Three bottles: Charles Lea

I don’t know Charles Lea very well.  But I’d like to know him better.  He first came onto my radar with THIS.  The sort of truth one can come out with when one is employer rather than employee.  And quite true, and even truer and even better in retrospect.  2011 Beychevelle now sells (or doesn’t) at, erm, £500 per dozen or so.

In the same way that one can often divine the quality of a winemaker’s wines without tasting them I think you can judge a wine merchant in a similar way.  So, whilst I don’t know him well I’m fairly certain that he’s one of the good guys.  His response to my introducing myself to him about this time last year – “Jossnotjosh?” – is just gravy.  Anyone who describes Latour as “aristo” just gets it in my book.

So.  The three questions:

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

The moment of discovery was really over a series of dregs. In 1976, straight out of school, and working in the photocopying room of a lawyers’ office in Paris, I shared a ‘permissive squat’ in the Rue St Louis-en-Isle with two friends. One used to bring back the fonds de bouteilles from Steven Spurrier’s Académie du Vin, which was next to his shop the Caves de la Madeleine, off the Rue Royale. Having helped to serve the wines, he had also heard the commentary, and passed on to us what he could remember as we tasted (drank) our way through the remains. I was hooked. (He went into law and is now a high court judge.)

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

I have a problem with this, in that I keep changing my mind, and of course the more wines you taste the more candidates there are. I hope that as my cellar finally starts to have some mature bottles in it that there will be many more. There were a number of vintages of Latour that we were privileged to taste while preparing (topping up and re-corking for specific events) while I was there as a stagiaire in 1977, and certainly they had the magic, but I’m not sure that there aren’t better wines being made now in many Bordeaux estates – but then there’s the wait! Red Burgundy has given me more moments that are close – close to angels but somehow not quite there. I think that it is this ‘near-missing’ that is the magic; there are no 100 pointers, just great wines, and they are so dependent on the moment.  If I have to stick to one, the Latour 1949, for its glimpse into history and its perfect aristo grandiosity.

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

It’s going to have to be a young wine, because however marvellous the mature ones are, they are what they are, while the young ones still have such potential. I think it is probably one of the 2012 Burgundies – from one of Dugat-Py, Perrot-Minot, Confuron-Cotetidot, Mugneret-Gibourg or Lignier-Michelot. However, because it’s more recent, the wine which I can still feel the shape of in my mind is 2010 Messorio from Le Macchiole. The Paleo is amazing this year, the Scrio too, but the Messorio is a lesson in how great Merlot can be, with an extraordinary balance and energy and above all a quality of tannin which seems to take control of the tasting experience, persuasively adding subtle power and length.

Thank you, Charles.

A spot more: Dom Ruinart

I applied for a job selling Ruinart in 1998.  I think I got a second interview but blew it.  Thinking about the lifestyle of the man who currently sells me Ruinart I think I should have tried harder, maybe.

For a taste of what Ruinart is all about then the NV Blanc de Blancs is very hard to beat.  Rather good kit, and all about delicacy.  The daddy of the range is Dom Ruinart, the 2004 vintage of which is the latest release and the point of this tasting.

Wine merchants are always looking for the easy sell, and the easy Champagne sell is the 2002 vintage.  Though the more I taste 2004s, the more I like them.  They’re a bit edgier than the 2002s and isn’t Champagne more about edge than sodastream Meursault?

So: a spot of Dom Ruinart:

2004 Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs

“Creamy mousse.  Very pale.  A touch of green.  Very gentle bubbles.  Very citrussy on the nose followed by a touch of biscuit.  Very inviting, and there is both depth and precision here.  Disgorged a year ago; there is a second batch disgorged more recently.  Creamy in mouth, where the mousse initially explodes then settles down into something more delicate.  Very racy and very lacey.  The detail is fine.  Silk petticoats.  And as tight as a drum.  Steely.  And long.  This is wound up very tight… … coming back to it there is much more here.  A touch of smoke – not quite struck match.  Lots of restrained, smoky fruit.  Very elegant, very classy.  And a touch of salty spice at the end.  Real mouthfeel.”

Which I reckon translates to 96+ or 97.

2002 Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs

“A tad darker and seemingly bigger bubbles.  More punch on the nose here: more forward, more open.  Something citrussy and this is positively grapey.  Vinous.  Some toast coming out.  And punchier and more muscular in the mouth with a steely edge coming through in the finish.  Bigger and more of a crowd pleaser.  A touch Burgundian at the end.”

Which comes in at about the same, I think.  It’s about liking skinny women or plump women (or – fair enough – men).

1993 Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs

“Some development in terms of colour but this is by no means dark.  And some bread and fresh croissant on the nose.  Boulangerie.  And some cool steel and a touch of caramel and even a bit of nougat.  Rich and toasty and more croissant in the mouth.  Creamy and buttery in the finish.  Fully mature.  All here, and whilst it’s not totally clean I like the dirtiness.  Very good, and a touch of saltiness in the finish again.”

Which is about 93+, I think.

2002 Dom Ruinart Rose

“Proper Provence pink.  Lovely round and plump nose.  Gentle and pillow-soft.  A touch of cream.  Cool.  And some weight.  Mouthfeel here too.  This carries on.  20% red wine from Verzenay and Sillery.  Spice and dried flowers.  This is rather good and maintains its delicacy despite the structure.  Already getting a bit gamey though still fresh.”

Erm.  94?  Maybe 94+.  Aren’t numbers for accountants?  Should I count the bubbles?

Summary:  this is rather good stuff.  There is no shortage of average Champagne; serious Champagne is seriously under-rated.  And whilst the market may follow the 2002s, 2004s are more my bag.  Cistercian.

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.