Wednesday, December 26, 2007

les jardins de babylon, jurancon moelleux par didier dagueneau.

Ive been saving this one for a while, since it was given to me by mr b earlier in the year. The bottle looks amazing, its 500ml with a label of what looks like a llama in mosaic. The nose is amazing honeyed with tropical fruit and quite a floral finish. The palate is rich, incredibly luscious again honeyed very sweet. It has great length the flavours growing in the mouth. Very very good.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Wine Blog Wednesday 40 - Petite Sirah

I had to do some real digging to be able to participate in this edition. Sonadora of Wannabe Wino has chosen a corker of a theme, and the wine Ive chosen to represent the theme today is a particularly special wine for me. Sonadora's theme is Petite Sirah (Syrah or however else it is usually spelt) and her post detailing the theme can be found at

The wine Ive chosen is one that I came across almost by accident many years ago. I was trawling through a broking list, as was my want at the time, in order to find little parcels of obscure wines to flesh out my wine-list. I came across a case of six bottles of Ridge Vineyards York Creek Petite Sirah. Now I had read a lot about Ridge in the American wine magazines that I had taken to buying in order to expand my knowledge of wines. I knew that they were famous for their Zinfandels - notably the Geyserville and Lytton Springs (ok I know technically they are vineyard blends comprised mostly of Zin with a few other grapes chucked in for good measure). So here was something completely new to me, and the likelyhood was that it was something relatively unknown. It was! From that first small parcel I fell in love with Ridge Vineyards wines, from the Dynamite Creek to the Santa Cruz, Lytton to the Independance School, Geyserville to the Bridgehead, the names and the grapes just entranced me - zinfandel, carignane, mataro, petite sirah, grenache, cabernet franc, petit verdot and of course cab sauv and chardonnay. From their utalitarian labels, brimming with information, harvest details, location of the vineyards, residual sugar levels, acidity levels etc etc. Not that they were easy to get, I had to content myself with buying from brokers selling small parcels, often grey market stock - european mainly. I also had my first humbling moment as a sommelier with a Ridge wine. I had only been a commis sommelier for about three weeks, and it was my first week flying solo after the departure of the head sommelier. We had a regular guest at the restaurant come in with a party of ten, celebrating a family birthday. He asked me several questions about the Lytton Springs we had on the list, and rather foolishly I tried to bluff the answers. Turned out he knew the answers to the questions and it was a form of initiation, a way of him "measuring" me. I failed miserably, and then spend the whole evening on the back foot, desperately trying to get back on top of the situation. But it taught me an important lesson, not to try and bullshit the customer. Now if I get a tough question I dont know the answer too, I 'fess up and usually avoid any aggro. Then the first opportunity I get I make sure that I find out the answer. The next time that I saw Mr R booked in, I made sure that I studied all about the Ridge Lytton Springs and the Geyserville and several other wines that I had heard him talking about during his last visit. It took me months of effort, but in the end I won him around, and once I figured out his weakness (he was an avid parker point chaser) then I gained control of the relationship and started steering his choices towards the latest 97 point + wines.

Anyways as usual I digress. The wine that Ive chosen is my last bottle of Ridge York Creek Petite Sirah 1995. I was kind of dubious about its durability, but reading the back label, it seems that Paul Draper felt it would benefit from 5-10 years of further development when it was bottled in 1997. So it is now 10 years since it was bottled and if PD's notes were correct then this ought to be at the peak of its life. Reading the notes further it seems that 95 was a challenging year. Unseasonal weather during spring delayed the onset of growth in the vines and when the vines were eventually in bloom rainstorms seriously reduced the yields by damaging the flowers. The end result was a significantly reduced yield (1-2 tons/acre compared to at least twice that), but as we all know that usually in that situation the vine seems to make up for the reduced yield by producing exceptionally concentrated fruit. Long periods of warm summer weather culminated in one of the latest harvests recorded at Ridge with the final blocks of fruit coming in on the 16th November. The wines are usually fermented by block with a portion of the fruit undergoing whole berry fermentation to add fruit character to the wines. The rest are fermented under the cap of grape skins with the juice being pumped over twice daily to extract tannins and flavour without the excessively bitter tannins often found in the seeds. Then it goes into american oak for about a year and a half aging, about 20% into new oak. Paul Drapers tasting note concludes that the wine exhibits an intense berry fruit character with typical black pepper flavours.

So what is it like now? The colour is a deep purple core with a rim that has definate browning, reddening to it. On the nose the aromas are quite well mixed, the berry fruits still quite evident but with more mature aromas too. There is blackberry and an almost plum like aroma with licoriceroot and almost cocoa flavours mixed in there. There is also quite a feral character - not quite leather but some form of animal hide like aroma, slightly smoky and a touch spicy - perhaps cloves and other exotic middle eastern spices. On the palate the black pepper character seems to be more obvious, but the main elements are the fruit flavours - black plums and brambles with coconutty oak character and a touch of tobacco - think aged cuban cigar. The finish carries a slightly smoky edge which if im honest im not too keen on, and there seems to be something almost "dirty" at the end, slightly fungal/foresty/black soil like. But apart from that it is absolutely bloody amazing wine, the tragedy is that this represents my last bottle of the Ridge "obscure" varietal wines that I love so much. My last bottle of the Bridgehead Mataro was consummed some years ago, and they ripped it all up due to viral contamination, so it is never to be replaced. I havent seen the York Creek Petite Sirah on the UK market for a number of years now, it seems they are playing safe over here with the two "Zins" and the frankly disappointing Monte Bello. Ive been trying to get hold of some of their ATP wines for a number of years, but they just dont have enough to spare. We actually did a Ridge Gourmet a couple of years ago, and while the Zins and the Chardonnay were amazing, the biggest disappointment was the Monte Bello which was an anticlimax after all Ive heard about it. For me Ridge will always be about the underdog, the obscure varieties that made me fall in love with their wines. I just hope that I can find some more to keep up the magic.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Short and Sweet.

For the next three weeks, Im going to try and keep posting, but they are going to have to be short and sweet, as were quite busy. Very busy, very very busy. In fact theres a million other things I ought to be doing instead of this. Like the orders, updating the wine-list to remove all the amazing wines weve finished over the last three days, changing the cognac list to remove the 1810 and 1802 cognacs that weve finished over the last few days, so gotta dash, and I promise I will try and post more.

Les Forts de Latour 1985

Les forts is the second wine of Chateau Latour, and its a wine Ive always wanted to try. Its pretty difficult to get hold of, presumable a dual issue of quantity released (small) and demand (high), but I managed to grab two bottles from a broking list earlier this year when I got a bit of money to spend on mature claret.
The colour was fantastic - cerise turning brick red, with a lovely reddish-brown rim. On the nose the aroma that stood out for me was one of smoked red peppers - think Tex-mex food. Not one that I was expecting at all, especially from a decent claret. But the flavours were wonderful. Soft and elegant red fruit character with elegant soft tannins, finely woven flavours of oak - tobacco and hints of bourbon vanilla. The finish was exceptionally long and seemed to add different elements to the flavours. It wasnt cheap - its listed at £255 a bottle on the list, which isnt much more that what I paid for it, but I feel it was worth every penny and more. Next year Im going to try and hunt down some more!

(Image from Joy from Cooking blog -

In a homage to Chateau Petrogasm this is the image that I reckon would sum up the dish.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Les Grands Vins de Bourgogne - Gourmet Dinner

Last night was the finale to the 2007 Gourmet calendar our Burgundy Dinner. Ive been anxiously anticipating this event for a while now, and apart from a few traumas with numbers the preparation seemed to go quite smoothly. We ended up with 51 covers last night, which if memory serves me equals our largest gourmet to date the Krug Dinner we did back in 2005. Last night did however set two new records - most numbers of glasses on the table per setting (seven per person) and latest finish (2:30am).

We started the evening with a champagne, after all at £210 per person we couldnt really expect everyone to drink Cremant de Bourgogne!! Keeping with the Burgundian theme however we started with Jacques Selosse Initiale NV. Winemaker Anselme Selosse trained in Burgundy and he has brought the style and techniques of Burgundy to Champagne. A fervent believer in Terrior and practicing Biodynamic agriculture Anselme vinifies each of his grand cru vineyards seperately in small oak barriques. Weekly battonage and malo-lactic fermentation give the wines a richness of character and depth of flavour almost unknown in champagne. These are almost like sparkling Montrachets!! Needless to say the rich style of his wines isnt to everyones palate and some folks found it a challenge - particularly those fans of more pinot dominated champagnes. We got the last 18 bottles of this, and now have to wait until next year for some more!!

The first course wine was a Meursault-Charmes from Domaine Roulot. Now I'll confess that Im not the biggest fan of Meursault. Im not keen on the floral, perfume character that some meursault has. This wine showed huge bottle variation, so much so that we had to do a cheeky little "assemblage" with some of the bottles to try and even it out a little. It was also quite reductive, with a slightly cheesey aroma (they're squeezy, they're cheesey theyre squeezy cheesy peas.)But the decanting seemed to take care of that and the result was quite a nutty style, almost approaching a Puligny style of white. Roulots holdings are at the Puligny end of Meursault so perhaps there is something in that. The wine was paired with an artichoke veloute (aka wine-killer soup) with smoked flaked cod. It actually worked quite well, although the wine wasnt that popular with about 40% of the room.

The intermediate was a paella of rabbit with clams and chorizo and that was paired with Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet "Clavoillons" 2002. OMG a match made in heaven. The puligny was divine - rich buttery nose with a soft vanilla aroma, reminding me of my grannys victoria sponge mix! The feedback was fantastic, it seemed that everyone loved this wine.

Main course was paired with Jean-Jacques Confurons Clos Vougeot 1999. Out of a case of twelve we had one casualty to TCA, the third lost bottle of the night (three more to come!!). This was fabulous - rich in fruit with an understated earthyness, fine tannins and an elegant finish. This wine became the star of the night, everyone raved about it.

The main attraction was served with the cheese course - two different Domaine de la Romanee Conti wines - both from the same vintage. The first was a Romanee-St-Vivant - elegant and feminine in style it was slightly shy to start slowly giving up its fruit to reveal soft graceful berry flavours with none of the earthyness of the more masculine DRC's. The acidity seemed to be sharper and more defined and the tannins were very smooth and understated. The second was a bit more brutish - La Tache - big earthy notes with more defined oak structure to the flavours with the black cherry flavours coming out towards the end, almost like a black forest gateaux. It was a shame that we were only able to serve a mere mouthful as I had six bottles of each wine to pour over 50 people. But the opportunity to taste such wines comes up so infrequently and to be able to taste two different wines side by side is even rarer so I dont think the guests begrudged us the size of the measures.

We had to cheat a bit at the end, as we struggled to source a dessert style wine from Burgundy. I know there are a few late harvest chardonnays, mainly from the Maconnais but I was unable to secure a sample, much less the quantity we desired, and bearing in mind the price of the evening, we felt it might be best to chuck in a cheeky wee Sauternes to finish the night off. Last year we got such a good response to the Chateau Coutet at the Moutnon dinner that I thought, why not get Coutet on again, however this time we went for a younger vintage 2001. H, the pastry chef came up with an excellent Mandarin based dessert which was divine with the wine.

And that was it, the end of 2007 Gourmet calendar. All we had to do was to wash and polish 357 Riedel Cristal glasses, by hand and we could go home. By 2am the final glasses were being polished and re-boxed until next time, and then what had been a long, but very satisfying day had come to an end. The feedback has been great, and now Ive got to come up with an idea to end next years calendar on an even bigger high. Suggestions on a postcard please!!

Friday, November 16, 2007

WBW 39 Silver Burgundy

Im a bit behind on this posting, so Im going to keep it short and sweet. The wine is a Givry from a producer that Ive had an affinity for, for a while now, Jean-Marc Boillot. Boillot used to be the winemaker at Olivier Leflaive, and being the grandson of Ettiene Sauzet to boot, you just know theres good pedigree there. Its a 96 which is starting to give me some cause for concern, the attrition rate on this wine is now upto one in three bottles which means that Im losing a third of the stock. But those bottles that arent oxidised beyond salvage are showing marvelous nutty character with rich buttery flavours and a stoney fruit character that is edging on the sultana. The wine is getting a touch flabby, well it is 11 years old, and I think the oak flavours are now starting to appear out of balance, but with the right dish, this is a lovely wine, and its not going to break the bank either. Currently sitting on our winelist at £33 thats not bad going when you think that Im losing one bottle in every three I open.

Thanks to the Brooklyn Guy for the great topic
and Im looking forward to reading what others have found.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Its not the winning its the taking part that counts.

Without sounding too cliched and patronising, that was how I felt on Tuesday night at the first Hotel Catey awards dinner down in London. I had been nominated for an award in the Food and Beverage service category, so I was down in the big smoke for a swanky dinner at a posh hotel with the better half in tow. After a few dramas trying to secure a room for the night (turns out London is fully booked this week with World Travel Market going on at Excell) we had managed to get a room organised at the Hilton Metropole on Edgeware Road. I got dressed up in my kilt, the wife looked fabulous in a black cocktail dress and we set off to meet Penta at the Hilton Park Lane where the Awards were being held in the Grand Ballroom. There were more than 600 people there, packed like sardines into the foyer slurping on Taittinger Champagne until the troupe of toastmasters called us through to dinner. After a lovely dinner the entertainment started with a Two Ronnies style newsketch with David Morgan-Hewitt from the Goring and Peter Hancock of Pride of Britain. They were very funny, although the joke about JWS seemed to fall a bit flat. After a short comfort break, Ardal o'Hanlon came on to compere the evening.

When it came to my category, my stomach was turning somersaults, i didnt expect to win, lets face it John Campbell got his second star this year, but I was still nervous. In the end I was right about who won, but Im happy that I got through to the last four. Worrying over it was time to get pished!! Which we did remarkable well actually, I dont have much recollection of the end of the evening, although I do remember chatting to Andrew Mackenzie of the Vineyard at Stockcross and Johnnie Walker, ex Andrew Fairlies and now the head wine buyer for the Malmaison Group. We even bumped into Justin Llewelyn, Mr Taittinger who is always good for a laugh.

I had a great time and am grateful to all those who put me forward and endorsed my nomination. And in the words of Mrs B, my hovercraft is indeed full of eels.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Pair of 88's.

When you boil it down to simplistic terms, then virtually nothing separates them. The occupy the same commune of Flagy-Echezeaux, The same viticulturalist, winemaker, facilities, everything. Admittedly between them lies the vineyards of La Grand Rue (monopole of Francois Lamarche) and La Romanee Conti, but one is La Tache, and the other is Richebourg, the domaine is Domaine de la Romanee Conti and the vintage is 88. Tasted as a pair sold to Mr B, one of our favourite regulars.

The 88 Richebourg was opened first. When I plucked them from the cellar, it was quite noticeable how thinner the bottle was compared to the more current releases. The wine itself had a tighter nose than I was expecting for the age of it, the fruit was quite shy at first, but thinking about it, it was possibly due to the temp as much as the wine, after all winter is drawing in, and the cellar temp is closer to 12degrees now. Once the fruit started showing it was restrained, under-ripe raspberries and berry fruits, with hardly any other aromas to show. On the palate it was green, very tight and mouth puckeringly sour to start with, but it soon loosened up a bit and the berry fruit flavours became a bit more defined. I was quite surprised by the tightness of the wine, after all it's nearly out of its teens, I guess I was expecting more earthy notes, leathery, tobacco etc. Considering the price (even the cost price never mind the list price!) I was expecting more wow, but what I got was probably more [meh] than anything else.

Onto bottle number two. Expectations considerably lowered by the experience of bottle number one, I was blown away by this bottle. The nose hit you the minute the cork left the bottle, ripe wild strawberries with black earth, tobacco and a touch of mushroom woodyness. Fan-bloody-tastic!!! The colour was remarkable clear, although there was a fine suspension starting to show, the rim a glorious brick red colour against a cerise core. On the palate it was elegant, soft supple tannins gliding across the flavours of strawberries and raspberry. Divine. Needless to say this bottle got served second, in order to lift the first one.

Were doing another vertical of DRC on the upcoming Burgundy dinner on the 5th December with a pair of 98's Romanee St Vivant and La Tache. I pray that the 98 La Tache is halfway as good as the 88, and the night ought to be a winner.

Speaking of winners, Im off down to London on Tuesday for the Hotel Cateys Awards dinner, where Im in the running for an award under the Food and Beverage Service Category. Im up against some good competition, so we shall have to see how I fare, but I understand that there were over a hundred nominations in that category, and I made it to the final four, so thats a massive achievement in itself.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Domaine A - Tasting Tazzie!

One of my favourite account managers dropped in to see me the other day with the export sales manager from Domaine A wines. Domaine A are based in Campania Tasmania. Now just now Tazzie has got some seriously good ju-ju, getting loads of good press from the likes of James Halliday as the region to look out for. Go back about five years or more and the only Tazzie wine you would find would be Pipers Brook, which under the stewardship of Dr Andrew Pirie produced some cracking wines, including an eponymous sparkler which was fantastic. Now Pirie has moved on to new pastures in Tasmania, but loads of new wineries are now available in the UK, the likes of Tamar Ridge, Ninth island (2nd wine of Pipers), Devils Corner, Pirie, Jansz, Bay of Fires and of course Domaine A.

Now Id been fortunate enough to taste the Lady A Fume Blanc from Domaine A a few months earlier with Noel. Somehow he had been sent a sample bottle (considering that the UK allocation is about ten cases (of six) samples are exceptionally rare!!) and diamond geezer that he is, he wanted to taste it with me. Now Id hate to have this wine in a blind tasting, because Id swear blind it was Bordeaux Blanc, and good bordeaux blanc at that. Which is kind of amazing really, because apparently it was "created" to be in the style of Pavillion Blanc, which the owner Mme Althaus adores. The nose just doesnt present like a new world wine at all, the fruit is restrained, in balance with the flavours of the oak, a touch of smokyness, richness that just grows in the glass. The wine has complexity, many different layers that slowly reveal themselves over time. This is a wine to enjoy slowly, with food, and great friends. It is also best enjoyed at cellar temp, not chilled to death!! Were it now for the fact that the wine has only been made for about five or six vintages it would probably be in the top ten wines in the Langtons Classification, which is Australias premier classification for wines.

Paul also brought along a couple of reds to show us. We tasted the 2003 Pinot first. Again I would have hated to get this in a blind tasting. Morello cherries with a touch of spice competing with eucalyptus notes would probably steered me to barossa shiraz, all that was missing was the black pepper. This is a big pinot, quite weighty, but bloody good, if a little bit on the scary expensive side. Next up we tasted two different vintages of the Cabernet. First up was the 98, brambles and tobacco, very slight hints of eucalypt, but not as dominant. The wine was a deep purple colour, with the rim showing no discernable signs of maturity. I couldnt believe this was the 98, the nose was so fresh, vibrant, and on the palate it was the same. The fruit was vigorous, vibrant so fresh. It seemed so young. The 2000 had more black fruit character, and a touch more eucalypt on the nose, although the seamless integration of fruit and oak seemed to blank out the menthol characters on the palate. The wine is aged in 100% new french oak, which is bloody expensive in Oz. That quite possibly contributes to the scary prices, which puts them into the top end of double figures, barely scraping away from three figures on the wine-list. But if someone asked me, I would wholeheartedly say they were worth it.

Im hoping to do a gourmet dinner with Paul next year and showcase the wines of Domaine A, because they are fantastically good, and I get the feeling that in years to come they will be considerably harder to get, as their popularity grows. Danny was so impressed with the white that in the three days since the tasting he has gone and sold four bottles. Ive only got two left, and if I beg I might be able to get another six!! That will have to do me until next year!!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

de Venoge Gourmet evening.

Last night I was delighted to have Eric Maillot from de Venoge champagne come and present his wines to our gourmet evening. We had a great turnout of new faces and some old friends, and a great time was had by all.

I was fortunate enough to be taken out to de Venoge by Ed from Boutinot in my first year here at the Grosvenor, and it was a very enjoyable two days. We drove over from Paris having flown there from Liverpool. Once there we were given a tour of the cellars by Eric, and a practical demonstration of how they used to disgorge the wines in the olden days. Eric disgorged a bottle of 1978 which we then tasted sans dosage. From what I can remember it was amazingly fresh, with strong autolytic character - bread, digestive biscuit notes, very austere, bone dry but still fairly acidic. We all felt that it would have been better with some dosage. I then was given the opportunity to disgorge a bottle, which I think I did quite well actually!! We were then all given a taste and asked if we thought it was younger or older than the 78. I was the only one to say older, which it was, and it turned out to be a 71, my birthyear!! So when I was planning the dinner, I wanted to show the 71, but alas they only had a few bottles, not enough to serve 45 people. I found out last night, that this is probably the last time anyone will get the chance to taste the 78 now as de Venoge has so little left, they will reserve it for themselves.

So we started the evening with de Venoge Cordon Bleu served from Jeroboam and magnums. I had hoped to serve the whole aperitif from Jero's but we couldnt secure enough to do it, so we had three jeros and four mags. There was a slight taste difference between the jeros and mags, the mags had a slightly smokier, flinty edge to them, whereas the jeros seemed much more rounded and elegant. Eric felt it was possibly that as the larger bottles sell less frequently they tend to have a longer cellar age on them, meaning that the base vintage would have been older as well. This was unanimously enjoyed by everyone, and I think it was the only wine everyone liked.

First course was paired with the 2000 Blanc de Blancs, 100% Chardonnay. I quite liked this one, crisp green apples (granny smiths) with slight yeasty flavours showing, very fresh with crisp acidity and clean finish. Very good.

We served their new cuvee the Louis XV for the intermediate course. This wine replaced the Grand Vins des Princes. It is named in honour of Louis XV who decreed that only the wines from Champagne may be transported in bottles, effectively creating the opportunity to make the wines sparkling. Without his decree, Dom Ruinart and Perignon would never have been able to make their innovations and champagne as we know it may never have existed. The wine is bottled in a clear decanter shaped bottle, that came about when Joseph de Venoge wanted something special to present his wines in when he was entertaining guests. The wine itself was a golden amber colour with a rich honeyed nose, very reminiscent of a good white burgundy - a nutty beurre noisette kind of aroma. I think this was one of the best wines of the night, it should have gone really well with the lacquered ribs with five spice and steamed scallop with shoots and sesame.

We poured a 92 Latricieres from Drouhin Laroze for the main, because the boss likes to have some red, and it kind of breaks up the champagnes a bit.

The cheese course was paired with magnums of 1978 Blanc de Blancs. Very very arid, steely dry with a slightly smoky nose and sharp citrus notes on the palate. The dosage worked out at just less than 1g per litre, very very dry, but with the taleggio, salami and truffle "pizza" it worked exceptionally well, even if the cheese reeked to high heavens (I had to leave the restaurant it smelt so bad!!).

The night drew to a close with the NV Rose with dessert, an ile flotant (floating island) - vanilla poached meringue with lemon posset and raspberries. YUM!!

An enjoyable night was had by all, and Eric and Ed managed to charm their way round the room. Talking to guests the next morning, I think its fair to say that de Venoge has a few more fans!!

Today I am mostly brain dead.

After a mammoth 17 hour shift yesterday, and a craptastic five hours of sleep I am in a state of zombie today wandering around trying to remember what it is that I am doing. If I can stay awake long enough Im going to post a few tasting notes from last nights de Venoge champagne gourmet evening. The wines were spot on last night and chef's menu really worked well with the wines, everyone was very very happy last night.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Nuits St Georges "Cuvee Jeune Vignes de Clos de Forets" Premier Cru 1993

Tasted at Corks Out on Thursday as part of our newly formed wine club. The wine had a slight haze to it, hardly surprising as it had been bounced around on the walk down to Corks out, and Domaine de l'Arlot dont filter or fine their wines. The core was a deep ruby red colour with the rim showing signs of maturation as the colour was more brown than red. On the nose it was a bit tight at first, opening out to a classic red burgundy nose - earth, forest floor, morello cherry, a touch of soft red berries and generous hints of tobacco. On the palate it was smooth, with fine tannins, still holding firm, surprisingly still with good acidity, and more youthful than it ought to be. Nigel and Peter were both suitably impressed, as they ought to be!!

Our next meeting is on the 20th November and the theme is Piedmont wines. Must get searching.

For £700 it ought to be better than "Yes its ok"

Danny was in an ultra-motivated mood yesterday, which was great. All we had to do was aim him at a customer and then fire him off, and he went off like an exocet wallet seeking missile. The first table to fall prey to this was Table 1, a random looking couple, in their mid to late fifties. The guy asks Danny if theres anything interesting in Pomerol he knows. Danny being who he is, naturally dives straight into Petrus ( I must teach him about la Conseillante and Le Pin!!), and persuades the geezer to go for an 81 Petrus at £700 a bottle.

Now the price seems quite low (for Petrus), and really its because 81 wasnt a great vintage, some communes seemed to fare better than others, Pomerol being one of those. But having said that, Im beginning to think that this wine has seen better days. The nose had quite profound aromas of tobacco, mushroomy earth then I started to sense the dark stone fruit aromas, slightly figgy, plums almost prunes and a faint hint of dates - sticky toffee pudding without the caramel. On the palate the flavours followed pretty much the aroma profile with less fruit seemingly evident than i was expecting. If Id forked out £700 for this, I think I would be quite disappointed, Id be wanting "WOW!, OMG!" not "Its ok". But you see here lies one of my dilemmas. This could be a fluke, a dud bottle that just hasnt kept, and my last bottle could be outstanding. There is just no way to tell until you pull the cork

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Finding inspiration

Ive not been posting as much as I would like to recently, and part of the reason is down to time. In the past I always used to blog at the end of a shift. Call it venting, therapy whatever, but it used to let me get my shit together before i went home, and i always found it gave me a better nights sleep. When I used to work at Gleneagles I found the drive home did the same thing. Considering that I lived in Glasgow, 51 miles away, I had about 35-40 minutes of drive to clear my head of work and get back into civilian life. It meant that I didnt have work thoughts in my head when I went to bed, and usually meant that I got a better nights kip.
When I started the blog, I was using it as a replacement for the drive, by writing the stuff down, it got it out of my head and meant when I got home I could go to bed without all this stuff going round my brain. It let me clear some frustrations from the previous shift, which more than once got me into hot water with the boss(es). I learnt to temper down what i vented a bit, saving it as a draft and revisiting it the next morning to tone it down some. But I also used it to try and help me remember those wines I felt ought to be remembered. I was tasting anything upto twenty wines in a night, and some were worthy of further attention, so I blogged them. But now Im tasting much less that I was, and im finding it harder to get the inspiration nevermind the time to post. Tonight Im off to the first meeting of a wine "club" that Peter from Corks Out and I are hoping to get off the ground in Chester. A gathering of a bunch of guys and hopefully a few girls too, who are interested in wine, probably work with wine and want to taste some good wines in a friendly, peer group scenario. Im taking a "probably" knackered old bin-end Nuits along, so hopefully I will get a chance to post about it later.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

James and Oz big wine adventure

One advantage of my new working hours is that I get to actually watch many of the programs that customers used to talk to me about. One such program is the new series of James & Oz's wine adventures, this time set in the sunny climes of California. I only got to see one episode of the first series, set in France, but I quite liked what I saw. I also enjoyed last nights episode and will be sure to watch the whole series.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Judging Waiters

Ive just got back from London where Ive been judging the finals of the young waiter young chef competition. It was quite an amazing experience really, and I was only judging!! I cant imagine the feeling of the contestants, who, judging by the number of shaking hands, were quite nervous at the start of the event.

Organised by Jeremy Rata, ex Devonshire Arms and now ensconsed at the DeVere Brighton Grand, and Stephen Mannock from Darlington College, the event comprised of a whole days testing, split into two parts. Part one took place in the morning and consisted of a series of interviews and tasks such as correcting mistakes on a menu, and a wine list, an interview with Peter Birnie, Chief Inspector for the AA and Joe Durrant the last winner of the event. The afternoon portion of the competition was a practical event. The competitors had been paired with a chef, who had compiled a menu based on a basket of known ingredients, and then a mystery basket to be given on the day. So by liaising with the chef, the waiters had to get an understanding of the menu they would be serving to their table. They had to lay up their table using their choice of materials to hand and including their own floral centre-piece. Then their guests arrived and they had the task of serving them pre-lunch drinks and canapes then bringing them through to their tables and serving their lunch and wines. We were to judge them on a variety of tasks and criteria and award them a score of 1 to 4, one being poor, two being the average, three being a bit beyond average and four being excellent.

As we did this, I can to think about how I am judged by customers on a daily basis. What criteria do they measure me by? I find it especially pertinent just now, as Im up for a Hotel Catey for Food and Wine Service. Now Im not sure how they determine who will win, and by what criteria it is assessed. Now the assessments have probably already taken place, I find out at the award ceremony on the 13th November if I win (fingers crossed!!).

In an effort to ensure impartiality and to try and create and even scoring system, each judge was allocated one waiter. They were then paired up with the idea being that each judge would cross-reference their scoring with their partner and try to reach concensus. Then each pair would cross-reference with their neighbouring pair and so on. The eventual result was that we were pretty much all scoring in the same way. So at the end of the event we all sat down and discussed out scoring and three winners emerged. The eventual winner was pretty much clear winner - his score was a good few points ahead of the rest. The number two scoring candidate was felt, while they were technically good, there was just something missing from their service, it was clinical and lacking in personality, whereas the third scoring candidate had a much more personable style of service and we all felt we would much rather be served by number three than number two, so we switched their positions around.

So it was an enjoyable day, and I think i was quite surprised to look back on it and think that I actually learnt a few things that day myself, besides which it was a great networking experience.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

After Paco, where we are now.

Its been nearly six months since Paco left. Hard to believe, so much seems to have happened since then. The place is almost unrecognisable now, we've re-arranged the furniture in the Library, the table layout has changed in the restaurant, the staff are all different, and many of the regulars have now gone elsewhere. About a month ago our new manager Mark started, and he seems to be settling in quite well. The honeymoon period is over and the pressure is now on to meet various challenges we face going into the second half of the financial year. Obviously with chrimbo coming up we are getting busier and busier, and its kind of scary to think that in 73 days time, father xmas will be magically coming down our chimneys and leavings tons of loot under our trees. Then six days after that, its hogmanay, time to get absolutely trolleyed on bubbles (and thats just the staff Im talking about!!!) before snogging the arse off some random stranger on the dancefloor (I wish!!).

Pacos coming back in a couple of weeks to visit us, the hotel closes for a couple of weeks for a short holiday, so it will be good to see him again, as well as Greg and Anna. I wonder what they will think of the changes?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Wine Blog Wednesday 38 - Portugal.

My how quickly a month goes by. So much has happened in the last month, that my posting rate has declined slightly, but Im going to try and post more frequently this month. What better way to start than with our monthly on-line festival of wine that is Wine Blog Wednesday.

Ryan and Gabrielle Opaz of Catavino have selected a theme, that is very close to their hearts, vineously and of course geographically. I really like the geography themed WBW because they encourage us to explore new regions and Im sure in many cases unfamilar regions. Now most peoples experience of Portugese wines will be limited to the occasional glass of port after dinner (and many of them will consequently blame the horrendous hangover the following morning to that single glass of port!!).

The wine Ive selected for this WBW is Quinta dos Roques Reserva 1999 from Dao. Its a Denominacao de Origem Controlada, which is the highest quality rating in Portugal. Quinta dos Roques is a relatively new estate, the vineyards were replanted in the 80's and they made their own wine from then. It is a curious blend of traditional grapes and wines, made in a modern winery, to a fairly modern style. Ive always considered the wines of Portugal to be very rustic, more food orientated than drinking on their own kind of wines, but I think that reflects the whole cultural impact of wine and cuisine that you find on the continent, and that seems to be missing from the new world.

The Reserva is a blend (as it would seem most Portugese reds are), predominantly Touriga Nacional, with a bit of Tinta Roriz and Tinta Cao, some Alfrocheiro and a dash of Jaen. All thats missing is the high alcohol content and it could probably pass off as a half decent port! The fruit comes from a single vineyard, the Peach Tree (Pessegueiro) vineyard. It spent about 14 months in barrel before being bottled.

On the nose it has spicy dark fruit aromas, it kind of reminds me a bit of xmas pudding, you have a touch of spice to it, raisins, cherries, there are even hints of chocolate here too. There is something almost feral in there too, cant quite pin it down, but it isnt off putting. From the nose I would have to say that I think this wine has seen better days, dont get me wrong its still drinkable, but I reckon its glory days were maybe a year or two ago.
On the palate the dark fruit comes through bathed in spices, more cinnamon with hints of ginger spices too. The tannins are still quite firm, and the wine follows through with a rich chocolatey finish which almost contradicts my earlier thoughts about being past its prime. I dont think this is the kind of wine to drink on its own. It needs food. But it isnt going to complement my ham and cheese sandwich very well, this needs something a bit meatier. I would serve this with something like the pork belly, rubbed in spices and glazed with honey. Some green beans and crushed new potatoes would finish that off nicely. As the wine sits with an ABV of 12.5%, its not going to send you senseless either. Overall Im quite happy with the wine, given the choice I would have prefered a slightly younger vintage, but this older bottle has actually distinguised itself well. Ive got 9 bottles left kicking around the cellar, so maybe I ought to re-list it as a curiousity, perhaps the sommeliers selection for the month.

Many thanks to Ryan and Gabrielle for the great theme, cant wait for next months theme, and I must make the effort to keep on blogging!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Mouton Rothschild 2006 Barrel Sample.

Tasted as part of the tour of Mouton Rothschild with Edouard Thouvenot. The wine has seen just less than a year in oak, yet it really was quite stunning. It is only the second time that I have tasted wine from barrel before it is ready (the first was at Vallet freres in Gevrey). It was hard to judge it really, because it still has a number of years to go before it would be considered "drinkable", but damn if it wasnt exceptionally drinkable. There was lots of forward fruit flavours - cassis, brambles and other berry fruit. I even thought I was getting a hit of blueberry. But then the earthier tones came forward, tobacco, chocolate and just a touch of something more animal in origin. The tannins werent soft, but they werent aggressive either, coating the mouth in quite a pleasant manner. I suspect that the acidity of the wine was probably helping to keep that in check. Now there is still at least 6 months more oak ageing to go before it will be sent off for bottling, and then they told us theu believe it will require five years or more of cellaring to approach its drinking period. But I didnt want to leave this wine, in fact I actually held everyone up slightly in my efforts to finish my glass. I didnt spit this one out, oh no!!!

It was tasted alongside samples of Clerc-Milon and d'Armailhac, and not for the first time, have I found the former to be quite green and moody, while the d'Armailhac was much more fruity and approachable. I could have quite happily sat down to a bottle of either the d'Armailhac or the Mouton, but would have gone without had the Clerc-Milon been placed in front of me. I find it strange that all three share everything together, winery, vineyards, fruit, winemaker, oak barrels, cellar etc, yet the Clerc-Milon, to me, is almost completely alien to the other two. There obviously is something different in the way it is made, but I possibly wasnt listening to that part of the tour!!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Mouton Rothschild 1989 en Magnum

Tasted as part of a plethora of wines at Chateau Mouton Rothschild on the vendageurs trip. All the stock came from the cellars underneath the chateau, kept in immaculate condition.

The wine was poured from the bottle, whether it had been double decanted was hard to tell, but there was no evidence of sediment, so I would surmise that it probably was. The nose was pleasantly earthy, with tobacco and forest floor aromas, undertones of berry fruits, ripe and succulent. On the palate, the berry flavours were quite evident along with the tobacco/cedar/humidor like flavours coming from the oak. The tannins were soft and elegant, and the wine had a pleasantly long length, the flavours gently disappearing from the mouth. I reckon I must have had about four or five glasses of this wine, it was simply divine!!!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Dinner at Chateau Mouton Rothschild

We were collected by coach from the hotel and driven to the Chateau to arrive promptly at 9pm. As we were early, we had to sit and wait behind the chai (cellars) of Clerc-Milon, Mouton's sister estate (Classified 5th Growth Pauillac). Apparently when the invite says 9pm, you are required to turn up at 9pm, not 8:58 or 9:01, but 9:00pm on the nail. Sods law, as we sat there and waited it started to rain a bit, and as we pulled up to the gates of the Chateau people were there with umbrellas to escort us up to the door.
We were dining in what used to be the barns where the animals were quartered, until Baron Phillipe had it converted into a grand barrel cellar and his living quarters. Apparently he did not wish to live in the Chateau, so he lived out his life in the converted barn. We were shown into a magnificent room, small but decorated with art works recovered from a great French liner, and proudly displayed. An aperitif of Pol Roger was served with canapes of nik-naks and bugles (yes the crisps!!! how bizarre!!), before being called through to dinner in the dining room next to the grand chai.
The grand chai was a revelation of its time, built in the 1920 its massive room is completely unsupported by pillars, a masterpiece of engineering at the time. At its capacity it can accomodate over a thousand barrels of wine, and as we dined the barrel hall was virtually empty, the new barrels for the 2007 vintage only starting to arrive over the next month.
As we split off to our tables the meal was served. We started with a starter of Salmon in Aspic, with red pepper and peppercorns. This was paired with the white wine of Mouton Rothschild - Aile d'Argent. The predominantly semillon blend with its rich smokyness paired well with the picquant spicyness of the pepper and the big chunks of mi-cuit salmon hunkering in the aspic. I think the vintage was 2004, but it may have been 2005, whatever it was really fabulous. The rolled out the red wines then, starting with the Baron d'Arques, Mouton's Languedoc red, followed by the d'Armailhac 1995 which continues to impress me with its solid structure and richness of flavour. Its amazing that this is still only a fifth growth, as for me it puts many third growths to shame. Then it was time for the big boy. Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1989 en magnum. OMG it was good. Rich, earthy nose with dominant flavours of red fruit, tobacco, cedarwood humidor aromas all intertwinned. I must have sunk nearly half a magnum of this one, it was marvelous. This was all paired off with a cutlet of lamb, from a local farm, rolled in cepes and wrapped in crepinette, served with minted new peas (mushy!!) and caramelised baby onions with a rich red wine reduction. It was divine! Cheese was a selection of camembert and some mimolette, followed by dessert of fig fool, with the figs coming fresh from trees around the estate.
As coffee was served, Xavier de Eizaguire, Executive Director of Sales & Marketing gave a quick speech. He told us our yield for the day, how much fruit we had picked, and he seemed to be genuinely impressed with the quantity. We had been harvesting parcel 105, a 1.5 hectare plot of merlot noir grafted onto Vitis Riparia. The plot contained around 9,202 vines. We had harvested 950 cachets (grey plastic tubs) with an average weight of 12kg each, to provide a total yield of 11,400kg of fruit. He told us this was the equivalent of 875 cases of wine or 10,500 bottles. Now considering that Merlot constitutes around 12% of the blend, we can expect that the fruit we picked will be present in around 87,500 bottles of Mouton Rothschild or its second wine Le Petit Mouton. Not that bad really for a days graft. We were then all presented with certificates from the Chateau declaring us Vendageurs d'Honneur de Chateau Mouton Rothschild.

The evening drew to a close just after 1am and we all headed back to the hotel, with our certificates and a large poster depicting all the labels from 1945 to 2004. The poor Americans/Canadians had to leave at 5am to catch a flight home, but for the rest of us, we could look forward to a slight lie in before being collected again at 10am for a visit round the Chateau and a tasting of the 2006 barrel samples. For some of us thought, the hour long journey back to the hotel was time to catch forty winks.

Aw bless!!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Easy pickings? I think not!!!!

After what seemed like a milliseconds sleep, the alarm went off and the second day of our visit to Mouton was about to begin. After a traditional french breakfast of croissants and pastries we were collected at the ungodly hour of 7:30 am in the morning. The sun hadnt even got up by then!! Edouard met us at the hotel and drove us to the chateau where the vendageurs were gathering. The "tourists" were given a separate parcel of vines, parcel 105 which was all merlot. We were all given a quick briefing, then assigned our row of vines and off we went.

We soon discovered what back-breaking work it is. The vines come up to the middle of your chest, roughly four foot tall. The grapes we are interested in are those below the top supporting wire, so generally from three and a half feet down to the ground basically. So harvesting the grapes involved bending either the back (not a clever idea) or more often the knees, which soon started playing havoc with the backs of everyones legs. We all had a little trolley with two of the grey tubs pictured above, which we filled then returned to the tractor to swap our full tubs for two empty ones. Each tub holds roughly 12 kilos of grapes. While in the vineyard we were to try and remove as much "pouritoure" or mould as possible. Once the trailer was full with fruit then it returned to the chateau where the fruit would undergo a triage before being de-stemmed then a second triage before going into the vats.

The fruit looked to be in quite good condition, there was very little mould, some bunches were starting to raisin a bit, but we were told by the "foreman" that this was a good sign and the juice would be more concentrated. At first we were all working quite quickly, moving through the row snipping the fruit from the vines and making numerous journeys backwards and forwards to the trailer. But after about an hour or so, the novelty soon started to wear off, knees were creaking, backs were starting to twinge, fingers were being cut and scratched. We stopped for a break, and they set up a picnic table with a range of pastries, mini baguettes filled with ham and cheese or saucisson, coffee, tea, water, beer and several bottles of Mouton Cadet. Luckily the weather held out, and although overcast it stayed dry, and several times the sun poked through, gradually encouraging everyone to shed layers of clothing until t-shirts remained.

It was bloody hard work picking the fruit, and I think we were all glad when the foreman starting directing those who had finished their rows to help others finish theirs before we headed back to the chateau for lunch.

Lunch was a big affair, held in the tractor sheds, huge rows of tressle tables laid out with plates, baguettes and cutlery. Once everyone was seated, you could see there was a right mixture of people gathered for the harvest - students, travelling peoples, locals, farmers, young and old. Then an army of wifes and girlfriend of staff all swarmed into the room dispensing a starter of ham and cornichons, before the main course of green beans and steak, grilled on massive barbeques in the back yard of the chateau. A small wedge of cheese and an apple completed the repasse and was all washed down with a little quarter bottle of Mouton Cadet Merlot. Edouard told us the 1/4 bottles were introduced this year after a horrific crash involving a vendageur who had overindulged in the wine over lunch.

Lunch over we returned to our parcel of merlot to continue picking, our pace by now slowed considerably as Im sure we all dreamt longingly of the hot shower awaiting us back at our hotel. After a couple of hours it must have been obvious to the foreman that our hearts were no longer in it, as the professional pickers were moved over from their parcel to finish ours off. As we boarded the bus to return to the hotel, all talk was of hot showers, jacuzzi's and massages at the spa. I drifted off to sleep and woke up just before we got back to the hotel, where we were to prepare for an evenings meal at Chateau Mouton Rothschild.

Mouton Visit day one.

I got back, late last night, from my little three day visit to Bordeaux. I had a fantastic time, and it's given me an added perspective of what they do there.

On Tuesday we met up at Gatwick airport for the flight to Bordeaux. We flew posh - British Airways, Im more used to flying Easyjet or Ryanair, so that was quite nice. There was four of us altogether - Edward from Rules Restaurant in London, Daria from Pied a Terre also in London, Lara from John E. Fells, the UK agents for the Rothschild wines and of course myself. We were met at Merignac Airport by Edouard Thouvenot from Baron Phillipe de Rothschild, who is the Export Director responsable for the UK. We were taken to our hotel, the Golf de Medoc to refresh ourselves then into Bordeaux for dinner.

We dined at le Pavillon des Boulevards, a lovely restaurant just off the beaten track in the older part of the city. Lara and I dined from the A la Carte menu while Daria, Edward and Edouard dined from the ten course menu surprise. I had a fantastic starter of langoustines which came in two parts. The first part was a small bowl with half a dozen langos split with some julienne of carrot and baby rocket. Over this was poured a hot stock of sauternes with ginger and spices, which "cooked" the langos. It was really delicious. The second part was a quartet of langos with an apple cream sauce and was lovely. I actually thought it was my main course and was completely confused when my main course actually followed. The main course was lobster with vanilla mash and sauternes sauce. It was divine, and the 2004 Aile d'Argent we had for the starter just set it off perfectly. By this time Edward and Daria were starting to flag and they were only on the seventh of ten courses. I nearly killed myself with my dessert which was a fanned pear with caramel mousse and spun sugar. The spun sugar pierced my tongue and it started to swell a bit nearly choking me, but soon when down when I applied wine to it (a 2004 medoc Mouton Reserve). By now we were all getting a bit tired and frankly a bit concerned that Edouard would be driving us back to the hotel having watched him sinking a fair few glasses of wine. Luckily he had arranged a taxi for us, and as he lived only a block or two away he planned to walk home. We slunked off to our rooms and prepared for an early start.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Im going to Mouton!!

Im getting all excited now, because next week Im going to Mouton Rothschild!! Its only a short three day trip, but Im really looking forward to it. I fly from Gatwick on tuesday morning then we are staying at Mouton for two nights. Wednesday morning we are due to be picking in the vineyards before touring round the estates in the afternoon. Im hoping to borrow the hotels digital camera for a couple of days to capture some of the action.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Wine Blog Wednesday 37 pt 2 - Verdad Ibarra-Young Vineyard Albarino, Santa Ynez, California

This was a sample obtained from Morris and Verdin earlier in the year. I was intrigued when I learnt that someone in California was growing and producing Albarino. Ive known for a few years that Randall Grahm, of Bonny Doon, was growing it but as yet no-one had actually made the wines available. As we sell quite a bit of the Spanish Albarino I thought it would be really cool to have a new world alternative for those folks that feel a bit more adventurous.

The wine is made by Louisa Sawyer Lindquist, wife of Bob Lindquist of Qupe Wines. Between them they planted two small parcels of Albarino in the Ibarra-Young Vineyard in Californias Santa Ynez Valley. Its farmed along Biodynamic principles. The grapes are harvested in parcels and then vinified, 75% undergoes a long cold fermentation in steel tanks, allowing the fruit and aromatic aromas to really develop and create a richly perfumed wine. The remaining 25% is fermented in neutral wood to add some depth to the flavours.

So whats it like? I must say if I was given this blind I would probably come to the conclusion it was Viognier, the nose has really dominant peachy flavours with white flowers and an aroma that I can only describe as tarte aux abricots - custard tarte with apricots and almonds/frangipane. Im expecting it to be sweeter than it turns out. On the palate it more closely resembles the Spanish Albarino, there is no salty tang on the finish, but again the almond/marzipane flavour follows on from the stone fruit - peaches and apricots. There is a slight spicy savouryness too. I LOVE this wine - so much awsum

So Much Awsum!!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Wine Blog Wednesday 37 - Go Native.

Tyler at Dr Vino has come up with a cracker of a theme (

I think I may well have blogged about this wine before but what the hell, im sure its a different vintage. Im going to a wine that I really love - its white and it comes from Spain. Paco, our old restaurant manager, used to sell loads of this because it was where he was from.

Pazo de Senorans, Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain, 2006

This is a really classy example of the grape, pale lemony yellow colour with a light watery rim, on the nose there is quite a mixture of flavours - citrus - lime fruit, and pomelo - floral - white flowers - stone fruit - peaches and nectarine. Sounds daft but I think I can also smell the sea - a slightly salty tang. On the palate the wine is very crisp and dry with full bracing acidity, light to medium bodied, no tannins present. The flavours come across similarly to the nose - the stone fruit playing a more dominant role on the palate than on the nose. There is definately a slightly salty tang to the finish, and I think thats why it works so well with seafood. If you look at the region where this grape comes from it is all coastal vineyards, hugging the rugged coastline of Spain. This is just gorgeous with a fresh seafood paella - the floral character in the wine and the saffron in the paella seem inter-twined. Its not cheap, it retails over £14, sitting on our wine-list at about £35.

If I can dig it out later at home Ill post another Albarino, this time from California from Louise Sawyer Lindquist, wife of Bob Lindquist of Qupe.

Glenmorangie "New World" becomes reality.

Had a tasting today with Eddie Ludlow, the brand ambassador for Glenmorangie and Penny, our lovely Moet-Hennessy account manager. The purpose was to introduce us to the newly re-branded Glenmorangie range in our capacity as Glenmorangie Embassy in the North-West. As you may come to see in the next few months Glenmorangie has undergone a complete transformation, new bottles, new labels and a re-structuring of the line extensions. Gone are the old wood finish ranges and in are three "new" incarnations - Lasanta - which replaces the Sherry wood finish, Quinta Ruban - which replaces the port wood and Nectar d'Or which replaces the 15yo Sauternes wood. The Madiera wood has been abandoned. The 10yo has been re-designed and is now called the Original. Dr Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie's Master Blender, has also adapted the "blend" of the 10yo to incorporate more of the Artisan cask whisky into the mix, giving the whisky a slightly creamier mouthfeel and a certain richness.

The changes dont end there, the Extra Mature range (Lasanta, Quinta and Nectar) are all sporting a slightly higher ABV (46% up from 43%), they are all non-chill filtered now as well, meaning the whiskies have an added richness and textural body. This is a measure of appeasement to whisky afficianados. Im sure, to make ammends for the drastic redesign of the bottles. Gone are the traditional bottles, and in are more flared, almost cognac like bottles, giving the range an added sexyness that Im sure they hope will make it appeal to a younger, hipper generation of drinkers. In all the products are designed to create a new deluxe market - an area that owners LVMH are well familiar with. Whether this is a good thing, or spells the beginning of the end for the malt category remains to be seen.

Now Im not a whisky drinker, although there are more and more that I am finding myself comfortable with. The highlight of the tasting for me however was the 1990 Single Cask whisky, which isnt part of the new line up, but a very limited bottle that will be made available to Embassies exclusively. Coming from Bourbon cask 5932 it was specially selected by Dr Bill to be bottled for a very limited release of only 288 bottles. Coming in at a whopping 54.7% abv this is bottled directly from the cask without any form of treatment or dilution. It was absolutely fantastic - quite light on the nose, no nose-tingling alcohol, which was quite surprising. On the palate it had a bit of a burn at first, but it finishes with a really smooth fresh mint leaf flavour that was soft and clean. When I added a small drop of water to it, the flavours really opened out. Im going to try and get my hands on a bottle for myself, but its not cheap (apparently only three specialist outlets have access and retail is £100+). Strings will have to be pulled!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Domaine St Gayan Gigondas 2003

One of a bevvy of new wines that we recently listed from Yapp brothers. This had a fantastically purple colour to it, with a slightly lighter rim than the core. On the nose there was a rich medley of berries, damsons and an aroma that had me thinking of a nice piece of medium rare fillet (well maybe I was just hungry!). There are hints of spices in there too, including (pink?) peppercorns and allspice. Mostly Grenache, with a dash of syrah, a drop of mourvedre and a teeny, tiny drip of cinsault (1%), its fermented in old concrete vats before its aged for at least a year in second fill french oak. Apparently its a huge favourite of a certain Mr Robert Parker Jnr, but dont let that put you off!!

Mountford Estate Pinot Noir 2004, Waipara New Zealand.

At first glance it looks like a fairly typical example of a kiwi pinot. Admittedly the label is quite understated for a kiwi red, almost a cross between a burgundy and a modern claret label, with a large "watermarked" M forming the backdrop to the lettering. It comes with a cork, which is becoming increasingly rarer from New Zealand, but that is really where its unremarkableness ends. For this is no ordinary wine, this is something quite special and quite unique, for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that the winemaker, C.P. Lin is blind.

Mountford's vineyards were planted in 1991 with the first vintage being made in 1995. In 98 they built a small winery at the base of the gently sloping limestone hills. Their 15 acres (approx 3 hectares) of vineyard is planted to an eclectic mix of burgundy clones and mutations of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which viticulturalist Gerald Atkinson says best complement the burgundian nature of the soil and climate. The various parcels of vines are all harvested individually and vinified seperately before being brought together by CP Lin to create some of the most finely tuned, well balanced wines outside of Burgundy. These are fairly big wines for Pinot, de-stemmed fruit, open fermented and then cold macerated for upto a week before spending 16 months in french oak (extortionately expensive in New Zealand) upto a third of it new oak gives these wines some serious backbone. The fruit is bright and very forward - black cherry, a touch of wild strawberry and a hint of damsen fruit. On the palate the same dark fruit flavours abound, all nicely drawn together with fine tannic structure and a touch of sharpness to finish the wine off. It wasnt cheap, hells bells, but then what Kiwi pinots are? But you have to admire the abilities of a blind winemaker to bring all the various components of that blend together in such a harmonious package. They do say that when somebody loses a sense such as sight, that the other senses become more attuned to compensate for the missing sense. It is said that CP Lins sense of smell and taste is so refined that he came to the attention of Mountfords owner at a small restaurant. CP is said to have announced to his table that he could smell a Monte Cristo no 5 being smoked, the very brand of cigar that Michael Eaton happened to be smoking at a nearby table. As they got to talking Michael realised he was in the company of someone with extra-ordinary talent. As they supposedly tasted the previous vintages of Mountford CP apparently told him the wines were crap, and why. He was offered the job of improving them and the rest as they say is history. Ive only tasted one vintage, and I have to say that Im hooked. This is definately a keeper, and once I have a bit of spare cash, Im buying a case for myself!! Production is quite limited, and from what I hear from NZ the 2005 vintage was so small that it I doubt it will be exported.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Michael Jackson, the Beerhunter, dies at home.

Last night after work I came across a sad piece of news, that Michael Jackson, the acclaimed beverage journalist and author had been found dead at his home in London. Whilst primarily known for his works on beer, Jackson was also a keen whisky drinker, and is credited with the development of Diageo's Classic Malt range. I was fortunate enough to meet him once when I was working at the Malmaison in Glasgow. He had come in from filming somewhere (presumably at BBC Glasgows studios) with none other that Oz Clarke. While Oz came across as very stand offish with the staff, Michael was very charming, and I had an interesting and educational chat with him about our range of malt whiskies. I had read somewhere that one of his biggest regrets was not getting the Ardbeg included in the Classic Malt range, but at the time is was owned by somebody else and Diageo were unwilling to purchase another mothballed distillery on Islay when they already owned three distilleries (? Lagavulin, Port Ellen and Caol Ila?). But I guess that Diageo's loss is Glenmorangie's gain. I dont claim to know Michael Jackson, but in my brief encounter with him he came across as intensely passionate about both beers and whisky, immensely knowledgable about them both, and keen to spread both the passion and his experiences. The beverage industry has truly lost a giant this week.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Ive not stopped!

Apologies for the lack of posting this last week, but several things have kind of gotten in the way. Last sunday was stocktake, which always brings its own joys, but to cap it off, it was my pal Mikeys stag night that night, and we were on a jolly boys outing to Manc to the comedy club. A jolly good night was had by all, and copious amounts of beer and rum were consumed. I only managed to get two rounds in, so I must try harder at the wedding in a few weeks time.

Things are also getting hectic here with the immenent launch of the newly refurbished function suite. I had a sneak preview the other night and a day later with Cheffie. Its very easy to see where the £3.5 million went!! Its a totally new environment and its going to look spectacular when its all completely finished (today!!!!).

The calendar is looking pretty busy over the next three months in the lead up to xmas (only 116 days to go now boys and girls!!). Im off to Mouton Rothschild later in the month for a picking visit. The Academy of Food and Wine service awards are also later in the month, and Ive applied for a travel scholarship to California. So fingers crossed for that one!

Its quite quiet tonight, considering its a races day, but we shall see what happens. Hopefully I will get something to post about later.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

David Duband Vosne Romanee 1998 vs Drouhin-Laroze Gevrey Chambertin 1995

We had a little taste off yesterday to determine which wine we will be pouring at the upcoming dinner to launch the new Westminster Suite. After spunking £3.5 million on the refurbishment, the boss has invited loads of VIPs to a dinner to unveil the new room and show it off (well why not!!), so the wine has to be good. Hence the taste off with the two options for the red wine. Luckily Cheffie was wanting to knock together a dish to see how it looked on his spiffy new plates.

The dish - Slow poached fillet of Welsh Black beef with a mushroom ravioli and herb reduction.

The wines had come from the Keg room, part of our holding stock - wines that we are keeping until they are ready for drinking. I know what you're thinking though - surely the 95 is ready by now - and yes it is. But Ive got about a dozen Gevreys on the list and when one gets finished the 95 would be the next to get listed. Both wines were brought up from the cellar five minutes before the tasting.

The Vosne Romanee was quite aromatic on the nose with Parma Violets and Cherries - more Griottine cherry I think, and a really animal earthyness about it. On the palate I was getting a touch of pear drops - ethyl acetate - not really enough to class it as a fault, but enough to lower my enjoyment of the wine. It went quite well with the meat, and the flavours seemed to complement it quite well, although I felt the herbyness of the reduction overtook the flavours of the wine a bit.

The Gevrey was interesting. Despite coming from the same part of the cellar as the Vosne, it was considerably colder, and hence there wasnt really much on the nose. But what it lacked in aroma, it more than made up for on the palate. Despite being the elder of the wines, there was quite a bit more fruit present on the palate, with soft red fruit flavours, raspberry and alpine strawberries, with a touch of spice - not quite cinnamon, but a warming bark-like spicyness. Perhaps nutmeg? For me this worked really well with the dish, the flavours of the wine melded beautifully with the medium rare meat and the herb reduction seemed to add an extra dimension to the wine. It was served "chambre" and I personally felt it was perfect. But it is a risky wine to serve to 120 people, and the odds of getting the temperature that spot on are slim to non-existent, so perhaps the Vosne Romanee is the sensible option. That seems to be the route we are taking anyway.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Nektar des Gotten - Schloss Johannisberger Grunlack Riesling Spatlese 1975er

Wow that title really trips off the tongue doesnt it! We dont really sell a great deal of German wine. It has a bad image. Generally people only drink it when they want something a bit sweeter. But they are ignoring a world of wonderfully dry rieslings, like the Georg Breuer Riesling Sauvage we used to have by the glass. Admittedly that sold quite well, but unfortunately Heinrich Breuer felt the UK market didnt appreciate the wines enough, and moved all his stock to the American market which seems to be lapping it up at the moment. Anyways Im getting sidetracked, because this wine is far from dry. Spatlese is the second level on the Qualitatswein mit Pradikat quality ladder, which in Germany is dictated by the sugar levels of the musts. Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, (Eiswein), Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA for short) - dry to toothshockingly sweet. Now TBA's are generally later harvested, so the grapes are almost like shrivelled raisins when they are harvested. The resulting juice is low in water and exceptionally high in sugars. The fermentation is really slow, as long as a year in some cases, and the yields are so miniscule that the prices for these rare treasures is truly eyewatering so they usually come in half bottles. Damn, getting sidetracked again.

The colour is a rich golden amber, hardly surprising as its 31 years old. On the nose it is rich, honeyed with tropical fruit like aromas - papaya, mango and the ubiquitous melon. One the palate it is quite sweet, very unctuous, there is a slight hint of acidity still holding the wine together, but the overwhelming experience for me was the sweetness (think three spoons of sugar in your tea sweet {I take one!}). The tropical fruit flavours still come through quite well, but there is a hint of something slightly floral too, perhaps a honeysuckle, with a touch of ginger - in some ways it reminded me of a herbal tea loaded with sugar. The customers loved it, but unfortunately that was the last bottle.

Update - managed to find their website and was quite amazed to discover the winery can trace its history back to 768AD. Now thats really old world!!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

St Supery Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

I profess up front that I love this wine! I prefer their white - the Dollarhide Ranch Sauvignon, but as a runner up the Napa Cab is a good wine to settle for. The reason that I love this wine, is that it is one of the half dozen wineries that we visited on my honeymoon, and of them, this one was the best tour. We must have liked it, because we ended up buying several bottles of the Sauvignon which we then lugged home with us in our luggage. That was my first encounter with St Supery.

Some years later I was working at Amaryllis and I managed to track down five cases of Sauvignon Blanc that one of our suppliers had been sitting on for some time, unable to flog it. I remember that it must have been around about 2001 and the vintage of the wine was 1996, by happy co-incidence the same vintage that we had brought back from California many years earlier on our honeymoon. He was grateful enough to shift it that I got a stunning price for it, I was over the moon to find it, and it turns out it was showing spectacularly well at the time too. I sold those five cases in a matter of weeks and they ordered some more for me. Then the stock ran dry and I couldnt get it any more.

A few years later Im trying to find it again, I get to emailing the winery in Napa and a very helpful lady called Ann Feely puts me in touch with their newly appointed distributors in the UK. I happened to meet the guy at the California tasting later that month and we chatted, I tasted the current range and he agreed to pop up to see me and introduce some more of his wines. Over a year passed before Adrian popped in one day introducing himself as the rep that was going to cover this region for Ivini. He didnt have good news though. St Supery had gotten greedy and had virtually doubled the price of the wine. Now it wasnt cheap to start with, but now facing a huge rise in price, it was quite frankly unsellable. The only consoling factor was they wanted rid of the stock they had, so we got a cracking deal on the Cabernet (alas they had no Sauvignon). We took five cases and now Ive got just under a dozen bottles left.

The first bottle I opened for the guests was corked. Badly corked. Foul, stinky wine. I cant remember the last time I had one that foul. The second was a beaut. Ripe curranty fruit on the nose with an elegant undernote of cedarwood and tobacco that I alway feel reminds me of a well kept humidor ( how I miss that now that we are non-smoking!). There was a touch of green herby aroma, possibly blackcurrant leaf. On the palate the tannins are softening nicely and the wine has loads of upfront fruit, again currants and brambles with a touch of plum and even a hint of mintyness. The finish is nice and spicy with warming exotic spices and tobacco, with a lingering length. Its on the list at £45, which for a Napa Cab is pretty damned good. Ill be sorry to see it go when I sell the last one.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sharing the thunder

If youve never seen the internet legend that is Gary Vaynerchuk, I cant think of a better clip to introduce him.

And for the record, that sure isnt how I trained my palate!!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Awesome Video about Fake wine.

I came across this video on Jamie Goode's blog, and I thought it would interest you all.

A Necessary Measure?

I read in the news a few weeks ago that Selfridges has fallen foul of zealous Trading Standards officials who deemed their new Wonderbar to be in breach of Weights and Measures regulations. The bar is equiped with this marvelous piece of technology that allows opened bottles of wine to be kept under an inert atmosphere and to dispense measured samples of upto 120 different wines. The idea is that customers purchase a swipe card with a certain amount of credit on it, which then allows them to chose which wines they want to sample. The selection on offer was quite astounding really and included as its "star attraction" a 1996 Petrus for a very wallet friendly £32 per 25ml sample. This was such an attractive offer that apparently they went through two bottles in the two weeks that they were operational. But the problem, as far as T.S. officers were concerned is that the Weights and Measures act dictates that wine is sold in measures of 175ml or 125ml or multiples thereof.

Now the weights and measures act has many strengths, it is there to protect consumers from being ripped off by unscrupulous vendors. Thats most definately a good thing. But when it prevents opportunities such as presented at Wonderbar, you have to question its effectiveness. And so I support Decanter magazines petition to get the law changed to allow smaller sample measures of wine to be poured (

Currently it is illegal for us to offer "flights" of wine, where four or five smaller measures of wine are poured around a central theme - eg Pinot Noir. Wine flights are very popular in the States and down under in New Zealand and Australia. They allow customers the chance to have a comparative tasting without getting plastered drinking more than a bottle of wine. When you consider that the government is currently considering numerous measures to curb our apparently excessive alcohol consumption, allowing smaller measures of wine for sampling and flights would be quite a sensible move. As ever we will have to wait and see what happens. However if you live in the UK please visit the petition and have your say.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Wine Blog Wednesday 36 - Naked Chardonnay

Its a bit late because Ive been away for a few days, but heres my contribution to the 3rd anniversary edition of WBW! ( The third anniversary is leather (kinky!), perhaps Lenn would have been better chosing a meritage blend where at least we would have got some aromas of leather - sweaty saddles etc etc. But actually I prefer this selection - Naked Chardonnay, or unoaked, unwooded, however you prefer it called. Chardonnay has become slightly un"trendy" of late, with many drinkers moving to Sauvignon, especially Kiwi Savvy or, certainly in the UK, Pinot Grigio has been the most popular choice.

The wine Ive chosen for this is from Australia, a country often blamed for turning people off chardonnay with its identikit examples of overoaked, underachieving wines that flooded onto the market via the supermarket shelves. Now it seems that the tide has turned and many winemakers realised the error of their ways and are starting to produce cleaner, crisper examples that show of the fruit and not the oak staves or chips that they used to use. Cooler fermentation in stainless steel allows the character of the grape to shine. The wine is called Pitchfork Unwooded Chardonnay and its a second label, make exclusively for the on-trade by Chalk Hill Winery in the McLaren Vale of South Australia. The appellation is South Australia, so Im going to assume that they draw their fruit from across the state. The winemaker is French, Emmanuelle Requin-Bekkers (sounds more like an Afrikaner to me!), and judging by the wine, Id have a stab that she has had some experience in Burgundy, possibly around Chablis. (Just googled her and it turns out shes worked in most of Frances wine regions - Bordeaux, Burgundy, Languedoc, Loire and Bandol to name a few!)

The wine has a pale lemon colour with a thin watery rim, on the nose there is quite a medley of aromas including green apples, green melon ( a touch under-ripe) and citrus - pomello perhaps or ruby grapefruit. There is also quite a strong floral element - white flowers -cant quite place it. I cant find any hint of butteryness or creamy aromas so Im going to have a stab at saying this hasnt undergone any malo-lactic fermentation. On the palate it is crisp and clean with a pleasingly sharp acidity, similar flavours to the nose - apples and green melon with a more lemony citrus with a touch of kaffir lime and a slight hint of something herbal. It has a good length and makes very pleasant drinking. Id be quite happy to drink this on its own, but also think it would be nice with a touch of white fish. Quite reasonable, price wise as well, we are currently knocking this out by the glass in the Brasserie.

A good choice for a theme, and happy anniversary to WBW!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru "Lavaux St Jacques" Denis Mortet 1996

Truly stunning burgundy, from one of the most promising producers in Burgundy until tragically he took his own life early last year. Im down to my last two bottles and this wine has never failed to please. Im going to be gutted when its all gone because it will be impossible to replace. Maybe I ought to treat myself and score one of the bottles for myself, but I know I wont.

On the nose this has the wonderful aromas of a maturing burgundy, earthy, slightly smokey, but underneath it has big soft red fruit aromas - strawberries especially, a few days old, starting to dry out in the fridge, but with the flavour starting to concentrate, as the sugars fade. On the palate, the soft red fruit is still there, with enough acidity to carry the wine well and allow it a few more years of development. Approaching the best years of its life, this is a wine to be enjoyed and savoured for what Denis was striving to produce in all his wines, each and every vintage. It would be sacreligious to squirrel it away and worship it without drinking it. For that ultimately is the goal of all wines and winemakers - to have their wines enjoyed at their peak.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Higher or Lower? Its Alcoholic play your cards right!

The debate over alcohol levels in wine rages on, with a slightly surprising new voice on the lower alcohol camp. Randy Dunn, legendary winemaker of Dunn Vineyards, and the guy that put Howell Mountain on the winemaking map, has spoken out against high alcohol levels. Apparently the move has been prompted by his current vintage which for the first time has broken the 14% mark (14.11%ABV to be precise!). Its interesting to read his arguement ( One of his bones of contention is that by leaving the fruit on the vines for longer is actually removing the terrior from winemaking. By producing over-ripe, over-extracted wines, we have removed the individual character of the region it was grown in. Now most Californian cabs have a hot, raisined character that just gets blasted by alcohol. Back in the golden days of the California wine industry (the early 70's to 80's), each appellation had its own style, it was possible to distinguish between a Howell Mountain cab, or a Stags Leap or a Rutherford Bench Cab becuase the conditions the fruit was grown under created the character of the fruit.

Its an interesting arguement over the evolution of viticulture and vinification. Whilst browsing the Opus One website a while ago I noticed how the whole regime of how the wines were made evolved over the two decades that we listed. The early vintages had no more than 10 days of skin contact, rising to 20+ days in the early eighties, growing to 30+ in the late eighties and into the nineties, upto as much as 44 days! Conversely the amount of aging in barrel seems to have dropped from nearly two years to an average of 18 months. And if you think that Opus, being a collaberation between the old world and the new, underwent a change, what kind of changes did the Californian "old Guard" go through - Chateau Montellana, Stags Leap Cellars, Heitz Vineyards, etc. There is no denying alcohol levels have grown steadily over the years. It is not uncommon now to find wines in the 15's and even approaching the 16% level (In the UK anything over 15% is classed as a Liqueur Wine and is subject to a higher rate of taxation - £2.37 per litre compared to £1.77 per litre). Is this too high? In my personal opinion yes it is. Will I stop selling them, or refuse to list any that have high alcohol? Truthfully I dont know. At the moment we have a few wines that could be called high alcohol. Mainly Aussie but a few Cali cabs too. In most cases I think the alcohol is in overall balance with the wine, and they dont "burn", so I will probably continue to sell them, but ultimately if the public starts asking for lower alcohol wines then we will have to review the situation. So far that hasnt really happened, but then the majority of our list of old world, and lets face it, they often struggle to get the alcohol levels above 12% without chaptalising!

Looking over your shoulder.

Well its been nearly two weeks since I started my new role. Last night was my first night back in the restaurant since I changed (I had last weekend off to celebrate my anniversary belatedly.)In the two weeks, Danny has been on fire, selling loads of great wines and really pushing on the upselling. Now its partly luck of the draw - we had a few great regulars in, who love their wines, and arent afraid to spend a bit to get quality. But a lot of it is his youthful enthusiasm. He is just bursting with passion for it just now, hes keen as chips to learn more and he just goes for the jugular each and every time. If he carries on like this, I might have to get the old CV updated!!

Mouton Cadet Reserve

Cyril dropped in to see me the other day with Conor from J.W. Lees. They wanted me to try their new range of wines under the Mouton Cadet Reserve label, as well as their Chilean wine Escudo Rojo. I was familiar with the Escudo Rojo having first come across it many years ago in Glasgow. At that time Mouton was under Paragon Vintners portfolio, and the guy from Paragon sent me a mixed case of samples that included such gems a a bottle of La Grande Dame, Cloudy Bay, Escudo Rojo, Baron d'Arques and several other fabulous wines. The Escudo Rojo is a bordeaux blend from Chile, with consulting input from Moutons winemaking team. Its actually very good, and for a while I listed it, until one afternoon, cruising around the wine-section at the local Costco I came across a pile of cases of the Escudo at around half the price we had paid for it. I went ape and it ended up being delisted. Ever since then Ive had somewhat of an aversion to certain wines, and Mouton Cadet was amongst them.

The Reserve de Mouton Cadet is a range of appellation wines from the major communes of Bordeaux. There is a Graves, a St Emillion, A Sauternes, A Graves Blanc, and a Medoc. The presentation is a bit less "commercial" than the Cadet and the use of the word Reserve gives it a slightly more "upmarket" feel. Daft, I know, because legally the word actually has no support, in much the same way that "vielle vignes" or old vines has no legal definition. But there is definately quality in the bottles. The labels are rather plain and understated, but after all its the contents of the bottles that should do the talking. Ive only tried one of the wines, a box of samples with the rest arrived yesterday marked for my attention. All I await now if the prices to see if they will fit into our list.

Cyril also showed me the Barons range of wines, which I was led to believe was exclusively on-trade (must dig around to disprove this!). A slight step up from the reserve range, again there are a range of appellations for this wine - Pauillac, Medoc, St Emillion, Graves and Sauternes. I tasted the Pauillac Baron Nathanial, which if I remember from my brief visit to the Estate was the person who bought Brane-Mouton and renamed it Mouton Rothschild in early 1850's.

So a potential new line of wines to be looking at, subject to the right pricing of course, and they could well fit the bill.

Yapp Brothers.

Last week I had a tasting with Hannah from Yapp brothers. I used to deal with Yapp many years ago at Amaryllis, although the guy I dealt with was Will Baber. Yapp have a great list, very eclectic, and their two main specialities are Loire and Regional France. They are also pretty hot on the Rhone two, so I guess that have three specialities. Hannah brought along a selection of Loire whites - a Sancerre, a Quincy and a Menetou, she brought a picpoul and a cracking red from Australia. Its not often that I would sit and taste so many wines and want to list every one of them, but thats what happened here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Cellarmasters Diary.

My job has been split in two now, and Tuesday to Thursday I will be based in the Cellar, Fridays and Saturdays I will work in the restaurant. So Ive created a new blog - A Cellarmasters Diary to take care of that side of my role, while Tales will continue covering the weekend aspect of my role.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Two Aussie Classics

Got off to a racing start tonight with the return of our favourite customers. This time it was a table of four, with Danny's mummy and daddy as the extra pair. Mr B was torn between the magnum of Grant Burge's Mesach Shiraz or the recently arrives Armagh 89 and Hill of Grace 87. I thought that I knew which way he would lean, and I started off suggesting the Armagh and then see which way the wind blows.
In the end it was the Hill of Grace that got started first due to its slightly more delicate nature when I opened it. To look at it you would have guessed it was a pinot, it was very thin and light, a pale brick dust colour with a very fine suspension. On the nose it was quite restrained with very soft red fruit flavours. I was almost ready to dismiss this, but then in the space of five minutes it blossomed. This still wasnt recognisable as H.o.G., at least not in any sense that Ive ever experienced it, but as time passed it seemed to grow in stature. I went from not being sure about it, to being a bit disappointed, to being pleasantly surprised to loving it. Dont get me wrong, but the 96 we had a Paco's leaving do was utterly sensational, but this was very different, more subtle, more restrained, yet much more elegant, less of a nasal bully, more sensual on the palate.

The Jim Barry Armagh 89 however was a fairly typical Aussie shiraz, brassy fruit upfront, menthol/eucalypt tones and a lingering cassis finish, but even this had a slightly softer edge about it. The last vintage of Armagh I had was an 96 and it was a big beasty of a wine, massively dense black fruit flavours with a full menthol hit, like freebasing a packet of tunes, and a hugely alcoholic undercurrent which swept all the flavours together and flushed them straight into your bloodstream. By the time Id had half a bottle I felt like Id just down a round with Bruno - punchdrunk and all furry in my mouth. The 89 however didnt have that massive alcohol, the abv sits at 13.5%, by Aussie terms thats low alcohol these days. Many wines now sit at the top end of 14 and 15%, a few even breeze into the fortified wine bracket sitting on a whopping 16% alcohol. The 87 Hill of Grace is a measly 13%. Ill have to dig out the bottles of older H.o.G. I kept at home to see what they sit at but Id bet good money it way higher than that.

Mr B loved them, and they even got the thumbs up from Mrs B, its not often she raves about the wines as much as she did tonight. Im glad they liked them, and I hope that the next (and last) two live up to the rep that these two set up tonight.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Dogpoint Vineyards Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2003

This wine is a bit of an enigma for me. I absolutely love the smell of the wine, but tastewise it isnt my bag. Its kind of odd that way, and i have to say its probably the only wine I can think of that this happens with.

Dogpoint vineyards is the efforts of James Healy and Ivan Sutherland, both ex-employees at Cloudy Bay. Well employees doesnt really do them justice, James was the winemaker and Ivan the viticulturalist. In their spare time they were making wines at a neighbouring winery and selling some of their fruit to Cloudy Bay. I think its easy to spot the influence of CB on the Dogpoint wines, particularly the Section 94 which bears a passing similarity to CB's Te Koko. But where the Te Koko overdoes the oak (IMHO), Section 94 has the balance perfectly, allowing the fruit to still shine but adding a more floral element to the wine.

On the nose the Section 94 has a very aromatic elderflower and gunflinty character, as it opens up in the glass the smokyness becomes more dominant, but still the floral sweetness shines through. On the palate this is richer and "fatter" than their straight savvy, the oak adding body and touches of spices to the flavour. Im not sure where their oak is from, but if I had to guess Id go for american, based on the more toasted coconut flavours rather than vanilla. Obviously with it having some barrel fermentation and aging, the acidity isnt as dominant, but thats a good thing. This is a food wine, but not something thats crying out for sharpness and searing acidity, but perhaps something with a bit of piquancy - caramelised scallops and cauliflower carpaccio with vintage parmesan and pea mousse.

Domaine Tollot-Beaut, Beaune "Les Blanchefleurs" 1995

This week Ive re-arranged the wine-racks in the back station in order to accomodate some of the new wines that have been added to the list. In doing so I came across a few odds and sods that seemed to have dropped off the wine-list at some stage or another, and are now classed as Bin Ends. Two such bottles were the fantastic Beaune from Tollot-Beaut - "les Blanchefleurs". Luckily for me, that night we had one of our regulars in who just loves this kind of red burgundy. So he got himself two cracking bottles of beaune for a good price, and Im sitting on two less bottles of bin end.

On the nose it had that classic mature burgundy smokyness before opening up into ripe red strawberries and raspberry, with a touch of cherry and winter spices. On the palate there was plenty more of the soft red fruit flavours, with the spice warming the palate at the finish. Pleasantly long finish which left me wanting more. Shame there was only two bottles!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

WBW 35 - Spanish Value Wines

Michelle and Kevin at my wine education ( are the hosts of this edition of Wine Blog Wednesday and they've chosen a cracker of a theme - Spainish Value Wines (under $10 which Im going to translate to £10 because for the moment the exchange rate is in our favour - yay!!).

Im going to do two wines - one white and one red.

The White - Is from the D.O. of Getariako Txakolina, which if I hadnt looked it up I would have guessed was in Greece. Actually its on the Northern coast of Spain around the city of San Sebastian. According to my copy of the Penin Guide, there were some 220 hectares of vineyards divided amongst some 17 bodegas, producing about 1.4 million litres of wine in 2004. Less than 3% is exported, the remainder supporting the strong domestic market for wines.

Txomin Etxaniz is one of the biggest holders of vineyards in the D.O. with about 30 hectares. The white is a blend of two grapes - Hondorrabi zuri (a white grape) and hondorrabi beltza ( a red one). Until 2005 these were the only two permitted varieties, but it seems that now they are allowed to grow Riesling, Chardonnay and Gros Manseng (must be a favourite of the Basques). As far as I can tell this is just the two Hondorrabi's. On the nose it has a refreshingly zesty aroma, sharp green apples and a sweetish kind of nectarine flavour. It gives the impression that its going to be sweeter than it actually is. On the palate it has a spritz - not sure if thats from bottling under CO2 or a touch of secondary fermentation. Very clean, crisp and dry, with citrus flavours more dominant, but elements of green fleshed melon too. Its very moreish, but finishes quite sharply and cleanly. I reckon this would be fantastic with a nice seafood paella or even just a fruits de mer platter. About £8 from Moreno wines.

The Red - Is from the D.O.Ca of Priorat, in the hills above Barcalona. Cellar Cal Pla is based in the village of Porrera, lower down on the volcanic slopes. The fruit comes from vineyards with parcels of vines as old as 100 years, but the average age is about 50 years old. The wine is a blend of Garnacha, Carenina and a dash of Cabernet Sauvignon, barrel fermented and aged for at least a year in mostly french oak. Aparently the wines are unfiltered when bottled, which I find surprising because the wine is crystal clear - deep ruby red colour with damsons and winter spices on the nose. On the palate the fruit is more dominant, with currants and blackberries upfront and a touch of peppercorn and nutmeg on the finish. The finish is quite long and it ends a bit spicily, which is why I often serve this by the glass with our duck breast with honey brioche and pink peppercorn crust. Its a lovely match! OW Loeb are knocking this out for under a £10.

So thats my contribution for this month, great choice of topic.