Fine Wine Bonanza in West Didsbury

photo (7)This January it felt like half the nation were keeping dry. So damn hard to find a mate to share a pint with. And when you least expect it, in true Don Corleone fashion, Reserve Wines knock at your digital door with an offer you can’t refuse. Given how busy things are in our life of late, what with the work in the house and busy times in the office, there haven’t been many boozy adventures since Christmas and I was getting a bit restless. So when an email arrived in the inbox titled “A very special one-off tasting” and then “Fine Wine Extravaganza” I didn’t need to read the rest and I called Marc to book straight away. To make this particular tasting that little bit more exclusive, only the 12 first lucky ones to book would be able to attend so it was going to be an intimate affair.

So, what did the team behind Reserve Wines have in store for us this time?

Marc and James hosted the show but new BBC 2 “Food & Drink” TV star Kate Goodman also made an appearance. All-round team work delivered in a very relaxed atmosphere and clearly they enjoyed the wines as much as we did. So much so that I reckon Marc is not going to find any difficulty convincing Kate to throw another fine wine galore later this year.

But enough nonsense, here were the true stars of the show:

The6

1. Veuve Fourny, Clos Notre Dame, 2002VeuveFournyFND2002
You came for fine wine? Get your high-class Champagne! We’re not talking Laurent Perrier or Dom Perignon though. I’m sure the quality of their wines matches their reputation but I’ve never had the heart to put so much money in my wine and never had the opportunity to taste them. This wine is just as expensive if not more but it is a Premier Cru from the 2002 Vintage, special cuvée Clos Faubourg Notre Dame. I know it all sounds a bit pompous but Veuve Fourny are true Vignerons (sometimes called wine-grower in English) which means they own their vineyards and cultivate the grapes used to make their wines themselves; unlike the rest of France and the old world, it is not that common in Champagne. Champagne’s big houses more traditionally purchase grapes from local growers and mainly deal with the winemaking process. Frankly I have a bit more respect and admiration, but also higher expectations, for the winemaker who looks after his fruits throughout the season. Somehow I think that makes him/her care that much more for the final wine and if the winemaking skills are there, you should be in for a treat.

Veuve Fourny & Fils are located in the little town of Vertus, south of Epernay and this vintage Champagne was made from 100% Chardonnay fruit grown on the Clos Notre Dame which is their most prestigious vineyard (where the grapes give the best wine). Quite interestingly this top bubbly was decanted for about 20 minutes or so before tasting and whilst some of the fizz had disappeared, the aromas and flavours definitely benefited from a little air. The caramely butteriness of a warm brioche straight out of the wood stove but with an underlying freshness of apples and pear shining through. More of that lovely  stuff on the palate and trying a little bit harder after Kate’s introduction I could get a hint of what I called “boozy cooked fruit” but it was very shy, in the background. Someone mentioned quince and apricot so it may have been that. I’m still struggling with some of these nuances but I blame the lack of ripe fruits on our shops’ shelves.

This wine is sold at £90. And I am now really frustrated that I have never been able to taste a Veuve Clicquot, a Dom Perignon or other fancy “luxury” Champagne to compare with. And even more frustrated that my budget cannot quite allow me to buy this wine anytime soon. But I am ever so glad these opportunities do come along. It is truly a beautiful wine.

Lily Bollinger used to say of Champagne: “I drink it when I am sad…” Andrew Jefford also wrote about Champagne that it is “a wine of general appeal rather particular excellence” but about good Champagne: “No other wine carries the same weight of symbolical significance; no other wine was in quite the same position to lift the spirits, almost outrageously, at such a moment”. He was visiting a friend who had recently dearly suffered from setbacks only life can throw at you.

We were not sad nor suffering but our spirits were lifted higher.

2. Coche-Bizouard, Meursault-Charmes 1er Cru 2007original

Meursault is one of the classic fine Burgundy appellations and is second only to Puligny-Montrachet for the greatest Grand Cru wines. It produces the embodiment of fine Chardonnay like nowhere else in the world. Wines from Burgundy in general, but from places like Meursault in particular, are deep, full bodied Chardonnays, often age-worthy. A few years’ patience is indeed recommended and often rewarded. Here we’re looking at a selection of grapes coming from the Premier Cru vineyards of Les Charmes.

White Burgundy is a specific style and is not for everyone. Chardonnay is a grape that is low in aromatics but instead best expresses the qualities – or lack of – of a particular terroir. It can also reflect more intensely mistakes and bad practices in the winery. If well looked after throughout the growing season however, it “swallows” the intrinsic nature of the soil and the local micro-climate. White Burgundy wines often show deep, full bodied characteristics with often a level of oak maturation (sometimes too much) and yeasty flavours from lees ageing. Overdone, it can end up being an overly smoky/bready wine with a milky texture requiring a high level of acidity to maintain a certain balance. We had one such wine back in September and whilst one glass was interesting, a second one got our palate tired and a bit sick. Bring craftsmanship  balance, high quality of fruit and a good vintage however, and you’re in for quite a ride.

After decanting, this wine showed a subtle but elegant nose of honeysuckle then vanilla and a little toast (again some brioche). Green fruit flavours and acidity kept it fresh and relatively young still, good minerality and long, clean finish. Very well balanced, this wine is only reaching its drinking window and already displays some complexity. I would love to revisit again in a year or 2. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea but hey, I drink black coffee 😉

Reserve Wines sells this Meursault for £57.99.

3. Cullen, Margaret River – Chardonnay 2001CullenChardonnay2001

I obviously know a lot less about places like Australia as I know about France and Burgundy which I visited recently. But I sure like some of what is going on there too. And if there is one way to win over my taste-buds2 it’s adopting a responsible attitude towards the environment in the vineyard and at the winery. Vanya Cullen, along with her mum, transformed their vineyards to organic and then full on biodynamics in the late 90s, early naughties. They basically believe that great wine, which has a sense of place, has to be made in harmony with its environment. And that too me scores massive brownie points. Which makes me think that on these occasions one should ideally taste the wine first, then know as much as can be known about the wine, where and how it’s been made…that way the tasting is not influenced by biased opinions (I suppose that’s what blind tasting is for).

Clearly not what happened here though and I voted the wine as my favourite at the end of the tasting. I did say so as objectively as I could but I know that knowing this wine had been made organically by these people marginally but definitely influenced my feelings. In addition to these practices they also use the wild yeast which exists on the grape bunches and in the winery to ferment the wine as opposed to resorting to commercially grown yeast strains. It takes fermentation to a whole new level of difficulty but brings about a range of aromas and flavours that could not be achieved otherwise.

It smelled of honey and wild flowers, intense and powerful but still elegant and in balance. The oak barrel ageing brought on some vanilla in the mix too. On the palate it was actually a slightly different deal with ripe yellow plums, melon and lemon and a subtle spicy, peppery finish that goes on for quite a while. The Cullen website says cellaring until 2011 but they’ll be delighted to know this is still full of rich life. One of the best wines I’ve ever tasted.

This bottle costs £61.99.

Now onto the reds…

4. Louis Jadot, Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru – Les Feusselotes  – 20001136243_image

Another Burgundian, and obviously a Pinot Noir. Funny how Burgundy really only adopted two grape varieties, two grapes whose greatness can only be expressed by the most careful and experienced viticulturist and winemaker (the Vigneron). Keep it simple but do it like the gods intended! During our trip to Burgundy last September, Miss Mash and I sampled quite a range of red Burgundies…all of them didn’t taste the same at all. The characteristics of the varietal were there (perfumed red cherries, earthiness and sometimes some foresty flavours of wet soil) but the structure and the complexity was always different.

Louis Jadot is quite a large wine house and they have a wide range of plantings across most appellations of Burgundy and even some in Beaujolais. Chambolle-Musigny is a little village located in the Cote d’Or pretty much half-way between Dijon and Beaune. It sits tucked nicely between two hills which open up on the vineyards. I’ve not been there but it must be quite the sight. The Cote d’Or is red wine territory in Burgundy and Les Feusselotes is the name of the specific Premier Cru vineyard where the grapes to make this wine came from.

The wine was all you could ask from a high quality, Premier Cru Pinot Noir. Fresh red fruits with strawberry aromas but fleshier than younger counterparts and a subtle spicy, black pepper finish. We’d had a bit of a treat in the shape of a Parma ham in between though to help us make the transition and I think it altered my appreciation of the wine. It felt as though the saltiness of the cured ham cancelled the acidity that helps keep the wine lively in the mouth which means it lacked structure in the mid-palate. It’s a shame because I’m a real fan of Burgundy and I was certainly looking forward to that particular wine. Here’s another lesson that I should already know, I’ll taste the wines first and have food after next time.

The Louis Jadot Chambolle-Musigny was priced at £39.99.

5. Plantagenet, Mount Barker, Shiraz 1996

That was the oldest wine on offer…”And it’s not even a Bordeaux???” Seriously though, this was pretty serious stuff and I fear, like many others, that the French winemaking “industry”, most notably in Bordeaux, is in danger of losing its image of exclusivity when it comes to fine wine. It already has to some extent I think from many connoisseurs. But if only because of the price tag of French wine these days – and most definitely because of a bad communication strategy – the rest of the world consumers still think France is the country of posh wine (Trust me, I get these comments regularly). Not sure any side of this argument is the right one unfortunately and when the French start realising and accepting how good wines can be in the US, Australia and New Zealand, with South Africa not far behind, then we’ll be ready to launch French Wine 2.0. And let’s face it, if the Bordeaux wine aristocracy still survives this image, it’s thanks largely to the high level of Asian investment in unreasonably priced “fine wine”. So there….point made, rant over. Let’s move on.

Plantagenet is a welcome piece of a maybe not so coincidental story. Tony Smith, a descendent of the Plantagenets who were a line of English royals in the middle-ages (check me digging into Britons’ History for you, what’re we like eh!), used his inheritance to buy a piece of land in Mount Barker in the Shire of Plantagenet in Western Australia in 1968…. And if you must know (yes you must) the name Plantagenet comes from the first Plantagenet’s King (Henri the 2nd)’s father (Geoffrey) who used to wear a sprig of broom and was nicknamed Planta Genista. AND…as it happens, Geoffrey was the Count of Anjou…I mean, Anjou…you know, the Loire Valley appellation surrounding the town of Angers? Someone had it written all over me thinks. Anyway, I thought it’d be a shame not to share this little side story. Here, bonus, gratis !

“What about it dude, come on…it’s dragging on a bit now”. “I know I know, sorry”. So what about this Shiraz 1996 from Australia? 100% Shiraz from old vines from the very first vineyards acquired in 68 (Wyjup and Bouverie), a dry and reasonably cool/mild climate where temperature between night and day is quite significant, all key ingredients making for a classy shiraz that, with the right skills and a level of humility in the winery, should age for years to come and develop into something that can tickle the best wines from the Northern Rhone. Being classic Shiraz, it displayed juicy and still quite lively black fruit aromas and flavours but with an under-layer of slightly cooked fruits like raisins and cherries that have been marinating in liquor. Very interesting as I am not used to drinking wines that old. It’s obviously been well looked after for the last 17 years. Vibrant and juicy fruit with great minerality and Miss Mash even picked up on a lovely Chocolate finish. Such a great combination.

Plantagenet, Mount Barker Shiraz 1996 is priced at £39.99.

6. Chevalier de Lascombes, Margaux 2005ChevalierdeLascombe

There we are, ending a long but fascinating journey in Margaux. A name many will know but few actually understand. Well until today, me neither to be honest. So here’s a quick catch-up just so we know what we’re up against. Margaux is a town located in the southern tip of the Médoc region, on the left bank of the Gironde river, north of Bordeaux. The Médoc provides the highest concentration of “Fine Wine” Bordeaux. At the 1855 Universal Exhibition in Paris , Napoleon III requested that the best Bordeaux wines were classified in an established system so that visitors can have an appreciation of the wines’ pedigree, so to speak. This was effectively the birth of the now very complex and confusing French AOC system. Wines were ranked from First to Fifth growth (understand Cru like in Burgundy). Chateau Lafite, Chateau Latour and Chateau Margaux, all from the Médoc, are classed as First Growth and will attract the highest prices.

Chateau Lascombes Grand Vin is a Second Growth wine. But Chateau Lascombes also produces a Second wine called Chevalier de Lascombes. This is the wine we had on that night, from the 2005 vintage. The second wine will have been made with lesser quality ingredients or say grapes from a vineyard recognised for producing fruit whose qualities are deemed not good enough for the Grand Vin. That is not saying the wine should be average or mediocre. A name of that renown (and the price tag associated with it) should still be way above average.

Chevalier de Lascombes is made with a greater proportion of Merlot than the Chateau Lascombes wine so it would be something like 55% Merlot 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot, of course varying depending on the vintage. The higher proportion of Merlot allows this wine to let more fruit dominated flavours like blackcurrant come to the fore with soft tannins and a mellow acidity. We were also told that it was aged on the lees for a few months to add a creamy mouth-feel but that escaped me. Luscious fruit, herbaceous and a lifting oaky finish. 2005 was famously a hot and great vintage in this part of the world and it was reflected in the wine. Sumptuous, classy stuff.

A bottle of Chevalier de Lascombes 2005 will send you back £43 which is not bad actually.

So there you are, a bit of a long one I know but considering the price of those wines I wanted to find out a bit more about what makes them so special and I thought I’d share some of that research as well as the tasting experience with you.

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