11.45 on the terrace of the Breton, Will, my new friend from Goldmans is pulling hard on his cigarette, I’ve still got a residual work related security worry about smoking in the market, but he bats it away. There’s a half bottle of Ducru Beaucaillou 04 on the table between us and tannin smudged glasses in our hands.
6.15 in the bar, I’m looking at a veritable forest of bottles all of which need opening, tasting and for about half, double decanting. All of this would be less of an issue if I wasn’t so hot and sweaty from the dash across London. Lacking a corkscrew of my own I was struggling with the bars orphan, its spiral bent out of shape as if some cork had mortally offended it’s mother. Ten wines, five bottles of each wine, give or take a couple corked and three of the offerings coming in halves and all of a sudden you have a lot of corks to pull. Especially when you’re as out of form Sommelier wise as I was.
Suffice to say, a hectic half hour of fiddling with sticky foils and wine soaked corks later we were ready to welcome the guests.
We started with a large plate of Chaorce and Dom Perignon Rose 1996,.I’ve cast aspersions about the Dom Perignon brand before, but there’s no denying that especially at the upper ends of the brands spectrum, it does deliver. The rose was more a muted amber, with the bubbles taking a rather languid route up the glass, earthy toast and a meaty umami red berry edge rounded out a lengthy palette that seemed to smoulder with intent.
Next was the Loire with Pouligny St Pierre, le Pyramide offset by Didier Daguenau, Silex, Blanc fume de Pouilly 2007 / 2006, a matched pair of vintages that showed how different Didier’s Sauvignon expressions could be, the 06 tight and supremely mineral, an edge of cream like perspiration on slate merely glossing the pebbliness of the wines coiled core. The 07 much more obviously Sauvignon with a taut herbaciousness glaring out of the wine, rather like a prize undergraduate still prickly at the barely visible hint of his regional accent.
Michel Chapoutier, Ermitage de L’Oree 2004. Rousanne and Marsanne in what ought to be their apogee of expression, Chapoutier’s finest vineyard sites for whites and just enough age to let the wine start to open. Except this is Rousanne we’re talking about, and as such ageing doesn’t make sense, this dark moth of a grape, with it’s cocoon like period of oxidative metamorphosis, browning a little early, taking on those slighty madeirised nutty notes, all awry with the honeysuckle and quince notes of the wine, but oddly perfect with the mute creaminess of the Beaufort, the perennial bridesmaid of the alpine cheeses, and such a loyal friend to any caramel notes in a wine.
Epoisses, a cheese to reaffirm ones belief in life, so redolent of microbial decay, yet intensely appealing, somewhat hard to match, but in the absence of some aged tokajis we plumped for Domaine Leflaive, Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Les Pucelles 2006. A nice little chardonnay from a smallish family winery in Burgundy, ok maybe not. The most highly garlanded of Leflaives Puligny premiere crus, a vintage heralded for the clarity and freshness of its whites, this should have been a doozy, instead it didn’t really connect for me, maybe it was a little young, but then I’d have wanted more of an imperiously tight mineral insouciance, the kind of wine that chastises you for deigning to drink it before it’s ready. There were, hints of hazelnut, some touches of smoke and the umami complexity that one would expect, but frustratingly, at least for me, not quite enough fireworks.
Langres, the wrinkled annatto coloured cheese of the Champenois, so often served with Champagne poured into its indented top, I’ve never approved, it doesn’t help either the cheese or the Champagne, instead for their soft tanins and mature fruit we had Etienne Guigals, Cote Rotie, La Landonne/La mouline 1993. Two of Guigal’s Cote Rotie daughters, both just turned 18, and both, seemingly vying with each other for my favors. La Mouline all spiced earth and dusky charm, La Landonne more structured, with a tannic quiver still running along the palette and an almost coy refusal to completely meet the eye. Cote blonde and cote brunde indeed.
A slight confession here, at this point I’d stopped eating the cheeses and was merely enjoying the wines and chatting with the guests.
Chateau Lascomes, Margaux 2003. In the late 90’s early 00’s Chateau Lascombes was undergoing a wholesale change of identity, money poured in for the new winery, consultants were consulted, and the nice folk that worked at the top tonnelieres were spoken to (at length). 2003 was a very hot year, and as such the wines were less than typical, this along with the change in wine making attitude meant that the 03 Lascombes was, while a great wine, not really one that sang of its origin. Closing in on 8 years old, and out of half bottle, there was a softening of tannins, a degree of integration of the oak, and a sense that somewhere in the wine there was a Margaux trying to get out. Toasted oak aromas glowered and bullied the hints of violet and gravel all cowed and hidden, a wine that I found interesting more than enchanting.
Now Ducru Beaucaillou, Pauillac 2004. I used to open a lot of Bordeaux, it was the staple fine wine of my old restaurant, however, recently I’ve seen a lot less. The first sip of the Ducru was akin to that first drag after six months of abstinence. There was a thrill to the way the tannins caressed flesh of my cheeks, my tongue almost shivered from the charge of acidity, I almost had to close my eyes, this was Claret as I always dreamed it ought to be. Dark fruit notes, were intertwined with a savory complexity, there were inklings of licorice, spice, gravel and greatness, a easy confidence of Medoc perfection.
In 1944 Francis Bacon painted his figures at the base of a crucifix, the three furies contorted and writhing like so much sublimated war torn pain. The next summer the sunken cheeked women and occupation battered vignerons of Pauillac pulled them selves together to bring in the grapes from the Mouton Rothschild vineyards. Over the following 40 years Bacon would blaze a trail of greatness through Soho, pugilism in bedsits with warring lovers, dazzling paintings that blazed with malice and pain. Mouton would finally pull itself into the elite group of first growths and their achievements of 44/45 would grow in stature to take the position of legend. In 89 Bacon reprised the figures at the base of the crucifix, the back ground colours more vivid as reflecting his style at the time, and the Rothschilds would ask him to design the label for the 1990 Mouton Rothschild. 45 years on from the great 1945 wasn’t the best of the decades vintages, but it was still pretty damn good, at 21, ready to take the key to the house it played all undergrowth (what the French call sous bois) autumnal woodland, wet gravel and a sort of tweed like twill, both fine and glossy, yet at the same time textured and dignified.
Rieussec, 1ere Cru Classe Sauternes 2005. There are two ways that I like Sauternes, youthful when there is still the incandescence of fruit and vitality, the vanilla oak and cigar box spice still vital and powerful. Then, maybe ten, fifteen years later when there is a whiff of earth amongst the marmalade and caramel, as if there’s a cloud of fungal spores just lingering at the edge of the bouquet. The Riussec 05 was firmly in the former group, all stone fruits and tropical cocktails, pineapple and amber fire, yet cut through with just enough steeliness to suggest a wine that is going to quietly shed its youthful exuberance to become as scholarly as its terroir demands.
Finally the 1992 Taylor’s Port. Parker, famously gave this 100 points, at the time as much of a gold plated insignia of perfection as was possible. It still looks good, rich licorice and spice swaddled opulent dark cherry fruit all wrapped up in the faintly aristocratic swagger of the Douro baked and aguardiente fortified fruit. Also by this time it was a trifle late, and I was a little drunk.
Which leads neatly to what I was doing on the terrace with Will, another late night in London..