Thursday, 27 May 2010


One morning whilst wandering lonely as a cloud I dreamed not of daffodils, but rather of croques. Wordsworth be damned as he'd probably been more of a Welsh Rarebit sort of person, and that's another issue.
While we were growing up, a Croque Monsieur was one of the snacks that my sister and I could make for ourselves. Now looking back the kind of things that we'd have been making would have made most self respecting foodies turn slightly green and pale, but regardless, croques are intricately linked with my earliest memories of cooking food.
Bringing things into the present, I work in a French restaurant, so Croque Monsieur and his wife are an essential part of our bar menu. But I'd never been quite satisfied, maybe it was the daily tarnish of staff food taking the shine of a fondly cherished memory, or maybe we weren't doing them right..
One tweet later, and I knew I wasn't alone....

So here's what I'm proposing - I'm going to play with the formula, already I'm seeing several camps developing. To Bechemel or not to Bechemel seems to be eliciting some quite trenchant opinions. Personally I'm quite interested in the issues of what breads to use, whether there is an ideal strength of cheese, and to what degree smoking the ham has on the final taste.

But I figure it's a work in progress, and, lets face it, regardless of what I come up with, it's never quite going to match the one you first had on that holiday, or the ones that your mother used to make in the steel griddle, but lets not let this dissuade us.

Croque it, I'm game for a challenge (also I quite like both ham and cheese :-))

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Katnooks and a cranny

The plan was simple, I was going to go to Bethnal Green for the 1pm drop in Yoga session. Then have something simple and healthy to eat, drink some tea and read my book. Just as I was walking out the door, my phone rang. 'Hi Donald, it's Valeria, I'm just phoning to check whether you're going to the lunch today?' - 'where, when, how?' - 'Rhodes W1 with Wayne Stehbens of Katnook estate'..... Well gift horses and mouths were coming to mind, so I knocked the whole yoga idea on the head and set off for Marble arch.

Rhodes W1 is just round the corner in the lobby of the Cumberland hotel, in fact it's somewhat difficult to establish exactly where the lobby ends and the restaurant begins.
I was a guest of Bibendum who were sorting Wayne Stehbens of Katnook estate out a little farewell lunch before he departed to Canada or where ever Barossa wine makers go to when they're not needed at home. And on arrival James sorted me out with a glass of the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc. Admittedly as breakfasts go it might not have been the most suitable but it was none the less very convincing. Quite herbal but with a degree of restraint to the nose and then a slightly sticky character to the fruit that finished with a delightful menthol/eucalypt tang. As Sauvignons go it was far from being the most obvious varietally, and all the nicer for it. This was followed by a glass of the 2001 (sadly I didn't take a photo as it was a beautiful colour), from a largish, quite ripe crop, this apparently started out showing very ripe stone fruit notes, 9 years later, it was a little bit toasty, with notes of wax, cream, polish, on the palette the wine was still very much still together a core of good acidity running taught through it. Wayne commented that all the colour and maturation was due to the phenolics created through oxidisation of the tannins left from the skin contact. Suffice to say I was very impressed.
The wines were pairing an asparagus soup with smoked salmon mousse and a smoked salmon croque monsieur. The soup was very pleasant, once I realised that the scummy orangey layer on the surface was meant to be there...
This was followed by an 'Italian salad of roast red and yellow peppers, courgettes, fennel salami, coppa, rocket and marinated Bocconcini cheese' - which pretty much did what it said on the tin, all the ingredients were present and correct, though it left you with the impression that the chef had just popped into the italian deli round the corner and knocked up a spot of lunch.
Merlot 2006 (from Magnum) was a mid depth blood red fading a touch at the rim that showed aromatic brambles, red berries and a touch of spice and ceder from the oak. This was surprisingly elegant and almost a touch understated. Wayne went on to explain how he was aiming for a style that fell somewhere between the earthy mushroominess of St-Emillion and the more gravelly restrained St-Estephe Merlots (like Ch du Pez).
The Coonawarra terroir is quite distinct, it is one of the coldest regions in Australia, being 80km from the Southern Ocean, and at only 60 m elevation means that there is a lot of wind to cool the vines. This leads to large diurnal variation. Crucially for the region, from the period between veraison and picking the average temperature rests about a degree above the Bordelais average, this with usually dry summers means that the vines can be quite safely left to ripen.
The famous Coonawarra terra rossa, is a ferrous clay lime soil that lies above a 4 foot limestone subsoil, this is believed to have been the remnant of a shallow tropical sea, the terra rossa is a Podzolic soil which is believed to have been blown into the region.
John Riddoch who first initiated agriculture and viticulture in the region was also very influential politically, and as such was able to ensure that a lot of government money was spent on drainage in the region. As such what had previously had large areas of standing water was now possible for vine growing, however the consequence of the previous water table means that depending on the relative elevation, the area undulates slightly, the soil either developed anaerobically (underwater), or aerobically (on mounds out of the water). This has certain implications on the behaviour of the vines in each soil area.
Finishing up on the regions soils Wayne explained how there is quite considerable diversity across the region, with much heavier dark clay black Rendzina soil to the west, moving through some transitional brown Rendzina to the terra rossa to lighter sandy soils in the east where you see more aromatic and slightly lighter wines, though the vines are also more in need of irrigation.
The main course was lamb belly in a marjoram broth with spring vegetables, again this was very pleasant if slightly underwhelming. Lamb belly being one of those cuts that I approve of more in theory than in practice. The meat was very tender and the fat was well cooked and melted into the broth, making the dish reminiscent of an extremely refined pot au feu.
Served with it were the Katnook Cabernets. At this point Wayne challenged us to think of what other regions in the world successfully make 100% Cabernet Sauvignons, bearing in mind that almost everyone else blends to a degree.
A flight of 06 and 99 Cabernets provided a instructive comparison into how well it ages, with the 06 showing touches of mint with the earthy dark fruit, where as the 99 was still very youthful with more licorice coated dark cherry notes on the finish (testament to the hot year).
By now the by the numbers dessert of white choc mousse, milk chocolate ice cream and pistachio was thoroughly over shadowed by the two vintages of Odessey, 05 was brooding, showing dark berries a dusty mintyness and a chewy earthiness. However what really stood out for me was how the tannins were knitted together with the fruit, there was a real interplay between the two making them very hard to separate. This was again demonstrated in the 97, a much cooler year that was showing mushrooms and a mature vegetal (tobacco leaf?) characters, a complex nose brought up hints of white pepper and smoky bacon, while the palette showed silken maturing tannins and a creamy edge to the still present fruit.
After the lunch as we walked off to refresh ourselves with a beer it was pointed out to me that Rhodes W1 has a michelin star. I'll leave it at that.

Other things that were discussed.

Yeasts - natural versus cultivated strains; Wayne pointed out that natural is a bit of a misnomer all you need to have a very successful strain of 'wild' yeast is to buy some, have a ferment and then not clean up properly.. He uses Bayanas rather that Cerevisiae as he finds them better at finishing off the slightly higher alcohol ferments.

Regarding debudding; The Coonawarra is a very frost prone region and regularly they need to use the over head drippers to work in a preventative way. However more important with regards to yield reduction is the near frost incidences, these are where the temperature falls to about -1.6 degrees. At this point there is some intracellular damage to the budding tips, this is very useful at controlling the crop.

Tomato juice; This has a very high malic acid concentration and as such is very useful as a starter culture for malolactic ferments. Which explains why fermented tomato juice is incredibly volatile.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Tuesday - DLR, EXEL and Magdalen

Wednesday morning;
I've awoken somewhat uncertain as to what I'm due to be doing later on in the day.
This might have had something to do with several rounds of espresso martinis at the Catch bar at Andaz. I would write more about the dinner, but until I can find some notes I'm a little at a loss as to exactly what I drank/ate. This much I'm certain, the Petaluma 83 Hanlin Hill Riesling smelt fabulous, unfortunately the waiter knocked most of it over my shirt. Well these things happen.
Later on Wednesday morning;
I'm on the DLR zooming towards EXEL. Like the pro that I am I've secured on of the seats at the front so I can pretend I'm the driver, but right then I was a bit distracted. You see I was reading the collected lectures on Agriculture by Rudolph Steiner.
Now you know how when you're young and stupid it occasionally seemed like a good idea to see how drunk you could get, or how long you could stand in front of a train for before moving. Well reading full on biodynamic converts talking about the meanings and importance of Steiner's teachings does a similar thing to my levels of credulity.
There comes a point when I'm reading about how the biodynamic preparations create helicocentric vorteces which enable cosmic energies to penetrate the 9 levels of the earth to help the Etheric Christ in his descent into the golden core of the earth by enabling him to take up the Archangel Micha-el's sword which will make the evil asuras spirits be useful(I think it said he was at level 6 at the mo if it helps), before rising again to do something - maybe have a pint or some chips - I was losing the will to concentrate. Errm, yes as I said, will to live/concentrate tends to get lost when I try to read utter tosh. Now sadly I was also trying to reconcile this with the myriad of balanced opinions I've come across from wine growers on the same subject. Either they're lying or they're ignoring some of the full doctrine.
Anyway that was my DLR trip.
Late evening;
I've wasted another day at EXEL not really doing much more than just tasting idly and chatting to friends. No great surprises there, and I'm off for a spot of dinner with Karen and one of her friends.
Magdelen nearish to London Bridge was suggested by Karen - "Come Donald, I promise it'll be your new favorite restaurant" or words to that effect.
I''d post some photos, but I didn't take any, I though about drawing diagramatic pictures but decided that would be cruel.
So a quick precis.
Obviously the (stunning) manageress had us marked as trade pretty much at the get go. But I don't think it was held against us.
Mussels win wine with onions and nettles was close to perfect as a starter, the broth doing everything it should have. I then shared a casserole of roast shoulder of kid with Karens friend, a carafe of Gaillac sec (Ch Clement-Termes) sorted the starters, then a bottle of Heinrich Red (Zweigelt, Blaufrankich, and St Laurent) was lovely once we'd chilled it a bit.
I've blanked out all memories of TBA's and small bottles, as they make me think a bit too much about bills and more precisely the exact size and dimension of certain bills in particular.
However - I will be going back.
Later at home;
The less said about this the better.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Forbury's restaurant and wine bar

So I decided to pop the cherry of my toptable account with a spot of lunch this morning. As I was in Reading there was somewhat less of a choice as to where to go than I might have found in London. However reading is no longer the gastronomic desert that it was several years ago, and particularly around Forbury gardens there is a cluster of decent restaurants. Forbury's is one I think I visited a few years back with the parental unit, I have vague recollections of eating stuffed trotter and Dad complaining about the size of the portion of his scallop starters, so no change there..

As it was lunch time I went for the market menu, £16.50 for 2 courses, or the inevitable £18.50 for 3. Ahh good intentions where is it that you go?

Having chosen the pork belly with soft boiled egg with lamb caillette and macaroni provencale to follow I opted for a glass of St Clair Pinot Noir on the grounds that it'd probable work ok with both dishes. The waiting staff obviously thought otherwise as they brought me a glass of sancerre, to his credit the maitre d immediately offered to get the correct order, but soft touch as I am I said leave it, it was probably a better match than the Pinot with the pork... Well it might have been had it not been pretty second rate. For the record Chateau du Thauvenay Sancerre 08, tight minerally nose with hints of herbs and grass, overly acidic (for me this is rare) palette that just didn't taste in balance, and an awkward chalky aftertaste. Incidentally a spot of googling revealed that Count Jean-Pierre de Montalive had been minister of the interior under Napoleon and had accumulated major land holdings around Sancerre of which Ch du Thauvenay was the centrepiece, interesting trivia that didn't really help with the wine..

The Pork belly was very impressive lovely rich and fatty, the scotch egg was nicely runny and the two matched very well. The sauce Gribiche which had initially snared me as a possibly lovely partner was almost nowhere to be found. Well it was easy enough to spot there was just very little of it, which was a shame as the bit I tasted was nice, there just wasn't enough to be meaningful along side such bold flavours as poached egg and belly of pork.

With my main I took a glass of Saint Claire Pioneer Block Pinot Noir, which was a much safer choice. An estate that I really like (name's got nothing to do with it) demonstrating good stewed slightly herbal red berries and just a touch of something a little medicinal a very nice drop.

The lamb was a bit odd - described as a caillette which further research turns out to be something between a faggot and a spiced lamb burger (though traditionally made with pork) - it sat on a garnish of penne (described as macaroni) in a kind of ratatouille sauce. I'm usually quite suspicious of pasta, if only because I know how cheap dried pasta can be, but this was ok, sadly the aubergine was a little chewy and under cooked. All in all the dish really didn't get me going.

I skipped on a glass of desert wine because they were out of the Castelnau de Sudiraut 2006, I was a little piqued at this as I was quite looking forward to tasting the 06 (I'm listing the 03 at the moment), and went instead for the custard tart. Mace, a touch of cinnamon and nutmeg are infact fabulous accompaniments for rich smooth and unctuous set custard. The pastry was a bit underwhelming, but I didn't care, it really took me back a long time to custard tarts of my youth, which is a line I don't think I ever expected to write...

So reasonably priced, 1.5 out of 3 on the score for the food, 1.8 out of 3 on the wine (the PX was nice to wrap up with) nice terrace though the sunshine helped so a final very unscientific score of 6.3 out of 10

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Why you shouldn't drink and read philosophy...

A holistic approach to wine tasting...

The idea of basing ones ideas on looking at each wine as being an aspect of the whole, the ur wine – the process of treating each wine tasted as being a totality in itself.

Looking for the individual character in every one, and using that to bbuild up a greater more accurate picture of what wine is.

In fact it is obvious… the glass I hold in front of me is wine. It would suffice as a perfect definition of wine as it manifestly is wine. However there are other wines…. All of them are as much wine as the one in the glass I hold, bbut some of them are different, so some of them represent a different image of what wine is.

So by tasting wine and continually thinking about wine we can create a greater understanding of exactly what it can be.

Does the western analytical approach to wine oppose the kind of understanding that I’m suggesting?

It is a reductive approach that seems to muddy the water by encouraging a certain word association with various flavours?

Basically the west approach seeks to clarify the taste profile of the wine by means of several variables. The most easily measurable of them, and frankly the least important, when it comes to quality, especially as the intangiable ones are all taste related, and thus virtually unmeasurable….

Monday, 10 May 2010

Short scientific review of Biodynamics

Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D., Extension Horticulturist and Associate Professor,
Puyallup Research and Extension Center, Washington State University
The Myth of Biodynamic Agriculture
“Biodynamics is a scientifically sound approach to sustainable management of plant systems”
The Myth
Biological dynamic agriculture, a.k.a. biodynamics, is a system of agricultural management based on a
series of lectures given by Rudolf Steiner in 1924. Over his lifetime, Dr. Steiner became concerned with
the degradation of food produced through farming practices that increasingly relied on additions of
inorganic fertilizers and pesticides. Reputed to be the first alternative approach to agriculture,
biodynamics has evolved over the last century to include many organic farming practices that have
demonstrable benefits on land use and crop production. In fact, biodynamic is often used synonymously
with organic in both scientific and popular literature. Biodynamic agriculture has more recognition in
Europe, but North American proponents of this system are increasing. Is the biodynamic approach one
that should be encouraged?
The Reality
There are many non-scientific websites and writings about biodynamics, Rudolf Steiner, and the school of
thought he developed (anthroposophy). [An excellent scholarly overview by Kirchmann (1994) is
referenced at the end of this column.] There are fewer refereed articles on biodynamics, and a review by
Reganold (1995) found many of these to be of questionable scientific quality.
Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) was a true intellectual with interests in many academic areas; his forte,
however, was philosophy and his PhD dissertation topic was Fichte’s theory of knowledge. The intention
of his series of agricultural lectures was to instruct farmers how “to influence organic life on earth
through cosmic and terrestrial forces” (Kirchmann, 1994). This distinction is important because
biodynamic agriculture, as initially conceived, consisted primarily of concocting and utilizing eight
biodynamic “preparations” that would “stimulate vitalizing and harmonizing processes in the soil”
(Kirchmann, 1994).
The directions for preparing the eight biodynamic compounds are complicated and can be found on a
number of websites and in popular literature. Briefly, two of the compounds are prepared by packing cow
manure (preparation 500) or silica (preparation 501) into cow horns, then buried for a number of months
before the contents are swirled in warm water and then applied to the field. Cow horns are utilized as
antennae for receiving and focusing cosmic forces, which are transferred to the materials inside. The
other six compounds (preparations 502-507) are extracts of various plants either packed into the skulls or
organs of animals (i.e. deer bladders, cow peritonea and intestines) or into peat or manure, where they are
aged before being diluted and applied to compost. The chemical elements contained in these preparations
were said to be carriers of “terrestrial and cosmic forces” and would impart these forces to crops and thus
to the humans that consume them.
These processes were not developed through scientific methodology, but rather through Steiner’s own
self-described meditation and clairvoyance. In fact, Steiner declared that these spiritualisticallydetermined
methods did not need to be confirmed through traditional scientific testing, but were “true and
correct” unto themselves (Kirchmann, 1994). The rejection of scientific objectivity in favor of a
subjective, mystical approach means that many of Steiner’s biodynamic recommendations cannot be
tested and validated by traditional methods. In practical terms, this means any effect attributed to
biodynamic preparations is a matter of belief, not of fact.
Other non-scientific practices have become part of the post-Steiner biodynamic movement. These include
use of cosmic rhythms to schedule various farm activities and nutritional quality “visualization.” This
latter practice uses legitimate chemical analyses such as chromatography as ways to study the “etheric”
life forces in plants through “sensitive crystallization” and “capillary dynamolysis” – techniques that are
again not scientifically testable.
What has muddied the discussion of biodynamics even further is the incorporation of organic practices
into Steiner’s original ideas. Many of these practices – no-till soil preparation, use of compost,
polyculture – are effective alternative methods of agriculture. These practices often have demonstrated
positive effects on soil structure, soil flora and fauna, and disease suppression as they add organic matter
and decrease compaction. Combining beneficial organic practices with the mysticism of biodynamics
lends the latter a patina of scientific credibility that is not deserved. Many of the research articles that
compare biodynamic with conventional agriculture do not separate the biodynamic preparations from the
organic practices – and of course obtain positive results for the reasons mentioned earlier. However,
when researchers have compared biodynamic, conventional, and organic farms (where again
“biodynamic” incorporates organic practices), by and large there are no differences between the
biodynamic and the organic farms (though both are different from conventional farms). It would be an
interesting experiment to compare conventional farms to conventional farms with biodynamic
preparations without the organic practices to see if a difference exists.
Given the thinness of the scientific literature and the lack of clear data supporting biodynamic
preparations, it would be wise to discontinue the use of the term “biodynamic” when referring to organic
agriculture. I am guessing many academics, both theoretical and applied, have no idea where the roots of
biodynamic agriculture lie: the fact that “biodynamic” is used interchangeably with “organic” in the
literature seems to support this conclusion. For me and many other agricultural scientists, usage of the
term is a red flag that automatically questions the validity of whatever else is being discussed.
The onus is on academia to keep pseudoscience out of otherwise legitimate scientific practices. As
Robert Beyfuss (NY Cooperative Extension) and Marvin Pritts (Cornell University) state, “it is this type
of bad science that has created a hostility between the scientific community and many proponents of
biodynamic gardening.” All too often scientists avoid addressing the problems associated with
pseudoscience. Those scientists who do challenge pseudoscientific are frequently attacked and ridiculed,
thus shifting the focus from the problem (pseudoscience) to a personal level. Part of this is a cultural
shift; Alan Alda is quoted as saying “we’re in a culture that increasingly holds that science is just another
belief.” But more importantly, when published research is not held to an acceptable standard of scientific
rigor and when junk science is not challenged, pseudoscience creeps closer towards legitimacy in the
public eye.
The Bottom Line
• Biodynamic agriculture originally consisted of a mystical, and therefore unscientific, alternative
approach to agriculture
• Recent addition of organic methodology to biodynamics has resulted in a confused mingling of
objective practices with subjective beliefs
• Scientific testing of biodynamic preparations is limited and no evidence exists that addition of
these preparations improves plant or soil quality in organically managed landscapes
• Many organic practices are scientifically testable and can result in improved soil and plant health
• The academic world needs to address the explosion of pseudoscientific beliefs and help nonacademicians
become more discerning learners
Kirchmann, H. 1994. Biological dynamic farming – an occult form of alternative agriculture? Journal of
Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 7: 173-187.
Reganold, J. 1995. Soil quality and profitability of biodynamic and conventional farming systems: a
review. American Journal of Alternative Agriculture 10:36-45.
For more information, please visit Dr. Chalker-Scott’s web page at

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Jules Chauvet - Le Vin en Question

Jules Chauvet is regarded in France as being one of the founding fathers of the natural wine movement, so I was very interested when one of my colleges Virginie brought me a copy of an interview with him that she'd picked up at her old hotel.
The interview was conducted in 1981 (year of my birth), and I imagine that back then, a lot of what he was espousing would have been quite revolutionary. However in the more enlightened? 2010 it's something that is much more acceptable, what with the likes of Terroirs, Les Caves de Pyrenes and Frederic Grappe's Dynamic Vines traipsing around London singing from the same hymn sheet.
Chauvet was regarded as one of the best wine tasters of his generation, combining a very thoughtful and holistic view of enology with a passion and understanding of his native terroir of Beaujolais. He was a very well regarded Chemist and Microbiologist who took the view that one had to understand all of science to get a closer understanding of the complex interplay of factors that produces wine.
He did a lot of work on yeasts, and studied natural yeast populations across France, finding 'Namely, we saw that every yeast produced a different flavour, being more or less well judged, you see, but it was unanimously found that most appreciated teh flavour that was produced by indigenous yeasts.... there you are.'
His views on terroir and it's importance are also very perceptive and balanced ' It is a mystery. We know that roughly in granitic soils, for example, one gets wines finer than in clayey soils... some things like that.... we know for example that in clayish-calcereous soils Gamay gives products coarser than in granitic soils, but that is all you can know, there are so many variations, it is complex, isn't it, that is there is the age of the vine, there is the climatic year, there is, how shall I say, the sanitary care provided to the vineyard, there is the time of the harvest, there is processing: in all there are too many factors. It is know that there exists a direct relationship.... but study of the soil has not been made and probably never will be,, why? Because the vine plunges its roots into the soil to very great depths, so that one does not know what is going on. One cannot, one cannot, one cannot say anything.'
About use of Sulphurous Anhydride -'But it has been used for ever' 'Yes, but precisely, I think that has to be changed.'
In all it's a very perspicacious and insightful interview, one that I feel I will probably come back to again and again. I'm certainly going to be looking for more of his work to read, as he's come to the position of making natural wines through a very careful study of much of the science involved.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Dilemma (not featuring Nelly or Kelly)

Recently I found myself tasting a little wine called Domaine de Cabrials, it was a light extremely juicy little red from the south of France (09 pays d'oc). Not particularly concentrated, with ripe jammy raspberry fruit flavours. At £5 ex vat it is a very appealing little wine, even more so as I'm constantly being berated over my lack of 'bistro' wines.... however I have a slight problem with the wine, it's a Pinot Noir, and it loudly declaims this on its stylish label. Now Pinot Noir for me carries a certain expectation, there is a type of fruit character that I want to see, whether it's fresh cherries, strawberries and mouth watering acidity from an Irancy, or richly textured dark fruits from a top Central Otago there's a certain something that it ought to deliver. That's my problem, the Dom de Cabrials just doesn't have anything that really makes me think Pinot Noir, don't get me wrong it's nice for the price and I'd happily drink it, but I just wish it didn't say Pinot Noir on the label, maybe Dom de Cabrials, Red wine of an unspecified Vitis Vinifera varietal that you may have heard of..... thought I concede that's a mite long winded.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Some thoughts on Bordeaux, reputation and enjoyment of wine

Right, having successfully navigated what is a somewhat burly and unforgiving title I'm going to pontificate (safe in the knowledge of my pontifications relative pointlessness).
Recently I've been thinking (and reading) at length about food and flavour, this has segued neatly into the question of how much of flavour appreciation is present a priori, so to speak, in the actual combinations of chemicals that make up the flavours which we combine to great effect, and how much is linked to the recollection of mental states that smells and aromas conjure. To whit, would Proust's madelaines have tasted as good if he'd never eaten them before and had never had cause to taste similar items?
I'm of the opinion that there must be certain good flavour combinations, of this more later, as certain ingredients combine with a regularity that is uncanny across schools of cookery, however this can only take us so far, it would be the rare gastronome who was totally unfettered by the shackles of memory and culture (perhaps Oliver Sacks knows of one, but not me), as both of these create emotional memories, it is these that I believe invest certain dishes with their trancendental qualities, where we both eat the flesh of the dish, but also consume the spirit of the emotions it recalls. For me, roast Lamb will always bring me to mind Sunday lunches growing up with my family and buttered carrots are still distantly connected to my Grand Mother (no matter how many times I'm served them in restaurants..).
What ever does this have to do with Bordeaux you might ask?
Now as I see it we live in a world where perfection is not so much a nebulous concept, but a goal that is actively chased by many. Thus the nature of perfection has been whittled down from its initial stance as a fleeting moment where the planets align, the split second where mood, mind, wine and food all intertwine to create something utterly unrepeatable, to a more prosaic ideal, one that seems to be most often valued out of 100, and where quality is described as similarity to something that has previously been ascribed the status of a perfect example.
One of the great joys of wine is the intellectual challenge that learning to appreciate it involves, all that work in the pursuit of inebriation, the subtext for me is that the subject matter must be important. Looking at so much of the literature that surrounds wine it is clear to me that certain regions enjoy a disproportionate amount of coverage, which can only weigh the dice in favour of a favourable appreciation. By the time one (well the average wine amateur) gets a chance to taste their first first growth, they will have read about them extensively, pursued them through their 'lesser' neighbours and created a mental flavour profile for what is likely to be contained within that precious first bottle, long before we become properly acquainted with them they've acquired an almost mythic status. I believe that it is extremely difficult to fully separate the expectation from the reality when there is such weight of emotional and cultural significance in each sip. Which leads me back to where I started, that these extra, non physical elements of a wine are important, I think they actually play a significant part in our enjoyment of certain wines (obviously this is a for better or for worse sort of statement).
Finally to finish off, I should point out that this is by no means exclusive to Bordeaux, it's just the en primeur 09 campaign rather focussed my attentions on the region and got me thinking.