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  • Château de Pez 1986 – two tasting notes, 20 years apart

    I opened a bottle of Château de Pez 1986 for lunch today. There were three of us, my wife, younger daughter and me. Sarah (younger daughter) has always preferred red wine, but tends to pick young reds from New World countries. They’re probably more affordable for a student nurse. I wondered if this 25 year-old Bordeaux would get the thumbs down, or if it might encourage her in another direction.

    We drank it with ox tongue, something we only eat over the Christmas period – I don’t know why. All three of us love it. It had cooked for about 5 hours, and I had reduced the cooking liquid, added some good jellied stock, some mushrooms and rather more than a splash of Malmsey Madeira.

    The de Pez 1986 was terrific. I served it blind. Kathryn guessed it as Bordeaux. Sarah’s first guess at the vintage was 2000. And she liked it. Eventually I revealed it as 1986 (3 years older than Sarah!). It was cedary, complex and a little edgy on the nose. The palate was rich and earthy, with a hint of rusticity, gentle tannins and good acidity, with overtones of tobacco and blackcurrant (still!). The length was blackcurrants with hint of earth, rich, long, and very Cabernet-dominated. But at its best, although it could hang on for a few years. We didn’t finish the bottle, because it was cold from the cellar, and needed lots of hand-warming to bring out the aromas and flavours. And Sarah was in a hurry to go somewhere.

    Then it was back to my Sunday job of filing tasting notes, long overdue, from their enforced stay in piles and bags. Pretty routine stuff, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Chile, Australia, etc, or under merchants for mixed tastings. Suddenly, I saw a name from the past on the heading – ‘Morgan Furze – Shippers of Wines & Spirits’. And what was the tasting? None other than a vertical tasting of Château de Pez. Youngest vintage was 1990 and, yes, third on the list, a note for the 1986. But this note had been written in December 1991, when the wine was a mere five years old.

    I remembered 1986 had been a strong Cabernet Sauvignon year in Bordeaux, after the failure of the Merlot in 1984 and a lovely year for Merlot in 1985. In 1991, I described the 1986 as ‘dense, but rather closed at present on the nose’. The palate had ‘ripe, powerful fruit, closed but a bit of a bruiser. More typically St-Estèphe than 1988 or 1990, but in a dumb phase. Good powerful structure.’

    And now, almost exactly 20 years on, the 1986 Château de Pez revealed. A sturdy wine that had come through 25 years of movement and inadequate cellaring to give pleasure to Kathryn and me, and to the next generation. I hope Sarah takes the thought on board. She was in a bit of a rush.

  • Annual Sloe Gin Tasting

    Was this the most keenly contested tasting event of the year? It certainly was in Henfield, the village where we used to live. The White Hart's annual tasting competition for sloe gin produced by locals.

    We have never had so many entries, 15 in all. And what was startling was the variation in colour, smell and flavour. Some were a light, slightly lurid pink. Then there were all shades to a dark, purpley-brown.

    Samples were served blind in tiny plastic cups, difficult to smell from, but limiting the serve to a measure that didn't make the trip home impossible. All the contestants (and quite a few supporters) tasted, and two prizes were awarded. The name on the very fine silver cup went to the gin I judged best, and the little cup was awarded to the gin that won the popular vote.

    Many of the contestants were familiar faces, but some were new. I entered my own effort (made from a blend of damsons and bullaces, rather than sloes), as did Gyles, landlord of the White Hart, our venue.

    And the unthinkable happened. Tasted blind, I gave top mark to my own gin! It has never happened before. Well, I couldn't give myself the prize, so it went to my second choice, which happened to be Gyles's gin. Top prize in the popular vote went to Roy. And, just to ensure I didn't get overcome with my success, my gin was last in the popular vote! (And Gyles's second to last.)

    Am I out of touch with popular taste?

  • The end of summer?

    October garden, with applesWhat a wonderful day. Crisp temperature, clear blue sky, bright sun, apples picked, chickens happily pecking around. Almost seems a pity to leave England for New Zealand this week. Particularly as it was pouring with rain during the Rugby in Auckland...

  • A plea by a non-salt-addict!

    It happened again today. TOO MUCH SALT!

    I try to minimise my salt consumption. It's bad enough for the blood pressure, having to eat delicious meals and taste (sometimes even drink) hundreds of wines. So we use very little salt at home. My wife prefers more - she comes from a salty family. So we cook without (or with very little), and she adds salt at table if she wants more.

    But some chefs LOVE salt. Often they're happy to admit this. I don't know whether it's part of their training, or personal preference. I just wish they wouldn't inflict their salt habit on me!

    Today's example was a magnificent fish soup, complete with rouille, grated Gruyère cheese and croutons. Wonderfully intense in flavour. I'd count myself lucky if I found a fish soup as good anywhere in the south of France. But, way too salty. Even too salty for my wife. Then there was yummy crackling on the main course of belly pork, but, again, too salty!

    There was salt on the table (very posh-looking, possibly Maldon), so it wasn't that the chef felt everyone should be happy with his level of seasoning. Not one of those snooty restaurants where you worry you'd be thrown out if you dared ask for salt or pepper. But the idea of adding even more salt?!

    2 weeks ago, we were eating at a lovely hotel in north-eastern Portugal. One of the starters we ordered was beef carpaccio. It arrived looking beautiful, with a few little green leaves, some seeds of pomegranate, shaved Parmesan and, of course, great Portuguese olive oil. But thickly scattered with crystals of rock salt. We couldn't finish the plate, and the memory makes me reach for a glass of water.

    Please, chefs! You may like salt. You may have been taught that all dishes should be seasoned with salt. But remember your customer can add salt if he wants to, but he can't take it away! Use a light hand, for the sake of non salt-addicts. Over-use of salt seriously spoils my enjoyment of the very finest food. And I'm not sure it helps my blood pressure.

  • Shocking vandalism in Priorat

    An official statement by the three owners, Dominik Huber, Eben Sadie and Jaume Sabaté:

    OFFICIAL STATEMENT & PRESS RELEASE

    On the night of the 13th of June 2011, in the village of Torroja del Priorat, Spain, an appalling and almost unthinkable event took place at the cellar of the Terroir Al Limit winery.

    The cellar locks were broken open, and a terrible act of vandalism followed. The taps of some tanks were simply opened and wine allowed to flow out onto the floor. Many casks of wine in the cellar were ruined by contamination with household bleach.

    The owners of Terroir al Limit, Dominik Huber, Eben Sadie and Jaume Sabaté, strongly condemn this unexplained act. It was not as direct or dramatic as an assault on human life, but is in some way an assault on mankind and a crime of unthinkable measure. Was it some expression of hatred or sheer vandalism? There is no obvious underlying reason, and no-one has admitted responsibility for the cowardly act of destruction.

    The case is being investigated by the police, and local authorities. The Denominació d'Origen Priorat will issue its own statement. The case is also being refered to the Generalitat de Catalunya (Provincial Govenment), whose viticultural and wine department (Institut Català de la Vinya i el Vi – INCAVI) is to analyse all the wines remaining in the cellar. Any contaminated wines (perhaps some 25% of the production) will be destroyed by INCAVI.

    Terroir al Limit was formed in 2004 from the union of two wines made in this cellar - Sadie’s Dits del Terra and Huber’s Arbossar. It has very quickly become one of the most respected and acclaimed wineries in Spain, with local and international awards and recognition.

    The three men responsible for its vineyards and its wine, while deeply shaken by this hateful and senseless vandalism, are adamant in their determination to move forward with their project. They say: “We thank all those who have already supported us unconditionally from the moment they heard of this senseless act.”

  • Château Clinet vertical tasting

    A fascinating tasting, staged by Bordeaux Index and Ronan Laborde, owner of Château Clinet. Fascinating in two ways, because I have never tasted such a vertical of Château Clinet's wines (22 vintages), and that it was conducted blind. Yes, of course tasters knew the wines were all from Château Clinet, but not which vintage we were tasting. They were placed, we were told, roughly from youngest to oldest. I started with the older wines, as I find doing younger wines first can overpower the subtleties of older wines coming afterwards.

    Because it was blind, all preconceptions of what the wines should taste like according to vintage were removed. And I gave some very good marks to 'lesser' years (and not such great marks to vintages with higher reputations). But here are the marks, now married up with the correct vintages. (And yes, I did make an attempt to guess which were which, but did really badly!)

    The wines showed really well, elegant yet full of life in the older vintages, and young and powerful in the younger. After my marks, I have suggested drinking windows.

    1987 Château Clinet This has complex, slightly farmyardy aromas, with raspberry and smoke behind. Tannins are smooth but good, and flavours are complex. 94 now-2030

    1988 Château Clinet Young, really fruity aromas. Tannins are rich and firm, and the fruit is ripe, an appealing combination of dried and fresh. The mid-palate gets more complex, with notes of tobacco coming in. Maturing well, with gentle flavours and rich fruit. 93 now-2020

    1989 Château Clinet Well, the first bottle was slightly cork-tainted, but the second was much worse. This made the wine difficult to judge. But it seemed light and cedary, rather lean, with firm tannins and high acidity. But these were not good bottles. ?89 now-2015

    1990 Château Clinet Lovely wine, maturing well, with aromas of sweet, dried fruit and tobacco. The palate is just as good, if not better, with rich, fresh, sweet fruit, firm tannins and good acidity. The fruit is more dried than fresh, but ripe and generous. Excellent wine, in very good shape, with sweet, tobacco, dried fig and smoky length. 94 now-2020

    1991 Château Clinet Lean, poised, elegant on the nose. Tannins are firm, and the whole feel is bright and fresh. This has very good balance, with lively fruit and everything intact. The leanness persists, but in a very graceful way. 94 now-2025

    1992 Château Clinet Fragrant, ripe aromas, if a little austere. Definitely lean on the palate, but lovely cedary fruit. This is starting to dry a touch, but still graceful and elegant. It has good fresh acidity and cedary length. 91 now-2020

    1993 Château Clinet Rich and fairly opulent aromas, seems a ripe year. Ripe and rich on the palate, firm tannins, good acidity. Elegant, quite powerful tannins, ripe and extracted. But this has good balance, real freshness and lovely length. 93 now-2030

    1994 Château Clinet Young, leafy aromas, followed by firm, still unresolved tannins. This has a good solid structure, with ripe, solid fruit behind. It's in a dip at the moment, but seems to have enough fruit and lots of tannin. 93 now-2030

    1995 Château Clinet This is looking mature, with cedary but rather fragile fragrance. Acidity is bright, fruit is cedary. It's complex, graceful and ageing well, still with supporting tannins. 92 now-2015

    1996 Château Clinet Very elegant aromas of tea-leaf and cedar. The palate is light and leafy, too, with firm tannins and good acidity. This seems quite elderly, but it's still lively and good drinking. Quite a lean style, though, with tannins that will always be firm. 91 now-2020

    1997 Château Clinet Light aromas, fading a little, but still fragrant. Very light, fragrant, fresh on the palate. This is balanced and attractive, but fading, in a light, graceful way. 87 now-2015

    1998 Château Clinet Lovely aromas of ripe, red fruits, really opulent. Flavours are bright and fresh, with firm tannins and good acidity. This wine in terrific shape, lively, brisk and fresh, with cedar and raspberry vying for pole position. Lovely, savoury length. 95 now-2025

    1999 Château Clinet Ripe, opulent aromas. Firm tannins, rich ripe fruit. Lovely balance. Good acidity. This wine is still young, with firm structure, lovely elegance and cedary length. 95 now-2030

    2000 Château Clinet Restrained and closed on the nose. Savoury, rich, with lovely malty, savoury texture. Highish acidity, firm tannins. Young, but promising. 92 now-2030

    2001 Château Clinet Sweet, ripe, maturing nicely. P: Gentle, savoury, cedary. Remarkably ready to approach, though has firm tannins and lively cedary fruit. Already has notes of mature, leathery development. 90 now-2025

    2002 Château Clinet Rich, sweet-fruited aromas. Good, ripe, juicy-fruited flavours. Tannins present but not too firm. Light and graceful, with balance and drinkability. Fresh acidity, good length. 91 now-2020

    2003 Château Clinet Young, vibrant aromas, from a rich, ripe year. Tannins are firm, with good acidity, and flavours of dark black fruits. Lovely opulent feel to this, and all to play for. Silky tannins, rich fruit. 95 now-2035

    2004 Château Clinet Light, with not much showing on the nose at present. Well, light and fresh, but lacks depth of fruit and weight. But not over-extracted. Tannins and fruit in balance. Nice, early-maturing wine from a light vintage. 89 now-2015

    2005 Château Clinet Pleasant. light, quite aromas. Tannins are firm, and acidity highish. This is young, but not over-endowed with richness and flesh. 88 2015-25

    2006 Château Clinet Dark, black fruits, but not so intense. Maybe just not singing at the moment. Tannins are very firm. This is very tucked up at the moment. Young, dark, with firm but smooth tannins. Slightly lacks mid-palate. 91 2020-35

    2007 Château Clinet Roasted coffee oak aromas. Young. Coffee oak covers pleasantly ripe palate. Tannins are very smooth, and balance is lovely. Reasonably ripe year, with restraint and elegance. And could age further. 93 2015-25

    2008 Château Clinet Rich, dark, ripe aromas. Serious wine. Rich, sumptuous, with firm, very ripe tannins, dark black fruit characters, good acidity and lovely balance. Very young at the moment, and needs time to unravel, but very impressive, and a beautiful balance. 96 2020-40

  • Valentine trotters

    We ate one of my wife's favourite dishes for a Valentine's Day lunch today - pressure-cooked pigs' trotters, de-boned, mixed with sautéed chopped onions & garlic, parsley and oregano. I reduced it with some of the cooking liquid, then added chopped dill-gherkins and capers, and finished it in the oven with a (gluten-free) breadcrumb topping. Veg was sautéed courgettes (bought by London-based daughter at the weekend, then abandoned). And a starter salad topped by one of our bantams' eggs, soft-boiled.

    Although it doesn't sound romantic, we both love trotters, particularly the aspect that most find off-putting - the texture. The gooey, sticky meat, and gelatinous sauce clinging to the plate. It's brightened by the gherkins and capers, and given a bit of a crunch by the crisp breadcrumb topping.

    We went easy on the wine, halfway through a working Monday. My wife had a glass of complex, mature 2004 Heggie's Chardonnay. I went for a wonderful, grass and damson-flavoured 2008 Adobe Carmenère Reserva, which coped really well with the sharp but gooey trotters.

    Although the preparation (particularly the deboning) takes ages, almost all the work had been done, as we had had our first go at the trotters before the weekend. I remember when Kathryn first came back from a local butcher, triumphant with trotters. He'd asked for £50 a trotter, then smiled and charged her 50p for the lot. It's one of the bits of pig most eaters avoid, sometimes off-puttingly hairy, certainly fiddly to process, and needing longer cooking than most cooks will hang around for. But the first hour in the pressure-cooker (plus onion, carrot and herbs various) gives cooked trotters and a brilliant resulting stock, and you continue to get thinner versions for the next two boilings of the bones.

    Tonight I sit writing this at home. Kathryn has disappeared to our friendly local restaurant as an emergency sommelier. It's a strange evening for them, a load of tables for two, brilliant sales of champagne by the glass, and an unusually quiet atmosphere. I'll get on with some work here, and I think I might have another glass of that excellent Carmenère.

  • First sight of the 2009 Burgundies

    The build-up to the 2009 Burgundies has been long and hard-sell. Even last year, at the showings of the 2008s, producers had a 'you wait and see' expression on their faces when they mentioned the 2009s. A year of perfect ripeness and fabulous wines, we were told to expect. (And fabulous prices, we thought.)

    And now they're here, on view to the London trade and customers of several importers. Just recovering from flu, I've been to two tastings so far, of wines shown by Louis Latour and by Goedhuis & Co. The Latour tasting, last Friday, was very civilised, three tasters and 37 wines. The whites showed attractive and forward, with good acdities and fruit occasionally verging on the tropical. My attention wasn't fully engaged till I reached the Puligny-Montrachet 1ers Crus. And they're not cheap. The Truffières and Folatières both had a level of complexity the others lacked, and the Bâtard was a brute, with power, intensity and lovely, stony acidity.

    Among the Louis Latour reds (still pasteurised before bottling), the Mercurey was a perfumed, inexpensive delight. The Beaune Vignes Franches had glowing raspberry fruit. Then it was on to the Grands Crus for real pleasure. Particularly the poised, elegant Echézeaux, the surprisingly elegant Clos Vougeot, the fresh, candied, accessible Charmes Chambertin, the opulent, ample Chambertin and the intense, delicate, balanced Romanée St Vivant Les Quatre Journaux.

    The Goedhuis tasting today was bigger and busier. I concentrated on the reds, over 100 of them, jostling my way to the bottles. Jancis Robinson kindly gave me a cardboard cup to spit into. Personal spittoon. Good. Pleasure came early, with a clutch of Drouhin-Laroze Grands Crus. A dense, rich, supple Clos de Vougeot, a dark, plummy, chocolatey Bonnes Mares and a rich, sumptuous Chambertin Clos de Bèze. There were some lovely Gevrey 1ers Crus from Géantet-Pansiot, a pure-fruited, precise En Champs and a candied, sweet-fruited Poissenot. Then a thick, brooding, opulent Charmes-Chambertin.

    Then odd wines from different growers gave pleasure. An opulent, ultra-ripe, leathery Charmes-Chambertin from Dominique Gallois, an elegant, penetrating Gevrey 1er Cru Clos St Jacques from Fourrier, and a dense, firm Chambolle 1er Cru Baudes from Serafin. Then, some really consistent growers, Ghislaine Barthod from Chambolle, Louis Boillot from Gevrey, Hudelot Noellat from Vougeot, Sylvian Cathiard from Vosne (prices on application!), Jean Grivot from Vosne, and more mixed bags from Méo-Camuzet, Roche de Bellene (Nicolas Potel's newish negociant business) and Domaine de l'Arlot. A hurried rush through Chandon de Briailles and Comte Armand, and we were politely ushered out into a greying Vauxhall.

    My highlights were a pair of grands crus from Hudelot Noellat, a big, bright, poised Clos de Vougeot and an understated, balanced Romanée St Vivant. All the Jean Grivot wines were excellent, with marks roughly according to their status. A trio of sensational reds from Méo-Camuzet, Clos de Vougeot, Corton Clos Rognet and Vosne-Romanee Aux Brulées. Clos de la Roche and Clos de Vougeot from Roche de Bellene. And Volnay Premiets from Comte Armand.

    More Côtes de Nuits successes than Côtes de Beaune, you will notice. And a general feeling that the good growers have made the most of a generous year. The reds are lovely already, and the best will last well. The best whites are already seductive, and are probably best enjoyed in their youth. Gather ye rose-buds, as the old song goes.

  • A very Co-op Christmas and New Year!

    Wow! For those who haven't finished shopping or need to stock up on wine for New Year parties, the Co-op has some very good deals on till the 4th January 2011. (Or till the wine runs out!) The Rioja Reserva is particularly brilliant value!

    Here are my picks of the Co-op Christmas specials:

    Cava Jaume Serra Brut Nature: crisp, faintly lemony. Clean, neutral flavour, with a hint of lemon. Good party fizz (£4.99) 88

    Glera Prosecco Rosé, Gabbia d'Oro: Faint red fruit aromas, followed by a pleasant flavour, just off-dry, with a touch of raspberry perfume. (£4.99) 88

    2009 St Hallett Barossa Riesling: Fresh, bright and limey, with crisp acidity and bright, limey fruit. (£5.99) 90

    2009 Chablis Cuvée les Hauts de Préhy (Brocard): good, crisp, honeyed aromas. Lovely, mineral flavours. Good not aggressive acidity, with a hint of buttery richness. Lovely now. (£7.99) 91

    2009 Château Brassac, Bordeaux Supérieur (58 Merlot/ 42 Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc): Bright, blackcurrant and raspberry fruit on the nose. Ripe, soft and modern. Dry but fruity, with lively acidity, and some length. (£6.99) 88

    2005 Château Saint-Paul, Haut-Médoc: rich, blackcurrant and cedar aromas! Followed up on the palate with ripe, blackcurranty flavours. Good tannins, fresh acidity, and looking quite mature. Good drinking now! (£9.99) 89

    2008 St Hallett Barossa Shiraz: Raspberry jammy fruit, with very gentle tannins and good acidity. Soft, leathery notes. Easy, attractive drinking. (£5.99) 88

    2006 Marqués de Valido Rioja Reserva: wild strawberry aroma, with a hint of mushroom. Soft in the mouth, with good acidity and gentle tannins. Very pleasant, nicely mature Rioja, with length and savoury intensity. (£4.99) 91

    2008 Ara Marlborough Pinot Noir: Savoury, bright, berry-fruity. Lovely acidity, hint tannin. Very fruity. Not complex, but a fun wine, and true Pinot Noir. (£9.99) 89

    2008 Château Sénéjac, Haut-Médoc: sweet, ripe, cedary aromas. This is young and fresh, but has soft fruit, with a roasted flavour. There are tannins, but they’re gentle. Acidity is fresh. It’s bright, fresh and very drinkable. (£11.99) 91

    2007 Yalumba Barossa MGS (Mourvèdre Grenache Shiraz): Dark, spicy and intense on the nose. The flavours are of lovely, spicy, dark, blackberry fruit, with smooth tannins and good acidity, length and freshness. (£9.99) 92

    2009 L'Oustalet Réserve Côtes du Rhône (Perrin): ripe, red fruit aromas. Flavours are spicy and substantial, with a touch of chocolate. Some tannins, good acidity. (£5.99) 89

  • Time for serious sherry!

    I’ve had a couple of sherry-dominated days. Brilliant!

    Last night I turned up unusually punctually at Bar Pepito for a meeting, and found it had been cancelled. I was lucky Andrew Sinclair of González Byass was leading three restaurateurs through González Byass’s posh sherries. I joined them. Star wine for me was Apostoles Palo Cortado, shimmering on the edge of dry and sweet, and hazelnuttily intense.

    Tonight I treated myself to the box of Wine Society sherries that arrived just before I went to Portugal last week. Triple-yum! The Wine Society has always kept the faith with sherry. Now it has updated the range, and brought in some new delights.

    The Romate Fino Perdido is an unusual style, quite a dark colour, obviously aged more than your average fino. Very rich, creamy, nutty and tangy, with notes of hazelnut, almond and toffee. Botaina Amontillado Seco, from Emilio Lustau, has flavours of caramel and toffee, with a coffee note. It’s very tangy, dry, but has the feel of sweetness, with magnificently caramelly length. Amontillado Maribel, from Sanchez Romate, has the edge taken off the intensity by a hint of raisiny PX. Lovely, mature wine, with a great balance between tangy intensity and raisiny softness.

    Caetano del Fino Palo Cortado Viejisimo is fabulous (OK, I’m a sucker for Palo Cortado). Very intense, hazelnut and toffee aromas, with tangy, nutty age and brilliant length. Finally, Miguel Fontádez Florido Oloroso, from a single butt (no wonder it’s sold in half-bottles). The nose tricks you into thinking there’ll be some sweetness, but no, it’s dry and tangy, with lovely, creamy, toffeed length. It made me think of rooms in old houses, full of hard wood furniture.

    In principle, the Wine Society last orders in time for Christmas delivery finished 15 minutes ago. But you can always go to their shop in Stevenage. As the Michelin Guide says, it’s worth the journey.

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