Sunday, 29 November 2009

Another rant about wine books

Talk is rife in the wine world at the moment, about how Jamie Oliver's head of wine, Matt Skinner, has admitted to not tasting several wines that he recommends in his latest book, The Juice 2010 (published by Mitchell Beazley). You can read all about the scandal on the Decanter website, along with numerous comments from disgruntled readers. All I can say is, why bother publishing an annual wine guide which simply re-hashes tasting notes from previous vintages numerous wines, whilst brazenly attributing them to the latest (un-tasted) vintage? I'm not sure if it breaks any laws, but it is dishonest in the extreme, and really does bring the world of wine writing (not to mention UK wine book publishers) into disrepute.

On a related note, my friend Peter Gorley is still searching for a publisher for the second edition of his book, Gorley's Guide To The Wines Of Languedoc And Roussillon. Although the book is still intended to focus predominantly on the wines and winemakers of Languedoc and Roussillon (around 250 different growers) for this edition, he has also got together with Anthony Peregrine, who will contribute sections on tourism, history and food. After much effort (and time) they've had no luck with UK or French publishers. A meeting with the powers that be in L/R (including the President himself, Georges Freche) resulted in the offer of one sixth of the 60,000 Euros or so that he would need, in order to publish the book himself. The rest he would need to borrow - which is a route Peter is reluctant to go down, at his time of life. I am still exasperated that the Maison du Languedoc-Roussillon did not see fit to invest such a relatively small sum, at a time when their wine industry could really do with a helping hand to compete with the likes of the Australian Wine Board, who have a seemingly bottomless pit of money to promote their wines.

Anyway, at my suggestion, Peter contacted the University of California Press and recently had a meeting with their wine book editor which, although not entirely unproductive, didn't result in a publishing deal. I'm sure Peter won't mind me relating what he recently told me;

"......If Anthony and I rework our concept....more depth, more history, more culture...then he'd be happy to have another look at it. He's a serious late 30's Senior Editor with an archeological bent, and I feel that our fun but not frivolous (popular?) approach isn't the tone he's looking for. UCPress is of course academically inclined."

I don't have a copy of Peter's first book, but he did send me a bound copy of a special mini-edition, containing 3 of the 12 "routes" from the original book. I have to say that it is far from frivolous - indeed, it is an impressive piece of writing, with excellent photos and maps, plus in-depth profiles of the growers and their wines. There are also a couple of very enthusiastic reviews by Jancis Robinson and Kermit Lynch.

What a shame that such a talented and knowledgeable writer continues to encounter such apathy to a most worthwhile project. All I can say is shame on the UK's main wine book publishers for not getting their hands dirty with real wine books, instead of continuing their policy of churning out re-hashed and regurgitated updates of generic "annual" wine guides.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Highlights from a recent tasting

This week was Le Mistral week, when (as with every last Tuesday in each month) a bunch of wine nuts gathered at Le Mistral restaurant in central Nottingham, for some good food and lots of good wines. And this one was a bit of a cracker, with some really good stuff, all tasted blind. I didn't take notes on all of the wines, but here are some of my favourites.

Billaud-Simon 2000 Chablis 1er Cru Mont de Milieu
Struck match, lemon and ice cream, but little oak influence. The palate is generous for a Chablis, but supremely balanced – lovely, minerally fruit and fabulous acidity. Praise be – a Chablis that actually floats my boat!

Chateau Musar 2001 Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
My work colleague Richard Mitson brought this. As we were tasting blind, my first thoughts were either white Graves or a traditional white Rioja such as Tondonia, with lots of weird and whacky things going on. Toasty, oaky, struck match aromas and a rich, lemony, minerally palate, with just a hint of tropical fruit. When Richard was asked if it was new world or old world, he wasn’t quite sure how to describe it – which led me straight to Musar. I love this wine, and should certainly drink more of it.

Frank Cornelissen Munjebel 4 2006/7 Etna, Sicilia
This is called ‘4’ because it is the 4th release of this cuvée. It is, strictly speaking, a non-vintage wine, since it is made from grapes from two vintages, although the years 2006 and 2007 are prominent on the label - stretching the rules a bit, perhaps? Made from 100% Nerello Mascalese, it is a fine example of what tends to be called "extreme natural winemaking", with the absolute minimum (in most cases zero) intervention in the winemaking process, followed by ageing in large amphorae and bottling without the addition of sulphur. The result is a wine which is indeed natural in the extreme, with lots of volatility, but also incredible fragrance, freshness and not a little complexity. The nose offers complex aromas of cherry, strawberry, acetone, beetroot, farmyard and baked red cabbage (the sort that is adorned with apples, onions and mixed spice). Some of these descriptors perhaps don't sound too inviting on their own, but - when they are all smelt together - they are delicious. Importantly, the main impression is of fruit - and lots of it. The palate has Parma violets, cherry kernel, red berries, lemon sherbert, Oriental spices and a refreshing hint of spritz. All-in-all, this was a truly delicious wine. Andy Leslie (who I think brought it) noted that it started to fall apart rather quickly in the glass (and I would venture that it is not a wine to keep) but it is utterly delicious stuff, to drink right now. Not cheap, at approaching 20 quid, but definitely worth it, in my opinion.

Domaine du Fogolar Collet de Bovis 2005 Bellet
This wine was a bit of a revelation for me. I'd read about the wines of Bellet (a tiny appellation on the fringes of Nice) and assumed that they were nothing special. Not that I'd ever tasted one - until now. This is a beautiful, clear, light ruby red colour. As we were tasting blind, I guessed that it might be a Pinot Noir (and a really good one) with a touch of richness and warmth suggesting southern France. In fact, the grape varieties are two local varieties, Folle Noir and Braquet, together with Grenache and Cinsault. The wine has delicious Pinot-like aromas of roses, wild strawberries and forest floor, with hints of spices and herbs thrown in for good measure. Above all, it is very fragrant, very elegant and very complex. The palate is so silky and lusciously fruity, but with spicy notes, decent tannins and stunning, mouth-watering acidity. A hint of saline (no doubt from the proximity of the sea) adds an interesting savouriness to the red fruit flavours. At 4 years of age, it seems to be drinking really well, but I suspect it has the structure to age nicely for a good few years (as does Chateau Simone, another Provencal wine, to which I would compare this wine most closely). A fabulous wine - ultra clean and ultra lovely!

That's it for today - Match Of The Day is on!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

A weekend sampling exercise - a lovely Minervois

It's been a busy couple of days for me - lots of emailing and faxing and transferring of money (plenty of new wines to import ready for the busy Christmas period). So to help me wind down I thought I'd try a second sample bottle of a new vintage I am shortly to receive from my friend Guy Vanlancker in La Liviniere.

Domaine La Combe Blanche La Chandeliere 2004 Minervois La Liviniere
75% Syrah, with the remaining 25% made up of Grenache and Carignan. This has a lovely, deep, blood red core, with a 1cm ruby/pink rim. The nose offers aromas of rich black fruits, herbs, spices and Christmas cake, with subtle notes of cedar and leather. After some time in the glass, some attractive undergrowth aromas begin to appear. The palate is packed full of rich, sweet, spicy bramble fruit flavours, earthy but soft tannins and dark chocolate, and is given extra lift by a note of bitter cherry kernel. A backbone of very decent, ever-so-slightly-volatile acidity and a long, tangy, warm finish complete the package. Whilst alcohol levels seem to be inexorably on the rise in the south of France (not to mention most other regions, of course) this wine, even at 14.5%, manages to retain a good degree of balance. Whilst there is a touch of alcohol in Guy Vanlancker's La Liviniere wines (the basic Minervois wines achieve closer to 13.5%) they manage to be both voluptuous and elegant at the same time - warming, rather than overpowering. And the result is a wine which, at 5 years of age, is well out of its first flush of youth, whilst still offering lots of scope for development. My impression is of a wine that is really lovely now, but will evolve nicely for a good few years. Top notch Minervois, with a nod towards Gigondas.

The fact that Guy still finds it hard to shift his wines in an increasingly difficult market (not helped by the prevailing economic climate, of course) means that this is his current release of this particular cuvée - his skills lie in making great wines, rather than in marketing them. And as his flagship wine - at a projected price of around £13 - it is a real bargain.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Wilco - the greatest rock band in the world

I went to Leeds a couple of weeks ago to see my favourite band, Wilco. Most of you will probably never even heard of this Chicago-based band, but I genuinely feel that they are the finest rock band in the world - bar none. I meant to post a few lines about this fantastic gig (my third time seeing the band) but just never found the time. I've sure been wearing out my CD collection (and my reasonably extensive collection of concert recordings) since then, though. Meanwhile, one fan's comment about the Leeds show on the Via Chicago forum just about sums it up, when they say "How many bands can go from pretty acoustic folk to Krautrock wig outs to gospel tinged bluesy rock to straight-ahead rock or pop and remain incredibly on and unified throughout the whole show? Amazing musicians, fantastically varied and melodic songs and a great dolefully funny front man in Jeff Tweedy."

If you love great rock music (and just about every other shade of music) then check them out. In fact, here are links to a couple of great videos of live songs, which I found via the excellent website (no need to wait for the whole thing to load - just click play);

"Impossible Germany" from the "Sky Blue Sky" album.

"Monday" from the "Being There" album.

Oh, and just in case you like what you see/hear, you can catch a live live webcast of their show at the Paradiso in Amsterdam tonight (16 November) at 7.45pm (8.45 Central European time). I'll certainly be tuning in!

Saturday, 14 November 2009

More from Chateau Pradeaux - 2001 and 2004 reds

I posted last week (see my Tuesday 3 November entry) about the delicious 2008 Chateau Pradeaux Rosé. Since then, I have tasted my way through the 3 red vintages available to me, and they were all pretty damn good, if rather young. Even the 2003 red was lovely when first opened, with lots of fruit but none of the overtly baked richness and green tannins of many wines from that very hot year. In fact, it was glorious! Unfortunately, those green tannins did appear a couple of hours after opening and I (and my trusty tasting buddies) came to the conclusion that they wouldn't help the wine to age gracefully. So that one is a miss. However, the 2001 and 2004 are winners (for quite different reasons)..........

Chateau Pradeaux 2001 Bandol
A medium-dark blood red core, leading to a slightly amber/orange rim, with all sorts of shades inbetween. Despite its 14.5% abv, it is relatively light in texture. The nose is initially a little dumb and monolithic, but it then begins to open up and become much more expressive, with notes of black cherry and bramble, dark chocolate, cedar, tobacco and undergrowth. There are also some nice herby notes, particularly oregano and thyme, and a warming whiff of eau de vie. The palate has flavours of bramble fruits and christmas cake, with background notes of chocolate and red meat, herbs and spice. It is full of richness and fruit, but possesses ample acidity and a healthy backbone of ripe tannin. This is a wine which can be enjoyed now, as long as it is accompanied by a rich, meaty dish, but will reward cellaring for another 5 to 10 years. Bordeaux meets Chateauneuf, perhaps? A potentially great wine, from a great vintage.

Chateau Pradeaux 2004 Bandol
This one is from a much more "normal" vintage, as the 13.5% abv proves. Deepish blood red in colour, semi-transluscent. On opening, there is a whiff of farmyard (at first, I thought brett) but this blows off very quickly to reveal some quite Chateauneuf-like aromas of red and black fruits, garrigue herbs and red meat, with further notes of undergrowth, crystallised fruits, vanilla, sandalwood and leather. The palate is packed full of fruit, although - having only just been bottled after 4 years in large (old) oak foudres - the tannins are still very prominent. This is countered by a herby, mineral quality and fabulous acidity. In other words, a beautifully balanced and fresh wine. Again, this can be drunk now, but needs hearty food to show its best. This is excellent, traditional Bandol (from one of the oldest and most traditional estates) which needs time, but will be perfect after 10 to 15 years of ageing.

The projected prices for the 2001 and 2004 will be £25.75 and £19.75, respectively. The 2008 Rosé will be £14.95. I have them on order now (along with new vintages of my other Provence growers, Domaine de Trévallon and Chateau d'Estoublon) and can't wait to get them listed and unleash them on my customers!

Friday, 13 November 2009

Friday night - a decent Champagne and a top Chateau Musar

I'm not sure how, but Diane and I have virtually polished off the Champagne before dinner (a lovely rib steak), so the Musar 2002 that has been winking at me from the kitchen worktop for the last few days has got its comeuppance!

Piper-Heidsieck Brut Divin Blanc de Blancs NV Champagne
This clearly has some age, as it is quite a deep gold colour. A decent-ish mousse, though not particularly fine, and the nose and palate were a little harsh and unforgiving at first. But with a little air, it really did soften out and become quite delicious and moreish. Bready and biscuity on the nose, with limes and apples and some attractive slatey minerality, like a decent white Burgundy with fizz (am I allowed to say that?). Tastes like one, too - nicely aged Chardonnay flavours, some richness countered by lovely acidity and a very decent finish. A nice way to start the evening and pave the way for some proper wine.........

Chateau Musar 2002 Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
Darker in colour than your average Musar - half way between a young Burgundy and an aged Claret - with a deep-ish (but still semi-transluscent) core, fading gradually to a wide, slightly amber rim. The trademark VA is there, but masked by quite a lot of oak - somewhat more than usual, at this stage. Perhaps this was given more "treatment" (or more new oak) than usual. And I can see why, because this is bordering on full-bodied and rich, and built to last - clearly a very substantial vintage.

All the components are there - sweet, rich, slightly raisiny fruit, ripe, soft (but ample) tannins and acidity to die for. It isn't all about richness, though, as there are some lovely strawberry/raspberry, even lemony aromas and flavours, along with herbs, spices, leather and cedar - and oak, presently. Of course, it wouldn't be Musar without that delicious acetone and raspberry vinegar-style VA, and there is plenty of that to see it though to maturity - which may be anywhere between the next 5 and 20 years.

Is Cabernet ever more comely than this (softened by some Carignan and Cinsault)? Personally, I don't think so. This Musar is undeniably young and primary, but utterly delicious - and a very good (potentially top) vintage. Just give it a few years and it will really start to sing.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Domaine des Baumard - a tasting of recent vintages, plus a few older ones

This tasting was presented last week by my friend and fellow Nottingham Wine Circle member Roger Halfpenny, who also happens to be the importer for Domaine des Baumard. I've been meaning to type the notes up for a few days now, but (as usual) there just never seem to be enough hours in a day! However, such a fine tasting of both dry and sweet wines should not pass without mention. Don't expect cohesion, though - the notes remain exactly as I wrote them on the night. We started with a couple of Crémant de Loire.......

Crémant de Loire 2004
One third each of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc. Bready, yeasty, scents of strawberry and cream. Quite young, but already lovely, with notes of apple, lemon and red fruits on the palate. Nicely rich and satisfying.

Crémant de Loire Brut Rosé NV
100% Cabernet Franc, 18 months on the lees. Lovely pale onion skin colour. Notes of strawberry and apple. Less complex than the 2004, but drier and more focussed, with a lemon sherbert finish. Nice, but quite simple.

Clos Saint Yves 2001 Savennieres
Glycerous and perfumed - quince, lanolin and creamy cheese - smells almost sweet. Palate is almost bone dry - again with a lanolin richness, but steely minerality. Long.

Clos Saint Yves 2005 Savennieres
Lemony and still somewhat oaky. Dry n the palate, but quite resiny as well. Warmer and richer than the 2001 (more alcohol?) but still needs time to get into its stride.

Clos de Papillon 2006 Savennieres
This is really classic Savennieres. Wet dog, mineral, orange marmalade. The palate is intensely mineral and laden with zesty lime flavours. Still painfully young and even austere, but with an underlying richness and notes of anise and liquorice. Cracking wine.

Clos de Papillon 2005 Savennieres
Apples and wet wool, wet stones, flowers and cut grass. The palate is very definitely off-dry - a warmer year, so some residual sugar. Rich and honeyed, with a hint of cider. Less minerality, more texture and fruit. Lovely wine, if a little atypical.

Clos de Papillon 2001 Savennieres
Quince jelly, honey, cheese, mushroom, lanolin, apple pie and vanilla custard - a stunning nose! The palate is a riot of lemon and tart apple. Very minerally, too. Ultra-dry and classic.

Clos de Papillon 2000 Savennieres
Not very much on the nose at all. Hints of swimming pool, old wood and sous-bois - but no fruit or minerality. Not much on the palate, either. A bit of lemon, but strangely short on acidity and really quite flabby. Lacks depth. Not a good Papillon.

Trie Spéciale 2007
Andrew Jefford describes Trie Spéciale as "the apotheosis of Chenin Blanc, and unquestionably a wine to rival Corton-Charlemagne and Montrachet" and it is easy to see why. This 2007 has a stunning nose of caramelised tarte tatin, mineral, mixed spice, honey and cream. The oak is judicious and very subtle. Very much in the mould of a GC Burgundy - and the flavour profile is also very much like one, as well, with incredible richness and texture. Creamy, almost caramelly, honeyed, with spiced fruit nuances. Huge length and fantastic wine, though painfully young. Give it 5 to 10 years.

Then it was onto the sweet wines.........

Cuvée Le Paon 2005 Coteaux du Layon
A nose full of minerality and wet wool. The palate is rich and intensely sweet, but beautifully balanced by ample acidity. Barley sugar and creamy apples - Sussex pond pudding! Lovely stuff.

Cuvée Le Paon 2003 Coteaux du Layon
A bit dumb on the nose, though it smells dry. Hints of stone and apple, but not much else. Actually, there are some nice apple and barley sugar flavours, but it is less balanced (and actually less powerful) than the 2005. Perhaps it is just less "ripe", in the phenolic sense. A product of the year. If you have some, drink it sooner rather than later.

Clos de Sainte Catherine 2007 – Coteaux du Layon
My goodness this is fantastic! Cheesy, minerally, lots of lemon and apple/quince aromas. But that hardly prepares you for the palate, which is simply amazing. Intense flavours of lime and lemon marmalade, apples and pears, lemon meringue pie and sherbert dip - trust me, it's all in there!Sweetness to die for, but the acidity is just mouth-watering. But where does that sweetness come from, when the acidity is so intense? Yes, it is sweet but certainly not sugary, caramelly but not burnt. Luscious but tangy, this stuff really makes your tabs laugh. A stunning, complex, glorious wine. Truly great, and will last for absolutely decades - but why wait? Having said that, it will only get better - if such a thing is possible. I believe some or other American writer rated this 97/100, but that only serves to heighten my feeling that points cannot do justice to great wine. And 97 points is surely being mean, because this wine is bordering on perfection.

Clos de Sainte Catherine 2004 Coteaux du Layon
Well - talk about after the Lord Mayor's Show! Closed, dumb, shut. Most of us found this impossible to assess, especially after the 2007. There's probably a lovely wine in there somewhere, but it is just not in a good place at the moment.

Quarts de Chaume 2006
Mineral, herb, stone. Huge acidity and an amazing concentration of quince and apple fruit sweetness. Superbly balanced. But this is so young and needs 10 years to shed the puppy fat and soften some of that super-intense minerality that I sometimes find almost too much in Baumard's Quarts de Chaume.

Quarts de Chaume 1996
Much darker in colour and much more aromatic, with notes of quince, nuts, slate, lime marmalade, lychee, cheese, honey and mushroom - as I said before, it's all there! Huge concentration, with all of those aromas manifesting themselves on the palate, in a wine that is uber-complex and very definitely coming into its drinking window - and will stay there for many a year. Cracking wine, which is almost as good as the Clos de Sainte Catherine 2007........ but not quite!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

A very classy rosé wine - Chateau Pradeaux Rosé 2008 Bandol

2 years ago, I visited Chateau Pradeaux, one of the most traditional and famous estates in Bandol. I was impressed with the wines and with the estate itself and, since that visit, Pradeaux has featured very high on the list of growers I would like to have in my portfolio. And yesterday I finally received some sample bottles (3 red vintages and the latest rosé), which I intend to assess over the coming days, before making a decision on which ones to take. Although I usually like to wait a few days for the wines to get over their arduous journey, I have no time to lose, if I am to get some of these wines listed before Christmas. First up was the rosé.

Made from 55% Mourvedre and 45% Cinsault, this rosé has an amazing onion skin/blood orange colour – really beautiful to look at. It is a vin de pressurage, meaning that it is made from a direct pressing of the grapes, rather than the usual saignée (free-run juice) method. The nose has aromas of wild strawberries, orange zest, apples and rose petals, with forest floor, hedgerow and garrigue notes lurking in the background. A hint of pear drops falls away with some air, to be replaced by a nice creaminess, and the aromas begin to meld together into a beautifully clean, complex whole. The palate offers a combination of ripe red fruits and zesty orange and lemon flavours, with a decent amount of acidity and what I can only describe as a minerally, almost tannic backbone, which adds grip and texture. It develops even further after a period of several hours in the decanter, with the aromas and flavours becoming more integrated and intense. Nevertheless, this is a wine that tends towards elegance, rather than power, yet it has a very impressive finish - those tangy, zesty, herby, almost spicy flavours linger for a very long time on the palate.

The problem with many (if not most) rosés is that, in trying to combine flavours at both the red and white ends of the spectrum, they end up being somewhat confected. This one definitely majors on the white fruits, whilst displaying hints of fresh, tangy red fruits, redolent of a light Burgundy – a very successful balancing act. Rosé wines are also normally made in a style that requires fairly early drinking, but Bandol rosés are renowned for their ability to age for a few years. And I think this one will age and improve for a good few years yet – whilst already starting from a very high level indeed. A superb rosé wine, that can only get better.

The only question is, can I sell a rosé at a projected £15.95 per bottle? Well, only time will tell. The Domaine Tempier and Domaine Ott 2008 rosés are both approaching the £20 mark - and Chateau Pradeaux 2008 is more than a match for the rosés I have tasted from those growers.

Monday, 2 November 2009

GrapesTALK - the official ASDW magazine - Issue 10 out now

GrapesTALK is the official quarterly magazine of the Association of Small Direct Wine Merchants (ASDW). as well as being a founder member and former Secretary and Chairman of ASDW, I am also a regular contributor to GrapesTalk. The latest issue (subtitled "Focus on France") features a full-length article by me on one of my favourite growers, Domaine Treloar, together with an up-to-date report on the 2009 vintage in Roussillon by winemaker Jonathan Hesford.

Most of France's wine regions are covered in this issue, including major articles on Beaujolais, Rhone, Burgundy etc, plus lesser-known regions such as Jura and South-West France. There are also (amongst other things) book reviews, restaurant reviews and recipes. There is also an article on Chateauneuf-du-Pape by Harry Karis, plus a review on Harry's new book "The Chateauneuf-du-Pape Wine Book", by no less than Robert M Parker Jr himself!

GrapesTALK is available as a free download.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

An evening of lovely wines to celebrate a friend's 60th birthday

Around 24 members of Nottingham Wine Circle gathered at The Pretty Orchid restaurant on Friday evening, to celebrate the 60th birthday of our friend and fellow member, Mieke Hudson (centre of the photo). As ever, the standard of the wines was very high - as I've said before, these people are never less than extremely generous in sharing the fruits of their cellars. I was a little late in arriving (why do most of the problems with the tram system seem to coincide with my trips into Nottingham?) so I actually missed the first few wines. Nevertheless, I was able to sample at least 22 different wines - and, apart from a few uninspiring Bordeaux (and we are talking classed-growths, here!) there was hardly a dud amongst them. Because we were also busy eating, my notes are necessarily brief.........

Chateau de La Roche-aux-Moines Clos de La Coulée de Serrant 1986 - Savennieres Coulée de Serrant was first up and was bang on form, being an early contender for white wine of the night. All nettles, wet wool, lemony fruit and minerality on the nose, still tight and delineated on the palate - long and oh-so complex. I'm pleased that I still have around a dozen bottles left, to enjoy over the next 10 or 20 years.

Francois Cotat Le Grande Cote 2000 Sancerre was lovely stuff - dry, fruity and with nice balance and super length. Perhaps a touch of bitterness on the finish, but (even at 9 years old) with a lot of development left in it.

Willi Brundlemeyer Zobinger Heilingenstein Riesling 1997 was delicious - aromatic, very minerally, packed with flavours of citrus fruit, herbs and spices and huge length. Superb.

Egon Muller Scharzhofberger Riesling Spatlese 1997 was textbook stuff. Tightly-structured, but with some generous fruit and a touch of residual sugar providing a counter to the mouth-watering acidity and steely minerality. A cracking wine.

I didn't manage to take a note on the Zind-Humbrecht Clos Hauserer Riesling 2002 Alsace, but recall that it was somewhat lighter (and less alcoholic) than most Z-H wines tend to be - and all the more enjoyable for it.

Vincent Lumpp La Grande Berge 2007 Givry 1er Cru was on great form, with vibrant fruit, minerality and nicely-integrated oak providing a glimpse of how good Cote Chalonnaise Burgundy can be. Not that I brought it (the 1986 Coulée de Serrant was my white contribution) but you can buy this wine from my website, at the bargain price of just £14.95.

Again, I didn't take a note on the Jean Pascal Puligny-Montrachet 2007, but it was enjoyable village Burgundy, although consumed far too early in its evolution.

Onto the reds, and Chateau Fombrage 1988 St. Emilion was the ideal wine - if only to get it out of the way as early as possible! For me, it was dry, austere and totally lacking in charm.

Domaine Bachelot Vieilles Vignes 1997 Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru, on the other hand, was proper wine. Amazingly perfumed, combining notes of flowers, fruit, savoury (notably beef) and chocolate. The palate was already soft and silky and approaching maturity. If I'm being hyper-critical, it was perhaps just a touch light (but I'm being picky). A delightful wine.

Torres Gran Coronas Reserva 1985 Penedes was my wine. On opening this, I was somewhat unimpressed, thinking it was a bit dried-out and past its drinking plateau (so much so that I brought another red wine with me). How wrong I was - it is indeed a fading old dame of a wine, but it grew in the glass, revealing some nice secondary fruit flavours, a touch of savouriness and notes of sous-bois and tea. Not a great wine, but a very very good one - and so much more enjoyable and elegant than the other Cabernet-based (i.e. Bordeaux) wines on show. As 1985 was the year Diane and I got married, I am pleased to still have 2 or 3 bottles left for our 25th anniversary celebration next year.

Torres Mas La Plana Gran Coronas 1994 Penedes provided an interesting comparison, if only to further highlight how well the 1985 had evolved. I may be wrong, but I'm not sure there is any mileage left in the 1994, which was still quite tannic, but lacking in fruit and charm.

Next up was another Bordeaux, Chateau Cos d'Estournel 1989 Saint Estephe - and another disappointing wine. There was plenty of the classic cedar and graphite stuff going on with the nose, but the palate was dry, austere and lacking in fruit. Considering this is a Second Growth, it really was not a great advert for expensive Bordeaux.

Chateau La Lagune 1985 Haut Médoc had much more in the way of fruit, along with notes of green pepper, cedar and spice. It has stood the test of time much better than the 1989 Cos, but it is (for me at least) a bit boring.

Chateau Grand Puy Ducasse 1995 Paulliac was next up. What can I say? Basically, it was like sucking on a band aid plaster. Fruitless, joyless and pretty pointless. Which only served to confirm my opinion that 90% of Bordeaux wines (including the classed growths) are Emperor's New Clothes.

And so back to proper wine, with Noel Verset Cornas 1996. An incredible bouquet (almost in the literal sense) of violets, lilies and roses. The palate didn't quite live up to the nose, being a touch on the light side, but there was still plenty of interest, with classic Syrah fruit profile, resolved tannins, minerality and juicy acidity. Not a great Verset Cornas, but a good one, which is drinking perfectly right now.

Les Cailloux 1998 Chateauneuf-du-Pape is also drinking beautifully. A touch stinky/farmyardy, and with a touch of acetone - perhaps a sign of the hot year. Packed full of warm, juicy, mouth-filling southern Rhone fruit and spice. Long, warming and open for business - and one of the best 1998 Chateauneufs.

J L Chave Hermitage 1995 was, of course, a real treat. The 1982 and 1983, tasted a couple of years back, rank amongst the greatest wines I have ever had the privilege of tasting - and this 1995 has the potential to rank right up there with them. It took a little time to really open up (it is still on the young side, after all) but it is already soft and seductive, with true complexity and balance. A perfect marriage of fruit, tannin and acidity, with a touch of peppery spice and classic northern Rhone florality. Young, but poised, yet with years of development left in it. A potentially great wine, and I hope I am lucky enough to taste another one some day.

Domaine du Vieux Télégraph 1993 Chateauneuf-du-Pape was my own final contribution and showed really well in such esteemed company. Although not from a great year in Chateauneuf, it is full of fruit, complex and balanced - a touch rustic in comparison to the Chave Hermitage, but what wine wouldn't be? And at 16 years old, it too still has some way to go before it reaches its peak.

Croft 1977 Vintage Port was light, elegant, well-balanced and warm without being hot or spiritous. I'm not a great fan of Port, but this was really nice.

Cockburns 1983 Vintage Port was also quite decent, though a bit clumsy in comparison. A bit young, perhaps, but will never be great.

Finally, Domaine des Baumard Clos Ste. Catherine 1989 Coteaux du Layon. I've enjoyed various vintages of this wine and rarely have they failed to excite the senses. And this one was no different, with an amazing nose - a riot of sweet-smelling fruit, with sweaty cheese and savoury nuances. The palate is unctiously sweet and mouth-coating, but it is held in check by wonderful acidity and classic Chenin Blanc minerality. And at 20 years old, it has literally decades of development left in it. In my opinion, this is Baumard's best sweet cuvée, with slightly less intensity than the Quarts de Chaume, but more elegance. A lovely wine to finish a lovely evening. Happy 60th, Mieke!