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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

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 extremel

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.

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.

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.

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 .

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 ye

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 hol

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

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 )

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.

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.

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"

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

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

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

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"

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

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.

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 w