Sunday, 6 December 2009

An evening of great food and fine wines at Harts restaurant in Nottingham

It has been a year since the last wine-pages "Offline" in Nottingham. Basically, a load of wine geeks (who collectively spend more time than is healthy posting on a public wine forum) get together to enjoy good company, good food and (above all) good wine. Of course, it is possible to enjoy great wine in the comfort of one's own home, but there is something special about meeting with lots of like-minded people and sharing lots of great bottles. The theme of the tasting was "Terroir wines" - wines which were to express their origins in no uncertain terms. And, in the main, they did just that. I've included a few photos of some of the wines, but no food photos - great though the food was, I always think "serving suggestion" when I see them!

Vilmart Grand Cellier d'Or 2001 Champagne
Smoky, lemon meringue nose and a light-ish lemon sherbert palate. I enjoyed this very much, but others didn't. We were also using glasses kindly provided by Harts and some people complained that the mousse disappeared quickly, whilst mine lasted a lot longer. Perhaps some sort of residue in the glasses - or perhaps my mousse simply has more staying power! :D

Vilmart Coeur de Cuvée 2000 Champagne
Much richer than the previous Champagne, with a lovely, creamy, almost caramelly palate, balanced by lemony acidity. Well-judged oak gives it real elegance.

Domaine de Montesquiou Cuvade Préciouse 2007 Jurançon Sec
I brought this (and indeed list it) and it was really well received. Lemon and apple aromas, mingled with a touch of vanilla, clove, star anise and freshly-baked bread. Hallmark Jurançon flavours of lemon, lime and apple, with considerable richness and minerality. A fabulous, thrilling wine - I love it!

Dr Loosen Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett 2005 Mosel-Saar-Ruwer paired with Dr Loosen Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2005 Mosel-Saar-Ruwer
I think I did have a glass problem, here, because the Erdener Treppchen tasted a bit blowsy and even a bit sugary and nondescript (although I tasted some from Diane's glass and it was much better). Nevertheless, the Ürziger Würzgarten won by a mile - petrolly (already) but oh-so perfumed. Slate/mineral, lemon, lime zest, laser-like precision. Lovely stuff and everything that a really good MSR Riesling should be. (Apologies if I got these the wrong way round - they went round as a pair, but were not individually identified).

Stéphan Maroslavac-Tremeau La Tennelotte 1991 Meursault-Blagny 1er Cru
This was quite heavily oxidised, but not entirely undrinkable (though I couldn't drink more than half a glass!).

Firesteed Pinot Noir 2004 Willamette Valley, Oregon
Nice. Rich cherry and strawberry nose. The palate is slightly chewy and slightly tannic, but with lots of cherry kernel fruit and ample acidity. For me, it was lovely when first poured. To its credit, I was positive it was a young Burgundy.

Querciabella 1995 Chianti Classico
A touch bretty and farmyardy, with notes of liquorice, tar, polished wood and green pepper - a bit like a nice right-bank Claret. Nice acidity, but lemon rather than cherry. For me, it doesn't scream Chianti, but it knocks spots off your average cru bourgeois Claret.

Denis Mortet Gevrey-Chambertin 2000
My note for this is ultra brief, because I was too busy enjoying it to bother writing. All I wrote was "Wow! - exquisitely perfumed and elegant." Which sums this wine up nicely. Although "only" a village wine, this was very definitely of 1er Cru standard.

O. Fournier Alfa Cruz 2001 Valle de Uco, Argentina
Well, if this was mostly Tempranillo, it certainly seemed dominated by Malbec. Was there any Malbec in it? Whatever, it was clearly Argentinian, and actually very nice, with some promise of development. A match for a good modern Cahors.

Domaine de Pegau Cuvée Réserve 1994 Châteauneuf-du-Pape paired with Domaine de Pegau Cuvée Laurence 1994 Châteauneuf-du-Pape
By this time, my notes were almost non-existent, but these were clearly Châteauneuf - and therefore passed the "Terroir" test with flying colours. I do recall enjoying the Réserve a lot (I thought it was Vieux Télégraphe), whilst finding the Laurence a bit OTT and inelegant. Why leave a wine to stew in oak (however old) for two years longer than necessary? These two wines were [b]totally[/b] different, and the Réserve won by a country mile.

Château Pradeaux 1999 Bandol
Well, embarrasingly (since I am in the process of importing some wines from this very grower) I was totally flummoxed by this one! When first poured, it seemed a bit past it, but it opened-up quickly to reveal a really drinkable and rather complex wine. Smoky and tarry, with lots of tertiary aromas and flavours and really quite "winey". Although Richard (whose wine it was) gave me a hint, the relatively soft tannins took me to the wrong end of the Mediterranean. And I plumped for Grenache, although a little voice in my head was shouting Mourvedre. Perhaps a little atypical for Chateau Pradeaux, in that it seems to be at its peak already, but a very nice wine nevertheless.

Marc Sorrel Hermitage 1999
This was lovely, but I had the Devil's own job in identifying its origins. In fact, I thought it might have been a really fine Loire Cab Franc (I'm nothing, if not honest). I then headed to the southern Rhône, as I sometimes get the two mixed up (this had shades of carbonic maceration - though I doubt it was the case). Somebody then suggested St. Joseph, then a few other northern Rhône appellations, until we got to Hermitage. To be honest, it was most un-Hermitage-like. So, despite the fact that it was a very nice wine, it failed the "Terroir" test.

Domaine deTrévallon 1999 Vin de Pays des Bouches du Rhône
My word, this split the jury, and those that liked it (including me) seemed to be in a minority. When I opened it at around 4 o'clock, there was a touch of brett and even a bit of VA, but all of those lovely Trévallon aromas and flavours were present and correct. By the time we drank it, I thought it was really singing. Lovely, ripe, rich fruit and fabulous acidity. I didn't get any of that green pepper that my friend Andy Leslie referred to. Rarely, if ever, does one grape variety dominate the other in Trévallon - and this one (for me) was no different. It isn't a great Trévallon, but it is a very good one, in my opinion.

Mastroberadino 1997 Taurasi Radici Riserva
I made no note whatsoever for this wine, but it was clearly identifiable as southern Italian (well, I guessed Sicily, actually). It was a big, rich bruiser of a wine, but certainly not without some complexity.

Château La Dournie Elise 2000 Saint-Chinian
I served this wine "double-blind". It is sold in a Bordeaux bottle, but, such is the northern Rhône-like quality of great Saint-Chinian, I decided to decant it into a Rhône/Burgundy bottle (inside a sock, of course). And I think I am safe in saying that everybody was in northern Rhône territory. I didn't write a note, but then again I know this wine very well and - on this showing - it just gets better and better with age. Violets and white lilies, red and black fruits, garrigue herbs and black olives. Andy remarked that he couldn't get the "terroir" - but that was because he is (perhaps almost completely) unfamiliar with Saint-Chinian. But, for me, great Saint-Chinian has, without doubt, the most recognisable characteristics of any appellation in Languedoc. It is probably bad form to say it, but this was my WOTN. By sheer coincidence, the 2005 vintage of this wine will shortly be available at Leon Stolarski Fine Wines (!)

Domaine Cady Les Bruandières Grains Nobles 1997 Côteaux du Layon Saint Aubin
This smelled and tasted like a really good SGN, but I thought it was an Alsace Pinot Gris. To be fair, others said Chenin. On its own, it seemed to lack a bit of acidity, but paired with a lovely tarte tatin, it made a beautiful match.

Despite the relative paucity of wines (14 people would normally mean at least 25 wines at a Nottingham Offline!) this was another very enjoyable evening. And the food was much better than a year ago. My game terrine was gorgeous (and beautifully-presented) and the duck was tender and delicious. Tarte tatin was to die for - although it could have done with being a bit more generous in size. A special mention for the bread - I have never seen so much bread (and it was wonderful) passed around. The waiter must have circled the table on at least 5 different occasions, with 2 or 3 different types of bread! Oh, and that waiter deserves special credit, as he was extremely attentive and efficient, but stayed very much in the background until needed. Really great service.


Graham said...

Great read as always Leon.

Looks like the Firesteed Oregon Pinot Noir didn't pass the terroir test as you noted "To its credit, I was positive it was a young Burgundy." Presumable this therefore isn't to its credit unless one doesn't credit Oregon with having any terroir.....

Also on the Saint-Chinian (an area I've tasted little of beyond Mas Champart, Rimbert and Tabatou) putting it in Northern Rhone doesn't really complement it with a local identity does it?

Leon Stolarski said...

Very fair comment on the Oregon Pinot, Graham - and, of course, on the Saint-Chinian. In my defence, though, I am of the opinion that Burgundy provides the absolute benchmark for Pinot Noir, whilst the northern Rhone provides the absolute benchmark for Syrah.

I must admit that an Oregon Pinot would not have been very high on my list of "terroir" wines, at least for a largely Europhile (or indeed Francophile) audience. On the other hand, much as I love great Californian Pinot, perhaps this wine is an indicator that Oregon comes closer to mimicing the Burgundian benchmark.

As for the Saint-Chinian, I may have been too subtle in the point I was trying to make. I suppose what I wanted to illustrate was that great, Syrah-dominated, schiste-grown Saint-Chinian doesn't have to TRY and taste like something else. It just happens to have a very similar aromatic and flavour profile to the great Syrahs of the northern Rhone.

I "double-blinded" the wine in a Rhone-shaped bottle, because I knew that others would think it was from the northern Rhone. Having said that, if I myself didn't have prior knowledge of what it was, there are subtle differences that I feel confident would have pointed me towards Saint-Chinian (notably, the black olive and herb notes, which are less common in northern Rhone wines).

In actual fact, earlier in the week, at a Nottingham Wine Circle blind tasting, somebody put a wine round that (for me) set the alarm bells ringing from the first sniff. The first taste confirmed what I thought and I named the appellation, grower, wine and vintage - Chateau La Dournie Saint-Chinian 2007.

OK, so the vintage was more than an educated guess - I knew the guy hadn't bought it from me, and I knew that Majestic had recently started selling the 2007 vintage (much to my disgust - how can I compete with their prices?!). But nevertheless, if that isn't terroir expressing itself, then I don't know what is. Its just that few people outside of the Languedoc's most enthusiastic fans have discovered how fantastic Saint-Chinian can be.

Steve said...

Over twenty years ago I worked in the wine department of a famous London store with a native of St Chinian, who once stopped me and asked 'Steve, why do we sell so many wines [four or five, probably all co-op] from my 'ome village. I mean, it is a sheethole' Then he shrugged, Gallically. Nice bloke. All the perfume girls adored him.

Leon Stolarski said...

Nice one, Steve - perhaps I should work on perfecting my Gallic shrug! Anyway, he should try living in my home town......... ;-)

Anonymous said...

Nice tasting and great notes. Love French wines so enjoyed your write-up.

Alberta Bob.