Five Saturday night crackers

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.

2006 Pacherenc du Vic Bihl, Cuvée Albert, Producteurs Plaimont

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!

2005 Bourgogne Blanc Les Champlains, Simon Bize & Fils

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.

2002 Petaluma Coonawarra Red

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.

Taylor's 1985 Vintage Port

‘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.

Cognac Jean Filloux Tres Vieux, 1er Cru du Cogna

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.

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