Friday, June 29, 2007

Domaine de l'Arlot, Nuits St Georges Blanc "Cuvee Jeunes Vignes de Clos de l'Arlot Blanc" 1999

Absolute stunner of a wine, textbook white burgundy. This is the young vines of the Clos de l'Arlot vineyard, the older vines fruit goes into the 1er cru Clos de l'Arlot. I opened this one for two glasses of wine to go with a sous vide lobster served with veal cheek tortellini and broad beans. They were well happy with the selection! .

Classic white burgundy nose, a touch of apples, meddlars and a hint of underripe pears, there is evidence of oak, but it seems quite restrained, a touch of subtle spice too. For me this would be benchmark white burgundy, very elegant and refined with a great flavour profile, just the right amount of oak and a good clean finish. As it warmed up in the glass the flavours really came into their elements, and the wine seemed to develop a more complex finish.

Ive got two glasses left to sell tomorrow.

Vallet Freres Auxey Duresses, 2003

Its our last table of the night, a quiet night at that, and they are sat there pondering the wine-list. Ive had a quick look at their order, and tonight they've chosen the gastronomic menu. Im a bit surprised, the menu is quite an adventurous one this week, Simon has opted for a pigeon starter and lobster main course, but after all these years I ought to know not to make assumptions anymore. So a bit of eavesdropping and I can hear her talking about the Hunter Valley, my mind flashes across the Aussie section of the wine-list, Ive only got one Hunter wine - a semillon from Keith Tulloch. But again they surprise me when I ask if they need any help, the wine-list is closed and handed back to me with the words "Yes! We'd like you to chose us a white wine for our meal"

Forty questions run through my mind, but I dont have all night, so I cut it short - new world or old - they chose old. Crisp and dry, full bodied and oaky or somewhere inbetween? - they want something a bit more towards the oaky but not a full on oak bomb. So Im looking at Burgundy. Now bugundy is never cheap, so I have to get some kind of idea how much they are considering spending, but for all I know they guy might be on a date and I dont want to make him look cheap in front of the lady. So what I do is come up with five suggestions - three cheap to middle (£30 - 60) and two more expensive options (£50-100). He plumps for the Auxey Duresses (£45). Nice choice!

I worked the vintage at Vallet last year, and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my career. So any chance to promote Bernard's wine, and I'm there. I did the whole presenting the bottle thing, then back at my station, ran my wine-knife under the lip of the bottle in a smooth circle to cut the foil, carefully removing it. The cork smells bad, TCA bad. Now that doesnt always mean the wine is going to be tainted, but usually when the cork smells this bad, I wouldnt bet against it. Sure enough as I pull the cork out, the horribly musty smell of TCA comes full frontal out the bottle and sends me backwards. This is nasty. So a short trip down to the cellar to retrieve another bottle and we're back cooking with gas. This one is perfect, clean, prominant aromas of toasty oak, vanilla, straw and honey with a kind of beurre noisette tone to it.

They loved it.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

DRC Echezeaux 1988

The surprise sale of the night. It boiled down to a toss-up between this and the Grand Echezeaux 1998, both the same price. My advice, go with the older wine, and lo and behold he did.

A light almost clear garnet colour with a good deal of suspension. (I was extra carefull bringing it up from the cellar.) On the nose it had a wonderful soft aroma of strawberry jam - the expensive sort with loads of soft fruit and easy on the sugar. There was raspberry too and a touch of griottine cherry at the finish with just an essense of feral muskiness at the end. On the palate it was slow to deliver but then the flavours seemed to build to a crescendo of soft fruit, light elegant spice again finishing off with the cherry and a slightly animal savoury character that i cant quite identify.

Bloody good wine, and a relative steal at only £270 a bottle.

New Arrivals.

Nearly a dozen new bits and pieces in the last month.

1) Domaine du Vissoux Moulin a Vent "les Deux Roches".
Cracking Beaujolais cru from Pierre-Marie Chermette. Drawn from two lieu-dits - Rochegres and Rochelle, this is a minimal intervention wine, wild yeast ferment, unfiltered and usually unfined these are rustic style beaujolais packed with flavour and intensity, but with body and depth, which gives them a bit more ageability.

2) Jasper Hill Georgia's Paddock Heathcote Shiraz
Ron Laughton and his daughter Emily are making one of the best shiraz' to come from Australia. Classified by Langtons as Outstanding, this is easily in a league with Henschke's Hill of Grace. Dense berry fruit flavours with licorice and white pepper, it fills the glass with its cocktail of flavours.

3) Domaine de Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf du Pape 1998.
Its getting harder to find mature Chateauneuf these days. The popularity of it has diminished stocks and means that the prices have gone skywards. While Vieux might not be in the stratospheric league of Rayas or Beaucastel, it is undoubtably a benchmark for the region. The Bruniers have done much to refine their wines in over twenty years of winemaking. Todays chateauneuf is more accessable, yet denser of flavour, with greater body, yet refined drinkability. A true classic.

4) Jim Barry The Armagh Shiraz, Clare Valley, Australia 1989
Regarded as one of the foremost shiraz' in Australia, the Armagh is very much a typical Aussie shiraz. Intensely flavoured fruits with a well balanced backdrop of oak influence and well integrated fine tannins. It is exceptionally rare to find a mature example. I managed to source two bottles.

5) Chateau La Freynelle Bordeaux Blanc 2005
A white bordeaux with a screwcap!! Fabulous white, I tried this vintage at the CIVB which is the professional body of wine in Bordeaux. They have a fabulous bar where you can try small pours of upto a dozen wines. Each month they change the wines until they have cycled though all their members. Crisp fresh and great value wine, and lets face it, its not often that you find yourself describing a French wine as value for money!

6) Intriga Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile 2005
An interesting new wine from Chile, a mix of old and new. Old vineyards with old vines, new winemaker, new techniques, a mix of old world experience in Italian consultant Alberto Antinori and new world winemaker Cristian Correa. Full bodied with a rich velvety fruit structure, hints of dark cocao and spices - Maya Gold chocolate! - followed by a silky smooth finish and lingering black fruit flavours. A real steal from an area who's potential is begining to flourish.

7) Tapanappa Whalebone Vineyard Merlot, Wrattonbully, S.Australia.
Since I first heard the name Wrattonbully Ive been dying to have a wine from there on my wine-list. Its taken over five years, but the wait is worth it for this one. A joint venture between Brian Croser, Jean-Michel Cazes and Society Jacques Bollinger this has been gaining rave reviews from James Halliday, Jeremy Oliver and Huon Hooke, as well as Andrew Jefford, Matthew Jukes, Stephen Spurrier and Jamie Goode. Ive not tasted it yet, so Im going to reserve comment till I have and post it separately.

8) Henschke Hill of Grace 1987.
Ive have to say Im a touch worried about this one. I reckon it might be at its peak or in decline. Worryingly Henschke have missed it off their websites vintage table, and the last reference I can find to it, is in Hallidays Classic Wines, which he declares it to be drink now. The real worry is that was printed in 1999, so it could be past it. But we wont know till we open the bottle.

9) Chateau Teyssier St Emilion Grand Cru Classe 1999.
We are currently on the 2003 vintage just now, which despite its youth is drinking remarkably well. Ive managed to secure two cases of 99, which should be fantastic at the moment. (Again im buying blind, trusting to the reputation of both the merchant - provinance- and the estate of Jonathon Maltus.)

10) Chateau Cissac 1996, Cru Bourgeous Haut Medoc
We bought three cases of this two years ago from Farr Vintner and it was absolutely marvelous. So weve ponied up for another two cases, this time through someone else. It cost a bit more, but the wine is worth it. Solid performing Cru Bourgeous, its never let me down yet.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Bridgewater Mill Chardonnay.

From the Petaluma stable, this is a fantastic chardonnay. Drawing on fruit from three regions - Clare Valley, Adelaide Hills and Coonawarra, this is a blend of the three terriors. The terra rossa soil of Coonawarra lends a richness to the wine, while the cooler climate of the Adelaide Hills adds crispness and a sharper acidity to the wines. The Shale soils of the Clare give a touch of minerality to the blend giving quite a harmonised wine. I used to work with a guy, Graeme, who used to describe this wine to customers as "lemon curd on hot buttered toast" and bugger me if it isnt! A rich lemonny citrus note with buttery, yeasty flavours and a good dose of french oak. Winemaker Brian Croser is fond of the rich burgundian style of chardonnay and so the wines get a great deal of battonage. Im not a fan of "typical overoaked aussie chardonnays" but this isnt, there is plenty of oak there, dont get me wrong, but its well balanced and nicely integrated into the overall flavours. This isnt a "four by" wine ie one that tastes like being whacked in the chops by a plank of four by two. Its quite cheap too, representing really good value for money.

I understand that Croser has now sold Petaluma to Lion Nathan, and has set up a new winery down in Wrattonbully at the old Koppamurra vineyards just north of Coonawarra where Croser first got started making wine many years ago. A joint venture between himself, Jean-Michel Cazes from Lynch-Bages and Society Jacques Bollinger, parent company of Bollinger Champagne. Its now called Tapanappa and Ive just recieved six bottles of their Whalesbone Vineyard Merlot 2004 this morning. Im quite excited about it because Ive been reading rave reviews from James Halliday and Jeremy Oliver about it, and now Ive managed to get six bottles. Only 150 cases were made, so I would imaging that very little came over to the UK. Its not cheap, its ended up on the list at over £100, so its probably a good thing I only got 6!!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Thinking Pink!

Tonight marks the last gourmet night of the first half of the year. We get a small break from the gourmets now until September. The theme for tonight is "think pink!" and evening of Rose wines and fine food. Its been quite fun looking at roses for the dinner, and surprisingly the hardest part has been narrowing it down to only six wines. Ive tried so many great roses recently if we did a twelve course meal I probably still wouldnt have enough courses for all the wines I'd like to show.

So were starting off with a champagne - de Venoge brut rose. Its a softer style of champagne, less agressive bubbles, when it was first made in 1864 it was a Cremant rose, that is about half the pressure of a champagne. A blend of red pinot noir and white wines from the three usual varieties it has a light salmon pink colour with redcurrants, cherry and a hint of light spices on the nose.

We move across to South America next to the Colchagua Valley of Chile for the San Elias Cabernet Rose from Vina Siegel. Cold fermented in stainless steel for crispness and soft fruit flavours - ripe red berry fruit flavours. Lovely.

Back to Champagne for the intermediate with Veuve Clicquot Rose NV. A relative newcomer to the rose market, this is another blend of red wine and white. Pinot Dominant with a slightly copperish tinge to it, red fruit on the nose with dried stone fruits following. Veuve Clicquot was apparently the first champagne house to ship a rose champagne back in 1775!.

My favourite wine of the night is served with the main course. Charles Melton Rose of Virginia. Named after the flaxen haired beauty that he fell in love with and married, this is a blend of grenache, shiraz and cabernet from his vineyards in Krondorff, Barossa. Overnight skin contact gives the wines a dark fuschia tone with vibrant red fruit flavours - strawberries, cherries and fresh picked raspberries. This has gotten darker and darker each year and now it almost looks like a light red wine. Ive seen beaujolais that is lighter in colour than this wine, but bloody hell its fantastic. Not cheap, but worth every penny and more.

The next wine to be served with the cheese is quite interesting as well. A Bordeaux Clairet from Chateau Lamothe de Haux. Clairet is made by running some of the juice off from the Clarets after about 24-48 hours of skin contact. This gives the wines a deep intense colour and flavour without any of the harsh tannins that come with longer contact. Morello cherries and currants on the nose with a touch of rosehip and elderberry. Really fresh and as it warms in the glass a little bit grippy with the tannin.

We finish with the Stella Bella pink muscat from the Margaret River of Australia. A fun little wine, a little bit pink, a little bit sweet and a little bit fizzy. Rose petals and turkish delight with a slight grapey muscat flavour. A cracker of a wine to end what should be a fun night.

Im a bit nervous about this one, as we dont have a speaker for the night and so Im doing it. Um, I, um hope um I um dont go um too often um.

Update - all went well and the feedback has boosted my ego somewhat!!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Wine Blog Wednesday 34 - Washington Cabs

Catie at ~Through the Walla Walla Grapevine~ came up with a great topic for this months WBW. Its an area that Ive had a soft spot for, for quite a while. But its an area that frustrates the hell out of me, because I cant find many wines from there here in the UK.

My first experience of a Washington wine was many years ago when I worked at Amaryllis. I was invited down to London to get together with the other Ramsay sommelier at their weekly tasting sessions in Petrus. James Hocking from the Vineyard Cellars had come across to show some of his wines to the assembled sommeliers. As their portfolio is of course predominantly Californian we ploughed our way through numerous Californian chards and then cabs before moving on to a few Oregon Pinots - (Beaux Freres, Ken Wright - yum yum!!) before we hit the motherlode. It was a Woodward Canyon Old Vines Cabernet 1998, and it struck me like a thunderbolt. Darkly intense fruit flavours, soft supple vanilla flavours more typical of French oak than the usual coconutty character often found from American oak. It tasted expensive! And it was in fact bloody expensive, coming in to the trade at over £30 a bottle. Ronan allowed me to get six bottles for the restaurant and I think I only ever sold two of them. Ive had a natural affection for the wines of the Pacific Northwest ever since then, subscribing to Winepress Northwest for a number of years, dreaming of the days when these great wines that I read about would be readily available in the UK. Im still waiting. About two years ago the Vineyard Cellars dropped their Washington agencies after the price hikes became unworkable. And there lies the fundamental problem for me.
Compared to California the wine industry in Washington is in its infancy, there are some phenominally good producers out there making some great wines. But they arent making anywhere near the quantities of the Californian winemakers, and coupled with a strong local market, there is no financial need to export. This means that the few wines that do make it to our shores tend to be very expensive. I look with envy at the Herbfarms winelist ( chock full of great wines that Ive read about and may probably never get to taste, unless I can blag a trip out there!! But there is some sunshine on the horizon. Morris and Verdun supply the superb wines of Andrew Will, made by Chris Camarda, sourcing fruit from some of the best vineyards in the state. Unfortunately I could get my hands on any of it for this WBW.

So what am I going to post about. Well Ive completely failed to get hold of a Walla Walla Cabernet, so Im going to cheat a bit and blog about Canoe Ridge Merlot, from the Columbia Valley. Canoe Ridge is part of the Diageo portfolio and is apparently the largest single estate vineyard in Washington. The 2002 was quite a challenging vintage, very dry and warm, which had to be kept under control by drip irrigation to prevent the sugars from accumulating too much. On the nose it starts off a bit dull before opening up a bit with mulberry, redcurrants and I think im getting tomato leaf too. There is obvious oak influence with vanilla and a touch of toasted coconut flavours before a tobacco like richness takes over. On the palate it was more soft red fruits - perhaps slightly underripe raspberries and mulberry, with a rich victoria plum flavour in there too. The tannins are quite restrained with a touch of greenness about them at the finish. The length is somewhat short really and the wines finishes quite weakly. I have to say that for a new world merlot Im a bit disappointed really, I would expect a bit better. It wasnt cheap either, coming in at nearly £10 trade price.

I had hoped to do somewhat better for this edition of WBW, but alas thems the breaks.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Normal service might resume soon.

Just lately the posting has become a bit erratic, and Ive found myself with four of five drafts that Ive started and have yet to finish. I am juggling a lot of things at work just now, and regretably the blogging must come last. Im hoping that things will sort themselves out soon enough and I can resume a normal schedule of posting, but until then the posts might be a bit erratic, and a few may come to a somewhat abrubt end. Truthfully Ive found it a bit difficult these last few weeks to maintain a straight thought in my head for more than a few minutes. My mind is wandering a lot and Im losing my train of thought quite easily. Its a combination of poor diet (lack of fish oils!), poor sleep pattern and trying to do too many things at once, without prioritising and completing one task at a time.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Doing a "Recce"

Ive been out of the building this afternoon conducting a little reconnaisance of the wine shops in Chester. Its a little exercise that I like to do every couple of months to get an idea of what the shops are offering. I usually confine my walk to the local branch of Oddbins and what used to be Quellyn Roberts, but is now called Corks Out. Today I took a gander at the new branch of Majestic that has opened up near the Northgate Arena. Sometimes its quite a depressing exercise, because I find some of the wines that Ive hunted high and low for on the shelves of Oddbins. Usually they tend to sit at the higher end of the price bracket, which suits me fine, but on two occasions Ive seen them on sale at less that what I am paying. Then Im not a happy bunny.

Its a bit disappointing to see wines that we list and are supposed to have regional exclusivity over on the shelves of a national retailer. We have no chance of competing with them over margins and as such it often gives a good illustration of the margins we operate with. Ive made no bones about the fact that our margins on drinks are high. At the end of the day we are an expensive outlet to operate, and guess who pays for it? You do! But we dont cut corners on quality, we dont use poor products, because ultimately the customers expect the best and usually they are prepared to pay for the best.

Wine and Spirit Sommelier Challenge

Junes edition of Wine and Spirit magazine features the first round of the semi-final of the Sommelier Challenge. The challenge was the first of two dishes that we had to submit wines for, and it was probably the more challenging of the two. A seared tuna with peppers, olives and tomatoes. I chose to pair the dish with Bonny Doons Clos de Gilroy, a beaujolais style wine made from Grenache. Lovely purple fruity flavours - cherry and raspberry, with a touch of white pepper on the finish. Surprisingly I was the only candidate to chose a red wine, all the others going with a wide array of whites. For the first round Ive placed third, which Im quite happy about. The second round dish will be featured next month, and the top two scoring candidates go forward to compete in the final. Cant wait till next month to find out how Ive done.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The War on Alcohol.

The last two days newspapers have been some disturbing reading. The papers - broadsheets no less- seem to have a bee in their bonnet with the middle classes and alcohol. Now its interesting to see the middle classes being attacked, usually when alcohol abuse is mentioned it is either the youth or the lower classes being tarred and feathered. It would seem that a recent Department of Health document has shown that alcohol related illnesses are on the increase in the middle classes and obviously that is having a severe impact on NHS resources (now we see why the upper classes arent being ostracised - they mostly use private healthcare and consequently pay for their own alcohol abuse).

We have a troubled relationship with alcohol, like most countries in Europe that impose strict control. The ease of access to alcohol these days has undoubtably meant that more people are drinking, despite the astronomical taxes we pay on alcohol, it is now more affordable than ever. When my parents were first setting up home they wouldnt have had such easy access to wine. Back then supermarkets didnt sell it, Oddbins didnt exist and if you wanted to buy wine you would have had to find a wine merchant and purchase it by the case. Now theres an Oddbins or Majestic or Threshers etc etc in every town, most corner shops will sell some wine or other and of course the supermarkets now account for a staggering percentage of wine sales (Ive been told its close to 70% but cant confirm that figure). Wine has become such an integral part of our lives that it is now viewed as an everyday product, including in the "shopping baskets" that various government agencies use to measure consumer spending etc etc. Now the government wants to reverse that situation in an effort to control our intake of alcohol. I find it quite interesting that according to the latest issue of Decanter, the top five wine-consuming nations (per capita) doesn't feature the UK. Searching the internet has so far failed to uncover the top twenty, so Im unsure where Britain sits on the list, but France tops the list at 63.8 litres per capita per annum (2005). AFAIK they dont appear to be having the same "issues" with their health. (Possibly due to their apparent lack of sensationalist media, but more than likely due to the fact they dont have a state sponsored healthcare system that is completely fubar).

So what does the future hold for wine drinkers? It is quite possible that once the ban on smoking comes into play the nanny state may attempt some legislative control over alcohol consumption. Most likely will be an increase in current taxation or an additional tax placed on wine particularly. Either way the future isnt looking bright.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Out with the old and in with some new.

Im going to get into a spot of bother over this Im sure, but Im bringing on a few new suppliers. Im trying to separate the Arkle from the Brasserie and completely sever the two lists. That means that I need to change about fifteen wines. To make sure that we dont cross over Im bringing in two new suppliers. Now Ive worked with them both in the past, so Im familiar with their wines. Theres some new vintages obviously, and a few new agencies and even a few new ranges to look at, which is all jolly exciting. The first is a London operation, Domaine Direct. Their list is predominantly Burgs, but some good white burgs, which we are going to need soon enough. Theyve also got the Leeuwin Estate wines, which are wallet frightening expensive but bloody good. The other supplier Im going to bring on is Yapp brothers. They've got an amazingly eclectic selection of wines from France - Languedoc, Collioure, Palette, Cassis, as well as some cracking Rhones, Loires and Alsace wines. Theres much more from their list that I plan to list.

Accounts are going to go nuts, because we already have something like 36 different liquor suppliers, some supplying us with loads, but many just a few wines. But if we wish to maintain a list of the standard we have, then you have to shop around.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Im going slightly mad?

Dont really know what came over me tonight, but I had to seriously resist the urge to walk out tonight, not once, not twice, but three times. We didnt have a particularly bad service, it went quite smoothly actually, I wasnt really in the shit at all tonight, so that wasnt it either. Truth is I dont know why for sure. I need a break, I need to get clear of here for a while, clear my head and get my mojo together. Problem is thats not going to happen for the next two months. So I guess I can expect to have another few "episodes" like tonight. Well Im just going to have to brave it out and keep going.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Week Two AP (After Paco)

Well two weeks have now passed since Paco left, and on the whole we are getting by pretty well. Things are very different now, Andre is making a lot of changes, trying new approaches, trying new things. Thats neither good, nor bad, but its different. Some work, some dont. We had our first Gourmet dinner without the old team, and it went pretty well, especially when you think that just about everyone there, except for me and Danny were fairly new to them.

AFAIK there is still no replacement on the horizon. We are still looking. Its interesting that before the departures we were all kept up to date with what was happening, told it was all going to be alright, and promised that there would be plenty of backup when we needed it. Now that Paco, Greg, Walter and Anna have gone, things seem quite silent. Its sort of good that we are being left to get on with things, but at the same time it feels kind of lonesome. Time moves on, and for now all is well. We all miss them and hope that they are all settling in to their new lives.