Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Review by Liz Sagues in the Ham & High

Ham & High article by wine writer Liz Sagues makes some encouraging noises about Xavier Vignon's "Blanc" and Côteaux des Travers' Rasteau Prestige

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Ham & High

Ham & High article by wine writer Liz Sagues makes encouraging noises about Xavier Vignon's "Blanc" and Côteaux des Travers' Rasteau Prestige.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

NatWest Bank Wine Society tasting

Every three years, I am invited to present some wines to the National Westminster Bank Wine Society in central London. There are usually around 40 people wanting to taste a broad range of Southern Rhône wines and tonight I managed to squeeze in a round dozen. For me, as any tasting, it was a good opportunity to revisit some wines I haven't tasted for a while and to see how others are progressing (and, in some cases, just taste them again for the sheer pleasure of it). Inevitably not everyone is going to enjoy every wine - I find that on one occasion I prefer one wine to another but on a different night my opinions may be reversed but, then, I am talking degrees of liking rather than absolutes. The most controversial wine of the tasting was Xavier Vignon's "Blanc": more about this in the next paragraph.

The Society has the very sensible policy of starting the meeting with a full glass of the first wine. Meetings start around 6pm straight after work so it is a pleasant way to unwind into the evening and chat with friends before the speaker gets going. I decided to go in with guns blazing: Domaine des Anges' 2005 "L'Archange" Blanc. I was not alone in enjoying the pure Roussanne: several people told me how much they had enjoyed it, lamenting the fact that there are too few examples of this variety at an affordable price. The wine is quite fat but with good, balancing acidity. Plenty of varietal character: stoned fruits, flowers and a little spice. And, of course, a little oak. It was followed by the Xavier Blanc from Xavier Vignon: very pronounced nose, the seven varieties merging well now although the Viognier and Roussanne are more obvious to me. The palate is quite surprising with quite a bubblegum/confectionary character. As I indicated, not to everyone's liking (that said, it's supporters love it). The third white was the more restrained 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc from Domaine de Cristia. One or two murmurs from people who would have liked to taste their more famous reds but this has to be one of the top white CDPs at this level, very refined with good acidity and fair length and, once again, the Roussanne taking centre stage (anyone spot a theme here?)

On to the reds, starting with Xavier's Côtes du Rhône 2004, intended as a good introduction to quality wines from the region. Nods of approval for this mid-weight, youthful wine which has surprising depth on the palate and a nice, spicy edge. Good potential for a CDR that punches well above its weight. Moving up the appellation hierarchy, the next two wines were taken together: Bressy-Masson's "Paul-Emile" and Côteaux des Travers' "Prestige" both 2005 Rasteau wines. The former has a deeper colour and more intense nose with concentrated fruits and lots of texture, the tannins suggesting this will be liquid velvet when it has fully settled. The Prestige is very different: a sweeter nose and palate with new oak providing a supporting role (the older oak in the Paul-Emile is barely noticeable). I would opt for drinking this now and over the next couple of years at which point the Paul-Emile can pick up the baton. Next came the Xavier Rouge, the third wine from Xavier Vignon this evening. Very dark, the nose not as expressive as I expected (only bottled in June) but the palate reveals a powerful, complex wine, tannic with great potential - or good with blood according to my notes (I assume I meant rare meats). Quite New World - if I didn't know better I would not be surprised to be told this is a top Napa Valley wine except, of course, it would cost ten times as much if it were.

Wines 8 and 9 were presented together because they were both blends of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah made by outsiders. However, ex-London restaurateur Dominique Rocher's "M.Paul" from Cairanne in 2000 is a darker, richer wine with bold, sweet fruit and a hint of the oak the Syrah is matured in than the 2001 Gigondas from Château Redorter. This latter wine shows the lighter touch (colour and style) of the cooler climate of the hills around Suzette where Etienne de Menthon lives with his family and grows his vines. Elegance and restraint seem to be watchwords here. The wines rarely, if ever, get top Parker ratings as they are not show pieces but, rather, they are well-crafted wines for real enjoyment. The final pair of reds was, inevitably, from Châteauneuf-du-Pape with the ultra-traditional 2001 from Clos des Brusquières up against the modern-styled 2004 from Raymond Usseglio. The difference in colour was far more obvious than with the previous pair: the 2001 was brick red compared with the 2004's ruby-purple hues. The older wine was very immediately drinkable: I suggested that it would not be sensible to leave the bottle overnight as it would oxidise in just a few hours. A good example of the trad style, drinking very well though. Raymond Usseglio's 2004 is a different animal with more guts. A bigger wine with a thicker texture and dusty tannins, still a little tight (more so than when I tasted it with Raymond in August and with the barrels still lurking in the background. A superstar in the making.

The mixed case was rounded off by Bressy-Masson's non-vintage Rasteau Rancio, a superb example of this increasingly rare style and, it was agreed, a real bargain (I think people expected it to be at least twice as expensive). Obviously these wines are not to everyone's taste but wouldn't it be dull if we all liked the same things all the time. Apart from anything else, you'd never get tickets to the plays you want to see or the books you enjoy would be forever going out of stock, a bit like Playstations at Christmas.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Wine with curry and hot dogs

Last night curry, tonight hot dogs (using award-winning sausages from Archers in Norwich - if you get a chance to try them you'll be hooked!). Is there an ideal wine to go with either, let alone both? Almost certainly not, is the answer but that's no reason not to have a glass anyway.

The bottle of choice was Domaine des Côteaux des Travers' 2005 Cairanne which, for some reason carries the additional title of "Sélection" (I would hope it is!). That minor grumble aside, time to turn to the bottle. Still quite youthful but perfectly drinkable (my guess is that most people would be less ageist than me) with lots of very ripe, sweet Grenache character. When it's as ripe as this (not overripe though), the fruit is almost black, certainly a little tarry and, looking now to see the blend, I am surprised to see so much Mourvèdre and so little Syrah. I must go back to basics! In terms of food matching, despite my completely unfair choices, the wine held up extremely well with enough in it to combat the sweetness of the balti sauce and the extra chilli I had loaded into it whilst Jill wasn't looking and although Rhone wines do generally go well with sausages, it had to work with fried onions and ketchup - it managed very well under the circumstances.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Domaine de Mourchon 2006

Walter McKinlay called to tell me about the 2006s from Domaine des Mourchon (very good, very forward, apparently - I'm looking forward to tasting them) and it got me to thinking about the 2005s. My memory is that the Grande Reserve 2005 was still a little tight but Walter said it is coming together better now than at the start of the summer. Only one way to find out: a couple of hours later, cork pulled and...he's right. This wine does him proud. Lovely balance with the oak supporting but not interfering with the spicy black fruit. I think I might start on my case sooner than anticipated.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

A simple Cotes du Rhone

Just to show it's not all CDP (and because it's a good wine and I needed to re-taste it before including it in a mixed case offer to my email list) I opened a bottle of Domaine Brusset's 2005 Côtes du Rhône. Quite meaty, black fruit with hints of olives(?) Very Provençal. Reading Parker's comments about "strawberry and cherry fruit" I do wonder whether we have been tasting the same wine though.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Domaine de Cristia Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2003

Last night I opened a bottle of Domaine de Cristia's Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2003 to go with my sausages (someone once told me they made the perfect pair - I've never been entirely convinced but I'm always happy to give it a try). The particular bottle came from the heatwave vintage so it's drinking better at a relatively young age than, say, a 2001. The wine is incredibly rich with a lovely sweetness to the fruit (but it is in no way a sweet wine) and it really lingers. There seems to be a whiff of oak, not much but just enough to give the wine a bit of structural support and lend another dimension to the flavour profile. For me, though, the really great thing about the wine is the texture: full, rich and velvet-smooth.

Friday, 31 August 2007

Summer 2007

Anyone who has not made it out of the UK this summer may want to turn away for the next sentence or two, We have just returned from four glorious weeks around France which have, inevitably, included a fair amount of sampling. We visited some areas for the first time (Cahors) and spent time in other very familiar regions (the Southern Rhône, now there's a surprise!). Our mission was to find some of the more unusual wines being made - these included a Rhône Tannat, pure Mourvèdre wines and some late-harested, botrytised Grenache. The only disappointment was a VDP Cabernet from one of the Côtes du Rhône Villages' leading producers (not one we work with) which should have been better. A silver lining to this very slight wisp of a cloud was discovered soon after our return with the arrival of Domaine des Anges' VDP de Vaucluse Cabernet Sauvignon.

Friday, 17 August 2007

Domaine des Anges' Cabernet outguns the big boys

Anyone who has not made it out of the UK this summer may want to turn away for the next sentence or two, We have just returned from four glorious weeks around France which have, inevitably, included a fair amount of sampling. We visited some areas for the first time (Cahors) and spent time in other very familiar regions (the Southern Rhône, now there's a surprise!). Our mission was to find some of the more unusual wines being made - these included a Rhône Tannat, pure Mourvèdre wines and some late-harested, botrytised Grenache. The only disappointment was a VDP Cabernet from one of the Côtes du Rhône Villages' leading producers (no names!) which should have been better. A silver lining to this very slight wisp of a cloud is blogged on 17th August below.

Took possession of a small parcel of VDP de Vaucluse Cabernet Sauvignon from Domaine des Anges as a favour to the estate (a long story) and thought I should open a bottle straight away as I hadn't tasted it for about a year. It's a wine I have always thought pretty good but, perhaps, a little overpriced at the estate's desired price point of around £7-£8. At £6, however, it's a steal. The fruit is superb: lovely, rich blackcurrant with a trace of oak and none of that leafiness that dogs so many Bordeaux wines or olive character that can make some southern Cabernets frankly a bit weird (and certainly none of the overt jaminess that renders so many New World examples at this price point undrinkable). Unlike the weather, this was something worth coming home to.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Tasting with Raymond - 2004 and 2005 Usseglio wines at the domaine

On our last day in the Southern Rhône, we stopped for a picnic on the side of a road leading into Châteauneuf before popping in to see Raymond Usseglio to retaste his 2005s (and 2004s) including my first taste of the Impériale from bottle. When I arrived, we discussed the relative merits of the two vintages as I have been a big fan of the 2004s from Raymond in particular (although fairly extensive tastings during the Fête de la Veraison, the annual party held in the village to celebrate the ripening grapes, revealed many other extremely good 2004s, generally drinking well already). Raymond said he didn't know what all the fuss was with 2005 when you considered his 2004s and, in a way he's right. The standard 2004 is one of the best wines I have tasted from the vintage (at this price level anyway) with immense potential. Unlike some others, it isn't really ready yet: the tannins are still quite assertive but, really, that's a positive thing as it means the wine will hold together for several years whilst it develops in complexity. The 2005 is a touch more in every respect: not enough to belittle its older sibling but enough to make me want to buy both! The 2004 Impériale, especially, is magnificent (very Burgundian, I thought) and the standard bottling is almost indistinguishable in style and quality from its younger sibling. However, the 2005 Impériale really shone out as being that bit more impressive for the longer term. When I tasted this in January it was quite muted; not any more. Superb old-vine Grenache which shows why this is probably the best vintage since 1998 at least.

A round-up with Raymond

On our last day in the Southern Rhône, we stopped for a picnic on the side of a road leading into Châteauneuf before popping in to see Raymond Usseglio to retaste his 2005s (and 2004s) including my first taste of the Impériale from bottle.

When I arrived, we discussed the relative merits of the two vintages as I have been a big fan of the 2004s from Raymond in particular (although fairly extensive tastings during the Fête de la Veraison, the annual party held in the village to celebrate the ripening grapes, revealed many other extremely good 2004s, generally drinking well already). Raymond said he didn't know what all the fuss was with 2005 when you considered his 2004s and in a way he's right.

The standard 2004 is one of the best wines I have tasted from the vintage (at this price level anyway) with immense potential. Unlike some others, it isn't really ready yet: the tannins are still quite assertive but that means the wine will hold together for several years whilst it develops in complexity. The 2005 is a touch more in every respect: not enough to belittle its older sibling but enough to make me want to buy both!

The 2004 Impériale, especially, is magnificent (very Burgundian, I thought) and the standard bottling is almost indistinguishable in style and quality from its younger sibling. However, the 2005 Impériale really shone out as being that bit more impressive for the longer term. When I tasted this in January it was quite muted; not any more. Superb old-vine Grenache which shows why this is probably the best vintage since 1998 at least.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Mourchon a "Smart Buy" in the Wine Spectator

From Séguret, Domaine de Mourchon's Côtes du Rhône Villages 'Grande Reserve' 2005 was
reviewed as "impressive, showing lots of juicy plum, currant and boysenberry fruit with nice hints of garrigue, tar and liquorice. There's plenty of toast on the finish but also solid minerality" 91/100 SMART BUY (Wine Spectator)

Monday, 16 July 2007

Pezat - a mini-St Emilion

Jonathan Maltus' Pezat has arrived at last and lunch with a colleague provided a good opportunity to re-taste it. A mid-weight Claret with not too much oak, it has elegance written all over it. Not sure if the rather cool label means anything but what's in the bottle is brimming with potential. How many people would be able to tell the difference between this and Jonathan's St-Emilion Grand Cru, Ch. Teyssier, I wonder. There aren't many Bordeaux selling for around a tenner in the UK with this much class.

Friday, 13 July 2007

British Heart Foundation fundraiser

Other commitments meant that Jill had to represent us at a British Heart Foundation fundraiser where, needless to say, she was pouring the wines. Just one white - Domaine des Anges - as I forgot to get any Xavier Sauvignon out of bond (I thought these were about right for an art auction) and a selection of 2004 reds - Xavier Côtes du Rhône, Lacroix Bordeaux Superieur and Madone Beaujolais Villages. All went down well, apparently - not many bottles returned unopened anyway.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Italian wines in Decanter

The August issue of Decanter arrived today (what is that all about?) with its affordable Tuscan wine recommendations - that includes any wine retailing under £20 apparently. I only sent in samples of the Tenute Monte Rosola wines on the basis that the Molino di Grace ones are much better known. I was pleased to discover that the "Corpo Notte" had made it into the top
twenty four with the comments: "Big, spicy, tarry and oaky nose. Palate is soft with good intensity of warm spicy fruit. Decent complexity on the finish".

Elsewhere in the same issue, Il Molino di Grace's 2003 Chianti Classico was described by Tom Maresca as "A supple wine with excellent cherry fruit"

Monday, 25 June 2007

Online review of BRW

Posted on UKwinesonline.co.uk: "Plenty of interesting wines, backed up by a knowledgeable and passionate manager."

Saturday, 23 June 2007

A pig flies with the Angels


Having just hit 40 a couple of weeks ago (no, I didn't feel old until 21st when our youngest turned one and seeing the two sets of cards on top of the piano did bring home just how much older than him I am), we decided to have a blow out last night and around 100 friends and neighbours came over for a hog roast. The only difference between this and every other hog roast I have ever attended is that this was a complete DIY job. A friend (another James) built the spit on the lines of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's model (in his excellent "Meat" book) and despite our mutual nerves that it may not work, the Tamworth, bought from a friend of my brother-in-law, roasted to perfection. The extra flavour and texture of this breed was further enhanced by an internal marinade of chilli, garlic and fennel seeds overnight before the fire was lit around 7.30am for the hog to start roasting at 9am. Turned regularly throughout the day by myself and old college friend Saki, by 7pm it was ready to come off the spit for an hour before serving with salads brought by many of the village guests. The wines for the evening were, of course, our party wines extraordinaire, Domaine des Anges red and white. Superb all round.


Friday, 22 June 2007

The night before...

The night before a big party can be rather more relaxing than the big event itself! I got back from the school run with a pig in the back of the car to find two old college friends, Simon and Stuart who I haven't seen in at least ten years. They helped with getting the pig out of the car and prepared for the next day. Then we sat down and waited for Saki and Caroline, also from our college days to turn up so we could have dinner (kofte kebabs). We had a couple of good bottles of Gigondas, the best of which was the 2000 "Les Hauts de Montmirail" from Domaine Brusset but as both Simon and Stuart are real ale drinkers, it wasn't until I reached for the remains of the bottle of Bressy-Masson's sweet and slightly madeirized Rasteau Rancio that they were keen to try. Simon was especially convinced as were both Saki and Caroline (I think Stuart may have stuck to the beer). Anyway, great to see some old faces

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

ASDW - another trade press tasting!

The third ASDW press and trade tasting (followed by a rather hectic public session during the evening) got off to a good start with two very influential critics taking their time and taking us all seriously. I consciously included some of the less obvious wines this time. The most popular included Xavier Vignon's Champagne and "Blanc" (next time I'll have the Rouge, then no other wine will get a look in!), Domaine des Anges' "L'Archange" wines, Domaine des Côteaux des Travers' Rasteau "Prestige" (a personal favourite: lovely spiciness coupled with good red fruits and a nice veneer of oak), La Bastide Blanche's Bandol "Cuvée Estagnol" (still a tannic brute but the fruit is beginning to shout a bit louder now), Château du Seuil's deliciously international Graves Rouge and the Italian wines I showed: the "Volano" and Chianti Classico Riserva 2001 (the undoubted star of the tasting) from Il Molino di Grace, Einaudi's comparatively subtle 1999 Barolo and the unknown Super-Tuscan heavyweight "Corpo Notte" from Tenuta Monte Rosola. Somewhat inevitably, I only got a taste of each of the wines at the start of the day to check for faults (there were none) and one or two throughout the day to check for development in the opened bottle. For me then, the fun started later when I got home (by the time Henry Speer of Champers had unloaded his bits and pieces it was almost 11pm) and Jill and I spent the next three evenings tasting and re-tasting the leftovers. This is a fabulous opportunity to re-acquaint ourselves with the wines we import.

Friday, 1 June 2007

Sweet wines in Decanter

Decanter's Bordeaux supplement included a glowing review of Château du Seuil's 2005 Cérons, a sticky from a tiny appellation just outside Sauternes. Stephen Brook gave it four stars (highly recommended), describing it as having a "Light apricot nose; lean, racy candied lemon flavours, lively acidity and length"

Thursday, 26 April 2007

My annual pilgrimage to Canterbury

Ten wines at the Canterbury tasting: the Domaine des Anges 2005 Blanc showed very well. Crisp, fruity and refreshing - as always, a welcome alternative to all the Chardonnays and Sauvignons without being too off the wall. The Domaine de Mourchon "Tradition" seemed a little too young this time but the other 2005s, both from Rasteau - Domaine Bressy-Masson's "Paul-Emile" and Domaine des Côteaux des Travers' "Prestige" - were both surprisingly forward and delicious. The former has already put on a little weight revealing some lovely ripe fruit, slightly Burgundian in character but at the Grand Cru rather than Village level (and only a tenner!); the Prestige has some well-judged oak supporting the sweet, red/black fruit. These two Rasteaus, both at £10 show just how good this village has become at putting out top drawer wines at affordable (dinner party) prices and both these wines can be drunk now or aged a few years if this is wanted.

By contrast, the 2004s all seemed to need further ageing but Laurent Brusset's Cairanne "Les Chabriles" is, as always, a real star. Oakier than usual (I have never noticed the taste of oak before) and more elegant than the slightly burnt 2003, this is very drinkable now but I can see how it will be even better after a couple more years. I had a 2000 recently which was fabulous. The other 2004 which really impressed me was Raymond Usseglio's Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Give it a couple more years if you can - I think it could be the best vintage I have tasted from bottle (I have tasted both the 2005 and 2006 from the barrel!)

Monday, 23 April 2007

Perrin et Fils' CDRV Rasteau "L'Andeol" 2004

In advance of my now annual (for as long as they'll have me) tasting in Canterbury (this Thursday), I wanted to re-taste the Perrin Rasteau "L'Andéol" from the 2004 vintage. I don't
usually include the Perrin wines as they are technically negociant wines but I want to focus on 2004 and 2005 with the emphasis away from Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The wine is almost pure Grenache, or so I believe, and clearly old-vine with concentration and texture like this. The nose is quite perfumed - not sure how to describe it - but the palate reveals some oak lurking in the background and tannins sitting alongside. Masses of fruit here but my instinct is to lay it down a while longer. It will make an interesting contrast to the 2005 Rasteau wines I am going to show on Thursday which are more forward and also to the other Villages wines.

Saturday, 17 March 2007

Irish (made) wines for a St Patrick's Day Indian feast

St Patrick's Day. We have been invited to an Indo-Pakistani supper with some friends, cooked by one of them. The choice of wine with Asian food is always difficult for me (I generally have a good lager with curry rather than trying to come up with a less than ideal wine to pair with it) so I took some Domaine des Anges to go with the Irish aspect of the evening (quickly forgotten but the wines went down well). The 2005 Blanc is fruity but dry, probably what a decent Chablis should be, quite juicy and crisp like a good apple. The 2004 Rouge is very well defined, a good food wine as any well-made Rhône red should be (but not all are). The Asian food turned out to be delicious, from the superb samosas and pakoras to the assorted meat and vegetable dishes that were presented to us at the table. None were very hot, so wine turned out to match them well, but all were expertly spiced and cooked to perfection. I had intended to pinch a copy of the menu so I could write about each dish with seeming knowledge but one thing I can say is that a good, medium red with not too much in the way of tannin, good acidity (but, again, not too much) and mature fruit character does go well with this sort of food. The DDA red is such a wine.

Anyone in south Norfolk or Suffolk interested in having an Indo-Pakistani meal cooked for them in their own home (and you could pick up a few tricks along the way if you want to pitch in as sous-chef) should definitely call Ayesha Manto of Mazedaar (07984 544005 or e-mail manto@doctors.org.uk - website coming soon). She has an à la carte menu and some set menus as starting points but if you have any particular dishes you want, my guess is Ayesha will be able to produce something rather special.