November 29, 2009
I wonder if last night was a bio-dynamic fruit day? The five wines we had over a very long ‘lunner’ (lunch and dinner) proved to be exceptionally good. Good enough to get me to write the first thing on here for far too long.
We kicked off the ‘apero’ hour with a sweetie, quite unusual from general drinking experience in the UK but considered quite normal in France. Discovered at the back of the wine racks was the 2006 Pacherenc du Vic Bihl Cuvée Saint Albert from the Producteurs Plaimont co-operative. Given that 75% of the people around the table were French it was quite heartening to hear them say they had never heard of this wine before and, perhaps more depressingly, that they would never have considered buying it based on the packaging.
Pacherenc du Vic Bihl is one of those curious myriad of appellations in the south-west of France close by to Madiran. It can be either sweet or dry and is, in this instance, made from a blend of those well-known (!) grapes Arrufiac, Petit Corbu and Manseng. Harvested around November 15th (The feast day of Saint Albert) from dried rather than botrytised grapes. Recommended as a partner to foie gras (seemingly the only food anyone eats in the south-west of France). Producturs Plaimont is a model example of the modern wine co-operative. Taking a leaf out of the Burgundians book they hold a charity wine auction on the first Monday of November whereby the public (or more likely wine merchants) may buy barrels of the previous year’s harvest. The proceeds being used to promote and protect the vignerons of the region.
A glowing gold/amber colour in the glass. A bit muted on the nose with some sort of mushroomy bloom about it (I initially thought it faulty) but opening up after 15 minutes to show dried apricot and honeysuckle. All the action was on the palate though; intensely rich and endowed with a creamy texture. Flavours of dried pineapple and apricot overlaid with a hint of white chocolate in the finish. Enough acidity to balance it all out, this is one of the wines that is very hard to put down. Highly recommended!
Currently Corney and Barrow have the 2005 available at £14.80 a bottle. A bargain compared to many Sauternes. Details here.
Next up Simon Bize & Fils delicious 2005 Bourgogne Blanc ‘Les Champlains’. A classic example of how a great producer trumps humble appellation every time. Patrick Bize is the winemaker here and is a noted perfectionist. His estate is based in Savigny lés Beaune (fertile hunting grounds for Burgundy bargains) and consists of 22 hectares of vines. Les Champlains is a vineyard situated high on the hill above Savigny which contains a tiny section of Pinot Gris vines. Most unusual!
Showing some development in the colour here, a bright straw yellow with hints of buttercup gold. Unmistakably Burgundian nose; toasted cashews and custard, all very enticing. Broad and full in the mouth with soft, lactic acids and gentle toasty notes emerging. Finishes well with a hint of dried herbs and a lingering waxy taste. Ready to drink and I will happily purchase again. Probably best served with fish in creamy sauces or roast poultry it did cope with the pungent salmon tartare we ate as well. Retail price is around £13. Clarion Wines looks like the best merchant to buy from but they expect a minimum of 12 bottles to be purchased.
Cottage Pie for the main course and I was very impressed by the next wine: the 2002 Petaluma Coonawarra red. This was a bottle I had picked up at Oddbins about three or four years ago having shared a bottle with a friend at the time. I recall it being dense, dark and loaded with tannins. After a few years rest this was a beautifully supple example, just peering over the parapet of maturity. What particularly impressed me was Bordeaux-ness it displayed; minty, black plum and cassis with a savoury wood spice note as well. Time and again the scent was more than enough. This must have been Brian Croser’s last vintage as he sold Petaluma in 2002 to set up Tappanappa in nearby Wrattonbully.
His helpfully geeky back label notes that the blend is 51% cabernet sauvignon and 49% merlot and that 2002 was one of the coolest years on record for the region, that’ll explain the minty notes I guess. Anyway, I thought it was terrific; certainly comparable with classed growth Bordeaux at three times the price.
Bibendum have the 2005, definitely one to consider for a medium term cellar sojourn.
A cheese plate and a stupendous chocolate mousse followed (made with Lindt’s ludicrously intense 99% cacao). As the evening was flowing well there was only one thing to do: hit the Port.
As a result a bottle of Taylor’s 1985 was found and decanted. Good grief the evening was getting rather good now. This is showing exceptionally well right now; fruitcake like with copious plum and black currant. I’m afraid my concentration was starting to wane somewhat but I recall the absolute suaveness of the wines structure. Taylor’s can be quite macho at times but this more elegant than brutal.
‘Consumed with alacrity’ would be the apt description around the dining table at that point. An unashamed plug for Tom at
bottle apostle as a stockist for this wine.
Finally, a request for a digestif was aired. We’ve recently been given a small sample bottle of Cognac, a drink I have very little experience of in general but on this example one I may have found a great liking for. I would urge you to seek out a bottle of Jean Filloux Tres Vieux if you’d like to experience a revelation in Cognac.
Produced in the most artisan fashion from grapes sourced in the Cognac ‘golden triangle’ by Pascal Filloux this is a Cognac bottled after around 25 years ageing in Limousin oak. Glowing amber coloured with a really powerful and complex bouquet that included hints of marmalade, banana and pear. Obviously at 40% alcohol this is quite spirity but it remained delicate and well-balanced without any sign of gauche throat-burning. A fitting end to what had meant to be a relatively low-key gathering.
Master of Malt currently offer a full 70cl bottle for the respectable price of £44.35. For something that will be consumed in 20 generous measures I think it offers great value compared to the much more well-known Cognac brands.
In case anybody is wondering there was no hangover this morning, copious glasses of Badoit during the meal possibly the reason though like Jancis Robinson observed recently there is something quite restorative about great wine. I suspect natural wine making methods, minimal intervention and lack of manipulation in the final product all helps as well though, of course, there is no science to back these assertions.
September 5, 2009
Last night we tried this, a souvenir from a visit to Gaillac back at the start of August. Gaillac is quite a large appellation to the north-east of Toulouse. It produces a full range of wines from lightly sparkling (usually labelled ‘perle’) made by the méthode ancestrale, to dry, crisp whites, rustic and spicy reds and beguiling sweet styles. After Cahors and Madiran it is probably the most widely known of the somewhat obscure South-West French wines. Archaeological evidence suggests that this was one of the first areas in ancient Gaul given over to wine production, possibly even pre-dating the Romans. Grapes allowed in the appellation are as follows:
Mauzac - Apple skin aromas, high acidity
Len de l’el – A local speciality, which must form (in conjunction with mauzac) at least 40% of any grape blend for appellation status. Powerful but tends towards flabbiness. The name is a corruption meaning ‘far from the eye’ as the grapes have long stems and hang lower down than most.
Ondenc – Almost became extinct due to poor record against rot and poor yields. Adapts well for sweet wine production (and ageing) to judge on the evidence of the 1993 Gaillac Doux from Robert Plageoles I and seven friends eagerly consumed back in May this year.
Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle are also allowed.
Duras – Fiercely defended local variety, buds early so prone to the vagaries of the spring weather but provides good structure and acid once ripe.
Fer Servadou – Another local variety also known as fer, braucol, brocol and pinenc. Fer is French for iron and in this instance, refers to the vine’s wood rather than the wine it makes. Makes wines of deep colour and concentration. In conjunction with Duras it must make up at least 40% of the final blend for appellation status. ie: 39% Duras, 1% Fer + 60% other permitted varieties = appellation criteria.
Much more familiar grapes are also grown and allowed in the appellation; Gamay, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
The bottle in question we had is 100% Fer Servadou from 2006. Even the producer can’t decide what to call this grape as he mentions it’s also called Braucol on the back label. Harvested from two plots and aged for 12 months in barriques (no mention of their age, I suspect a small amount of new wood and a combination of second and third use ones). Non-filtered, though we found no sediment, it should be capable of 10 years in bottle according to the slightly disinterested lady in Gaillac’s Maison du Vin where we purchased it. (about 15 euros if I remember rightly).
Despite it’s three years of age it was still vibrantly purple on the rim and pretty much opaque. The nose was moderately intense with notes of damson and wild blackberry. In the mouth a brisk attack, plenty of ripe tannic structure, quite astringent at first but a couple of hours in the decanter seemed to soften it. The tannins became quite meltingly soft with food, a hint of the polish that new oak can bring perhaps? It finished with more dark fruit and an impression of firmness. Dark, strong and powerful were the overall impressions. Not bad at all but very little to compare it against given the paucity of good Gaillac available in the UK. I’d buy it again.
We drank it alongside some good sausages and my attempt at Thomas Keller’s confit byaldi, something I’ve wanted to try for a while but seems seasonally correct right now. It’s a fiddley dish, requires a fair amount of time and I was very thankful for a mandolin, despite the inevitable finger-slicing it brought me. The end result is well worth it though.
Incidentally, the process of making the confit byaldi led me to find one of the best greengrocers in north London, Newington Green Fruit and Veg, a really impressive range of high quality veg, including the difficult to find yellow squash/courgette that is an essential part of the dish. Their stand was heaving with beautiful plum tomatoes which I shall have to get some more of for roasting and turning into pizza/pasta sauces. The first nobbly skinned squashes of the year were being unloaded when I arrived so apparently it really is autumn, somehow wines like the L’enclos des Braves seems the proper accompaniment to the season.