A spot of Champagne

I’ve tasted a lot of Champagne over the past few months, and have more of an opinion on it than I have done for quite some time.  “Overlooked from an investment point of view” is what the moneymen have been saying for a while.  Overlooked from a vinous point of view is what I say, at the same time wondering just how much longer the money men will be around for.

One of the best early vinolent posts was this.  Well, at least I think so.  And reading it now I feel like a man looking at his former self.  I know a bit more now.  More to come on this but in the meantime a brilliant tasting, courtesy of the very nice chaps at Corney & Barrow, and hosted by Didier Depond, President of both Delamotte and Salon.

Delamotte Blanc de Blancs, NV (magnum)

Base wine is the 2006.  Each “batch” gets about 10-15% reserve wine.  Lovely rich nose.  A bit special.  Brioche.  Proper.  Rich and fine mousse.  Complex and rich yet fresh at the same time.  All about the freshness.  Good.

2004 Delamotte Blanc de Blancs

Tiny bubbles.  Floral, very delicate and precise nose.  Some richesse further in.  And this is very vinous in the mouth.  Lemon.  Grapefruit.  Herbs?  Freshness and richesse in the same place.  Gets chunkier in the finish.  Excellent.

2002 Delamotte Blanc de Blancs

A little bit waxy on the nose.  Richer.  Some development.  Some caramel.  Butter.  And again in the mouth.  Foody.  Very serious.  Tiny bubbles again and this is very, very vinous again.

2000 Delamotte Blanc de Blancs, Collection

Not many bottles of this and it is/was exclusively for the Japanese market, which is a serious one for Delamotte & Salon.  Some fresh mushroom creaminess on the nose.  A herby edge.  And quite saline and mineral in the mouth.  This is proper wine.  Love it.

1999 Delamotte Blanc de Blancs, Collection

Richesse and a little more weight here.  Sunny vintage.  Tiny bubbles again.  Developed.  Very soft texture in the mouth.  This really has a great deal to it.  Very good.

1991 Delamotte Blanc de Blancs, Collection

Bubbles still here.  A touch of earth on the nose.  Getting there.  And soft and old and rich in the mouth.  Keeps on.  Retains tautness in the finish.  Very fine structure here.  Pinpoint.  I like these.

1983 Delamotte Brut, Collection (magnum)

Disgorged January 2012.  Getting golden in colour.  A very fine and gentle mousse.  A special vintage: very rainy then a beautiful September.  And in the mouth a beautiful mature ripeness.  Almost Burgundian (red).  0 dosage.  Excellent.

1970 Delamotte Blanc de Blancs, Collection (magnum)

Very developed.  A hint of mushroom, sous-bois.  Love it.  And gamey richesse in the mouth.  Really very impressive.  Retains its delicacy.  I really like this.

1964 Delamotte Brut, Collection (magnum)

A touch smokey again.  Ripe.  Slightly orangey.  And again in the mouth.  A touch of fishiness.  Very good again.  Excellent.  Perfectly ripe: Brie just sliding off the plate.

Thank you Corney & Barrow and, a relevant aside: there is one way to learn about wine, and that is to taste it.  Thank you again.

2005 Bordeaux: Realer than Real Deal Holyfield

Last week my former employers kindly let me into their grand tasting of 2013 Bordeaux.

I have, or rather had, unfinished business with 2013 Bordeaux.  A vintage born and released into a miasma of negativity.  A vintage that was always going to get a kicking, a vintage that was getting bullied before even nursery.  I tasted the wines in April and, whilst it was immediately clear that 2013 was never going to be grand, a lot of the wines were ok: they tasted nice.  And whilst “they tasted nice” is hardly grand praise, it’s what wine is supposed to do.

Moreover: those that had made these nice wines had, well, worked ****ing hard to do so.  Paul Pontallier of Chateau Margaux used an hospital analogy, suggesting that twenty years, or even ten years, ago this was a vintage that wouldn’t have made it, that would have been carted away in a black van rather than walking up the aisle.  To knock these wines, to knock the vintage seemed to me like kicking a stray puppy.  I wanted to give it a pat instead.

Back to the tasting: I tasted twenty or so of the fifty or so 2013s on offer.  And the verdict is unchanged.  The weaker wines should be served in a carafe on Paris or Provence bistro pavements.  The better wines will make delicious Sunday Lunch Claret in short time – give them a couple of years after they’ve been shipped.  With a few exceptions there is little reason to buy them now other than for the pleasure of owning something you like.  Many of them are too expensive: Beychevelle at £216 per six bottles would appeal if the list read £216 per dozen.  There are a few special wines: Calon-Segur has something sylph-like to it, though I didn’t taste Pichon-Lalande, which was my pick of the vintage along with Calon and Lafleur.

And this is all pretty boring, and I was getting bored.  And then I got excited about Bordeaux again.  I haven’t been excited about Bordeaux for ages.

With an idea so good it should have been mine, the chateaux were asked to show another vintage of their wine.  Not just some other shite they had to sell, but one which had sold well, one which many guests might or would own.  A few players showed 2009s; those that really wanted to play brought their 2005s.

I usually like to sit on the fence like a cat and watch both sides but, and let me be totally clear here: 2005 is the vintage.  I’ll give you that 2009s are pretty good, and that the best 2010s are on another planet, but viewed holistically, 2005 makes these other two look like Britney Spears and Take That.  You want to have some bouncy with Kim Kardashian?  Or do you want to loop the loop with Audrey Hepburn?  You want Andy Murray?  Lewis Hamilton?  Wayne Rooney?  Or do you want McEnroe, Senna and Best?  You want Robbie Williams?  Or do you want Frank and Deano?  There is no competition as far as I see it.

I tasted a dozen or so 2005s.  Enough for a verdict?  Yes.  And: here’s the thing.  They’re not very pricey.  2005 Pichon-Baron – a baby first growth – comes in at £910 per dozen.  2005 Leoville-Barton – a quite brilliant wine – comes in at £658.  Calon-Segur?  £598.  And all three of these are the wines that demonstrate why a bottle of wine is worth £100 or more.

***

Some notes:

2005 Ch. Beychevelle, St Julien

Lots of eucalyptus on the nose.  There is depth and character here.  This is what makes wine interesting.  More developed than I would have expected.  A core of fruit to this.  A saline edge.  Excellent.  Character.

2005 Ch. d’Armailhac, Pauillac

This is more like it.  A touch animal on the nose, though there is some pure fruit under here.  And in the mouth this is just starting to develop into stage two.  A slight saline edge to the finish.  Good.  Proper wine.

2005 Ch. Calon-Segur, St Estephe

There is some purity of fruit here.  Some definition and some punch.  Depth, and a real thickness to it – but not heavy: lifted.  Deeply concentrated and ethereal at the same time.  Excellent.

2005 Ch. Chasse-Spleen, Moulis

A touch of mint and a touch of meatiness on the nose.  Developed.  Meaty.  Proper wine.  Very good.

2005 Ch. Poujeaux, Moulis

Again that slightly salty edge.  Pure and clean fruit.  Proper.  Intense.  A bit like 1996 but more complete.  Two bottles in one.

2005 Clos Fourtet, St Emilion

Touch of mint on the nose.  These (2005s) are brilliantly complete.   Proper again.  No force, just power, strength.  Depth.  Length.

2005 Ch. Ferriere, Margaux

Again a touch of delicate farmyard with a saline edge.  Not punchy: more about cool and minty lift.

2005 Ch. Langoa-Barton, St Julien

Touch of mint again.  And some real St Julien chunk to this.  Complete, full, and very good indeed.

2005 Ch. Leoville-Barton, St Julien

A touch of mint though this is a little reticent and not giving much away.  Very pure.  Lift.  I want to drink this.  Excellent.  This, and these (2005s) are very special.

2005 Ch. Petit-Village, Pomerol

A touch of confected spice on the nose.  But genuine purity and a touch of herb in the mouth.  Sweet,

2005 Ch. Pichon-Baron, Pauiilac

Much more serious.  There is a great deal going on here.  Baby first growth.  Depth.  This goes on.  Seriously, seriously good.  Excellent.  Flawless.

***

The notes are short.  Good wines don’t need long notes plus (a) I wanted to get away before I was recognised and (b) I wanted to have a pint with Big Phil.

In January I walked down Southwold High Street with a rare smile on my face having just tasted the flight of my life.  It was the last time I had been excited by Bordeaux.  Last week I jumped onto a 507 to Waterloo with the same grin.  I remembered what it was all about.  Bordeaux, just briefly, stopped being a commodity.  It was something beautiful.  It was what the whole thing was about.

Frenchie and Clarethound: thank you.

Three bottles. Miles Davis: The Man With the Horn

Now I’ve got mixed feelings about wine funds though any ethical issues that I have had in the past have been solved quickly, and easily, by simply embracing hypocrisy rather than worrying about it.

A few years ago every fool and his dog knew someone who was starting a fund, who had 25 million just waiting, &c, and, whilst old-school merchants might have sniffed, and wine-geek purists simply sighed, times were good if you had the wine to sell.

The picture today is a little different.  “I’m starting a wine fund…” … “Yes, mate, and I’m buying a zoo..”.  But a handful still exist, the past three years of falling prices having separated the men from the boys.

One such man is Miles Davis, who runs Wine Asset Managers.  I thank Miles for his answers.

What was the first wine/bottle that got you into the whole wine thing?

It was either Giscours or Leoville Barton but it was definitely ’83. I’ve had a strange affinity to ‘83s ever since but am yet to taste Palmer. I was in my early twenties so whatever it was can’t have had any bottle age. I’m not sure quite how good it was but I suddenly realised there was a whole other world out there that I didn’t know existed. I think I thought Rioja Reserva from Tesco was the greatest vinous pleasure available to man at that stage.

What was the first wine/bottle that took you closer to your maker?

As a combination of the moment and the wine it would have to be Margaux ’83. It was on my first holiday with a new girlfriend in 2008 (Jane is now my fantastic and lovely wife). We were in deepest Alsace at the legendary Hotel de la Gare (must go again). It was just one of those magic moments and the wine was singing its heart out and in fabulous condition. The nature of the wine order (a half of Louis Roederer NV, Lafon’s Clos de la Barre ’02  and the Margaux) gave rise to the Maitre D’ (female version and wife of chef) offering extra  courses to help us on our way – ‘meubles’ is how she described it! All in all,  an unforgettable experience.

What was the best wine/bottle you have had this year? – OK, the past twelve months.

Either ’66 or ’85 La Mission Haut Brion. I was extremely fortunate to attend a La Mission vertical dinner at the Ledbury last month. There were seven vintages on offer going back to ’62. Very, very sadly the ’89 was corked but even then, it was clear what a magnificent wine this must be. I’ll go for the ’66 however as it was such a magnificent year for football and it seems ever so gently topical. And tropical. Come on England!

Thank you, Miles.  Come on England?  Oh dear.

www.wamllp.com

Mission Control: the cream of 2010 Bordeaux

This is a long overdue part two of the Southwold tasting of the 2010 Bordeaux vintage.  There is a part three though you are not advised to hold your breath waiting for it.

Let me spit it out: 2010 is an over-rated vintage.  It is the Lewis Hamilton of young Bordeaux vintages: all the potential, all the bling, all the gear yet, somehow, just missing the mark.  It’s something to do with a lack of consistency.  A lot of the wines are aggressive, and more than just a few are overworked.

But – and this is a big but – the wines at the top of the tree are elysian in their quality.  I may well be dining with the gods (or otherwise) by the time they are mature but these wines are breathtakingly good.  A few young wines have prompted me to consider my place in the universe – 2005 Margaux and 2009 Latour spring to mind – but never have I seen, or rather tasted, a full house of such brilliance.  I was accused last week of having taken a “hyperbole pill”.  If such medication existed there would not be enough of it to match these bottles.  You get the point.

Here goes.  These were all tasted blind and with the clock ticking.  They brought a rare smile to my face.  It doesn’t get much better than this.

Cheval Blanc

Cool minerality to this on the nose.  Depth.  Pure.  And scorchingly sweet and lovely in the mouth.  Pure cassis fruit.  Shell-like.  Quite lovely and complete.  18.5

Ausone

A little tighter on the nose.  But there is something behind it.  And in the mouth this is very tightly packed.  There is more to come here and this is very classy indeed.  Long.  18.5

La Mission Haut Brion

A bit of austerity here on the nose.  A bit of pencil.  A bit of breeding.  And plenty here in the mouth and a savoury edge to it.  Very classy graphite texture.  Long.  Very, very, classy and very, very long.  Love the salty finish.  19

Haut Brion

This is very reticent on the nose.  Not much here.  Really hiding?  There is some real class here and some breeding but this is very austere today.  Proper length.  18

Margaux

Back to something very plummy and very, very, showy.  Lots of chocca barrel here but certainly something underneath the flashiness.  And in the mouth this follows through.  At the beginning the fruit seems to be lacking but it catches up at the end.  19

Latour

Back to some cool and minty austerity.  A bit of bounce here.  And precise minty fruit in the mouth.  Perfect lift.  A touch of licquorice on top of some chocolate fruit.  This is rather special.  19

Mouton

And back to the mocha barrel again…  And lots of it and it’s exceptionally well done if you like it that way.  This has bags of richesse and a Pomerol chunk.  Weighty.  Petrus?  Lots of chocolate, lots underneath.  Very good.  19

Lafite

This is a little hard to grasp after the preceding wine.  Hard to penetrate.  And this seems a little simple, if very vinous, in the mouth.  A touch austere.  Not sure, though this is clearly very serious.  18

Petrus

A bit of barrel on this, though not quite as obvious as (Mouton).  And there is something here.  A tad austere and a little worked.  There is some class here though this and the (Lafite) are a little austere for me today. 18

Lafleur

Staying on the austere side.. and then something in the mouth.  This is clearly hiding its class and its colours today but it has a freshness that is compromised (the appreciation of which) by the tartiness of the others.  19

Le Pin

This is a little closed on the nose.  Not quite sure I get it.  There is a great deal of structure here and there is some depth coming through.  Length: this goes on and on and on and on.  This is very good.  Classy austerity.  18.5

Scores:

Scoring while you taste, and taste at some speed, and have to call your scores out at the end of the flight, isn’t easy.  And I prefer scoring – if I have to – out of 100.  In hindsight La Mission gets the full ton, with Margaux, Lafleur, Latour and Mouton running it close.  Everything is between 97 and 100.

Vintages:

There may well be a bit of nostalgia going on, but I still think 2005 is finest of the 2005, 2009 & 2010 triumvirate.

Fin:

I am a lucky boy.  Luckier still if I last long enough to drink any of these even close to  (their) maturity.

Three bottles: MLR

March 1st 1999.  9.30am.  I have the letter somewhere: “Report to Michael Ragg, the London Shop Manager”.  And I did.  The beginning of my career in the “proper” wine trade; the beginnings of a lot of things including a relationship with an address that I remain very, very, fond of – 3 St James’s Street – and, of course, the man himself.

Enough reminiscing.  Well, in a while.  Michael Ragg ran the shop at 3 St James’s Street in the days when we still put the shutters up at the end of every day.  When we weren’t allowed to dust.  When there was no wine on show.  When customers were given a small list – about 5”x3” and 70 pages thick – that they were expected to choose from with the help of young men like me.  We had a lot of fun.  A lot.  In 2003 Michael left, as I had (for the first time) to go to Burgundy.  A year later Mischief and Mayhem was born.

A constant risk in the wine trade – maybe any trade – is friendship.  Become too friendly with your customers and eventually you’ll sell them less wine.  And on the other side of the coin it is all too easy to buy wine from people that you like (even if that is part of the enjoyment of a bottle).  The thing about Ragg’s wines is this, though: they’re rather good.

Enough smoke-blowing.  I thank Mr Ragg for his answers, with a hazy memory of opening bottles of Sancerre Rose in a garden in Fulham as the sun came up.  On a schoolnight.  Those were the days.

What was the first wine/bottle that got you into the whole wine thing?

A bottle of 1968 Chianti Classico, grower unknown, drunk in 1988. I was living in Florence and spotted a clearly old bottle, standing upright and dust-caked, on an upper shelf of our warm ( it was August ) local osteria, which the proprietor was happy to sell. 1968 was my parent’s wedding anniversary, hence the purchase – I didn’t know at the time that 1968 was a car crash of a vintage for most European regions, nor that it was an extremely good vintage in Tuscany, indeed being 18 I knew very little about anything, but the purity, freshness and ripeness of the wine were extraordinary, and that was the revelation, that something so old could have this degree of intensity and sheer life.

What was the first wine/bottle that took you close to your maker?

Extraordinarily difficult question, but as an answer is required I would have to say 1955 Quinta do Noval Nacional. Our shared former employer in St. James’s Street gave me the opportunity to taste a number of wines of legendary status, all the usual suspects from Bordeaux and elsewhere – this actually happened too early in my career, as my yardsticks or reference points against which to consider the merits of such wines were simply too limited, but what a nice problem to have – since moving to Burgundy 12 years ago I haven’t tasted a single drop of Ch. Latour and hard to see that changing any time soon. I’ve wandered from the point – the 1955 Quinta do Noval Nacional was the first bottle of Nacional that I had ever tasted and it was stunning, simply stunning. There isn’t much I can really write about it, as descriptives such as concentrated or complex are meaningless in this context. It was perfect in 1998 and it probably still is.

What was the best wine/bottle you have had this year? – OK, the past twelve months.

Now, if I had responded to Three Bottles in a timely fashion, all would be straightforward – a bottle of 2010 Meursault Les Perrières, Domaine Comtes Lafon, completely outstanding, delicious and drunk with huge pleasure in February – nothing simpler. In early April however I was working in the US, and our importer there kindly opened a bottle of 2009 L’Ermite Ermitage Blanc, M. Chapoutier at dinner one evening. I have never tasted any vintage of this wine before and it was simply a revelation, layered, precise, rich without a trace of heaviness, pure, astonishingly long and truly beautiful – unquestionably the best bottle of the last 12 months.

The problem, which you will have spotted, is that this means my Three Bottles do not contain a Burgundy and therefore something is profoundly wrong. Possibly you might consider a Four Bottles format with a ” What was the best Burgundy you have had this year? ” question?

Thank you, MLR.  www.mischiefandmayhem.com