux and the wines I'd been sampling.

The stop at the bar was, in part, also an attempt to kill some time, as my flight was not until 22h40, but eventually I climbed back into my hire car and made my way slowly through still rain-affected traffic to Mérignac and Bordeaux's airport.

What with one thing and another, I didn't arrive home until 02h30 on Friday morning, but then slept the sleep of the tired and sensorially overwhelmed. Focusing on wine tasting for days on end does that to you.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Whistling Whites and a Shotgunned Lunch

The tasting room at my first stop this morning: La Mission Haut Brion

Today's diary didn't really work on paper so I decided to tweak it as per last year. My appointment at Chateau La  Mission Haut Brion was scheduled for 11am and it's always a long visit (of which more in a sec). Abiding by that itinerary I would have struggled, as I had to get to Chateau Malartic Lagraviere to taste all the reds and whites there before heading back to the Medoc to evaluate the Medocs, Haut Medocs, Listracs, Moulis and the like at Chateau Citran, then hit La Lagune for a Sauternes sample-a-thon.

I pitched up at La Mission at about 09h20 and donning my best hang-dog expression approached the niftily-clad young lady at the door. I was on my own...might it be possible? It would be a great help.

I was waved through into the room you see above. But here's the thing. I confess that I always struggle to assess these wines in their youth. One now has to taste nine wines (La Mission and Haut Brion, their second wines and their white wines, as well as Haut Brion's second white wine, plus a relatively recent addition to the portfolio: the St Emilion Quintus and its second wine Dragon de Quintus (the product of two properties: what used to be called Tertre Daugay and l'Arosee)) and for whatever reason I sit there sniffing and gargling and spitting and wondering whether my taste buds and olfactory senses are even turned on. This is odd, because when I go back to my tasting book it all seems to make sense somehow. 

In any event, they were superb wines with me favouring Haut Brion in red and white over La Mission. Who knows how I will feel in a decade when the wines will be just about ready for drinking. (N.B. A quick word about alcohol. Clearly Merlot grown on gravel can get a bit, well, heavy. In a vintage of moderate abvs, these Domaines Clarence Dillon wines are something like 14.5%. Caveat imbibor.)

It's about 25 minutes from La Mission in downtown Pessac to Malartic Lagraviere outside Leognan and I was smartly out of the car and into the reds wines on arrival. I do them first these days as I find them harder work. After the reds the whites come as something of a relief and I can whistle through them.

There are delicious wines here in red and white. In red, Carmes Haut Brion, Domaine de Chevalier were notable, but there were many others. In white, Domaine de Chevalier, Carbonnieux, de France and Chantegrive cover the bases at all price levels.

I shotgunned lunch and rather too much of it: charcuterie, crudites, chicken salad and potato salad starters, asparagus risotto, touch of cheese, along with half a glass of 2006 Domaine de Chevalier, a wine that is elegant, resolved and very pretty indeed.

I hared north heading for Chateau Citran up the back road behind the Medoc...and somehow I managed to miss it. I ended up down at La Lagune and thought I might as well tasted the Sauternes whilst there. Gosh, this is a Sauternes vintage. Lots of botrytis and really good acidity in most cases. Almost all the wines were delicious, some very fine indeed. Clos Haut Peyraguey, Guiraud, the Doisys, Rayne Vigneau and de Fargues were stand out in a field of stand outs.

And then back north to try once again to find the pesky Citran. And there it was, not exactly well sign posted tucked in behind Paveil de Luze.

I tasted almost everything here. And as is so often the case, many of these wines come across as dry and over-worked. Some were positively painful to taste. Anyway, Cantemerle's very good, as is La Lagune and one or two others. These could be excellent value if pricing is sensible.

Now I am back at the hotel with a gap before dinner. I might take my book out to a bar and have a glass of champagne in the sunshine. I feel as though I have deserved it somehow...

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Horse and Mustard

Display at Chateau du Tertre

The weather's done a complete volte face today, deciding morning time is overcast time, threatening precipitation, then finally clearing into blue skies and bright sunshine.

A busy day: lots to taste and a fair amount of travelling. I headed north to catch the Union des Grands Crus St Julien tasting, held at Gruaud Larose, but managed to sample only three wines before I felt the urge to set off for Chateau Latour, so keen on exactitude the organizers of that chateau's diary that tardiness is rather severely frowned upon. Hence I was 15 minutes early and my mistiming merely mildly frowned upon.

Ah, Latour. King of all you survey; Cabernet's finest moment; black-grape-aristocracy. A horse was busy ploughing in the vineyard and my cynical mind wondered whether its activity was just one part of a choreographed performance that was to last the week of the primeurs tastings.

2010 Pauillac - they admitted that it had been a toss-up between 2010 and 2012 for its latest release. On this evidence, they called it wrong. The 2010 needs longer, as it's waist-deep in a coffin of new wood. The '09 Forts de Latour is another matter. Hedonistic calls it about right. 2000 Chateau Latour. Well. You can imagine. It costs that for good reason.

Pichons Lalande and Baron followed. Both are utterly lovely, as ever the former rather more willing to please, a part of its vineyard being in St Julien and it having something of the plushness of that commune.

N.B. A first view of the '15 vintage's sweet wines: Suduiraut shown at Pichon Baron. Ooh. Utterly beguiling. I will taste more tomorrow.

On to Lafon Rochet, that chateau that now looks like an advertisement for a brand of mustard, there to taste all St Estephes and Pauillacs. Then back to Gruaud to finish up the St Juliens, followed by du Tertre for the Margaux wines.

Much has been said about the heights of the Margaux appellation this vintage and, indeed, the wines are richer than those of the northern Medoc and otherwise offer that same stunning combo of purity, focus, transparency and minerals.

Which is what made Palmer, Issan and Margaux such an exquisite trio of visits. Palmer is big and rich and mouthfilling; Issan is very Margaux in that mind-bogglingly harmonious  and beautiful way.

But Margaux itself. Mortgage any relative that might be worth sufficient funds to get some of this into the cellar.

It's as if the vintage has come together specifically to give the charms of Chateau Margaux a showroom in which to disport itself for the pleasure of the taster and, in the years to come, the drinker. It's a gorgeous, gorgeous thing. I want...

Monday, 4 April 2016

Wife Beaters and Dimples

Cos d'Estournel from the terrace outside the tasting room at Lafite

Fresh is not a word to describe the condition in which I find myself sitting here in my hotel room in downtown Bordeaux having just wrestled with Bordeaux rush hour traffic for the last two-and-a-half hours.

Fresh is, however, an entirely apposite word to append to one’s tasting notes of the 2015 Left Bank clarets I have been sampling throughout the day.

First things first. My ‘plane from Gatwick was delayed by an hour, thus arrival into Merignac airport last evening was, in reality, this morning, and my head didn’t finally find the pillow until gone 1am. And then (unknown bed; unfamiliarity with those pillows) sleep was hard to find.

Nevertheless, when my alarm sounded this morning six hours and five minutes after I had set it, I knew that I had a great deal of time in which to breakfast and cover the road up to St Julien and my first rendezvous at Ducru-Beaucaillou. And thank goodness I did. Having guessed I would be way too early for my tasting I arrived on the dot. Bordeaux distances are not what you might call small.

Weather today has done pretty much everything. The forecast – even the forecast on this morning’s news – was for rain, yet the skies remained resolutely clear, the sun bright, until 3pm or so, when the heavens opened, if not fully, then enough of a crack to let out persistent drizzle of varying degrees of heaviness.

In order, I have today visited Ducru, Leoville-Lascases, Leoville-Poyferre, Pontet Canet (to include one of their legendary lunches with leviathan cheese table), Mouton-Rothschild, Montrose, Cos d’Estournel, Lafite-Rothschild and, lastly, Calon Segur (finish in St Estephe and it’s always going to be a long road home, no matter where you’re staying).

All these visits have given me the inkling of an idea about the style of the wines of the northern Medoc, an inkling I intend to turn into something more definitive tomorrow when I get to taste a great many more wines from across the chateaux hierarchy.

What I have found thus far is silk, cream, cashmere, berries (red and black), juiciness, minerality, modest levels of alcohol and looooong finishes. These are pretty wines: wines of the sort I want to drink. They don’t bang on about how clever they are, don’t want to stand there in the style of shirt Aussies have come to call a “wife beater” and flex their muscles to make you go ooh, aren’t you a big one. Instead, they are clad in haute couture, aren’t wearing much make-up, move with a slightly feline grace.

Oh, and many have rather adorable dimples. They will keep very well, yet the wines lower down the chain of command will be enjoyable early. Most are utterly delicious.

There. Tomorrow will reveal more.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Whole Bunch and the Bard

Red wine being racked out of a vat.
The red sludge left behind is the dead yeast cells.

Nuits St Georges was my destination this morning. And to say I was excited about the visit would be an understatement. I'd never been to Domaine Gouges before and it's a long time since I last sampled any of their wines, but the reputation - one that has changed somewhat in recent times - was a tonic for my right foot on the peage at 08h30.

I was met by Gregory Gouges who opened the door to my knock at their domaine in downtown Nuits St Georges. Gregory's a good guy and filled me in about the history of this venerable estate and the recent changes.

A shiny new winery was built here in 2007 and its an enterprise that operates entirely by way of gravity. Nothing is pumped here, as it is believed to have a detrimental effect on the wine.

We descended into the cellar (a stunning series of clean, homely rooms) and tasted the '14s. These liquids are utterly extraordinary. All vineyards save a small parcel of the premier cru of Les Chaignots are in Nuits' southern sector and it is here where the most Nuits-y Nuits are considered to be produced. These are profound, pure wines of considerable seamlessness and beauty: properly senior burgundies and wines that will keep into the long term with enormous grace. Enthralled sums up my emotional response, I think, rather well.

Then back to Gevrey, a right turn at the lights and down past Rossignol-Trapet's doors and on, over the railway line and eventually to the warehouse doors where is found a negociant business of Pierre Naigeon and also that of Mark Haisma, expat Aussie of French and Dutch extraction (and, to complicate things yet further, who also spends part of his year at his house in Wiltshire).

Mark's a forthcoming sort of a bloke. What Aussie isn't? He makes it clear that wine is for drinking and that his intention is to make wines to the utmost drinkability. We tastes a range of wines red and white (the wine being racked above is one of his) and I am seriously enjoying the bright clear-voiced fruit and aromas that often take in the rose-petal scent of whole-bunch fermentation. We finish with a Cornas. A bit of Syrah made a nice change to non-stop beauty parade that's been my evaluation of the 2014 Burgundy vintage. Not to say that the Cornas wasn't rather ravishing, too!

A quick lunch was grabbed at the Gevrey sports centre 'round the corner and I raced down to Gamay; no, not the grape variety, but a village in the commune of St Aubin where the domaine Marc Colin is to be found. They have a big and fascinating range here and we tasted a goodly part of it. These are delicious mostly white burgundies of wonderful expression an race. You will see some on an offer before long, if all goes to plan.

Early to rise tomorrow. I have a train to catch and 220 minutes of Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet to sit through once I arrive home. And if I don't get sufficient sleep tonight, the bard will be at risk of being drowned out by my snoring.