Tuesday, 2 June 2009

A long lunch (and lots of lovely Languedoc and Roussillon wines) at The Ledbury in London

I could type for England about what a great time I had in London last Thursday, at an event organised by my new friend Don Reid of the wine-pages forum, being the latest instalment of what has become known on wine-pages as WIMPS lunches. I'm still a little unsure as to the origin of the term (or even if it is some sort of acronym) but I think it was coined by another friend and fellow wine-pages "forumite" Keith Prothero, as a description of anybody incapable of imbibing copious amounts of wine of a lunchtime. Anyway, as he knows I am a devotee of Languedoc and Roussillon wines, Don pulled out all the stops to organise this lunch on a date that was suitable for me. Luckily (though for a totally different reason - of which I will post more tomorrow) I was due in London that day. So many thanks to "The Don" for extending the invitation and for making me feel so welcome.

The Michelin-starred Ledbury restaurant in Notting Hill was the venue and it was a cracking experience all round. A bargain £50 a head secured a brilliant 4-course meal, coffee, gratuities, corkage (we all took our own wines) and the almost undivided attention of sommelier Manu Barnay, whose unenviable task it was to serve around 35 different bottles of wine to 24 people seated at 3 large tables. Everything went smoothly (despite there being around 80 large wine glasses on each table, by the end! A wonderful time was had by all, and the standard of the food was very high. I also had the pleasure of dining with some lovely people, including owner Nigel Platts-Martin. For a man who owns 5 of London's best restaurants (4 of which are Michelin-starred) he came across as a thoroughly nice guy and very down to earth. He was also very complimentary about my wine contributions. Perhaps I ought to try and persuade him to list some of them in his restaurants! ;-)

I'll post a few pictures in due course, plus some notes about the food. Meanwhile, here are my notes on the wines that were served on our table.

Réserve Les Bastides d’Alquier 1997 Faugeres
I still have around 12 of these left (from my original 18) and the ones I have drunk have ranged from sublime to corked (at least 2 out of 6), which is why I brought a Maison Jaune 1993 as a back-up. Thankfully, the 1997 I brought was in pretty good shape. A touch high-toned and less Syrah-dominated than some I have drunk, but still very good. Elegant, soft, secondary fruit flavours, decent concentration, resolved tannins and lovely acidity. Got better with time in the glass. A good, if not great bottle.

As a postscript, I opened another bottle of this wine the day after – and it was a real step up in quality, displaying that almost northern Rhone-like Syrah quality that I find in the best examples of this wine. A fabulously herb and mineral-laden nose, with hints of lilies, smoky bacon, chocolate, spice, southern warmth and an attractive (i.e. very subtle) hint of brett. In other words, everything that this wine is capable of. I only wish we’d had this bottle yesterday. Incidentally, I have absolutely no “connection” with this wine – Richards Walford are the agents, I believe. And if it were not for the marked bottle variation (at least in this vintage) I would be sorely tempted to add current vintage(s) to my list. I have never had a Faugeres that comes close to it, and it is (IMHO) potentially one of the great Languedoc wines/growers. It just needs to be consistent.

Domaine La Combe Blanche La Chandeliere 2001 Minervois La Liviniere
I also brought this wine - and it was really singing. Full of rich bramble and plum fruit, dark chocolate, garrigue herbs and spice, and the oak is starting to integrate nicely. Long, too. I have to say, it punched well above its weight and is drinking beautifully, yet still with a great deal of development left in it over the next 5 years or more. A wine and a grower that I am very proud of.

Coume del Mas Les Schistes 2007 Collioure
Very, very young, but lovely and drinkable already. This is what appeals to me about these regions – so many wines are drinkable in their youth – and I don’t mean (just) “drinkable”, I mean attractive and approachable. Rich bramble and blackcurrant fruit, but with a lightness of touch reminiscent of strawberries – yet stamped with the trademark Collioure salty savouriness. This needs a couple of years to really integrate, but all the components are there.

Mas de Daumas Gassac 1993 Vin de Pays de l’Hérault
I couldn’t get over the notion that this was very slightly corked. Or was it just that the fruit had faded of its own accord? There was definitely some enjoyment, but there was also some sort of dirty wood (or TCA?) note and something was definitely missing.

Mas de Daumas Gassac 1998 Vin de Pays de l’Hérault
This is much more like it. Tight as a tight thing in tight trousers, tannic, but showing some class. Still quite light (amazing for the vintage) but elegant and long and lovely. It just needs time. The first Daumas Gassac to ever truly impress me.

Mas de Daumas Gassac 1995 Vin de Pays de l’Hérault
This is similar in structure to the 1993 (but cleaner) and still slightly austere and backward (as so many vintages are, in my opinion). But there is a really good wine lurking in there somewhere. Tobacco, vanilla and blackcurrant are predominant and it is still quite tannic. Will the fruit outlast the tannins. Perhaps, but personally I would drink it now.

Mas de Daumas Gassac 1990 Vin de Pays de l’Hérault
This is the real deal – the first Daumas Gassac to ever really blow me away. Really complex, with loads of secondary fruit aromas and flavours, earthy, tobacco and spice-scented. A rich, warming palate, but balanced and truly elegant, with lovely acidity and fully resolved tannins. A complete (and completely) lovely wine. So Daumas Gassac can live up to the hype! But perhaps only in great vintages…...

Domaine Treloar Motus 2006 Cotes du Roussillon
Another wine brought by me, and I thought it showed very well, if not quite as well as it did at a tasting 2 or 3 weeks ago. Was it a root day? Still lovely, with great acidity, supple tannins and immense depth of Mourvedre fruit – savoury, sweet, rich, leathery, yet always in balance and so clean. This is a baby and has 5-10 years left to develop.

Domaine Pietri-Geraud Cuvée Méditerranée 2003 Banyuls
I love this – well, I would, wouldn’t I? After all, it is another of my wines! Strawberries and cream, chocolate, toffee, orange zest, blackberry jam, prunes and a gentle whiff of eau de vie. Wonderfully complex and yummy. This (and the Rivesaltes which followed) were served distinctly chilled and too cold for my liking. They both showed much better when they warmed up.

Rivesaltes 1949 (sorry, didn’t get the grower)
Mid-amber/brown, reaking of dried oranges, marmalade, burnt toffee, roses and sweaty cheese – quite a combination, and very nice. For me, Rivesaltes is best when it is really old and madeirised, like this, although the fact that it tends towards the spirity makes it an entirely different animal. Shame there were no cigars on offer to accompany this!

Leon Stolarski

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