Sunday, 30 August 2009

A lovely Chateauneuf-du-Pape - Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe 1994

I am not exactly known amongst my wine geek friends for my love of Chateauneuf, but I do drink the odd one now and then, for personal pleasure - if its a good 'un, of course! I love Clos des Papes and Les Cailloux (we tasted a stunning 1983 at Nottingham Wine Circle on Wednesday), whilst Vieux Télégraphe has always been one of my favourites. So, inspired by that wonderful '83 Les Cailloux, I decided last night was the night for a C9P fix, with a bottle of Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe 1994.

And what a lovely drop it proved to be. A bit of stinky brett on opening, but a quick double-decant and it soon blew off to reveal just the right blend of fruit and savoury, with a touch of acidity and some typically rustic (but softening) tannin. The thing I don't like about many Chateauneufs is that they often have just too much savouriness for my nose and palate, but this one - as so often with Vieux Télégraphe - has plenty of that crystallised fruit quality that I love. Raspberry and blackcurrant fruit pastilles are what come to mind, with just enough blood and beef and earthiness to balance the fruit with the savoury. If I'm being hyper-critical, there is perhaps just a touch too much alcoholic heat (rather than warmth) on the finish, but it is a lovely wine nonetheless, and went brilliantly with rib steak.

A nice wine, which makes me look forward even more to taking delivery of my allocation of 5 cases of André Brunel's Domaine Les Cailloux 2007, in a month or two. I will be sorely tempted to keep a case aside for my own enjoyment, so that means 4 cases left for my customers! ;-) It will be a bargain, too, at around £25 per bottle. If you'd like some, let me know, as I don't expect it to hang around for too long.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

A lifetime's ambition achieved - a single figure golf handicap!

I posted a few weeks back about the summer of sport and mentioned the fact that I had just won the weekly competition at my local golf club. That win left me tantalisingly close to achieving a single-figure handicap for the first time in my life. Well, I finally went and did it yesterday! And it was all the more satisfying to do it whilst not playing at the top of my game.

My driving was pretty iffy all day, and my iron play was a bit up and down, although I did fire a few short irons close to the pin. The only parts of my game that really worked consistently well were my chipping and my putting, which (on a breezy day, with lightning-fast greens) was most satisfying - I call it "being in the zone", when concentration comes easy and you are oblivious to what is going on around you. And knowing that I needed to have a good finish to be in with a chance, it was also very satisfying to par the last three holes (though I did miss a tricky six-footer for birdie on 17). It all added up to a hard-fought round of 75 (nett 65), which also won me the first division (for golfers with a handicap of 10 or less). Frustratingly, one less shot would have won me the trophy as well, but I can't be too greedy, can I? After all, any hacker will tell you that - unless you are a very gifted golfer - a single figure handicap is the Holy Grail.

So I am one very happy bunny at the moment - and I certainly feel there is a good deal of room for improvement. Category 1 (a handicap of 3 or under) is probably out of the question - I don't play nearly as often as required and, at 48 years of age, I am probably getting a bit too old. But I see no reason why I can't knock another 3 or 4 shots off my handicap, before age finally catches up with me and it starts going the other way again. Of course, enjoyment is the main thing, so it would not be the end of the world if this were to be as good as it gets. And, for now, I am enjoying my golf a lot!

Happy times, indeed. Oh, and thanks to all of those who have enquired after my health, in recent weeks. I am glad to report that I am finally pretty much back to full health. I even feel like pressing forward with the wine business again, rather than just keeping it ticking-over (which I have to do, of course, come rain or shine). So watch out for lots of new wines coming up in the next few months.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Tasting notes - three truly outstanding Jurançons

I've been a bit remiss recently, having not posted on the Blog for well over a week. For one thing, I have been trying to take life a bit easier, in an effort to finally rid myself of the horrible virus that has afflicted me for the best part of 6 weeks now - and I finally feel as if I am getting there.

I have also been busying myself with the enjoyable but laborious task of tasting my way through goodness-knows-how-many sample bottles, brought back from my recent trip to France. The enjoyment side of things goes without saying, of course (how could it not be) but the laborious bit also comes into play, because I have to try and be objective and analytical in writing extensive tasting notes and assessing these wines for possible inclusion in the Leon Stolarski Fine Wines list. Some of them (for whatever reason) get an immediate thumbs-down, some need thinking about a bit more and re-assessing next day, whilst others are ear-marked for definite inclusion. And it isn't an easy task. To a certain extent, I have to put aside my personal prejudices and my affinity with the growers and be realistic in assessing which wines I can recommend without hesitation - i.e. which offer a good quality/price ratio and - for the more expensive wines - whether they are truly worth the extra outlay. In other words, can I sell them with complete confidence, whatever the price?

And there are some really good wines amongst this current crop of samples, a good few of which I will be adding to the list over the next few months. But the latest vintages from my Jurançon grower Domaine de Montesquiou, which will be added to the list in the next month or so, stand out as possibly the most consistently brilliant wines I have ever tasted from one single grower's new batch of releases. And given that these three wines will be priced from around £9 to no more than £15, I am truly awe-struck by their quality!

Apologies for the quality of the photo, which - due to the fact that my camera batteries have been "borrowed" by one of my boys - was taken on my mobile phone (which has no flash) in my kitchen after dark. Nevertheless, aren't those labels (especially the two on the right) gorgeous?! More importantly, the contents of the bottles are truly outstanding - all three of them..........

Firstly, Domaine de Montesquiou La Rosée de Montesquiou 2008 Jurançon Sec has everything that the 2006 and 2007 had, but is even better. A riot of lemon, lime, apple and pineapple aromas and flavours, shot through with steely/slatey minerality. Some interesting herb and spice notes, too. Classic, mouth-watering Jurançon acidity carries all the way through to a long finish. This is complex, classy and truly delicious. A blend of 50% Gros Manseng, 10% Petit Manseng and 40% Courbu, it will retail at £9.50.

Secondly, Domaine de Montesquiou Cuvade Préciouse 2007 Jurançon Sec is somewhat different from the 2006, in that any oak influence is more restrained and integrated and makes for more of a creamy, honeyed quality than the tosty oak vanillin of the 2006. And I have to say that - much as I love the 2006 - this 2007 is all the more pure and representative of its appellation. None of that wonderfully intense, lemon and mineral Jurançon terrroir is hidden from view this time. In fact, it is almost like a bone dry version of the sweet Grappe d'Or (see below). It is hard to categorise, since great Jurancon offers one of the most distinctive and individual white wine styles, but if you are partial to a 1er Cru Burgundy or an Alsace Grand Cru Riesling, then you will almost certainly love this. And at a projected retail price of around £11.75, it will be one very special bargain.

And finally, Domaine de Montesquiou Grappe d'Or 2007 Jurançon. What can I say about this wine that I haven't said about previous vintages? The 2005 and 2006 were good, but this 2007 vintage is every bit as good as - perhaps even better than - the outstanding 2004. Pure gold in colour, this is made from 100% Petit Manseng, harvested in late November and early December, when the grapes are dehydrated and the flavours concentrated. And I think I even detect a hint of Botrytis in this one, which adds yet more complexity. There are rich, heady aromas including creme brulée, toffee apple, lime marmalade, root ginger and allspice. And the combination on the palate of the dense, sweet fruit and the almost shocking acidity makes for a wine of incredible contrast - almost ethereal and other-worldly. And although the concept of drinking the whole bottle on its own is almost irresistable, it is also a perfect match for foie gras and patés, all manner of cheeses and, of course, lemon or apple-based desserts. A Sussex Pond Pudding springs to mind. All I can say is wow - what a wine! And at around £14.95 a bottle, undoubtedly one of (if not the) world's great sweet wine bargains.

Several of my customers and wine-loving friends tell me that Domaine de Montesquiou is the best discovery I have ever made and the finest grower on my list. And, on this showing, who am I to argue? I hope to take delivery of these wines within the next 4 to 6 weeks and I expect them to be very popular amongst those in the know. If you would like to reserve some, please drop me an email at and I will make sure you get some as soon as they arrive in stock.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Just another week at Nottingham Wine Circle(!)

What can I say? This was just a normal "bottle blind" tasting at the weekly meeting of the Nottingham Wine Circle. Rarely does a week go by without one or two cracking wines cropping up. After all, this group has been meeting for around 25 years (and many of the older members have been collecting wines on a serious basis for a good deal longer). But this week was, to put it mildly, a bit of a "vintage week". There were almost too many lovely wines to mention, but here are my thoughts on a few of the the most note-worthy ones;

Louis Chapuis Corton "Languettes" Grand Cru 1984
A very mature garnet colour, browning at the rim. OK, so this was probably a few years past its best, but it was certainly still clinging on very nicely. Notes of undergrowth, tobacco, mushroom and fading red fruits. All the flavours were secondary, but there was still some sweet fruit in there, along with a certain savouriness and absolutely bags of mouth-watering, sherberty acidity. A grand old dame of a Burgundy.

Santa Rita Medalla Real Cabernet Sauvignon 1985, Maipo Valley
Yes, you read it right, this is a 24 year-old Chilean Cabernet. Tasted blind, we were all over the place with this one, with suggestions of Bordeaux, Australia and California. Indeed, it had some of the best attributes of all of those, with classic, aged Cabernet aromas and flavours - black fruits, tobacco and cedar, and hints of orange, sweet red pepper and toffee. Perhaps lacking the "austerity" of classic Bordeaux, but all the better for it, in my book. Medium-bodied, supremely balanced, elegant, with soft tannins, a good deal of still-luscious fruit and wonderful acidity - and right up there with some of the finest Cabernets and Clarets I have tasted. And just 12.0% abv. I remember when I first started to get really serious about wine (around 20 years ago) when just about every so-called wine writer or journalist was decrying "old style" wines from countries like Chile and Spain (see my note on the fantastic 1981 CVNE Rioja from a few days ago) and saying that they needed to start making more "modern" wines. Some of those writers and journalists are still around now - though I wonder why. Well shame on them, because the world is now awash with those "modern" wines, most of which I would not cross the road to taste - and would certainly never buy. This grand old Chilean wine may be "old style", but it certainly ticked all of the boxes as far as I was concerned. A lovely, lovely wine, which shows what the New World could (and did) do. If only it were still so.

Pascal Michon Moulin A Vent 1999 "Vin Non Filtre"
"Crikey", I thought, "this is bloody good Burgundy!" In recent months, I have been lucky enough to find out first-hand what is often said about really good, aged Cru Beaujolais (i.e. Gamay) - that it truly can take on some very Burgundian (i.e. Pinot Noir) characteristics. For all the world, this smelt and tasted like a really good Burg! Cherry notes (both red and black) with hints of darker fruits, cedar, forest floor, some savoury notes and all manner of other things going on. Succulent fruit on the palate, too, with fantastic acidity and a touch of tannin. Hugely complex stuff, and one of the most beguiling Beaujolais I have ever tasted. Wonderful stuff.

Coudoulet de Beaucastel Cotes du Rhone 1995
This was sent round the table as a pair, with Domaine de Pegau Chateuneuf-du-Pape 1995 - and the Coudoulet won, hands-down. For me, a classic, aged Cotes du Rhone of this pedigree can often take on the nuances of a good Burgundy, with the high-toned red fruits, light-bodied texture, notes of undergrowth (again!) and mouth-watering acidity that can lift them above some of the more savoury, alcoholic, low acid wines of the more celebrated appellations of the southern Rhone. Don't get me wrong, the Pegau wasn't a bad wine (far from it) but - tasted alongside the Coudoulet - it just tasted dull in comparison. I myself am not a fan of Chateau de Beaucastel (and I have tasted many vintages of said wine) but its little brother Coudoulet is right up my strasse - a cracking wine, year-in, year-out.

Chateau Leoville Poyferré 1988 St Julien (2eme Cru Classé)
This was good - very good, in fact, with typical Claret structure and a great deal of finesse. Perfumed (polished wood, red and black berry fruits, capsicum, black cherry), elegant, perhaps even soft, with fully resolved tannins and nice acidity. I can see why the Claret-heads love this sort of wine (and I agree with their sentiments about it showing even better with food) but - in all honesty (and shoot me down in flames for saying so) - I slightly preferred the Santa Rita Cabernet. Horses for courses, I guess. This was still a lovely wine, though.

Clos du Clocher Pomerol 1994 also deserves a mention, since it was another Claret I enjoyed, though this wasn't exactly a stellar vintage. Savoury, with slightly more of the green pepper notes I find in a lot of Bordeaux (despite, I assume, being predominantly Merlot) and a touch of mint, also with hints of toffee, mushroom, wood polish and tobacco. Complex stuff, definitely of the old school and I imagine it would make a great match for (say) a leg of lamb.

Lindemans St George Vineyard Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 1989
I correctly guessed Australia, Coonawarra and Cabernet Sauvignon. Not such a great feat, I don't think, since this is undoubtedly one of Australia's greatest terroir/grape combinations and one that a Europhile (in wine terms) such as me can really identify with and enjoy. It couldn't really be anything other than Australian, with that distinctive combination of blackcurrant and mint (and perhaps just the merest hint of eucalyptus), but there is such elegance and finesse here, it almost seems light in comparison to many of its warmer-climate cousins. And that is certainly no bad thing, in my book. There is sweet Cabernet fruit, and even (if you concentrate hard enough) a hint of peppery greenness, but it also possesses an almost citrus-like acidity that is most refreshing and elevates it to another level. An Aussie wine for Claret lovers - and me. Delicious!

How lucky am I to taste so many wonderful wines on such a regular basis?!

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

A couple of great wines tasted last Friday

Various members of the Nottingham Wine Circle, plus a few guests, gathered last Friday at Pretty Orchid restaurant in Nottingham, to share a good few bottles of wine and some excellent food, prepared by owner and Wine Circle member CY Choong. Most of the wines were white, since a menu which included goat’s cheese and onion tart, battered calamari with spicy salad and monkfish demanded whites not reds. And we enjoyed, amongst other things, a cracking Austrian Gruner Veltliner 1997, some nice Meursault and Chassagne Montrachet 1er Crus and my very own delicious Domaine de Montesquiou Cuvade Preciouse 2006 Jurancon.

I must admit that, although I always take a notepad and pen with me to every tasting I attend, I grow tired of taking endless notes on the wines, since it often detracts from the actual enjoyment of those wines. After all, who needs notes on anything up to 2,000 wines a year, especially the bad and indifferent ones? And what would I do with them?

Then again, it is nice to have that notepad to hand when a great wine pops up, especially since the notes on such wines tend to almost write themselves. And, despite the overall majority of the wines being white, the 2 best wines of the night were red. And what wines!

Firstly, CVNE Vina Real 1981 Rioja Gran Reserva. What a fabulously mature and beautiful wine, with a nose combining cloves, sweet red pepper, fenugreek and oodles of sweet red fruits. Other notes I detected were candied orange zest, Bovril and gingerbread. All-in-all, a very complex wine indeed. And neither the nose nor the palate showed any sign of alcohol – just wine. All of the elements from the nose combined on the palate in a soft, velvety wine, with more than ample acidity – combining elements of lemon, orange and raspberry vinegar - and just a hint of almost sweet, tea-like tannin. Think of the best that Burgundy and Bordeaux has to offer, and add a touch of Spanish warmth and you have one glorious wine, almost without fault. Well I couldn’t find one, anyway!

CVNE Vina Real 1981 Rioja Gran Reserva

This was immediately followed by Tourelles de Longueville 1998 Paulliac, which showed amazingly well in the wake of such a brilliant wine as the CVNE. Spicy and cedary, with red cherry and raspberry and only a hint of blackcurrant (a plus, in my book). And there was no hint of the green notes one often finds in Bordeaux wines, but perhaps a bit of sweet red pepper (the juicy, pointy kind) along with notes of orange, Bovril (again) and tea. A lovely wine, which didn’t quite reach the heights of the Rioja – though who knows how it may evolve, in another 10 years time – but a very good try, and another lovely wine.

Monday, 3 August 2009

A good summer of sport - and a single figure golf handicap is now within my grasp!

I am always a little sad when July is over, since it sees the end of the intense flurry of activity that is (for me, at least) the great summer of sport. Roland Garros, Wimbledon, The Open and Le Tour have all come and gone, not to mention a host of exciting motorsport events (mainly the two-wheeled variety). Even in a year without a major international football tournament, there is plenty to go at - for a few short weeks

Roland Garros and Wimbledon were classic tournaments, with lots of really exciting matches and plenty to get excited about if you were British (or, more specifically, Scottish) and with Federer back to his best. Frankly, the less said about the women's game, the better - as ever, there is plenty of screaming and grunting and lots of average tennis, followed by the inevitable win by one or other of the Williams sisters. They are a league apart from the rest, which serves only to make things extremely boring. It isn't the Williams sisters' fault, of course - they can only beat what is out in front of them.

The Open could have been a classic, if only Tom Watson could have completed the fairytale with a par on the 72nd hole. A club too much and/or an unlucky bounce with his approach to the green put paid to that, and his chance had gone. The feeling of utter deflation during Watson's play-off with Stuart Cink was almost too much to bear. And that was just for me and the millions that were praying for a Watson win. Goodness knows how the great man himself felt! And so it was that yet another journeyman American with God on his side won The Open. That said, it really is time that one of our lot lived up to the hype and started winning major championships. Until they do (and there are a good few with the ability, though seemingly not the belief in themselves) we have to accept that even your average journeyman American deserves it more. I just wish they would leave God out of the equation, occasionally!

The 2009 Tour de France was not a classic in the true sense of the word - once Alberto Contador had asserted his authority on the first serious mountain stage, the result was never really in doubt. But it it is still, in my opinion, the greatest annual sporting event. And it was great to see Lance Armstrong return and prove the doubters wrong. Irrespective of whether he can win another Tour (and I certainly wouldn't rule him out in 2010, once he has another year's competititive race fitness under his belt) his presence certainly rejuvinated the Tour and drew the best out of the other contenders. And with Mark Cavendish proving himself to be one of the greatest sprinters of all time and the emergence of Bradley Wiggins as a truly world-class stage race rider and climber, it all looks good for the British riders in years to come. I can't wait for the 2010 Tour - it should be a cracker.


Talking of golf, I think the enforced lay-off due to my holiday (not to mention my recovery - almost - from this horrendous virus I have been suffering from) has done my own game the world of good. After a pretty average performance in the previous week's competition at my local club, I returned on Saturday with no great expectations. My usual double-bogey on the 1st hole was followed by a bogey on the 3rd. 3 over par after 3 holes is hardly disastrous for a 12 handicapper, but hardly a dream start, either. However, 3 birdies in the next 9 holes saw me standing on the 13th tee at level par - i.e. with all 12 shots of my handicap still to play with. And by then, it had even stopped raining!

That's when I started to wobble a bit. I am not a great front-runner, and the mere notion of having effectively played scratch golf for 12 holes started to take its toll on my nerves. However, I still managed to reach the par-3 16th tee at only 2 over par - and then the wheels started to come off. A duffed tee shot and another iffy approach shot, followed by an average chip and two putts meant a double-bogey 5. Another birdie on the 17th settled the nerves, but a pushed tee shot on 18 saw me out of bounds and playing 3 off the tee - and finishing up in the trees, with no option but to chip out sideways. It all added up to a triple-bogey 7 and a final total of 75 (nett 63, with my handicap taken off). I thought I'd blown it. Fortunately, though, the next best score turned out to be nett 66.

So I am now the proud winner of the Eric Perry Cup (my third prize of the season so far, having won my division on two other occasions) and the proud owner of a handicap of 10.1. Single figures has never been so close to being a reality for me. And without the slightest help from God, I might add!
Tiger Woods, watch out!