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!!