Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Bordeaux Day Four

The morning of day 4 started with our team of intrepid wineslingers decamping from the bijoux B&B in St. Emilion. When I say ‘bijoux’, what I really mean is that while some of the team sauntered out of stately rooms, this blogger was unpacking stiff limbs from a bolt-hole reminiscent of one of those torture chambers where there is neither room to stand up or lie down. Anyway, after a reviving breakfast, we jumped in the Zafira and Ben took up his position between the two girls in the backseat where he could effect the most trouble.

First stop was at Pavie where we chewed our way t
hrough our second breakfast. Chateau Pavie is sure to please many and some of the cheapies were pleasant surprises but those in the middle were “a holy fright” as my Mum would say. The booming classical music in the barrel room wasn’t much better. Poor grapes…the punishment they must go through…

Next was a quick visit to Cheval Blanc where the Grand Vin galloped away with all the plaudits. Things were still quite sensible as we zipped in and out of Clos l’Eglise where Haut-Bergey particularly impressed as a value possibility. Monsieur Vaulthier presented another masterclass at Chateau Ausone with all five wines looking stellar at their respective levels. Fonbel does it again! The giant toilet-roll holder was still there but without
John Derrick and Willie this time around, the team managed to control themselves. In fact it was all still fairly low-key through lunch at out favourite cave in St Emilion and then the Garagiste tasting chez Jean-Luc Thunevin. La Dauphine and Valandraud were both superb and by and large the extraction had not gone intergalactic.

Things started to get a bit weird when we headed off to the St Emilion tasting at Chateau Larmande. In a wonderfully useless kind of way all the entrances were closed off and manned by strong, silent types (”He looks very cold…do you think I should give him my jumper?” - Ben), forcing us into many U-turns and voluminous back-seat advice. Eventually we found a way into some completely unrelated chateau, from whence a comedy Disney train chugged us from one car park to another. Well it would have been comedy if it hadn’t turned quite so arctic by this stage. Lucky Ben still had his jumper. The tasting was pretty positive with great efforts from Angelus, Larcis-Ducasse, Pavie Macquin, Figeac and Canon-la-Gaffeliere amongst others. Lots of fleshy black fruit with well managed tannins. Then it was back on with the Mickey Mouse ears and on to the train. Into the car in one piece but this experience had done its damage and sent everything sliding closer to ‘Fear and Loathing in the vines’. The driving was starting to get loose and Ben was intent on quizzing
Alice to see if she was picking anything up. “What’s that Chateau?” “Cheval Blanc!” “Lucky Alice, I was on the phone to Easyjet to get your ticket changed”.

La Conseillante ruled the Pomerol tasting and set us up for our final and quite delicious visits to Eglise Clinet, Vieux Chateau Certan and Le Pin. ‘Ronnie the Radar’ finally started working again and navigation became much easier on our way back to base camp. After a relaxing beer it was to dinner at L’Envers du Décor (to our mind the best restaurant in St Emilion) where ‘jumper over jacket count’ climbed rapidly from one to four and Alex cracked his second and third jokes of the year. Oh how we laughed…

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Day Three in Bordeaux

The day started pretty sensationally at Pontet Canet where Monsieur Tesseron and his charming niece greeted us with genuine warmth. Amazingly it was a day and a half into the trip and we found our first “jumper around the neck, over the jacket” French specimen. We just can’t pull it off back home, can we? While we got stuck into the wine, Alex showed off his carpentry roots (not for the first or last time either) with a thorough inspection of the antique table. Curious behaviour. The wine is pretty special too, with a wonderfully pure expression of fresh fruit married to a creamy luxurious texture. Like last year, it will be another of the stars of the vintage.

This year we snuck up to Cos from a different direction and were able to subvert their hawk-like security system by sneaking the Zafira (think gazelle-like handling) in through the gates just as someone else was leaving. I vaguely remember a Mr. Bean sketch from years ago that didn’t end so well but we got in unscathed. Jean-Guillaume Prats had obviously enjoyed the recent tasting and dinner he had conducted chez Bibendum as he seemed very pleased to see us. He explained that the large excavation on site was for a new swimming pool. Perfect (in an unusual way), we thought, but when he explained that he will secretly be running a cable into the nearest nuclear power station to half-inch some free electricity, we got the hint that he might be pulling our legs. And the stories kept coming when we tasted the wines, as he explained that the famous elephant crest of Cos came about from a trip to Thailand years back where a customs official bundled him into a government jet in which they flew ‘to see a man’ in Laos about some elephant statues. Feeling slightly intimidated by the trouble that had been gone to, he felt he had to pull out the cheque book and stump up $10k for these Laotian delights. He was a little surprised and very pleased with himself in the end when two large stone beasts turned up in wooden crates 3 months later. It’s one way to do it…

After another episode of Challenge Anneka in the Vines, we raced down more than a few back roads to find the Pauillac/St. Julien UGC at Chateau Talbot. A pretty mixed tasting altogether with some real highlights like Lafon Rochet, Lynch Bages, Grand Puy Ducasse, Gruaud Larose, Beychevelle and Branaire Ducru, amongst some others that seemed a bit tough and awkward at that moment. And then to really get the juices flowing before lunch we made it to the Medoc UGC as well. Beaumont was quite approachable; Cantermerle shone through with some real class; and Chasse-Spleen was a revelation as well.

At lunch, we returned to La Salamandre, an old favourite down near the waters edge in Pauillac. “I’m going to have to take my badge off or else people are going to ask me for my autograph”. Yes Ben was really warming to the task now and there was a genuine fear that he may be mobbed by screaming wine groupies (wipies?). “Do you think those Japanese people want my autograph?” They did look awfully keen but unfortunately they seemed to be having a bit too much trouble ordering their food to concentrate on Ben. On any other day…

Dessert took the form of Petit Village, Pibran, Suduiraut, Tourelles and Pichon Baron with the always charming Edouard Andre at Chateau Pibran (Pichon is in the middle of having another underground cellar built). What a great little line-up! Pichon was charming and Tourelles will be fantastic value. We even got to taste the 05 Tourelles as well for the first time and it was superb. Look out for a market-first offer of this later in the year. Then to Lafite where the Duhart Milon and the Grand Vin were very popular. Thumping amounts of fruit, body and tannins – they are really built for the long haul.

At this point, things started to go a bit like they do at this point in the day with some delirium invading the direction-giving on the way to Calon Segur. “It’s left. No, it’s right. No, left. Oh I don’t know…Sorry everyone, I think I’ve lost my marbles…it’s been coming!” Meanwhile up front, Alex was trying to explain the effect the shortened working week was having on sales of Winnebagos in France. You can just imagine the reception this got from the back seat. In the end it was well worth the trip as Calon Segur was wonderful with the heady and exotic savouriness alongside terrific fruit that marked out the 2005 as well. Madame was also very happy to see the front cover of the 2005 Offer with her Chateau featuring proudly. We then raced back down to Giscours for the Margaux UGC and then to Cantemerle for the Sauternes. Too many wines to mention at this point but Giscours, Ferriere, Dauzac, Kirwan, Rieussec and Lafaurie-Peyraugay seem to have stuck in the memory. Dinner in the evening at Barde-Haut with Neal Martin, amongst others, who told us all what it was really like to work with Big Bob Parker. Look out for his multi-parted Tolkein-esque Burgundy Report coming out soon. Highlight was when one of the team (who didn’t realize who he was) happened to let slip to our host that no one really read Neal Martin anyway. Priceless…don’t tell anybody though.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Bibendum in Bordeaux - Day One

It just wouldn’t be a Bibendum trip without some sort of kerfuffle on the way to the airport. You may remember that last year the team set off on a hare-brained chase across Europe that was more reminiscent of ‘The Day of the Jackal’ than ‘Would you like some Champagne upon take-off sir?” The marketing trip to Italy later that year also threatened never to leave London, when the team found themselves stranded in a stricken minicab in Mile End in the pouring rain at 4.30 am. Only the exchange of large quantities of cash with a black cab ensured a successful departure.

Well this wasn’t quite the same, but there was that slight sinking feeling when a glance at the Kings Cross board yielded the disappointing news that all trains had decided to set off from Hampstead instead that day. Suffice to say, we made it to Luton just in time for the flight and took up our positions in a departure lounge that was stuffed with more wine trade folk than the free lunch at a generic tasting. I had a glorious vision of the boarding process calling for all MWs to jump on first, followed by esteemed members of the press, followed by Directors, with the rabble left to fight for those few seats at the back. As it turns out, the whole wine trade are equally disorganized and all checked in late, meaning we were all in Boarding class ‘D’.

The flight was going great until all of 240 seconds in when Alice cheerily asked “Do you know why the ‘brace’ positioned is designed as it is? No takers? It’s so that your neck breaks instantly on impact if you crash…” Brilliant Alice. Fab news. Any other tips while you’re at it? Chances of dying from a 6 day old airline cheese sandwich anyone? Probability a stray guinea fowl is going to fly into one of the engines? Amazingly, the whole team made it there with all limbs and arteries intact, though one member was short of socks, toothpaste and all the maps that might help us find our hotel. Oh well…

Dinner was at the Phillip Stark-esque ‘Chez Greg’ which boasted an enormous pile of meat sat on a dish next to a very tempting looking grill. Where was Willie when you needed him? Most heart-attack-inducing dish had to have been boneless pigeon legs, stuffed with foie gras and wrapped in parma ham, served with chunky chips proudly fried in duck fat. Pretty good at the time, not so good later that night when the greedy little pig who’d eaten it all was having cholesterol-induced nightmares that contained violence, chasing and the entire early cast of Neighbours. The less said, probably the better…

Our post dinner stroll took in the new hotel development opposite the Opera in the centre of town. “That Radisson’s gonna be bloody smart when it opens. Maybe I’ll stay there next year. It’ll be a hell of a lot better than the Four Sisters [our current residence]. Having said that, at least our hotel this year is a lot, lot better than that rotten place that Jonny Derrick booked last year. I don’t do lino…” Need you ask who it is that doesn’t do lino? Of course not. We may not have Willie with us, but style guru Ben Collins is here in full effect. Shame…that lino was really quite striking…

Bibendum in Bordeaux - Day Two

After a couple of tours of Bordeaux’s more colourfully graffiti’d neighbourhoods and several industrial parks, the trusty Zafira managed to guess its way onto the road to the Medoc. Spirits were high as vineyards started to flash by on either side and it was nearly time to leave the hype behind and taste our first 2006 wines.

The first two stops came in close succession, at Leoville Las Cases and Barton. Tough start with Chappelle de Potensac and Potensac stripping the bejaysus out of our mouths. Clos de Marquis was a big improvement and Leoville Las Cases was immensely popular with half the group and just ‘very good’ for the others. After the traditionally cold reception from Las Cases, rolling into Barton was like returning home to see old friends and family. Anthony and Lilian are always the most genial of hosts and the seemed genuinely pleased to see Messrs Collins and gang. Langoa and Leoville were good though when we tasted them the following day at a UGC, they were positively charming (was it a fruit day?). In the rest of their imported line-up, Haut Marbuzet and Feytit Clinet also impressed. When pushed, Anthony declared that 2006 was “…definitely much better than ’04. I’ll see what the market’s doing and say to hell with everyone else,” meaning that he wasn’t about to follow others in their price-hiking strategies.

Despite being tasted in a new and utterly characterless tasting room, Palmer looked very promising; and from there to Chateau Margaux. Majestic in its setting, the welcome was as polished and gilt-edged as ever. And the wine? Again it split the group, Pavillon Rouge and Margaux elicited mixed hot and lukewarm comments. Pavillon Blanc got everyone back on the same page though – a sensational wine, sadly only half the normal production thanks to frost.

Then up north to one of our perennial favourites, Sociando Mallet, where we caught up with negociant Pierre-Michel for the first time. He quickly tested out the group on their French-speaking skills, a topic close to Ben’s heart. “Il est un Kiwi! He doesn’t speak anything, not even English!” The formalities out of the way, we were marched up to the swanky new tasting room where the wines were as smart as their new surroundings. Lots of spice, fruit and salt from the air of the Haut-Medoc. We were also treated to a carcass feast there which consisted of pate, terrine, jambon persille, blood sausage, roast beef and pork, and daube de boeuf. In short, not a vegetable in sight, unless you count pickles…which you kinda have to here.
All you needed in the background was the M&S music. There’s lunch…and then there’s a Bordelais lunch.

Off to Pichon Lalande where the wines were pretty tough to taste, but the Louis XVI chairs and modern art foibles were quite exquisite. Haut-Batailley looked pretty good, and we tasted it with someone who looked remarkably like Rumpole of the Bailey. They’ve upgraded the tasting experience at Montrose with a very posh seating arrangement but the wines were quite awkward to taste at the moment. Our second 1st growth of the day saw us get ferried completely unnecessarily around Mouton by Valkyrie warriors in wonderful golf buggies. D’Armailhac and Clerc Milon were looking great and Mouton is a monster. Impressive but very brooding and backward. Top stop of the day was at Latour where all 3 wines were quite sensational. At Ducru, rich Bruno explained his fascination with bizarre cat art everywhere. It actually made sense in kind of kooky way…still a bit ‘Eerie Indiana’ though.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Hey, I'd love a sherry and coke...

Saturday Night, Seville, 2am. We are full of jamon, tortilla, some sensational matador-fortifying giblet stew and crammed in the corner of a small, backstreet bar run by Sevilla’s numero uno balding middle-aged folk singer, El Padrigal. An impromptu foot-stamping flamenco jam is in full-swing as El P asks for the order: “Quatro jerez dulce!” I shout across the guitars. Ceremoniously the great man half-fills four copas from the barrel in the corner, dispensing an amber coloured elixir, only stopping to top the glasses up with Coca-Cola before slamming them down on the counter. Aah, Sherry Cola. Just like the Kinks used to sing about.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Willie goes to Dinner

I was asked to have dinner with some wine nuts the other day. Theoretically they needed a wine expert to help them enjoy the wines more than otherwise they might…..

Well here goes…. Upon entering I was faced with a glass of Jaquesson 1985 Grand Cru Avize. Slightly corked. A bottle of the same house’s 1988 was vastly superior. Then onto the serious kit. Meursault Perrieres Comte Lafon 1997. I wanted to dislike this because the erstwhile proprietaire had treated me and a now famous journalist extremely badly when we helped pick grapes at their vineyard Santenots in 1988. My mate and I were given a bottles of 1981 Santenots half way through a backbreaking morning which has to be the ugliest glass of brown filth that has ever passed my lips. Sadly the Perrieres was sublime. Lots of matiere, pungent with plenty of time left. Then on to a bottle of Chablis Grand Cru Clos Domaine Droin 1985. Sensational depth great finesse and still youthful. I don’t remember too many other whites. As for the reds, those that I recollect drinking were Clos Vougeot Rene Engel 1997. This really jumped out of the glass. Beautifully scented with great length. Musigny De Vogue 1988 was sadly unimpressive. Very 1988 with earthy mean tannins and little give. Clos Vougeot from a negoce 1955 was delicious ethereal stuff. Needed drinking up. Charmes Chambertin 1990 from Christophe Roumier which I thought was dilute, a delicious bottle of Bonnes Mares 1990 from Georges Lignier, full of earthy farmyard scents and plump strawberries and truffles.

A nice but not sensational bottle of Cote Rotie La Landonne 1982. Lovely briary mature syrah fruit but lacking richness perhaps.

Then we were assaulted by Krug 1985 and Krug 1989. Both wines were off the richter scale in combining concentration with massive complexity and yet both were so fresh. The 1985 shded it on the night. And last but not least a rare glimpse of Yquem 1983. Imagine very high quality brain orgasm and triple it. Again it’s the combination of all your favourite exotic fruit white peaches,perfect apricots wrapped in 3-D toffee and caramel with a nutty twist and an injection of supercharged citrus. The 2002 was a baby. It won’t ever get close to 1983 but nor will the price.

I wasn’t on top form the next day, but as a vinous night out it weren’t half bad!!!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Burgundy Bites Back (Day Five)

The last day dawned bright, hazy sunlight fighting back the growing shadows in our heads as we hit the road to Meursault. Re-enforcements had arrived from the UK the night before and the jeunes hommes finally got to swap the middle-aged mini van for a turbo-charged Alfa saloon. 2 appointments left, the taciturn but excessively talented Francois Jobard et Fils and thence to the legendary Comte de Vogue up in Chambolle. After that, nothing less than a flat out blast up to Chablis for an afternoon of grand cru chez Fevre and then down south for some hard earnt R&R. Legumes, lager and Lyonnaise hospitality, we could almost taste it.

Jobard rocked as ever, the most austere, massively powerful but contemplative wines you could hope to imagine. Monsieur, generous to a fault, cracked out a couple of divine 83 Genevrieres from the family vault that were just too fine to spit – 8am and it’s Circus Circus all over again.

Outside and it’s time to say farewell to LeBoo (see below), who was off in his newly rented noddy car to blow the cobwebs out of a few more cellars up in Gevrey. The man has surely shaken Burgundy to its’ very foundations with his boundless energy and passion for both wine and entrails. Only one more day and Veal calves can sleep safer in their barns. By farewell the Alfa showers his little Fiat Panda with some nuggets of expensive dirt as Taj Mahal kicks out of our stereo singing ‘She caught the Katy.’ How we laughed….

On the road again, Steve at the wheel with all the dials spun around to the PM and the road stretched out in front of us like a long black snake curling through verdant hills. The music’s taken a turn for the darker and Howlin’ Wolf and Bo Diddley take turns in taunting us with miles of barbed wire and houses made out of human skulls. Alex, the buyer, has reached some sort of zen, maybe delirium as he desperately tries to conserve enough juice to support his beloved All Blacks tomorrow night. Then we’re in Chablis and the unsuspecting Juice is about to call foul.

We lunch at a seedy roadside revue with the notably ironic sobriquet ‘le Vrais Chablisienne’. The Maitre is surly, we are part fried and mildy aggressive when he pretends not to understand our French. We opt for safety in Steak, Frites and Salad…oh how wrong we were.

I’d love to relate how fantastic the wines were at William Fevre, I would ruminate on their fleshy, full fruited appeal and the crystalline minerality imparted in each and every one that can only come from those inimitable chalky hillsides. Unfortunately I can’t as while the team were enjoying THE vrais Chablisienne hospitality, TJ was feverishly wandering the streets in search of facilities to relieve the act of gastronomic terrorism wraught upon him at lunch by the fiend behind the stove. White knuckled he lurched back to the scene of the crime, palpitations growing with every step. A wry smile from the maitre on arrival, a knowing nod maybe….the swine. Red-eyed and beaten, Juice slunk out 20 minutes later to re-join the team and get the hell out of town. After all, a weekend off the clock in Lyon was calling. Things could only get better. Right?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A Very Tasty Geyser

In the week the greatest football club in E13 went Icelandic, it seemed appropriate that The Juice was debating how to pronounce the word geyser. TJ is sure they are ‘geezers’ but Paul Draper reckons otherwise. And he should know. Draper has been in charge at
California’s stellar Ridge winery since Nixon was in the White House and is famous for his Geyserville Zinfandel. Bowing to his superior knowledge, TJ conceded they were ‘guysers’ and comforted himself with the thought he was sitting pretty with a tidy line-up of wines to check out.

Zinfandel is that most American of grapes, as much a part of the landscape as giant parking lots and drive-thru donut joints, and Paul Draper makes the best there is. The Geyserville is a cracker – however you say it. Best enjoyed in its youth, it is a master of the old iron-fist-in-velvet-glove trick with a perfume to remind you of Heston Blumenthal’s kirsch aromatiser (what? Ed.) With a hefty dose of ancient vine Carignan in the blend too, there is also a faint whisper of the Roussillon in there. Restraint and concentration in the same wine. Who woulda thought it?

The Lytton Springs is a bigger beast and worth some time in the cellar too. At 10 years old it was still playing the field, the fruit refusing to fade gracefully. It had a moody, brooding power and the suggestion of something angry about it. You half expected the sweet cherries in the background to burst through the door like Jack Nicholson in The Shining: “Heeeeere’s Lytton!”

After the Zins it was time to take the bus to Cabernetville. Ridge’s Monte Bello vineyard is an undisputed First Growth of California. Winner of the recent Paris 1976 Revisited tasting, it is the sort of wine that just gets better and better with time. At four years old the 2002 was a case of still waters running deep but the 1992 was jumping. Fabulous colour with only a hint of amber – the foot was on the pedal but the lights hadn’t changed – and the nose? Oh, the nose: plum sauce, herbs, soy, and freshly sawn pine. This really was something. Running through it all was an uber-cool freshness not unlike the weird sensation TJ gets from Mrs Juice’s mint and tea tree oil conditioner. Wrapped up with some strict tannins, this was a beauty with time on its side.

And with all the glasses empty, off The Juice went humming Sinatra and blowing Icelandic bubbles into the night.

That Paul Draper, he’s some geyser.