Thursday, 31 December 2009

The final day of 2009 - a frantic day to end a sometimes difficult year. But finishing on a high note with some lovely bubbly!

Having sent out an email to my customers yesterday afternoon, with some rather tasty sale and bin-end offers, I have been rather inundated with orders today. So I've spent virtually the whole day (and half the evening) at the computer and on the phone. Not that I'm complaining, of course, as it all helps to boost the Company funds and ensure that there is enough money to pay for all of the new wines I've had in recently and also to cover yet more purchases in the early part of 2010. But to deal with what amounts to 5% of a year's turnover in one day has certainly left me feeling exhausted and in need of a drink(!)

It has been a difficult year, in many ways, since the recession continues to bite hard. It really isn't an ideal climate in which to be trying to build a wine business - or any other business, for that matter. Having said that, we have almost (though not quite) equalled last year's turnover, for which we actually managed (for the first time ever) to record a tiny profit. Not that I was particularly full of joy, though, when writing out the cheque for Chancellor Darling's 21% share - that was a wrench, I can tell you. Bloody Government - they want a piece of everything! Who knows....... one of these days, we might actually start selling enough wine for me to give up the day job. Let's hope that 2010 sees a return to growth and prosperity and a little light at the end of the tunnel. Anyway, enough about that - let's talk about wine.

Having spent much of the last week drinking coffe, tea and soft drinks, it was time to shake off the cobwebs by cracking open a bottle or two of fizz.

First up was a lovely bottle of Domaine Rosier Brut NV Blanquette de Limoux. This is from my recent batch of deliveries and (although a non-vintage wine) I needed to write a more up-to-date and comprehensive tasting note. It is a lovely, bright, pale gold colour with green tinges. The mousse is very fine, lively and long-lived, whilst the nose is considerably complex for a young, recently-disgorged sparkler. The nose offers aromas of lemon and lime, apple, spring flowers, freshly baked brioche and a suggestion of mixed spice. The palate is essentially bone dry, with mouth-watering, lemony acidity, but also a touch of fruity richness and impressive intensity of flavour - and an equally impressive length on the finish. Blanquette really doesn't get much better than this and, at £10.50 a bottle (guess where!) it knocks spots off most Champagnes at twice the price.

By way of comparison, I opened a bottle of Piper-Heidsieck Brut Divin Blanc de Blancs NV Champagne. Well, it is New Year, so I have a right to indulge a little! As we all know, Champagne comes at a (rather inflated) price. I guess the normal market price for a bottle of this would be in the £20-£25 range, although I got it for considerably less....... I do have my sources! Nevertheless, it still cost me a lot more than the Limoux. But I have to say it is rather lovely and every bit as good as the Limoux, in a more evolved, mature sort of way. It is quite a deep gold colour and the fine mousse calms down rather quickly, suggesting quite a lot of bottle age. But there are still plenty of tiny bubbles rising from the bottom of the glass and it is a really fragrant, wine - apples, lemons and pears, with buttery, biscuity notes in the background. The palate is bright and fruity, with intense lemon/lime, almost zesty flavours, along with lots of secondary flavours adding complexity. There are also hints of toffee apple, biscuit and mineral, with quite a rich mouthfeel, but laser-like acidity and a dry finish. It really is rather elegant and lovely - and proves my theory that the only good Champagne is a mature one!

I'm off now to indulge myself even further with a medium-rare steak and a bottle of something old and red. I may even enjoy a glass of vintage Banyuls or Tokaji afterwards, before seeing in the New Year with another glass of bubbly.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Another minor chapter in the cork/screwcap debate

I didn’t mention in my post below about our pre-Christmas tasting, but a bottle of Chateau d’Estoublon Red 2006 also went down very well. A bottle of 2007 white from the same grower, however, was strangely muted, and certainly not a patch on the bottle I drank whilst preparing the tasting note for my website (see my 14 December entry below). Turns out that it was mildly corked – but corked, nevertheless. Which got me thinking that I’ve had a bit of a bad run with corked or faulty bottles at tastings, in the last couple of months.

Natural corks - good ones, of course!

I should state here and now that I hate screwcaps on wine - I really hate them. Admittedly, it is partly a romantic/traditional thing, but it is also down to the fact that screwcaps (a) have a long way to go before their long-term usefulness is proven and (b) are prone to their own set of problems. But that is a whole different debate. It has to be said, of course, that the problems with cork are well-documented and manifold. Chateau d’Estoublon clearly buy the most expensive (and supposedly the best) corks, as do their neighbours, Domaine de Trévallon – indeed, I believe that these corks are priced not in cents, but Euros (2 or 3 per cork, actually!) and therefore add considerably to the basic cost of the bottled wine. But in my experience, that doesn't seem to give them a significant advantage over other (usually much less expensive) corks used by many of my other growers. I've been in the business long enough now to gather a good deal of anecdotal evidence about which growers have the least problems with corked wines - and, unfortunately, neither of these growers are top of the list, expensive corks or not.

I had cause to contact Domaine de Trévallon recently (a bottle of 1999 without a label, would you believe!) and I took the opportunity to tell them about a couple of problem bottles I'd had some time ago. I visited in August 2007 (before I started to sell their wines) and bought one bottle each of the 1999, 2000 and 2001 red, which were put into a 3-bottle wood presentation box. In 2008, when I was preparing for a spectacular Trévallon vertical tasting in Nottingham, I opened the 2001 and 2000 and both were badly affected by TCA (I haven't yet opened the 1999 from the same box). I mentioned that it is very unusual for 2 out of 3 bottles of wine to be "corked" and maybe it was just a very unfortunate coincidence. Or, I wondered, is it possible for TCA to be transmitted from the pine box (or for the other bottles to be affected by 1 bad bottle in the box)? This is, to a certain extent, a rhetorical question and I guess there is not much more a grower can do than to use the most expensive (best?) corks available to them – other than move to an alternative closure method. That said, a good bottle of Trévallon (or Estoublon, for that matter) is still one of the world’s great wine experiences. And (as a friend of mine recently remarked) every single one of my greatest and most sublime wine experiences have come from bottles sealed under cork. However, as long as natural cork closures are still around, TCA will remain a problem for the wine drinker. But there may be a happy medium…………….

DIAM corks - are these the answer?

Personally, I think the answer to the TCA problem lies with DIAM (pictured above) each one of which is made up of thousands of tiny granules of natural cork. During the manufacturing process, the granules are treated and cleaned, which ensures that any traces of TCA (and any other undesirable compounds the cork may be harbouring) are eradicated. The granules are then bound together to form a closure that is as close as possible to the shape, feel and texture of a single-piece natural cork - and they are guaranteed TCA-free.  A couple of my growers already use DIAM corks for all of their wines, notably Domaine de Montesquiou in Jurancon. And the results seem to be very promising indeed - i.e. I have no faulty or corked bottles to report so far. And these are wines which certainly rely on their vitality and fruit to show their best and every bottle I have tasted since they moved to DIAM has been spot-on and fresh as can be. The only thing that has still to be proven with DIAM closures is how well the wines will age over the longer term. Are they good for 5 years, 10 years, 20, more? Only time will tell. But one thing is for sure – unless the producers of natural, single-piece corks eradicate the TCA problem pretty damn quick, their days are numbered.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Christmas - has it really been and gone already?!

I’ve suddenly realised that it is almost two weeks since I last blogged. And frankly, I’m wondering where the time has gone. The fact is, it has taken me all that time to start feeling human again, following that fiendish cold/virus I picked up in mid-December. Who knows, I might even feel like drinking a glass or two of wine, this evening. Which will be something of a novelty, because all that has passed my lips over the last week has been the odd buck's fizz, a glass or two of de Bortoli Show Muscat (rich, sweet and warming – and Australian!) plus copious amounts of bitter lemon, tea and coffee.

I’m not sure if it was mind over matter, or a genuine (but temporary) break in my illness, but I did manage to feel well enough to attend the Christmas edition of our monthly wine group at Le Mistral in Nottingham last Tuesday. To be honest, I wouldn’t miss one of these for the world, so it was probably the former, rather than the latter. Nevertheless, it was another enjoyable night, with a decent spread of wines from the old world and the new.

Although I couldn’t be bothered to take notes (or even write down a full list of the wines) the highlights included a lovely Domaine de La Janasse Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2008, a weird and whacky Dario Princic Pinot Grigio Blush/Rosé 2006 (natural winemaking at its most extreme), a lovely Chateau Simone 1988 Palette (one of the great estates of Provence) and an absolutely spot-on Paul Jaboulet Aine Domaine de Thalabert 1988 Crozes-Hermitages. There were also a couple of decent red Burgundies from Domaine Tollot-Beaut (I can’t remember the appellation or year) and a Grands Échezaux 2000 from René Engel. The former was full of flavour and a certain rustic charm, whilst the latter was elegant and smooth, without setting the world on fire. A fine 1993 Chateau Dereszla Tokaji Aszú 4 Puttonyos was a nice way to finish the evening.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

A rotten day........ ending with a lovely pick-me-up

No - for once I'm not talking about wine. Or at least not one I'm drinking myself. Frankly, I really don't feel like drinking wine, since this wretched cold I've picked up has got me well and truly licked for the time being. I've spent the day coughing, sniffing, blowing, sneezing and generally choking half to death. I've got sore ribs and a head stuffier than a really stuffy thing. I've tried smoking more fags, but even that doesn't seem to help me feel better...... only joking, of course! Still, I guess I'd rather get it out of the way before the festivities begin - hopefully, I'll be feeling a lot healthier by the time next Tuesday's "bash" at Le Mistral in Nottingham comes around. Meanwhile, the only thing I feel like drinking at the moment is tea - and lots of it, although, without a single lemon in the house, I'm having to add a dash of orange juice to make it palatable(!)

Anyway, despite the day I've had, I felt a whole lot more chipper following an email I received this evening from a new(ish) customer. And, with his permission, I am reproducing it here;

"Hi Leon

Just a quick note to say thanks for your excellent service with my order - everything arrived safely today.

I know you're not exactly what you might call a "conventional" merchant, which perhaps gives you an advantage, but your service; the speed with which you dealt with my email asking for advice, your personal touch and the delivery of my carefully packed order before some merchants would even have responded to my initial email is an example to all, from the big boys to local independents.

I'm currently sipping, probably unwisely, one of your recommendations - the Combe Blanche Tempranillo - and despite its recent travels it's proving to be just the sort of thing I love: a lovely fruit (I hate to copy your tasting note, but definitely plum) coupled with just the right amount of acidity and tannin. I was going to write that it's not the most sophisticated of wines, but actually it depends what you're comparing it to: on reflection it's pretty darned good for the price.

Best of luck for the continuing development of your business. Based on your wines, prices and service you deserve it to be a roaring success.

Once again many thanks.


Now excuse me for appearing to blow my own trumpet (wasn't it ever thus....) but isn't that lovely? Of course, I do get other emails and notes of praise from time to time. And, come to think of it, nobody has ever felt compelled to write and tell me how rubbish my wines are(!) But when people say or write things like this, it helps me to remember why I put myself through the not inconsiderable trials and tribulations of trying to build a successful wine business. Of course, I'm not there yet (as evidenced by my continuing "day job", courtesy of HM Land Registry). But it is the little things like this that provide me with just the spur I need to keep at it until it all really kicks off.

So many thanks for taking the time to write to me, Richard - and I hope you keep enjoying the wines. And feel free to spread the word, too! ;-)

For the curious, the wine Richard is enjoying so much this evening is Domaine La Combe Blanche Calamiac Terroir Tempranillo 2007 - Vin de Pays des Cotes du Brian

Now I'm off to get some dinner, followed by a very long lie down in a dark room.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Some more new wines

Although I have developed a horrible cold (and an even worse tickly, chesty cough) over the last couple of days, it is only now that my ability to taste and assess wines has started to become affected. Which is just as well, because I've had a few to get through. I hate seeing the words "tasting note to follow" next to any wine on my website, because I pride myself on having personally tasted and enjoyed and drank every single wine I sell - and how many wine merchants can truly say that? Anyway, I have a handful more to get through before too long, but I guess they'll have to wait for a few days - after all, who feels like drinking when they have a cold? Meanwhile though, here's a few I've drank - and thoroughly enjoyed - over the last 4 days.

I tasted this in winemaker Guy Vanlancker's cellar back in July, but I'd forgotten just how lovely it was. It is very unusual to find a varietal (i.e. 100%) Cinsault, since it is usually considered to be more suitable as a blending component in red (and more often rosé) wines from Languedoc and the southern Rhône. But this one is certainly a worthy example of its kind. The nose is an uncomplicated riot of brambly fruit, with some spicy, herby notes lurking in the background. And the palate is also packed with bramble and cherry fruit, making for a ripe, generous and very juicy mouthful. Relatively soft tannins and mouth-watering acidity, combined with a dollop of southern warmth and spice, all adds up to a lovely drop - which really hits the spot on a cold winter's evening! 13.5% abv.

Made from a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre,  this one offers aromas of the warm south - spiced red and black fruits, polished wood, undergrowth, garrigue herbs and a hint of garam masala. Give it a good swirl and you might even detect a hint of ripe peaches - for a "jeunes vignes" (from young vines) there is surprising complexity. The palate is rich and concentrated, with a huge core of ripe fruit, but never blowsy or overpowering. There is a cherry skin element to it, which gives it lift, with a decent level of acidity and fine tannins adding grip and definition. As with all the Estoublon reds, it manages to combine rich, ripe flavours with juicy/tangy acidity and spicy warmth, without ever suggesting heat. If I were tasting this blind, I might think I was drinking an unusually subtle (and really very good) Gigondas. Another lovely wine. 13.6% abv.

80% Syrah, 20% Grenache. Fresh plums, bramble and black cherries abound, along hallmark Saint-Chinian terroir - garrigue herbs, violets, black olives and a strong mineral influence from the schistous soils on which it is grown. Hints of tobacco, leather and brioche add even more interest. The palate is concentrated and balanced, with rich, spicy (but not too sweet) bramble and cherry fruit wrapped in a blanket of fine, silky tannins and mouth-watering acidity and a long, spicy finish. Those ultra-fine tannins make for a wine that is already a joy to drink, but this is another beautifully structured wine from Chateau La Dournie, with a great future. A conservative estimate would be 5 to 8 years before maturity and a 10 to 15 year life span.

Domaine d'Estoublon Blanc 2007 Vin de Pays des Alpilles
The colour is a bright yellow gold. The nose is uber complex - notes of quince, apricot, primrose, spices (fennel and clove spring to mind), with subtle hints of lemon, honey and clarified butter. The oak-ageing is subtle, too, with just a touch of vanillin. And the palate is as fresh as a daisy, with flavours of apricot and peach, quince and lemon zest. There is also honeyed, nutty richness that coats the mouth, whilst at the same time being beautifully dry and focused. Restrained power is the order of the day - the sort that manifests itself in a long, mouth-watering finish. In fact, this is a wine that seems effortlessly to combine richness of flavour with supreme elegance. Which marks it out as a great wine, in my book - and I have a cold! White Chateauneuf? White Hermitage? Even white Trévallon? This comes pretty close - it is an absolute star of a wine, from an undoubted future star estate of Provençal winemaking.

That's it for now - I feel like death warmed up, so I'm off to bed!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

A hard day on the road, collecting my new wines - and a wonderful way to wind down, with a bottle of stunning Provençal wine

It has been a tough week - in fact, it's been a tough few weeks, with many nights spent working until 2, 3, even 4 o'clock in the morning. And the lack of sleep is really beginning to wear me down - I am desperately tired and really can't wait for the weekend. The work that goes into the selecting, purchasing and shipping of wines is not to be underestimated. But the work involved in preparing tasting notes, adding website entries, writing lists, taking photos and so on is much, much harder and much more time-consuming. If I didn't have a day job to contend with, it might all seem just a little bit easier. But I do - the mortgage needs to be paid and hungry mouths need to be fed. So until the wine business can begin to pay me a half-decent salary and support a family, the day job is a necessary evil.

Days like today, though, are hardest of all. I had 2 pallets of wine delivered yesterday, to the bonded warehouse I use in Rotherham. One pallet from Languedoc, one from Roussillon - over 1200 bottles of wine, from no less than 7 different growers. Rotherham is 40 miles away from Nottingham, and the trip up the M1 is no fun, especially since roadworks mean a 50mph speed limit for about half of the way. So I try and avoid going too often - only as and when my "local" stocks of certain wines need replenishing - or when I have had lots of new wines delivered. The lack of a van means that my trusty Ford Mondeo has to do a lot of work carrying wines - and with a bit of imagination, it is possible to carry 300 or even 400 bottles of wine in a single journey. But today, I was removing no less than 650 bottles from bond - some of them new, some existing stock - so it meant I had to endure the return journey twice. To cut a long story short, I started at around 12.30 pm and finished my second return journey at around 5.15 pm. Then I had the not inconsiderable task of lugging all of those 650 bottles from the loading bay into my store room. By closing time (7 pm) I still hadn't finished - so its back to it tomorrow afternoon.

I did, howver, have the great pleasure (which never fails to excite me) of taking home some wines to taste. One of the "golden rules" of being a wine merchant is not to buy a wine you haven't yet tasted. But if I were to adhere to that, I'd never get much new stuff listed, since I don't get to France anywhere near as often as I would like, and I can't always ask for my growers to keep sending me samples - it is just too expensive. But another thing I have learned in my 6 years in the wine business is to trust my growers' ability to keep making lovely wines, year-in, year-out - and they rarely let me down.

So tonight, I have had the great pleasure of tasting and writing a note on a bottle (a 50cl sample bottle, actually) of Chateau d'Estoublon 2006 Les Baux de Provence. And it is quite simply stunning - and just what I needed after a long, hard day on the road. If you want to read my tasting note, then you'll have to have a look at my website (using the above link). And if you want to buy some, then you'd better snap it up soon, because - as with many of my wines-  I import it only in relatively small quantities. It's not that I won't be able to get any more (this is the current release) but it certainly won't be for a few months yet.

So now it is back to the grind - a quick meal and then back to preparing a mail shot to go out to my customers and subscribers tomorrow, with details of all those lovely new wines!

More tasting notes to follow on the blog (and my website) over the next few days.

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.