Visiting Domaine Ott
It was a bit like turning up for a blind date, casting my eyes around Heathrow terminal five, trying to identify my companions for a trip to Domaine Ott, who, I realised I had no contact details for. Luckily, there seemed a group who looked like they had just met each other and were talking about wine, and looking suitably worn out from the late night and early start I guessed they must have been sommeliers. Getting out to a surprisingly sunny Provence day, we set off on the hour drive to Clos Mireille, one of the three estates owned by the Ott Family. After the usual confusion of trying to find someone who knew something about our arrival, we were met by the charming Christopher Renard, ‘the silver fox’ who wasted no time in pouring a glass of Château de Selle to go with some delicious crudités. Whilst getting re-introduced to this great wine, we had a chance to look at the marvellous accommodation at the property. Recently redesigned, it had the look of an interior straight from the pages of a magazine. The floors were concrete, the walls were concrete, it had the look of a car park, albeit with amazing lighting and antiques, very striking. I don’t think it suited the tastes of our escort Charles King, the MD of Maison Marques et Domaine, the UK importer. Over the day we tried their Domaniers wines, entry-level cuvees which were deliciously fresh and very much in the Domaine style. After lunch we were taken to the beach where we frolicked around like small children on a day trip. Worryingly, there was a TV camera there as some film producers were making a documentary about the estate, Baywatch it was not. Following this embarrassing spectacle, and my clever ‘how far can you throw a rock into the sea’ competition, we showered and dressed for dinner. With the Clos Mireille, we enjoyed a fantastic Cerviche of Salmon, something I always seem to get whenever I go to France. It went superbly well with the Clos Mireille Blanc de Blancs, a blend of Semillon and Ugni Blanc. Interestingly, this was the wine that forged the reputation of Domaine Ott, and it’s only with time that it has switched over to the Rose. The wine has a certain saline character, that allied with the lemon freshness of the Semillon went superbly with the fish. For the main course, we had some very tender roast lamb, served with the Bandol Rouge from Château Romassin, a cherry infused, spicy and juicy red, which I have to say, I like, but not nearly as much as the other wines of the estate, not that that stopped me from polishing off my glass with gusto. After dinner the more hardy palates tackled some rare Ott Marc de Provence, which was lovely, but attacked us with a vengeance the morning after. Next day, after picking some grapes for the 2009 vintage we headed to Château de Selle, where we saw the winemaking team in action in the middle of harvest and tasted the rest of the range, including a 1998 Domaine Ott Rose, which must be a bit of a rarity. I found it tasty but with quite an oxidative character creeping in to the point where I would advise early drinking on all of these wines. Still, at least we didn’t try the oldest wine in their reserves, a 1932 Clos Mireille Blanc, which looked a horrific colour. After flying back and getting back home, despite the best efforts of our taxi driver, I restored culinary equilibrium with a bland baked potato. Can’t be having too much luxury!
Brotherhood of the Wine Socks
As a committed Burgundophile I have dreamed of one day being invited to join the ‘Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin’. It is a place where the crème de la crème of wine makers, merchants and writers come together to share the finest and rarest wines of Burgundy – and perhaps the world’s most illustrious drinking club. I say perhaps, because there is a now a rival to this 200 year old club of wine geeks. After a number of unofficial soirées at various locations around London, I can now report on the first official meeting of the ‘Confrérie des Chaussettes du Vins’ (Brotherhood of the Wine Socks). It is difficult work finding a BYO restaurant in London that serves wine friendly food, but Thomas booked a table for us at a Maida Vale Italian eatery called Daniella’s Lounge – lovely pasta and, more importantly, they have no problem with us arriving clutching bottles for an evening of blind tasting. Without further ado we ordered some Bruscheta and Thomas poured the first wine. Mid-yellow in colour, the nose was full of citrus, smoke and nuts with a gentle oxidative note in the background. Now im not claiming to be the greatest blind taster in the world (or even the room), but I was on to this straight away. White Rioja is one of those styles that sticks in the mind and I came out with my verdict early, placing the vintage somewhere in the late ‘90s. Matt, who had arrived late and not been privy to my musings, decided on Priorat while the other guesses focused on the Rhône. Neither were bad shouts, but the sock came off and a 1981 Vina Tondonia Rioja Blanco Gran Reserva was revealed. Despite getting the wine right, I was astonished that the vintage was ’81 as the wine was so vibrant and youthful that I felt it had years left in the tank. I really enjoyed this and with the right food it would be a revelation, but some of the group were not quite as enthusiastic – “Sharp, light and slightly astringent. Interesting but not sure I like this” was Thomas’s verdict, which was a shame really considering that he brought it! Next it was Matt’s turn to do the pouring. This was another interesting white, but the nose was so tight that it was difficult to discern much early on. The palate was silky with a vaguely exotic backdrop of white flowers and spices, but to be honest I was flummoxed. Part of me was saying white Burgundy, but it certainly wasn’t textbook – I settled for an unconventional Côte d’Or white from the late ‘90s, although im not quite sure exactly what I was thinking of. The others were a bit better than me, but there was a lot of umming and ahhing over Puligny or Northern Rhône. The minerality, poise and underlying tension hinted at it being a serious wine, but all of us were surprised to see a 1992 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru ‘Clavoillon’ revealed. Once we knew what it was it all became clear (of course) but over the next couple of hours this wine really revealed its true colours. As room temperature approached the nose exploded into a cacophony of orange peel, white flowers and toast spread with butter and honey. Ally got petals, peaches and pineapple and noted how the development with temperature was unbelievable. Matt, who has had this wine many times, described it as “A good case for mature white burgundy and for decanting to room temp”. The entire confrérie was in agreement. As soon as Ben had poured the next wine I got vinous déjà-vous, as the nose was pungent with vegetal funk. Cabbage, mushrooms and an afterthought of dark berry fruit. The others felt it was fruitier than I did – all I could smell was stewed vegetables. In retrospect I can’t believe I didn’t get this, but as the sock came off and a 1990 Château de la Roche aux Moins Anjou stood before us we couldn’t believe that no one had guessed Cabernet Franc. This was a fascinating wine from a great vintage and my first opportunity to taste Nicolas Joly’s red wine. I say fascinating rather than delicious because while it was certainly interesting, im not sure I would ever drink a whole bottle out of choice. Ally had not taken part in any of the previous meetings and as a result he was sockless – not a problem however as he had craftily wrapped the next bottle in tissue paper and poured everyone a glass without compromising the identity. Glasses were lifted to noses in unison and everyone realised immediately that we were dealing with red Burgundy (about time!). I already knew what I was drinking, but Thomas, Matt and Ben were all correct in presuming that it was from the Côte de Nuits. Thomas (fellow Burgundy geek that he is) began whittling it down to vintage by discounting ’96/’99 (not enough tannin), ’93 (not enough acidity) or ’91, ’92, ’94 (the wine was in too good shape). He plumped for ’90 or ’95 but was surprised to learn that it was 1997 Domaine Henri Gouges Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru ‘Vaucrains’. Not that we were surprised at drinking a delicious Henri Gouges wine, just that ’97 is a vintage that has never really excited – and yet this Gouges was generous, silky and still youthful. Lots of concentration, fruit and primary pinot character. Matt likened it to a compost heap in August, still fresh and green (or perhaps that should be red) at the moment but promising to get dirtier, earthier and mushroomier as time goes by. Ally felt that it needed at least another couple of years to begin showing its true potential. Now it was my turn, so with sock encased wine in hand I poured the final samples of the night. I had a feeling that the group would struggle with my choice and I was proved right. Funnily enough, everybody was quite sure of many things that is definitely wasn’t. Too robust for Burgundy, too dry for Rhône, not dark enough for Cabernet, too good to be anything obscure. Ally picked out the tar and cherries, but couldn’t nail the wine. Ben, Matt and Thomas all plumped for Pinot Noir – perhaps a hot Burgundy vintage or a quality New-World effort? None of the above im afraid. 1997 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco ‘Santo Stefano’ it was and the group was in agreement that it was a fantastic effort by the ‘Professor of Nebbiolo’. We were all really impressed with this, as I always am when drinking Giacosa’s wines. The man is truly a winemaking genius. Soft but structure and atrong. Supple, elegant, layered, complex. Full of fruit but not at all one dimensional. Still time to develop with this wine and I made sure I bought another bottle as soon as I got to work so that I can taste it again 3 or 4 years from now and see where it has gone. And that was that. A wonderful evening of great wine and wine geekery that proved how bad we all are at blind tasting! Clearly more practice required…
Stars of Southern France Tasting
The latest instalment of our fine wine tasting program kicked off last thursday with a look at the ‘Legends of Southern France’. As you all know Burgundy is my first love in the world of wine, but once the Côte d’Or is taken out of the equation it is the sunny climes of Mediterranean France that are the object of my affection. I love the diversity of the wines of Provence, Languedoc and Roussillon, not to mention the artisanal nature of so many of the vignerons and the concerted push for quality that has taken place over the past 10 years. At Chez Roberson it is the wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy get most of the attention, so it was a pleasure to shine our light somewhere else for a change. We got started with a flight of two white wines: 1996 Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc and 1998 Grange des Peres Blanc. Just from looking at the wines it was clear we were dealing with two very different beasts – the GdP was still a vibrant lemony yellow, while the Daumas was doing an excellent impersonation of Madeira. With some trepidation we approached the Daumas, but low and behold it was still alive. Not only that, it was a fascinating wine that, although slightly madeirized, was full of red apple flavoured life. There was a honeyed sweetness to it that lingered on the finish. Needless to say, every bottle we had was sold to a couple of the tasters that were smitten with its unique flavours. The GdP was more up my street and was still tasting remarkably young. Round, smooth and buttery, ’98 was a wonderful vintage and this very rare wine was a great example of how long lived the region’s best whites can be. Flight two was all about Roussillon and pitted a rising star against the established king. The 2006 Clot de l’Oum ‘Numero Uno’ is the top wine from a domaine that burst on to the scene with their first vintage in 2001 and has since garnered critical acclaim from many of the top commentators. The group was impressed with the concentration and minerality on the palate, but felt that it finished a little short. The same could not be said about the 2003 Domaine Gauby ‘Muntada’, a wine with a fearsome reputation (95 points from Robert Parker) that had us all expecting a blockbuster. Spectacular it was, blockbuster it most certainly wasn’t – the elegance and balance on show in this wine was something to behold, especially considering the heat of the ’03 vintage and the concentration Gauby gets from his 125 year old Carignan vines. ’03 Muntada was a tour de force and the perfect riposte to those that will have you believe the Roussillon is only capable of yielding rustic country wines. Next we moved on to Provence and the first stop was a tiny domaine that has attracted attention for making some of the most singular wines in France. Terre Inconnue (unknown land) is the play-thing of chemist Robert Creus, who turned his passion for wine into a collection of vines around St Series, between Montpellier and Nîmes. The 2003 Terre Inconnue ‘Los Abuelos’ had softened a little since its youth but was still almost port-like in its concentration and rich, sweet spiritiness. It was a wine that divided the group between those that loved it (and there was a few) and those, like me, that were left bemused by what they had just tasted. It was strangely Moorish and drew me back for another sip once or twice, but could I drink a whole glass? I doubt it. Whereas Terre Inconnue is an unconventional newcomer, the second wine in this flight was from a domaine that has established itself as one of Southern France’s most respected producers. The 2000 Domaine de Trevallon is a wine that I have drunk on a couple of occasions and its performance at the tasting lived up to my expectations. It was full of Cabernet flavours (the blend is Cab/Syrah) and beautifully elegant yet generous on the palate. There were some murmurings about whether Trevallon is worth the near £50 retail price, but for me it is far better than many Clarets available at this price. Flight four saw us move to the Languedoc and more specifically the area around Pezenas, a beautiful town that is certainly worth a visit if you are over that way. First up was 2001 Prieuré de St-Jean de Bébian, the top cuvée from one of the oldest wine making estates in the world (monks began making wine there back in the 1100s). This is a wine that Languedoc lovers rave about, but our tasting group were slightly less enthused about it. It certainly wasn’t a bad wine in anyway, just a little pedestrian. There was plenty of primary fruit, but it never really got going on the palate – not much in the way of complexity unfortunately. If it was complexity we wanted, the next wine delivered in spades. 1998 Peyre Rose ‘Syrah Leone’ was a dense concoction of dark fruit and minerals on the nose, with a gentle medicinal note in the background. On the palate it was beautifully concentrated, with juicy forest fruits layered on top of leather and chocolate notes. This is not a cheap wine and will always be a difficult sell for any wine merchant, but my experience of their wines has made it one of my favourite producers and the ’98 only served to reinforce that. Delicious. Moving slightly to the north-east, flight five featured two wines from the Terrases du Larzac. This is a region that has been getting a lot of press recently and is talked about as being the best terroir in the Languedoc. First up was a wine from a producer that I had the pleasure of visiting recently – 2006 La Pèira en Damaisèla. This is a domaine that I am a big, big fan of and the commitment to quality is evident through their entire range of wines. The La Pèira itself is their top cuvee and a wine that I expected to be met with universal approval by the group, but in reality it seemed to polarise opinion. Everybody agreed that it was beautifully made but some tasters felt that it was a little too polished, lacking some of the charming rusticity that many Languedoc wines have. It is certainly ‘international’ in style and perhaps that’s why Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate has lavished such praise it (95 points). The nose and palate were both dense and concentrated, full of dark fruit, minerals, vanilla, coffee and leather. The purity and freshness of this wine is amazing and even though it is oaky, it is not at all heavy. We sold all that we had at the end of the tasting and a number of tasters were as enthusiastic about it as I am (well, not quite as enthusiastic, but then who is?). Just not quite the chorus of ooohs and aaahs that I was hoping for. Alongside La Pèira we tasted the 2001 Mas Jullien. Olivier Jullien is a legend in the Languedoc and is actually the person that coined the phrase Terrases du Larzac. He is seen as a bit of a father figure in the region – even to his own father, who started Mas Cal Demoura (another excellent producer) after being inspired by his son’s success. The wine was a complete departure from the sleek and smooth La Pèira, with a bit of meaty funk to go with the berry fruit and gentle garrigue notes. Sort of like a piece of herb-crusted lamb slathered in dark fruit compote. Paul was a big fan of this actually, declaring it to be his wine of the evening. Finally we got to the final flight (after a half hour debate about the merits of La Pèira) and it was time to end where we had begun – with the two most famous of all southern French wine estates. The 1999 Grange des Peres Rouge had developed significantly in the glass since being opened a couple of hours before, with a Bovril-like meatiness to it that worked nicely with the currant and berry fruit. This winery is a class act and although not everyone at the tasting was convinced, the majority agreed with me that this was a delicious, complex wine. The last wine of the evening was 1995 Mas de Daumas Gassac Rouge. This estate has done more than any other to elevate the public perception of Languedoc wine (and the vin de pays system for that matter) and the ’95 proved why the Guibert family are held in such high esteem by wine lovers all over the world. Although Cabernet is only part of the blend it always takes the lead on the palate and that was again the case here, with blackcurrant fruit and the cedar and leafy notes that are Cab’s signature. This wine was in fine fettle and would outperform many ’95 clarets in the same price bracket. After we were done, I took the customary vote for wine of the night. The choices were spread across a number of wines, but in the end it was Domaine Gauby’s Muntada that won out (with four votes). The three-way tie for second place was between Grange des Peres Blanc, Domaine de Trevallon and La Pèira (with three votes each). Just for the record, I voted for Muntada, but to be honest there were 4 or 5 wines that I could happily have voted for. Hopefully this great tasting demonstrated the quality that Southern France is capable of producing and the future for the best regions is very, very bright. Read more about this tasting by downloading the tasting brochure from the night.
Mr Hudson – Exquisite Taste in Champagne
What with Universal Music HQ next door but one to our shop, and EMI, Sony BMG and Warner Chappell head offices just down the street, our home of Kensington High Street has acquired the moniker ‘Music Industry’s Golden Mile’. I’m pleased to say, as well as staff from all of the above buying wines from Roberson on a regular basis, we are also the music companies’ wine merchant of choice for corporate gifts and celebratory events. In addition to the obvious plusses of acquiring more business from these recently opened offices, and the chance to sell a bottle of wine to Alex Turner from The Artic Monkeys, the staff at Roberson are often recipients of DVDs and CDs and sometimes concert tickets from the record companies. This means all of us in the shop, even old geezers like me, are pretty much in touch with new releases and bands.
A Night at The Ledbury
During the month of August, The Ledbury restaurant in W11 has turned into the poshest B.Y.O.B. in town and is charging zero corkage. So when a friend announced that he was organising his birthday dinner there, myself and Gav didn’t need asking twice. London isn’t short of great restaurants, but I have been meaning to visit The Ledbury for ages due to the sheer number of positive things I have heard and read about the food. I knew the wine list was great (much of it comes from us!), but Aussie chef Brett Graham has got a burgeoning reputation as one of the best young chefs around and has a Michelin star to prove it. The Food The first thing that arrived was a biscuit like creation with Foie Gras piped onto it. Bizarre to look at, but absolutely delicious. Then the amuse bouche came out (although the foie gras had already amused my bouche), a very well dressed tomato dish of which I forget the details but remember enjoying very much. For my starter I could have gladly had anything on the menu, but in the end I plumped for a ceviche of scallops. Ceviche is a preparation much loved in South America and Japan, whereby the raw fish is ‘cooked’ by bathing it in the juice of citrus fruit (lime in this case). I had never eaten something cooked this way before, but the dish was beautifully fresh and the combination of flavours was mouthwatering. Special mention must go the starter of celeriac (half the group went for this option) which is something of a house specialty. Very special it was too. The menu again provided a wealth of options for the main course so I went for the waiter’s recommendation of lamb. The dish was an ‘asiette’ showcasing a variety of cuts prepared in different ways, all of which were cooked to perfection. I could have eaten this course 9 or 10 times over – not to say that there was nothing of it, but the flavours were so delicate and moorish that it certainly left me wanting more. For desert I went for the pressed strawberries, which was lovely but in hindsight I should have gone for cheese. One of the group gave me a taste of his morbier and another one which I forget – both were off the charts fantastic. Gavin went for the souffle, which was light as a feather and absolutely delicious. The Wine Those of you that know me will appreciate that there is something of a theme to the wines we were drinking. I’m clearly not the only Burgundy fanatic in London! We kicked off proceedings with 1990 Bollinger Grand Annee. Showing maturity but in no way over the hill, it was rich, toasty and a great start to the evening. We moved on to a 2000 Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru ‘Combettes’ (Etienne Sauzet). Sauzet has had a lot of issues with premature-oxidation , so it was fingers crossed for the first white of the night. We needn’t have worried as it was showing beautifully, with delicate butter and brioche notes working alongside a vibrant freshness and minerality that is all too often lacking in 2000 white Burgundy. Then our prem-ox fears returned as we opened two ’02 Meursault 1er ‘Perrieres’ from Pierre Morey and Albert Givault. Both had seen better days, although we were all dismayed that a stunning white vintage like 2002 can throw up so many examples that are already well past their best. Luckily, one member of our group lived locally and he dived out to grab a replacement bottle. The 1999 Puligny-Montrachet 1er ‘Truffiere’ (Bernard Morey) was weighty, viscous and still very fresh. I mistook it for a Meursault, but all agreed that it was showing very well indeed. The reds began with a spectacular 1990 Clos Vougeot from Anne Gros. Maturing but not yet at peak, there were layers of red fruit, earth and truffles and although it was served a little on the cold side it stood out as class act. Next up was a 1996 Clos Vougeot from Meo-Camuzet and here was a wine to take back to the cellar and forget about for years. Big, rich, dense and brooding, it is clearly a wine of great stature but as is the case with many of the top ’96s there is still much more to come. The final red was 1998 Clos de la Roche from Armand Rousseau. Not the greatest vintage of recent times, but sometimes the great years can be ungenerous (as we saw with the ’96). Rousseau is the master of elegance and the CdlR was soft and delicate while never being weak. We ended with a sweet wine, a 1989 Vouvray Haut Lieu from Gaston Huet. I’ve had many of Huet’s wines before (we did a vertical tasting back to 1929 not long ago) and although I can appreciate them, they never blow me away. The ’89 was exactly the same, but even so it was a great way to round off the evening. All in all, I was very very impressed with The Ledbury. The food was superb and the service was excellent. Of course great company and great wine always makes for a wonderful evening, but I will now be adding my voice to those extolling the virtues of this fantastic corner of Notting Hill. Happy birthday Thomas!
We Made It!
After three-and-a-half of the most exhausting, rewarding, painful, funny, emotionally draining, gorgeous, very long and hot days, we arrived in Paris. This has been an incredible experience for all four of us. We were with over a hundred people, all riding for their own charities. Some, very experienced club cyclists, on super road racers, aiming to beat thier target times. Some, really inexperienced riders, on bikes more suited to just pottering down to the shops. Each of us had our own goals and each of us had our own battles, what with the temperatures soaring to over 100 degrees and more that 4,500 metres of altitude climbed (if you thought Northern France is flat, you’re wrong). But the arrival in Paris, riding down the Champs Elysees, along the Seine and finishing under the Eiffel tower on a glorous Saturday afternoon, and being cheered on all the way by the French, made the whole thing worth every bead of sweat. This post is to thank all of you who have given so generously towards the creation of a Chickenshed theatre company in South West London. On behalf of Christine, Tara, Maxine and myself, very very many thanks. Your donations have nearly reached the £10,000 target and that was one of the major inspirations that kept us turning the pedals at times when we doubted that we had the strength. Again, very many thanks. Paul
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