Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Grower Champagne Gourmet

My, how the time flies along, it hardly seems like that long since the last gourmet, and here we are again. Tonight we are looking at a few Grower Champagnes, that is smaller producers who make all their wines from their own stocks. By their very nature, as small producers, these wines are far more representative of what the region is capable of. Unlike Veuve Clicquot which produces somewhere in the region of 6 million bottles of yellow label each year, Jacques Selosse makes about 60,000 in total! We are starting off with the Jacquesson Cuvee 731, apparently we are the first to get the new cuvee. This is a great chardonnay dominated champagne, crisp, dry, and acidic enough to get the juices going. It is based around the 2002 vintage, with reserve wines to fill it up.
For the starter we are pouring Egly Ouriets brut. Pinot dominated from his grand cru vineyards in Ambonnay, Bouzy and Verzenay, this is much softer, red fruit flavours with a well developed yeasty character from a full three years and three months on the lees. Like many grower-producers, Francis Egly lists the date of disgorgement on the back label giving an indication of the "freshness" of the wine but also allowing the consumer to work out the base vintage. This was disgorged in 05 so is likely to be based on the 01 vintage (01 harvest, in bottle by late 01 early 02, three years on the lees = 2005).

For the intermediate we are pouring the Selosse Rose. Coming in a nice fancy frosted glass bottle with minimal labelling this is quite an enigma. Apparently the pinot for this is sourced from Egly-Ouriet so there is a bit of a cross-over. Light salmon pink in colour, I cant actually taste this one, so Im not sure what its like. Will try and get some feedback later and post a tasting note.

The main course brings out one of the big boys, Egly-Ouriets Blanc de Noir. 100% Pinot, again from his grand cru vineyards in Ambonnay and Bouzy this is ripe red fruit with a rich almost grainy character to it. I love blancs de noirs and this is one of the best that Ive had. Although hand on heart my favourite was a Meunier champagne from Moet, part of the Trilogie des Grands Crus - Les Champs de Romont that alas is no longer available.

With the cheese we are serving Jacques Selosse Initiale Brut NV. Big burgundian style champagne, this is very much like drinking a sparkling montrachet. Anselme did a stint of training in Burgundy and consequently his wines are made in quite a burgundian style. Oak barrel fermentation, weekly battonage, long time on the lees. This should be a great match with the Epoisses.

We also finish with Selosse, this time his Exquise Sec. Specially created for three friends of his, all chefs, each with three michelin stars, this is a rich robust champagne that has been sweetened with brown sugar that Anselme apparently imports from Manchester - a local connection. The wines has a bit of a bite to it, almost cognac-y with hints of dark muscovado sugar. With a pear tatin this will be great.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Wild Duck Creek, Duck Muck Heathcote Shiraz 2002

Mr B was back in last night, which allowed me the chance to secure a few bottles of this fantastic Heathcote Shiraz. Wild Duck Creek has become something of a cult winery in no small part due to Robert Parker Jnrs 99 point review of the 97 Duck Muck. We got hold of a couple of bottles a few years ago, but we had to buy three cases of the Springflat and three cases of the Yellowhammer hill in order to get them. This time Roger has four bottles that he wants shot off, so I managed to negoitiate a good price for them, and weve taken all four. I managed to get one bottle sent over this week because I knew Mr B was coming.

Whilst the Barossa is well known for its Shiraz, Heathcote is just as good, but stylistically different. It has a slightly longer, slightly cooler growing season, and so the wines seem to have a more balanced ripeness about them. While Barossa shiraz has quite a dominant eucalyptus aroma about it, Heathcote Shiraz is more black peppercorn in style. My favourite Aussie shiraz comes from Heathcote, Ron Laughtons Jasper Hill Georgia's Paddock shiraz. I love the dense jammy fruit flavours with undertones of black pepper and a subtle hint of menthol. It doesnt have the "vicks vaporub" blast of menthol that I find in Charlie Meltons Shiraz (which I would put at third behind Henschkes Hill of Grace).

So what was it like? On the nose it was dense jammy black berry fruit flavours - currants, brambles and black cherry. There was a spicy peppercorn note to the aromas underpinned with a soft seam of menthol mintiness. On the palate the fruit dominated - fruits of the forest with hints of big dark cocoa. The tannins were remarkably smooth, even before decanting, gently coating the gums before fading elegantly leaving the spicy cedar and pepper finish. After an hour in the glass, this wine was filling the corner of the restaurant with its enticing aromas. Its a big, badass wine - but more akin to a Barossa Valley Vineyards E&E Black Pepper Shiraz, than a Henschke Hill of Grace. I can see why Parker likes it. Maybe if I get a good bonus this month I might wrest one from Mr B!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Night of the arseholes.

There's no telling really how a night is going to go. At the start of the evening all we have is a list of names. Sometimes there are familiar names, some of whom we look forward to with joy, others with dread. For that really is the way of it. Unfortunately there are usually two reasons why we would remember you.
1) you are a really, really nice person, very friendly, chatty, easy to please and a pleasure to serve.
2) You are a complete tosser. You are the kind of arsehole we remember because you behaved like an idiot, you were rude, you were obnoxious, you were an all round pain in the arse that quite frankly we were glad to see the back off.

Thankfully most people fall into the first category.

Please somebody turn off the arsehole magnet.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Didier Dagueneau - Madman or Genius?

My allocation of Dagueneau's wines came in today. I say allocation, but thats not strictly true. The flow isnt controlled as such, its just that they are getting much harder to find as they sell out almost as soon as they arrive at the merchants. I first came across Didier's wines when I worked at Amaryllis. Trevor Hughes from T&W wines brought me a bottle of "En Chailloux" to try and I was mesmerised (nowadays its too damned expensive to "give away" as samples!) I dont remember the vintage, but it would have been late nineties, Didiers wines are usually at least a vintage or two behind everyone else. I remember it wasnt cheap even then, though I am amazed at the prices his wines sell for now. But these are big wines, and his two premiere cuvees, Pur Sang and Silex are both capable of several years of bottle age. Indeed the lower cuvee "En Chailloux" can also stand four or five years bottle age. When I was at Gleneagles, I found five bottles of "En Chailloux" in the cellar that were four years old. Each one was absolutely stunning, solid fruit structure, the delicate acidity enough to complement the fruit without searing your gums. That was when I became convinced that we drink Sauvignon far too young, now I advocate leaving it a few years to "settle down". Thats why Im listing 2004 Cloudy Bay now, and cellaring the 2006.

(Picture courtesy of Bertrand Celce - www.wineterroirs.com)

Didier was considered the wild man of the Loire for many years. An imposing figure at over six foot tall with a wild mane of red hair and thick bushy beard, he could be seen ploughing his biodynamically farmed fields with a horse and till. An outspoken critic of his fellow winemakers, he has gone from being the maverick of the region to the benchmark. His vineyards are kept to severely low yields, each harvest is done manually over several tries, producing less than 3 tons of fruit per hectare. In the winery he continues to push the boundaries of winemaking, using a blend of wild yeasts and cultivated yeasts, fermenting some of the wines in oak barriques that he has made to his own specifications, and eschewing malolactic fermentation even when the acidity seems inordinately high.
While his wines have sometimes drawn criticism, they are completely natural, with no recourse to chaptalisation that he cites is rampant in the region.

Anyway, Ive managed to get six bottles of his main cuvees. The first is the entry level wine - Blanc Fume de Pouilly which I believe used to be called "En Chailloux". The label is quite a funky musical number, which is a bit odd as Im not aware of a musical connection.

Ive not tried this one yet, so Im going to have to sell one before I can make any comments.

Next up is one of the two prestige cuvees, Pur Sang. The name means pure blood or thoroughbred and is a reference to the horse that Didier uses to plough his vineyards. (Didier is an ex motocross racer and he still races dogsleds in between making wine). Harvested from a single vineyard, the grapes undergo fermentation in oak barriques made to Didiers own specification (one and a half inches longer!). I'm not 100% sure, but I dont think this wine is aged in oak, unlike his tete de cuvee, Silex which is both fermented and aged in oak. Silex comes from old vines between 35 and 70 years old which are grown on a clay soil loaded with Silica (Silice in French). I've watched the price of this wine more than double in five years, and truthfully dont know if I can justify buying it, if (when) the price goes up again. Which is a shame, because it is shows just what Sauvignon is capable of. If every Pinot aspires to be Romanee Conti, then every Sauvignon aspires to be Silex.

There are a few more of his wines that I'd swap limbs to get hold of, but they are so limited in production that they go for obscene amounts of money. He has a Jurancon called "les Jardins de Babylone" which is about £50 for a half bottle, and there is an extremely limited wine called Asteroide, which has only been produced three or four times in the last ten years. It comes from a small plot (ten rows) of ungrafted vines that are very fragile and require constant supervision. I want some!!! Ive not been able to get a price for these as most of the suppliers have never heard of it. But I will get some!

Domaine de Belland Quincy 2005

Havent been able to find out much about the producer as it doesnt appear in any of the reference books Ive got on the region. Google, surprisingly, isnt too much help either, refering me to Roger Belland in Burgundy. No matter, for this is a great little Savvy from the Loire Valley. Odd really that its classed as a Loire white, when in reality Quincy is on the banks of the river Cher. Coming in a bit cheaper than a Sancerre, which of course everyone knows, Quincy is great value for money. You have the same great fruit aromas, slightly less flint like aromas, but superb length on the palate. And of course all this for about £10 less (wine-list prices) than Sancerre.

So on the nose we have ripe gooseberry aromas with hints of tropical fruit - pineapple and kiwifruit. On the palate the same fruity flavours are prevalent with a cleansing acidity that just sets the juices flowing. There is a clean fresh finish to the wine with the tropical fruit flavours lingering onwards.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Tasting - Not a lot!

I havent been doing much tasting recently. Partly because my sinus's have been playing up a bit, but mostly because I just havent had the time. Ive been busy getting the cellar sorted out, then listing all the wines, now Ive got to get the fridges and shelves behind the bar ready to take all these new wines. As well as all this, we have a few weeks to rebuild the list in preparation for the May Races. Its a very time consuming activity, and time is a commodity that I have little off. Next week we have the Trustees in the hotel for most of the week, so it will be all hands on deck and the bosses will be on tenderhooks making sure everything is okey-dokey. Then weve only got two weeks to go before its May the 10th and we're off.

Hopefully I will get the chance to do some next week, after all someone has to check all the wines we are serving to the Board!!

Extra, Extra Read all about it!

After our Jolly Journos Jolly a few weeks ago, the first of the articles is due tomorrow. Jane Memmler from the Daily Express is the first to go to print, and Im sure it will be a good write up. Got to set my alarm early tomorrow and get out and read it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Wine Blog Wednesday 32 - Argie Malbec

Tesco's offerings were quite poor, but luckily Ed from Boutinot came to the rescue when he sent in two samples of Argentinian Malbec. Both come from Nieto Senetiner, the first is the entry level Santa Isabel, the other is the Reserva Malbec.

Nieto Senetiner Santa Isabel Malbec - Mendoza, Argentina.
Really vibrant nose, raspberries, wild strawberries, a hint of violet cremes, with a spicy finish - star anise? On the palate this wine is smooth, the same fruity flavours, with more of a cherry like finish - thinking bon maman cherry preserves. There are some tannins to the wine but they are really smooth and quite well integrated into the wine. I quite like this wine, its young (2006) fresh and fruity. This one is coming in at about £3.50 trade price, so it would be listed for around £18 on the list. I would be really happy to pay that in a restaurant for this wine.

Nieto Senetiner Reserva Malbec - Mendoza, Argentina 2004
Instantly it is possible to tell the difference. This has had some oak treatment, 10 months it seems in French oak (I got that from reading the label, my nose isnt that good!!). This is more dark fruit flavours - there are currants there, but there is also a fig jam like component to the aroma that takes a more dominant flavour. There is vanillin from the oak and a hint of something more exotic, cant place it but the closest flavour would be something like a chocolate ganache - rich, brooding flavours with a hint of coffee. It boasts a full degree of alcohol more than the Santa Isabel, but thats not really evident on the palate. The fruit and the vanilla mocha seem inter-twined, with a hint of cinnamon lightly sprinkled on top. Its got a longer finish, the tannins are more dominant, still very smooth, but the teeth are a touch more furry after drinking this than the Santa Isabel. I would probably serve this with food, whereas Id be happy to drink the Santa Isabel on its own. This one comes in at £5.05 trade price, meaning it would sit on the list somewhere around the £24 mark. Again Id be quite happy to be paying that for this wine, especially with a nice duck and beetroot salad.

So I guess the aim of this WBW is to see if the reserve wines offer better value than the "standard" wines. These are both good wines, and I think that each would have its own place. If I was having a garden party/bbq and wanted something easy drinking, gluggable and that would be nice on its own or with food I would choose the Santa Isabel. If I was sitting down in a restaurant with a nice meal and good company then I'd probably choose the Reserva. Turns out we are going to list the reserva on the Brasserie and Banqueting lists. So nice result for Ed!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Wine Blog Wednesday 32

My goodness how the time flies. This is a fantastic topic for a WBW - Regular wines versus Reserve Wines. In a market continually flooded with line extensions (in the lingo of the marketeers!) is it really worth the extra cash for the reserve bottling, can we taste/notice a discernable difference? This is our chance to put it to the test and see. I have to say that in many cases I think there are real differences, but sometimes Im not too sure. It seems like every year, Wolfblass to use a particular example, release a new line extention. I remember the days of Black Label being the tete de cuvee, then it was silver, the platinum, then diamond, whats next? Uranium, Australium, Profiterium??

Im going to have to give this one some serious thought tonight, nip into Tescos on the way home and see what I can find. Failing that I might resort to the old fall back of Burgundy - Village and Premier Cru.

Come back tomorrow to see how I get on!

Tale of Two Opus's (Opii?)

The boss was in tonight for a business meeting with the new chairman of SLH (Small Leading Hotels - a marketing consortium of which we are a part) and the hotels solicitor. Its the first time he's been in since we started the new menu, so everyone was on tenderhooks to see how he would respond to it. The red wines were predetermined, I was to chose two vintages of Opus One and the white was to be my choice.

So after a shufftie around the cellar I settled on a bottle of 1980 which was the second vintage produced, and a bottle of the 1999 which is the last vintage we purchased. Chalk and Cheese. The 1980 was quite subtle on the nose, very restrained with hints of mulberry and dark berry fruits when it started to open out, but there was a strong element of stewed fruit to the aromas. The 1999 was a big showy bastard, full on curranty aromas with seasoned tobacco and cedarwood elements in there too. I did a bit of digging around and found out that the 1980 had a mere ten days of skin contact. Its a wonder its still drinkable! The 1999 by comparison had a massive 40 days. Much more extraction, much more flavour. I have to say though that I prefer the 1980 myself.

The white I chose was a Cour-Cheverny from the Loire. Made from an almost abandoned variety called Romorantin it has quite dominant aromas of Membrillo Jelly and quite a spicy feel to it. With the lobster and five spice it was a perfect match.

So the boss seems happy, although you never can tell until the next morning when you get the de-brief, and Ive got two less bottles of Opus in the cellar!! Yay!!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The case of the over-oxidised wines.

I took a load of wine magazines that had been clogging up my desk home last night to read. All was going well until I started reading an article in Decanter written by Clive Coates. Clive is probably THE authority on the wines of Burgundy, for many years he was the writer and publisher of the Vine newsletter, until commitments and ill health forced him to end its run. The essense of the article was the disturbing trend he had noticed of certain vintages of white burgundy to over-oxidise at an alarmingly early age. It particularly affected wines from the 95, 96, 97, 98 and to a certain extend the 99 vintage. Now the events of the last three days where I have come to realise with some surprise exactly how much white burgundy we have been holding in stock to mature, made my eyeball pop out in alarm at what I was reading. I had experienced the exact same thing with many of our white burgs. In some cases I had actually withdrawn several wines (97 Pulignys in every case) from sale after having to open as many as five different bottles to get one bottle fit for service. This was not happy reading.

In essense Clive's research pointed to a series of events that have created a scenario where the wines have been prone to premature oxidation. The first contributing factor was the change in vineyard practice brought about in 1995 which saw many producers drastically reducing the number of treatments in the vineyards. This coupled with a change in the winery to again reduce the amount of "interference" with the wines including in many cases a serious lowering of SO2 dosing, led to more "fragile" wines. But the single biggest contributing factor in his opinion is the generally poor quality of cork. It is around this period of time that many cork producer apparently stopped using chlorine based bleaches to "clean" the corks and started using peroxides, which are supposedly more powerful cleaning agents. In addition to which, many corks used to be coated with a superthin layer of parafin, but now many are using silicon which supposedly allows greater passage of oxygen through the cork. This has greatly contributed to the failure rate of many corks and to this apparent problem of over-oxidised wines. The problem has been gaining much attention on the internet with forums on Robert Parkers ESquires wine site devoted to the problem. There has even been a wiki established at
http://oxidised-burgs.wikispaces.com/ to establish some kind of living record of the problem. I plan to keep a good eye on the site and hopefully wont have to contribute much to it. It amazing sometimes how the internet has created an ingenious tracking solution to what could turn out to be a very serious problem.

Im just in the process of adding some seventy wines to our list just now, the majority of which are white burgs. So there could be some interesting times ahead.

Busy, busy busy bees

Apologies for the lack of posts recently but Ive been tied up with the year end stocktake, then the last two days have been spent as a troglodyte in the cellar, moving hundreds of bottles from A to B and back to A again.

Our new racking was fitted this morning, and Ive spent the last six and a half hours racking up the wines. Im less than a third of the way through, my arms and hands are covered in skelfs, my shoulders ache from lifting cases of wine, my back aches from stooping down to avoid twatting my head on the low ceiling down in the keg room. My body aches from more physical exertion in one day that Ive had for most of the year!! Im heading home now for a hot bath and an early night, ready to finish the job off tomorrow. Once all the wines are racked, the next task is to list all the new wines on the wine-list and enter them into our EPOS system. I get the first task, Andre gets the second. I think ive got the better end of the deal there!!

Im sick of looking at Puligny Montrachet and Chassagne Montrachet, but Im sure they will sell well. Although I had a disturbing nights reading last night, which I will post more about later.

In other news Ive submitted my wine suggestions for the semi-final round of the Sommelier Challenge in Wine and Spirit magazine. They arent sure when my round is going to be published but they think it will be either Junes issue or Julys (out end May and June respectively). Cant wait to see how Ive fared and who I am up against.