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.