Tuesday, 31 October 2006

Il Molino di Grace Chianti

Having been busy putting together a new BRW list as well as a new restaurant list and getting ready for the ASDW tasting tomorrow, there has been too little time to sit back and ponder a wine so we have deliberately stuck to the vin ordinaire - or, at least, as ordinary as it gets round here. Tonight, though, with everything just about up-to-date and an Italian meal looming I have been persuaded that a bottle of Il Molino di Grace's Chianti Classico Riserva 2001 is called for. Pouring a glass on opening it, I am immediately struck by its exquisite perfume. This has to be tasted... real substance to it, quite inky. Probably too heavy for the chicken but who cares? This is one of the best Chiantis around.

Wednesday, 25 October 2006

Raymond Usseglio 2003

Time to start thinking about the ASDW tasting next week - I want
to put out some of the same wines as last time for the new faces but need some
new ones for everyone. Given the 2001 is not at its peak (see 19/10/2006), I
opened a bottle of the 2003 Châteauneuf-du-Pape
from
Raymond Usseglio.
This
is more like it: big, gutsy, typical 2003 except that it is in balance with
great Châteauneuf fruit dominating the huge wine.
Alcoholic, yes, but not overtly so.

Saturday, 21 October 2006

Red and white Chateauneuf - at lunchtime!

Lunch with friends in London; a good opportunity to try out Raymond Usseglio's prestige Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2005 Blanc, a pure Roussanne called, inspiringly,  "Roussane Pur"! It is a stunning wine and would have gone very well with the rich, creamy pasta we ate had it lasted long enough. Everyone agreed it was very reasonably priced (£24).

My host invited me to rummage around his cellar for something else whilst he
cooked and, slightly embarrassingly, every bottle was bought either from me or with me on holiday a couple of years ago. In the end I decided to go with the 1999 Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Usseglio to keep the theme going (and because he had well over half a case left to my three or four bottles). This is a wine which was great when I first tasted it with Raymond back in January 2001 and again back home a couple of weeks later but when the stock arrived a month or so later and I dutifully took a case out of bond and tried it (all part of the job) I was horrified: it tasted like a slightly alcoholic, very lightly fruity drink and not at all like the wine I had invested a reasonable chunk of cash in. I waited several months and tried it again... a slight improvement but not much. By the end of 2002 it was showing signs of recovery... by the end of 2006 it is glorious, confirming my belief (shared by the French but not the British or American critics it seems) that 1999 was a better vintage for many CDP producers than 1998. Now, where are those last few bottles?

Friday, 20 October 2006

A tale of two Riojas

Settled down to a bottle of Miguel Angel Muro's 2004 "Amenital", a new-wave Rioja with a lot of sparkle about it. This is a big red wine with a lot of style. Very young, it really needs another four or five years to get properly started although it went down extremely well tonight. It has the depth of a lot of gran reservas but, whereas they are too often over-oaked for my palate, Miguel Angel has got the balance right for me: I do like a bit of oak character in Rioja (although his unoaked "Joven" makes for an excellent lunchtime red) but I the fruit must take control.

A few days ago we tried Miguel Angel's Rioja 2002 "Seleccionada". I know on paper 2002 is not supposed to be as good as 2001 but the 2002 has bigger, riper fruit and more judicious use of oak, the two key flavour elements of Rioja. Clearly there is American oak here but also some French adding a certain dignity to this wine. This wine takes me back to my childhood: eating vanilla ice-creams whilst picking hedgerow fruits (OK so this combination probably never actually happened but you get the idea).

Thursday, 19 October 2006

Wine tasting dinner at the Riverside, Cambridge

Wine tasting dinner at the Riverside in Cambridge, part of the Cambridge Food Festival so I had a chance to taste half a dozen of the wines and get reactions from around 60 diners. Some really liked one white but not the other one or vice-versa so I was pleased. Better to have a strong opinion and find wines worth buying than just have a neutral reaction to everything because it's bland. Started with Liebart-Regnier's Rosé Champagne which I really like because of the slug of Pinot Noir they use to get the colour. It gives a lovely Pinot sweetness to the final wine and gives it a structure which makes it particularly good with canapés (although at my niece's wedding earlier this summer it was just as good after the canapés ran out). The starters (confit de canard or goat's cheese) came with Domaine de la Tourade's beefy, perfumed Vacqueyras and Xavier Vignon's "Lili", the Viognier proving a particularly good match for the cheese and making an exotic, exquisite alternative to the more usual Sauvignon Blanc. Carrying on the Rhone theme for the rest of the meal, the beef demanded a Châteauneuf-du-Pape so Raymond Usseglio's 2001 was given a whirl. Classy and complex but still a little closed (unusually for CDP, Raymond's wines tend to close down for a while before emerging in outstanding form after another year or so). The white for this course (there was a mushroom-based vegetarian option) was Domaine des Anges' "L'Archange" Blanc, one of my very favourite whites: I am convinced that a well-oaked old-vine Roussanne is the red wine drinker's white wine and certainly every confirmed red wine drinker I know makes an exception for these wines. As always it didn't disappoint. For the tarte tatin I gave up the last few bottles of Domaine Bressy-Masson Rasteau Rancio, a vin doux naturel which comes with the explanation that, as the obscure appellation suggests, the wine has already gone off so if you should happen to open a bottle and leave it under the bed for six months or a year it will still be drinking well. That said, I have no real evidence as it never lasts more than a few days under my bed. It is a glorious wine with Madeira-like qualities but lighter in style. I am told it matched the food perfectly and it was very popular. I will have to go back for more! The only pity about the evening was that I didn't get to eat any of the rather gorgeous looking (and smelling) food.

Thursday, 12 October 2006

Domaine Grand Veneur, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2001 "Les Origines"

What first struck me, as always, about this wine was the incredible texture of this wine. It's a cliché, I know, but it's like a meal in itself but not so heavy that you can't leave the table: roast beef with all the trimmings but no going back for more. The fruit is there, of course, but it really only sets in on the second glass (or, at least, that's how long it took me to get over the depth of the texture) and its very deep. That seems to be the mot juste for this wine. Given that there are plenty of Tradition cuvées around this price tag, it's something of a bargain to find a prestige label under £20! Or it is if the quality is there which in this case it is.

Sunday, 1 October 2006

Château Lacroix, Bordeaux Superieur 2004

Always slightly apprehensive about trying out a new vintage after arrival regardless of how many times we have tasted it already prior to shipment. Rarely disappointed with any wine from Jonathan Maltus though (unlike some holiday purchases) and certainly not this time. The 2003 was one such example though: the wine was initially quite full on as you would expect from the heatwave vintage but it fell apart soon after becoming extremely disjointed. Fortunately we were still holding plenty of the 2002 so had time to wait it out which, Jonathan assured us, was all that was necessary. He was right and now the 2003 is very good. But the 2004 is a better wine with more natural balance and more classic fruit and none of the green-ness that I found in the 2003 a year ago from under-ripe tannins. This wine is not going to blow you away but it isn't meant to. Instead it will quietly impress with its lovely ripe fruit and soft tannins and understated elegance. It's good to see that Bordeaux is increasingly able to deliver wines of this calibre at this price point.